Thursday, 2 December 2010

The Iranian Diaries (part 4)

Sorry for the lack of updates every one! Just been a hectic week here, not least because of the freak snow Scotland has been getting! Just been busy, nothing negative though by the grace of Allah (SWT). Any way, since you do all seem to be enjoying the Iranian Diaries, I thought I should crack on with things, especially as we are now on the day of my niqah!

Saturday: I woke up for fajar feeling faint and cold, for some reason. I went to make wudhu, only to find my stomach was severely upset, in every which way! I couldn’t believe it; I hadn’t felt well the day before, but today? The day of my niqah? It couldn’t be happening! As I finished my namaz, Reza came in to the room: “you are not well?”, maybe its because I’ve lived alone for years, or because my family live very individual lives, but I’ll never know just how Reza’s family never manage to keep any thing from the others in the house! I remember falling back on the bed and just saying “I’m not feeling well, don’t let family insist that I eat!”. An odd thing to say maybe, but any one who is familiar with Asian culture will know exactly why I said it! I tried to sleep, but could not, in the end, I got up for a shower, was sick again and then nursed a glass of sweet, black tea, trying to hide just how awful I felt. I couldn’t rest that day, not just because of the niqah, but because we had an appointment to keep: Reza, myself and the neighbour who had pooled me apart the day before, were all taking my wedding dress to be adjusted for the reception on Tuesday. That would have been fine, only Reza got the times drastically wrong, and so we ended up waiting for the dress shop to open for well over an hour!! It was too hot and congested to stand waiting outside, so we sat in a restaurant drinking water etc; that was fine too, till they started frying burgers and I had to keep running outside, dry-heaving on the pavement! In my head, I was rehearsing the few lines of Farsi I would need to read during the niqah “bay ejazeh, mama, baba, Bale”, (with the Permission of my parents, I accept). Not only was that a contradiction in terms, but I kept stumbling over the words, and as I threw up, I imagined not only forgetting them mid-flow, but also saying the opposite, (without the permission of my parents, I accept), which would have been closer to the truth I suppose! As this fear grew, I also added in throwing up all over Reza for good measure! This day was turning out to be a nightmare!
Finally the shop opened and we 3 rushed in with our dress. I changed in to it, already over-heating and realising, with horror, that mum had been right all along, and this dress really was far too heavy, and hot for Tehran. We asked the shop owner if any alternative dress could be bought/rented instead (it couldn’t), so all we could do was pay a ridiculous amount of money to have it adjusted. I was dragged and pooled and clucked over, while the women marvelled at a white Western woman choosing to wear full hijaab at her wedding, when few of the local women do it! according to them, it was the first wedding dress they had ever seen with a matching hijaab! Reza then went off to collect his new glasses, and some other stuff, while the neighbour and I travelled back in the taxi together. Thankfully, she spoke English, so no awkward Farsi, or equally awkward silences! Mum took one look at me when we got home and began making “worried” sounds. She discussed the dress fitting with the neighbour while feeding me boiled water laced with honey. When the neighbour left, she told me to sleep, but for some reason I felt better sitting up. She called Reza, and started saying something about the doctor: great! I’d be getting married, via the local hospital! My Reza, knows another Reza (OK: 90% of men in Iran are called Reza!), and the other Reza (do keep up!), is a doctor! His wife had also befriended me by Email even before I visited Iran! I asked my Reza to call him and see if he could recommend any drugs (any thing I had used so far hadn’t worked!). Drugs were duly brought over, and I downed what I later learned was benzodiazepine!
I was shocked! But apparently it would “bind”, me (sorry, but you did say you wanted details!), and would also calm my shattered nerves! It seemed to do the trick, but thankfully didn’t make me fall asleep which was what scared me the most! Mum spread a sheet on the floor, followed by a silver tray of herbs, and a large wooden board covered in small bread squares and packets of cheese! These were to make up small sandwiches which would be distributed to guests after our niqah. No formal meal is served on this day; all that is saved for the reception, so the small food items were just to “sweeten people’s mouths!”. Reza helped mum make them up, and I offered to help too, however given that I sat with my head facing the wall because the smell of cheese makes me sick, coupled with the fact that my attempts at smart tight cylindrical sandwiches looked more like cabbage roses! So I was politely told to but out!” (well, take rest, but message received!). There wasn’t time to rest however, so instead, I ironed my niqah dress (a green and maroon salwar suit with matching dupata), and then headed off for a shower! Green is the colour of weddings in Iran, but as I couldn’t locate an all green salwar, and because I always visioned myself in a red lehenga, green and maroon felt like a compromise. Once changed, my sister-in-law arrived to help me get ready. They all had lunch, while I played ‘dodge the food! And once done, they set to work on me! I had wanted to have my eyebrows threaded, but there was apparently no one to do that, so my sis and mum each got a set of tweezers and got plucker happy, while I, with tears streaming down my face sat nursing my aching stomach and focusing on the forced smile I’d just coined! Plucking over, they began on my make-up. This was a real worry for me; I don’t wear make-up normally, and my experiences in Karachi meant that I was already having nightmares in which I looked like a cross between a ghost and a clown! Thankfully though, my pleas to Reza hadn’t fallen on deaf ears, and he kept emphasising “light”, which seemed to do the trick! They then tied my hair in to a tight bun on top of my head, and covered it with a white cotton rusari, and finished the look by draping it with a green and gold shawl: I was ready!
In a flurry of aftershave, boxes and photographs, Reza and I made our way down to the waiting cars. I was fairly relaxed at this point: that was, until we entered the registry office! I had always envisioned something like a masjid! But the venue for our niqah was nothing like that at all! It resembled the British style Registry offices, and was located next to a court! We entered a room where around 30 people could be seated at a push. There was a small raised platform at one end with a sofa on it, where Reza and I would be seated. In front of that was a long table, on top of which mum was preparing the ritual wedding items. The niqah in Persian is known as the Aqt (or swearing ceremony), and the table arrangement is known as a sufreh Aqt (sufreh meaning spread or cloth). For a picture, and more info on this, see: or:
The arrangement for us consisted of 2 matching candle sticks, a qur’an, some herbs, a complete works of ‘Hafiz Poetry, a mirror, a silver tray containing our rings, and a small pot of honey, and 2 large cubes of sugar!
As mum got busy with all this, my sister and the rest of the family went out to welcome their guests. Reza and I were called in to a small office outside of the main parlour, where a woman, who looked like an administrator took our details and copies of our passports. She seemed shocked that I was a foreigner, and didn’t speak Farsi, and demanded I recite Shahada in order to confirm I was a “real Muslim”, something which made me smile! She didn’t do a very good job of relaying all this to the ‘moulana, who was to read our niqah either! Reza had met the moulana we were expecting, who also turned out to have previously served in the Iranian Centre here in Glasgow! So we were shocked that he didn’t seem to get it! A few moments later, in walked another moulana, and the huge hour-long explanation began again. I found it all irritating, but as I couldn’t understand or respond, I had to let poor Reza deal with it. When every one was relatively satisfied that I wasn’t dodgy, they began reading out our marriage contract (with intervals for Reza to translate). Once they had read through the mahr (which oddly enough, I realised we hadn’t ever talked about!), we hit something else I hadn’t accounted for! The moulana asked me if I wanted to have the right to divorce: that is, to demand divorce without my husband’s consent! If I did, it meant I’d have to give up the right to my mahr apparently! Huh? I had no idea! What did I do in this situation! The moulana, and the contract writer were in front of us, we had no time or space to talk. In reality, because of my past experiences, I did want the right to divorce, yet it was such a horrible thought when in reality I should be focusing on building a marriage, not breaking it! “er, …, what do you think?”, I asked Reza nervously “its entirely up to you!”, he rightly said! But how could I make that decision, and what would mum and baba think if they read that? I hesitated, and then shook my head, negating the right and fighting down a sudden nervous panic that grew in my chest. I was relieved when it was all over, and as we re-entered the parlour, many more people were waiting there to greet us!
I sat nervously on the sofa, adjusting my rusari and covering the odd stray hair. I silently recited Salawat, praying that Allah (SWT) would bless our marriage, and this sacred new chapter Reza and I were opening together. The moulana began to recite dua, and that’s when it struck me; this was really happening! Mum and my sister stood behind us, and raised a large green vale over Reza and I. Between them, they began to grate the large sugar cubes over us (cymbals of a good, or sweet, married life!). the mowlana introduced us, and surprisingly, talked about my journey to Islam, how blessed I was to find the truth, and how blessed the family were to be able to welcome a new revert! Which I thought was a nice touch! Mum then Spread open a large qur’an on my lap, and I looked nervously at Reza, wondering if I was supposed to read something (I wasn’t). The niqah progressed, as niqah ceremonies always do! Till we got to the part I was most worried about! The moulana asked me if I gave him permission to recite my niqah with Reza. In Persian Tradition, the bride does not consent the first time she is asked, and I had to fight the urge to reply as the room fell pensively silent! Instead of my answer, as per tradition, my sister responded and said, “the bride is picking flowers!”. The audience smiled as the moulana asked “how does a Western Bride know of such things!”, mum laughed and said “well, we taught her, and she learns fast!”. The moulana asked me again asked for my permission to recite the niqah, this time mum said “the bride is collecting rose Water!”. The moulana again laughed and said “yes, and next you’ll tell me she is returning from Kashhan!” (a town in Iran famous for Rose water!). Now it was my turn to speak! The moulana asked me a 3rd time, (According to Reza, I was shaking at this point!), but thanks to Allah (SWT) My few lines of Persian came out alright! The room erupted with joy, and I appeared not to be the only one who was relieved! As the room dissolved in excitement, the poor moulana had to remind every one that he wasn’t finished! And hadn’t recited the niqah yet! I laughed, but then got nervous again as I remembered he hadn’t asked Reza’s consent yet! Within a matter of moments it was over; minutes, that would change my life forever! In those moments, in a few sacred words I had completed my religion, I had become half of one being, 2 people joined as one in marriage, a gift, a miracle of Allah (SWT). Many get married, few have the honour of being with their true soul mate, their source of joy and the reason for their every smile, and mashallah I had it all that day, and Insha Allah forever!
Food was distributed, and family came to greet us. When they settled, Reza and I fed each other honey (another wedding tradition), and then exchanged wedding rings. Then came ‘the giving of the gifts! These were not the main wedding gifts, but were mainly gold and jewellery for the bride. Its not just given either! The gold has to be presented to the audience, along with details of who gave it, and if possible, the bride has to wear it (I ended up with 2 beautiful heavy necklaces tied tightly over my rusari so that I thought they would surely break!). Gold show over, it was time for the guests to return to our house with us. I sat in the back of the car with my husband, smiling and more relaxed than I’d been since I arrived in Tehran! The house was a buzz with excitement, people came to greet us again, and the music centre blared out Persian pop! Members of the family began to dance, and Reza and I were ordered to do the same! We span gently around the room, and were given money by aunts and cousins each time we circled it! I then danced a little with my sister, and a little more with her daughters, and then with baba too! I was happy that I belonged to a family who were not so formal that they didn’t enjoy these moments too! Every one was eating now; cake, fruit etc, but I just kept asking for tea and drank as much hot, sweet liquid as I could. As the family left, new guests arrived; this time Reza’s friends! Some I had met before, the rest were people I had only spoken to via the net, so I had fun trying to identify who might be who! We talked, and it was a relief for me to be able to laugh and joke a bit in my own language! The atmosphere was so relaxed, I prayed that night would never end! Sitting there in the presence of family and friends, I felt as though I had reached the last in a series of journeys or connections. Ever since meeting Reza in 2008, I had prayed for this day, never really believing it would actually come. That night, I slept, and didn’t have to dream; my duas had been answered, our life together had just begun. I woke up several times in the night, almost imagining I was dreaming, but then realising it was true; I was some one’s wife, I was married, and was truly, madly, exquisitely happy in every way! indeed Allah (SWT) is the best of planners!
*** Below is a video of a popular Persian wedding song, which echoed frequently during that night and the days proceeding our wedding; if there is one piece of Music that transports me back to the magic of Tehran; it is this one; enjoy!

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