My handsome groom and I
Here I am reading the Quran with my feet soaking
The lovely bride… me!
Our life-sized unity candle
Before I begin describing the traditional part of my wedding, there are a few aspects of getting married that I need to make clear for readers in order to avoid any confusion.
In the Arab countries, it is of vital importance for the groom to take permission from the father of the bride-to-be before any wedding could commence; every one is involved in organizing the wedding as the family is a tight unit. It is usually the bride’s side of the family that pays for an engagement party while the groom’s side of the family pays for the wedding.
My wedding was kind of like a “shot gun wedding…” It took my parents some time to accept my decision to marry someone who was not of my culture, background or religion. They believed that marriage had its usual problems with men and women being very different from one another, the stresses of having children, stresses of work and trying to build a secure life, and living under one roof. Therefore, they were afraid that if the cultural, traditional and religious background differences were added to that equation, I would not have the easy comfortable life that they wanted me to have. They were and still are protective parents and therefore, I do not blame them for their trepidations.
I did not have an engagement party but my mother made sure to throw me an exquisite “marriage certificate” celebration, Katb Iktab (as it is called in Palestine) or Mahr (as it is called in Iraq). And what an awesome ceremony it was… My dear Uncle in Amman took all of the above pictures and I will go through each one explaining the meaning behind them… Since my father is Iraqi and my mother is Palestinian, she decided to join both cultures and traditions together.
I wore a traditional Palestinian Thobe (a hand embroidered dress in different Palestinian cross stitch designs) which my mother bought… but then embroidered the cover of the Quran with the same colors as well as the top of the box it came in. The other parts of the ceremony are Iraqi… except for lighting the candles which is a shared tradition. In Palestinian customs, the bride wears ten thimbles on her fingers with ten lit candles on them.
I was reading a certain section/part of the Quran over and over again while my feet were soaking in a pot filled with water, jasmine flowers and green leaves. This is a traditional Iraqi custom to signify fertility and blessings… that may my life be showered with greenery and flower scents.
The passage in the Quran talks about the marriage between men and women and how God created two genders so that they could mingle, love and be there for each other. My sweet mother kept pouring warm water into that brass pot fearing that I would get cold.
The women sit in one room and the men in another for the first part of the ceremony and until the marriage certificate is signed. My husband and his father, my father, my two uncles who were witnesses and the rest of the men were sitting in another room with the Sheikh who was to bless the marriage.
On the table in front of me there was a silver tray with seven dishes filled with white and green things (such as sugar cubes, cardamom, henna, rice, yogurt… to signify blessings and fertility and a white peaceful marriage) , a mirror (to reflect all the good that is in this world), a lit candle (to mean that we will always have each other to light our path… but in my case there were 3 lit candles; joy, love and peace) and a lock and key to indicate that I have locked his heart forever… I was supposed to throw the key away afterward but I have no idea what happened to that key!
The Sheikh’s responsibility was to ask my father, my husband and I a few questions before my husband and I and the witnesses signed the certificate. For example, the men had to talk about the right to take care of me and protect me… the Dowry (before marriage and after in case of divorce) and the like… Most of it was translated into English for my husband of course or he would have been like a deaf man in a Zaffeh (an Arab saying)… Zaffeh is the first section of a White Wedding ceremony with loads of people drumming and cheering.
The three questions that were asked of me were:
- Do I accept this man to be my husband?
- Is it my choice to marry him?
- Did my father or anyone else force me to marry him?
During the whole time I was asked by the Sheikh and was signing the certificate, my sister in law, cousin and best friend were right on top of me. My sister in law and cousin were carrying a white cloth while my best friend was rubbing two large blocks of sugar together on top of my head while the sugar grains fell onto the cloth. This signifies blessings of sweet moments and events in my married life.
After that the men went back to the men’s side for the witnesses and my husband to sign the certificate, shake hands and read the Fatiha verse of the Quran to start the marriage with a blessing.
Another tradition is the lighting of a life-sized candle that stood in the hall greeting the visitors and which was later brought in to stand amongst the guests. My mother tried to find one that was my height but was unable to… however she did a fantastic job with this one… It is supposed be lit during the whole Katb Iktab, the next day when I had the reception wearing my white dress, on every wedding anniversary and the day a child is born. My mother still has it stored in her closet to this day.
After the whole ceremony, Kunafeh is served… It is a sweet cheese delicacy with crunchy fine vermicelli and sugar syrup….yet again signifying a sweet start to the marriage.
I wish you every kind of blessing in this world and may you be surrounded by greenery, white, candles, mirrors and sugar!