Something Borrowed, Something Hot Pink

Author Photo Jennifer Zobair Painted Hands-1

The first Muslim wedding I attended was my own.

When I was twenty-seven and working in New York City, I connected with a fellow Georgetown Law grad. He had a first name I’d never heard before, a Mustang I hated, and an apartment near the Long Island Sound where he took me the first time I visited. Standing in front of the salty sea, I was filled with the overwhelming conviction that I wanted to stay.

When we got engaged, I broke the news to my friends and family in ways intended to distract from his Muslim faith. I emphasized a beautiful diamond, his law degree from my alma mater, a man raised in this country.

I did not initially mention that I’d decided to convert.
 

 
To sell the forthcoming wedding to my family, I promised they wouldn’t have to pay for it. As a result, I’m sure they assumed it was customary in my husband’s culture for the groom’s family to host the ceremony and the reception. I rationalized that this was only fair, that of course people should not have to foot the bill for something so unfamiliar to them. Still, the irrational part of me wished that they’d insisted, that they’d said what was important about the wedding was not its form, but its substance.

On his side, we also trafficked in appeasement. I knew his marrying outside of his culture was no small thing. I wanted to be agreeable. I wanted to be liked. I found myself saying that yes, I would love to wear a hot pink gharara to my wedding. I willed my facial expression to suggest that I’d never wanted anything more.

Later, I mentally recycled the bridal magazines full of white dresses with fitted bodices and enormous skirts that I’d dreamed of wearing. We were getting married in a mosque. My arms and shoulders had to be covered. If I couldn’t have a strapless gown, I reasoned, was it really such a stretch to wear hot pink?

Before the pink, I wore yellow. A traditional shalwar kameez with a matching dupatta that would spend the entire evening of my henna ceremony slipping off of my hair. As I prepared to enter the hall full of waiting women, I smiled, filled with anticipation. It was short-lived. Someone grabbed my arm and said, “Not like that! Bow your head!” At that moment, the unfamiliar became uncomfortable. Somehow, I’d agreed not just to having a conservative Pakistani wedding, but to being a conservative Pakistani bride — somber, heartbroken to be leaving her family. I realized that my very feminist self was playing a role.

I performed so well that the evening ended with me crying in my mother’s hotel room.

I rebounded for the wedding the following day. Although I’d never worn a gharara, I said I’d get ready at my apartment with my friends and family. We worked it out. Determined not to spend another evening with a silk scarf sliding off my head, I safety pinned the pink dupatta to my hair. When I couldn’t get the gold tikka to stay in place on my forehead without it unattractively parting my hair, my best friend used spray and worked her magic. I emerged from the bedroom, and my teenage brother nearly fell out of his chair.

“I wasn’t expecting the pink,” he said.

My husband and I had the briefest of ceremonies. There was no talk, as I have since heard at many modern Muslim weddings, about the significance of marriage, no advice for a young couple. There was simply the terse reading and signing of a contract, and after, food.

We were saved by, of all things, a fight over shoes.

There is a tradition in Pakistani weddings where the bride’s family members steal the groom’s shoes. To get them back he must pay for them. At our wedding, this became a protracted, raucous affair, certainly pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior as my male cousins nearly wrestled with my husband’s female relatives for control of the shoes. For the first time that night, the tension eased. People laughed. Relatives and guests on both sides loosened up. I cut the cake. I tossed my bouquet. I focused on the adage that a bad wedding means a good marriage.

I have since been to dozens of Indian and Pakistani Muslim weddings. They are some of the most beautiful ceremonies I have witnessed. In contrast to the ubiquitous black at formal American weddings, female South Asian guests wear bright, vibrant colors. Often held at a hotel or hall and not a mosque, arms can be bared and music is allowed. Frequently, flower girls carry sweets and drop petals. Sometimes people dance. Imams speak warmly and reassuringly about the importance of love and compromise and commitment.

There are familiar things, and new traditions that have since become familiar.

I now realize that in trying to please our families and make marrying outside of our respective cultures more palatable, my husband and I gave away our wedding. We let it be for and about other people. It’s a kind thing, but it’s also a cowardly thing. In retrospect, I wish we’d worried less about what everyone thought and more about creating a ceremony that was meaningful to us, that honored both of our cultures and the young adults we’d become.

According to the Old English rhyme, a bride needs something borrowed, but it should not be the entire wedding.

Jennifer Zobair grew up in Iowa and attended Smith College and Georgetown Law School. She has practiced corporate and immigration law and, as a convert to Islam, is a strong advocate for Muslim women’s rights. Her debut novel, Painted Hands, about strong, successful Muslim women in Boston, was published by St. Martin’s Press in June. Her essays have appeared in The Rumpus and The Huffington Post . Jennifer lives with her husband and three children outside of Boston. She can be found online at http://www.JenniferZobair.com

Read an interview with Jennifer about her debut novel at Writer’s Digest, here.


18 Comments on “Something Borrowed, Something Hot Pink”

  1. myrashaukat says:

    Such a nice read, Jennifer!

  2. indiajones says:

    This is a cool read ! What would you have to say about Zoroastrian, Shinto, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian Orthodoxy, and other weddings, where the couple have found bliss, during and after the ceremony, in their life ? Would you say that this is largely a personal viewpoint ?

    • I’m not fully sure I understand the question, but I do think that couples of all backgrounds and religions–and even interfaith couples and absolutely Muslim couples–can find bliss both in the ceremony and after. I simply think it’s important to honor both your family’s traditions/expectations as well as the wishes of yourself and your future spouse.

  3. Nice write up Jennifer. I enjoyed it from the beginning without taking a break. I am also at crossroads now because eventhough i was born muslim, my family are not so conscious. I am planning to have my wedding in a mosque and my reception in an orchard, strictly islamic and i know it’s going to cause conflict within my family. What do you advice?

    • I think that sounds like a beautiful wedding! I think communication is important, and of course listening to your family’s thoughts. But I think if you approach them with love and respect and explain why you want certain traditions–why these would be meaningful to you–hopefully they will understand. It’s not easy, I know, and I wish you all the best.

  4. Marie says:

    This was absoloutely wonderful. A beautiful piece of writing.

  5. Anonymous bride says:

    This is amazing. I was from the same culture but still missed having the wedding of my dreams. I planned the big day(s) for years (as any other girl would). I decided since I was getting the opportunity to marry the man of my dreams that I would be submissive to all and any opinions and traditions of both sides of the family. I didn’t get to choose or wear the wedding dress that I had dreamed and picked out for myself in my head over and over again, day after day, night after night. So many things went wrong during the blissful event, but my wedding dress was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to overcome. I still find myself picking out a wedding dress on Facebook when I see boutiques promoting their bridal wear. What did I really give up for a little acceptance and need to avoid conflict. I don’t think I’ve ever forgiven my mom for it, but I try to come to terms with it by reassuring myself that at least my marriage worked out, which is what counts at the end anyways. But who am I fooling…taking away the most precious moment of a girl’s life is “almost” equivalent to telling a boy he can’t drive when he turns 16. The two analogies don’t come close in comparison, but I feel that the pain must be somewhat close relatively. I pray that someday either I’ll get to renew my vows on my conditions and terms or that I’ll get over it.

    I appreciate someone writing about this topic. It’s been three years since I got married, the nightmare doesn’t reappear every minute anymore, but the pain still exists. I’m hoping you find some kind of peace with the situation.🙂

  6. Anonymous bride says:

    This is amazing. I was from the same culture but still missed having the wedding of my dreams. I planned the big day(s) for years (as any other girl would). I decided since I was getting the opportunity to marry the man of my dreams that I would be submissive to all and any opinions and traditions of both sides of the family. I didn’t get to choose or wear the wedding dress that I had dreamed and picked out for myself in my head over and over again, day after day, night after night. So many things went wrong during the blissful event, but my wedding dress was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to overcome. I still find myself picking out a wedding dress on Facebook when I see boutiques promoting their bridal wear. What did I really give up for a little acceptance and need to avoid conflict. I don’t think I’ve ever forgiven my mom for it, but I try to come to terms with it by reassuring myself that at least my marriage worked out, which is what counts at the end anyways. But who am I fooling…taking away the most precious moment of a girl’s life is “almost” equivalent to telling a boy he can’t drive when he turns 16. The two analogies don’t come close in comparison, but I feel that the pain must be somewhat close relatively. I pray that someday either I’ll get to renew my vows on my conditions and terms or that I’ll get over it.

    I appreciate someone writing about this topic. It has been three years since I got married, the pain isn’t unbearable anymore, but it still exists and reappears often. I hope you find peace with your situation too.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your own experience. Interestingly, since this piece posted, I’ve heard from a lot of people who did not have interfaith or intercultural marriages, who still did not get the wedding they wanted–usually because of the sincere (and kind) desire to honor family wishes. It is a tough issue, because a wedding is a family and community event. I think in the best circumstances, everyone talks, everyone telegraphs their expectations, and compromise occurs. But it is a big day for a bride, and it should definitely feel like her wedding.

      In the years since I got married, the traditional outfits of my husband’s culture have now become familiar to me, and I wear them with ease and enjoyment for holidays and parties. But for the actual wedding, I wish I’d worn what I’d wanted, because it did make it feel like I was playing a role in someone else’s wedding.

      I wish you all the best. If you ever want to talk about it more, feel free to email me– jazobair AT Comcast DOT net.

  7. […] an interview with Jennifer about Painted Hands at Writer’s Digest,   Click here to read her Loveinshallah.com blog […]

  8. […] essays have appeared in The Huffington Post, The Rumpus, The Lascaux Review, and on websites like Love InshAllah and Feminism and Religion. Jennifer is currently at work on her second novel.  She lives with her […]

  9. […] of a group of Muslim female friends. She has contributed to LoveInshallah with her essay, “Something Borrowed, Something Pink” and an interview about her novel.  She recently started the site, story and chai: reading […]

  10. […] essays have appeared in The Huffington Post, The Rumpus, The Lascaux Review, and on websites like Love InshAllah and Feminism and Religion. Jennifer is currently at work on her second novel.  She lives with her […]

  11. […] essays have appeared in The Huffington Post, The Rumpus, The Lascaux Review, and on websites like Love InshAllah and Feminism and Religion. Jennifer is currently at work on her second novel.  She lives with her […]

  12. […] essays have appeared in The Huffington Post, The Rumpus, The Lascaux Review, and on websites like Love InshAllah and Feminism and Religion. Jennifer is currently at work on her second novel.  She lives with her […]