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My Big Fat Muslim Wedding: Saturday, August 18th, 2018


The bride wore cream, the bridesmaids wore pink, the bride cried when she took pictures with her daddy and ruined her mascara, her big sister was running round helping everyone and therefore showing up late,  her little sister was putting the Kardashians to shame, my younger big sister was running off for a gasper, the bridegroom’s friends were blowing their car horns, my bigger big sister was beaming, her son and his family came from the States to Scotland for the day, I myself spent two days, and the only difference between this wedding and any other wedding was, well, the social and cultural signifiers… but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

When my big sister, the Grandmother of the bride, was 16 years old, she had a huge engagement party in Damascus, Syria. It was the summer of 1963 and I was six years old at the time and I remember it vividly: 1300 guests, including the President Of Syria (Amin al-Hafiz -beginning the Baathist reign of error which has lasted till this day). It was a very hot August night, a huge place of  lights and filled tables, dancefloors and waiters, high fashionistas and traditionalists, and a culture shock for we five children raised outside Arab society in the UK, baffled in a Syria long gone, and 55 years later, existing  only in  our memories..

Fast forward to early this year and the very same sister inviting me to her Granddaughter’s wedding in Scotland. My Great niece and her now husband met on Facebook (he followed my page and ran into her there one day). Well, the only thing that could have kept me away was if Taylor Swift chose to perform her concert from my living room, since that didn’t happen, I booked my ticket, my sister paid for my hotel room for two nights (I shared it with another sister), I left nyc on  the Thursday afternoon, the wedding was on Saturday, and I returned last night.

If my family was religiously vapid even by Lebanese standards, my niece’s husband is Algerian, and as for their religion, I guess it is more orthodox then we secular humanists tend to be. My niece’s family are deeply religious Muslims without being fanatics at all, I wish you could meet them. If there is a sweeter, more peace-loving man than my nephew-in-law I have no idea who it is, raising three daughters requires a delicate touch and to watch his gentleness with them is a joy of restrained intelligence refusing to give into ego or brutality. They, their extended family and friends, are as far away from the fires of eternal hell and kill all infidels Arab extremists Jihadism as rock nyc editor Helen Bach, is from the Christian extreme right. The family straddles the line between complete immersion into Scottish culture and the tenants of their religion, they are a message of love by example. At the wedding I was speaking to a doctor, a Palestinian originally from Haifa, whose family was wiped out in 1948 with only his mother, eleven years of age at the time, surviving. The mother keeps the key to her lost home till this day. And his message is the same as my agnostic belief: tolerance, and co-existence, and self-determination.

However, tolerance, and co-existence, and self-determination, is in exceedingly short supply during International travel, a mind-numbing string of indignations, that may help -terrorists haven’t blown anybody out of the sky since 2001 in the US, though there have been three near misses I’m aware of and many I am unaware of. Even so, the daunting lines to get anywhere have turned a seven hour trip into a day long nightmare of photographs, body searches, and intrusiveness. My trip back from Glasgow to London suffered a ten minute delay that ended up forcing me to run at full tilt for fifteen minutes in order to reach my connecting flight after, again, being checked and then double checked, by customs, for no apparent reason.

I have always loved Scotland,  so it was a pleasure to be back in a country that gave me so much pleasure in my youth. There is nine years between myself and my niece, and I remember her in a stroller pulling the  ears of the industrial estate her late father used to manage’s mammoth guard dogs. She looks remarkably similar to that baby even still, a petite, very pretty round-faced woman, and all three of her girls physically resemble her. They are all lovely, and the bride was simply stunning. My sister and niece  picked me up at the airport, and what would you do if you were visiting Scotland for the first time in six years? I promptly went to sleep and then just as promptly wike up and reached out for fish and chips.

The house was filled with people and I am far from a people person, however I am very fond of my family, all of them, though the youngest of the family is one of my five favorite people of all time. Her effortless charm, and extreme kindness to everybody (you should see the way she handles her father) is very much like my side of the family. Of all my nieces, nephews, great nieces and great nephews, she is the only one that seriously reminds me of her Great Grandfather, a sort of internalized gentleness with the human race and a ton of sass mixed in. Her eldest sister is a steely planner, and a no-nonsense organizer (she’s a Scottish girl, crazy about Michael Jackson -whom she wrote bout once here, a post that remains a reader’s favorite ), and the bride, the mid of the brood  daughter, is the sort of woman who has a menagerie of rabbits in the back garden and a constant self-determinization she got from her mommy. Their father tries to protect them, though they are all such good women, and so unwilling to be messed with, it doesn’t feel as though they need much protection.

That Friday afternoon, another older sister (a born again Christian, which makes me the only slacker) arrived from Manchester, England. Her post-Beirut experience most resembles my own, though I haven’t dealt with mine with half the courage she has with hers, raising two children singlehandedly. We called my third sister in Fresno, so with four of us together for the first time since the mid-1970s, and only my older brother missing in Australia, it was a true reunion. It was moving listening to my sisters remembering the old days, the Grandmother of the bride was 26 when my dad died, I was fifteen, so she obviously has a different level of memories than I do. By the time the father of the bride showed it sure felt like old times. He and I reformed our old band, No Direction (you’ve heard of One Direction…), though there was some squabbling over who exactly was gonna be Harry Styles. My consensus of one was that I should be Harry,  though the women in the room seemed to question it. The next day troops of bridesmaids showed up, looking absolutely beautiful in matching  blush colored gowns that went so well with their olive complexions (I have no idea if any of that is true, I paraphrase from my Helen’s recollections) and the bride was completely beautiful, that I did remember.

If all this sounds like the same ol’ same ol’, once we reached the reception the changes were obviously. There was no alcohol. There were two reception halls, segregated by sex.  I hear that the music in the women’s hall was a mix of east and west, in the men’s hall it was all Arabic pop with heavier drums than I remember. The Islamic concept is essentially that except for close family members men can not be trusted around women; a theory that seemed far more patronizing before the #metoo movement and men’s predatory nature could no longer be hidden. The result of segregating men from women is self-evident everywhere from the Scouts to the Catholic Church. This is not news, it is proven as one cause of homosexuality: in tests, male rats were sequestered from their females and homosexuality became rampant. The same in prisons, the same in English boarding schools, the same anywhere you remove women from the company of men. I would say that 1) I care not a fig who consenting adults have sex with and 2) I spent years in the Middle East and find the gentleness that men treat each other is quite moving though really a little strange. Men in the West don’t hold hands with other men in public unless they are gay, that’s not true in the middle east where male physical affection is a constant.  The evening began with Islam prayers (the boy who was chanting the words learnt them phonetically -we were in Scotland after all) before a delicious meal, and then another call to prayers. Men were allowed to visit with women,  but they needed permission before they entered the other hall. I did ask about that and I do accept to a limited degree that women felt more comfortable without the prying eyes of men upon them. There were a lot of eligible men and women at the wedding reception and it is a pity they didn’t have the opportunity to meet in acceptable circumstances.

The music was Algerian dance pop with a very long wind instrument that looks like a flute and sounds like a tinny banjo meets a shepherd’s horn,  played along to new school beats. The mens’ dancing was impeccable, they moved together hand on hip, like belly dancers, swinging with none of the aggressiveness you would see in a mosh pit, where all sexual tension is sublimated into violence, or country swing where the boots on ground are strictly masculine, the Algerian dancing bypasses testerone’s  sweep and substitutes sexuality with sensuality, the mechanism is a fluidity that disavows pronouns. Myself and my great nephew joined in, but my nephew got himself into the by invite women’s hall where he cut the rug with his niece the bride, who can still rock and roll. I left at around ten o’clock while the party was still in full swing.

The next day the youngest great niece, my niece, and my sister, drove my other sister to the train station and myself to the airport. The YGN will be 17 tomorrow, and I was particularly touched that she bothered to see us off after two late nights in a row. If the roles were reversed I don’t think I could have managed it! The truth is, the entire family were unfailingly generous to me and to everyone around them. I wished her Great Grandfather could have been there, could have seen how his children hadn’t entirely lost their way and let him down and the wonderful things we had to show for it.  I wished her Grandfather could have been there, too. But something of them was there, in her, and her entire family, they remained in thoughts, memories, and also in a physicality, in a look, a smile, an expression, a flair of temple, a kiss on the cheek.  All is not lost by the inevitable and eventual tide of time: the renewal of the bride and groom, and  how it lives on without us,  as though we are there any way, allowed my father and brother-in-law to fill the evening with joy. Because the young, happy couple are there proving nothing ever dies,We all live on, forever.


  1. Kathy Peer on August 20, 2018 at 6:02 pm

    Oh, Iman! What a lovely recounting of a truly heartwarming family experience! Tolerance, coexistence and self determination: human trifecta. I should have loved to have been present at the celebration!

    • admin on August 20, 2018 at 6:30 pm

      And I wish you could have joined us, thank you -IL

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