Wedding belles

October 26, 2023
4 min

We were recently invited to a Muslim wedding. On the way, I talked to Safiyya (7) about how much special it is to be married.

I explained that Muslims do not really have boyfriends, only people they are intending to marry - we call these people fiancé’s. Safiyya understands immediately. “Oh yes, Sarah has had 6 fiance’s”, she confirms, referring to a teenage neighbour with a recent string of boyfriends.…

As we discuss marriage, Amaani (2) suddenly pipes up: “I want to tell you something”. We all wait expectantly. “I am scared a monster is going to eat my teddy bear”, she says tearfully. Safiyya resolves this crisis, by patiently explaining that you only get monsters in Scotland and we live a long way from there. Peace resumes once again. No-one gives a thought for the people in Scotland.

The journey was a long one, and of course the question ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ arose before we even reached the end of our road. Once we were genuinely nearly there, we played ‘spot the mosque’, which kept them entertained for a good 10 minutes: Amaani and Asim (3) identified all kinds of unlikely venues as mosques until they finally spotted our destination.

When the marriage ceremony had finished, I was a little surprised that people started congratulating each other instead of the bride and groom. It turned out that the two families were just welcoming each other into their family – and most of the hundreds of people there considered themselves part of this new family! At most English weddings we have been to, only the adults have been invited. But at this wedding, our three children happily joined the many others who were running around, stopping in their tracks occasionally to admire the bride.

After the meal, Amaani spent a long time under the table, munching on whatever chocolate she could find, all of which had started out beautifully wrapped in individual sachets but finished as one large chocolatey mess. I was happy she was out of trouble, and she was happy as she thought I couldn’t see what she was up to. Eventually it was time to extract her and round up the others. Amaani emerged from the mosque full of chocolate-related energy and therefore rather disappointed to discover that the sun was once again ‘going to sleep’. Actually, every day she is both surprised and sad that the sun has set; eventually she may reconcile herself to this particular fact of life and presumably will then develop other equally important concerns.

Whilst we waited for various cars to extricate themselves from the car park, I attempted to discuss the wedding with Asim, and started with the subject of the groom. “Well, he stood on tiptoes and I stood on tiptoes and he was bigger than me,” Asim answered, clearly confident of his subject matter. It was certainly true that the groom was taller, but I did find this contest hard to imagine. He went on to talk about how they played hide and seek. Of course Asim was actually relating what he considered to be a far more important incident which involved his little friends – and that very boy-ish pursuit of seeing who was bigger.

The subject of marriage came up a few days later in Fitra, our Muslim after-school club. One 7 year old suggests Joseph was Mary’s boyfriend. The class collapses into giggles, vaguely aware that the girl has said something a bit ‘rude’. We establish what a good person Mary was, and how special she was that she could have a baby without being married. At the end of the session, Safiyya noticed that one of the mums coming to collect her child was heavily pregnant. “You’re having a baby” noted Safiyya, perceptively. Convinced she had just identified either another virgin birth or something more scandalous, she swiftly followed up with the searching question, “Are you married?” Sadly for Safiyya, the response was positive and her investigation was abruptly curtailed.

I found a relatively calm moment to let Safiyya know that someone close to her had found their marriage was not working out, got divorced and since remarried. I prepared myself to deal with her reaction. “But that’s brilliant”, Safiyya immediately replied. I wondered if I had misheard. And she carried on: “She has had two husbands, two weddings – and two lots of presents”.