Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.
I have a twenty-year-old cousin who is getting married tonight, Insha Allah [at the time of writing that part]. He, one Mazhar Alam, from his home: one of the Imāms of the East London Mosque is going to be conducting it, Insha Allah. And she, his wife-to-be, Sadia Akthar: from her home.
A sacred declaration: I agree to the terms; I agree to be bound to you, in this way; to care for you, and to be true.
With Allah as our Witness,
and with these very people as our witnesses.
The atmosphere, with the gazebo in the garden, felt calm. And cute. And ‘soulful’; infused with something lovelily ‘spiritual’. Like something is happening, bloom, and yet… it’s real life continued, all at the same time. And now, pink and blue have met, and now they have, in a way, merged into one.
I would say that I am just such a romantic cynic. It is strange how the two inclinations can coexist: it seems as though the inherent romanticism in the way I think does not really seem to conflict with these more ‘overthinking’ cynical parts, and vice versa. Dear readers of this blog, I know I have spoken about marriage a lot, and for that I… half-apologise, half-don’t at all, actually.
I just know that marriage has been ‘prescribed’ for us, and that mankind has been made for it: something beneficial, something beautiful, even though it gets difficult too. Ādam and Eve, and every pair that has walked the earth since.
In a spouse, one is meant to find repose, mercy and compassion, and affection. A human being has spiritual, emotional, and physical and material yearnings, wants, needs: generally, a man is in want of a woman, and a woman is in want of a man.
I just know that it is somewhere between the uglier parts of Dunya: the sad and the empty; it is not wholly ‘fairytale‘ either, since both bride and groom are holistic human beings. To paraphrase something my uncle said (when he had been asked to do a speech at a garden party at Mazhar’s house) he said that… both of you have your strengths. Both of you (certainly) have your shortcomings. But seek the Khayr (goodness) always, and Allah is your Protector.
It’s a[nother] challenge as well as blessing: can’t have one without the other. I speak as though I have experience with being married. I do not. But based off of what the experienced have taught me.
If a man values a woman, and is committed to her, he seeks Nikkah with her, in lieu of the stuff of uncertainty, a-religion, and secrecy. [Women are allowed to propose to men they like too!].
I think my cousin Mazhar is doing quite a brave thing, Masha Allah. Others in the community seem to have been talking about it. This is Sunnah, and it’s good to go ahead when the time feels right, even in the presence of certain worries and such; keeping it simpler and easy tends to bring much in terms of good. And I know that Allah returns goodness with much more goodness. For example, even if one is concerned about lacking the financial means to get married: trust in God regardless. In Islamic history, there have been individuals who had such fears. But they did the Halāl, advisable thing; turned away from Zinaa’ and indecency. Honoured themselves, and women. And Allah was Sufficient; He boosted them in wealth, goodness, and whatever else.
I know that it is somewhat rare to hear of twenty-year-olds getting married these days, in these parts of the world. But: in spite of current institutions and modes of thinking that seek to keep us infantilised and irresponsible, seemingly for as long as possible… we hit maturity when we physically, evidently do. [Look into your history books, to see examples of nineteen-year-olds and such who have done extraordinary things, Masha Allah]. We become capable. And everything from then onwards is a constant journey of growth, development, learning: even in marriage. Maybe even especially therein. You continue to live [real] life, and now together.
It seems as though so many in my community adhere to the mentality that… people ‘must’ go through the popularly-accepted ‘stages of life’ before ‘settling down’ to get married. College, three or so years of university. Work, take your time with ‘potentials’, save up tons of money, and only then, after ‘youth’ can come the ‘more serious stuff’.
But marriage, when done right, is less end and more beginning; also, typically, when people are presented with responsibilities, we tend to adapt in order to take them on [e.g. my cousin Mazhar ― the groom ― towards his three younger siblings, Masha Allah]. There are Muslim couples who had secured their Nikkah at the ages of, say, seventeen and eighteen. Twenty and twenty. When you are ready to take care of another, and of yourself, you are ready. You will not ever be ‘perfect’, and nor will they. But the principles of Nikkah in Islam are so timelessly elegant and wise; for the right person, by God’s Will, you’ll be sufficiently ‘ready’. With your [necessary, human] insecurities, flaws, fears and all. [And your strengths. Let’s give due consideration to these too!]
Islamically, generally, the man has certain obligations — duties to carry out — towards the woman [e.g. to provide for her in terms of clothing, food, and home (although sometimes it so happens that the woman is wealthier than he, so I think we can conclude that such things are not actually requirements. Circumstances can vary). And to be kind to her: a requirement, certainly]. And while the woman has certain responsibilities towards her husband. Rights and responsibilities; the checks and the balances.
You can study together, at the same time [just as my cousin and his wife-to-be shall do, Insha Allah. Formally, he studies Economics, while she studies Creative Writing, Masha Allah. Last night, a relative of ours had (jokingly) made fun of studying English at uni, talking about what’s ‘wrong’ with it. Mazhar’s response: “I don’t care. My wife’s studying English!” And: woah. He called her his wife, and it was newly true, in that moment, Masha Allah!]. You can travel. Build things: a business, maybe. Be ‘childish’ (i.e. core-ishly human) together; be open [I’m not so fond of the word ‘vulnerable’. So: real, open]. Live this life [while remembering that… Dunya is Dunya. This is not Jannah], continued, and yet anew, together. True liberation is found in being tethered to, bound to, all the right things. Deen, family; the institution of marriage, which is family’s cornerstone. Liberation cannot be found in egoistic careerism, or in loose relationships here and there. There is liberation, and there is loneliness/the stuff that is spiritually quite empty: sometimes each thing seems like its other, but as I have learnt: things are certainly not always what they seem.
There are cultural variations when it comes to marriage. But, as Muslims: so long as we are ‘enjoining what is good; forbidding what is evil’. Bengali Muslims: first may come the courtship period. Perhaps: an initial approach. Meetings, with the woman’s Walī (guardian) present. To move further:
The families meet. Each side, in turn, goes over to the other’s, bearing food and gifts, typically. They meet, have tea and conversations; family members are introduced to one another.
If both sides would like to continue, then talks regarding the marriage. Venue, attire, maybe. Food considerations, Mahr. The bride may want to have a Mendhi party [my Bhabi – cousin-sister-in-law – had a women’s-only one, and without music. It is impressive, Masha Allah, when people determinedly stick to their Islamic principles]. And then: Nikkah, and Walīma [i.e. the gathering for… you guessed it… food!]
I am not sure if this is what is always done, but based on what I’ve seen during different family weddings this does seem to be tradition, and I quite like it: the bride’s side gifts the groom’s with his clothes for the day. Maybe: a watch, too. Shoes, and other things. The groom’s side might gift the bride: her clothes, makeup, jewellery, and some other gifts, before the big day, that moment.
Generally, the day after the wedding/Walīma, the bride’s side (in Bengali tradition) takes food over to the groom’s. Breakfast platters: enough for everybody. My aunt (Sweetie) does such an amazing job with these things, Masha Allah Allahummabārik. Homemade food, exquisite gift/food hampers. And that next night, I think: ‘Nayor’. When the bride and her husband return to the bride’s family’s home, to stay over.
Oh, and, traditionally [Bengali, not necessarily a universally ‘Muslim’ thing:] the homes of the bride and groom are decorated; inside, sometimes, and also outside, with fairy lights, and a gate (a decorated archway) sometimes. And when someone comes to another’s house for the first time, they get a cup of milk. Married couples entering a relative’s house as a married couple, for instance: you tend to get milk with rose-y syrup mixed in it. Today, post-‘Akht’ (Nikkah declaration) Mazhar went over to Sadia[not I but the other one]’s house, where he and his ‘boys’ he’d been accompanied by gave their family Mishti (Bengali sweets) and were given crystal glasses of milk to drink. Mazhar spoke with Sadia. We ate with the women; I was super awkward (in my own head at least), and at one point sought to fill the ‘awkward silence’ by explaining that when I (Insha Allah) get married, since Mazhar has declared that ‘initiation into this family for men is dependent on their ability to beat him in a physical fight’, I’d prefer for my person (Insha Allah) to verse Mazhar in chess instead. True strength is up here *points to brain. Or at the mind in general*.
Sadia’s brother did a fireworks display outside; some families stood outside on their balconies, and on the street, to watch. One woman, standing with her family, thanked us for the display, and yelled out her enthused congratulations. [Another woman had not been happy about it though… Admittedly, understandably so: ’twas quite late.]
Mazhar and I
‘grew up together’. He is three months older than I, and he was my ‘best friend’ and my first ‘brother’. We had twin highchairs, twin toys, matching clothes sometimes. I have been hospitalised at least three times as a child [1. plastic sword in the eye. 2. ‘Spider-Man stair climb’. 3. golf ball in the eye] because of him. Apparently, once [when we were much younger] I punched him in the face and busted his nose, but I have no real recollection of that. It’s strange that now we are older, and we sort of naturally drifted apart. We were at the same school together — and, for the most part, in the same classes — from Nursery to Year Eleven. Strange times (in such a good way, Masha Allah), to see him get married. We — Mazhar, Tamanna, I, and the rest — are older now. [Are we wiser though? I think I am still kind of the same…]. We’re living these lives of ours, and with adult-y autonomy and all. Those days are long-gone, memories. Strange: whom do we become, from these points onwards? [A big part of whom we end up becoming, growing into being: whom our spouses end up being, no doubt.]
The Big Day
The bride’s side wore pink: a sort of light-dusty pink, for the most part at least. Our side wore navy blue (for the most part, at least). In the morning, we gathered at Mazhar’s. Outside, there had been a quite-big cluster of Mazhar’s friends: two from our primary school, two from our secondary school, a few from Youth Council, and a few presumably from his sixth form [in terms of being at the same school, after Year Eleven, we parted ways. In the kindest way possible, I felt I… had to experience school without my first cousin being there.]
Family members gathered at the house. We took our cars: some hired [Mazhar had hired a GTR]. Some: my dad’s mini-van. But with a navy blue ribbon at the front. Not quite a sports car [my brother Saif took my space in the back of the GTR. Insha Allah, on his wedding day, I shall firmly request a space in the Lambo or whatever else, reminding him of that time he took my space in a sports car] but… it did the job of comfortable transportation, Masha Allah.
I spent time with Fifa (Nazifah, my good friend Tamanna’s sister. Tamanna had grown up alongside Mazhar and me too, but she had other commitments today, so here I am, writing a blog article about it for her to read Insha Allah) and with my paternal cousins Priya and Alisha. And with my maternal second cousins, later on, in the marquee: Jameelah. Ibrahim, Ayyub, and my first cousin Moosa: entertainment, no doubt. My goodness, how similar they are. Daneen: what a sweetheart, Masha Allah. She has my heart. Today I discovered that Jameelah and her siblings are actually… half-Bengali, a quarter Palestinian, and a quarter Sudanese.
A big thing from today, Masha Allah, amid quite a bit of… awkward standing around: talking to Daneen [what a beautiful name too, right?]. She’s seven years old currently. Ibrahim took flowers off of the walls of the marquee; I made some flower crowns out of them for the younger girls: my little flower-crown ‘stall’. Princess Daneen (who wants her siblings and she to have a family mansion in the future. Insha Allah. ‘The Naeem Mansion’) has little icons of Princess Mulan on the sides of her glasses. Her favourite princesses are Mulan and Merida. She is so adorable, Masha Allah, Allahummabārik. Today she complimented my scarf and called me “really pretty”. I record this because it was so sweet: my seven-year-old cousin, I love her. And it means something additional because in much of Bengali culture, the beauty ‘standard’ is: being quite fair, having a ‘white’ complexion [to the idiotic point where people unfortunately see ‘dark’ as being the opposite of ‘pretty’. It disgusts me so], having a soft ‘baby face’, and… being of medium height, maybe. Neither I nor she quite meet these standards: we’re just… us. And things can be looked at through different ways of looking. I hope Daneen grows up knowing that she is beautiful, inside and out, Insha Allah; as her big cousin, I feel I have this love-driven duty towards her.
Furthermore, people can be cruel, and… drama-instigating. For seemingly no worthy reason whatsoever; the best thing for us to do, maybe, in response is to be quite polite and firm at the same time. Jameelah told me today that it isn’t necessarily a ‘Bengali thing’: there’s quite mean stuff that goes on in the Arab side of her family too. Depends on individual people: depends on our choices.
The venue had been one Ariana Gardens in Essex; ‘Sultan Event Caterers’. Complete with a nice garden (as its name accurately indicates) and a pond. Two floors: conservatory-like. There is such elegance in simplicity, Masha Allah. Tall glasses of juices; music-less. Delicious food. Walked around; prayed upstairs. Said Salaam to various extended family members. Watched as Mazhar and Bhabi walked together, now intertwined. They fit together like a glove, Masha Allah: Allah’s Wisdom.
Flowers, and glass that let the sunshine stream in. Children playing, in their Sherwanis and dresses [oh my goodness, seeing my brother in his navy Sherwani… my heart. Practically on the floor: I could melt: an overwhelming cuteness, Allahummabārik.]. A good day, all in all, Masha Allah.
As the cars streamed in, one of Mazhar’s friends distributed blue-coloured smoke bombs, so the drivers did those from their windows. Including my dad, who is quite timelessly young at heart, Masha Allah. I liked that there was a pretty designated women’s section, upstairs. I liked how… bronze and elegant the big mirror had been, facing the stairs.
And for the first time [in forever] I didn’t wear any makeup to a wedding. Not even a touch, and I firmly believe that Allah created womankind beautiful. But there are forces at play, which seek to convince us that… whatever we are, or have, we should seek other than that, mask and present a different face. One might want… eyes like yours, perhaps, so makeup is used to ‘achieve’ them. While you ‘should’ seek eyes that no longer look like yours anymore. I promise you, made by the Best of Creators, you are beautiful, and now all we have to do in that regard is take good care of our health and beauty.
This morning, I made a concoction using a green-teabag and some honey [remnants from tea. Zero waste, or as little as possible]. Some olive oil. And some rosehip scar oil serum [by Balmonds]. And I think: some Holland and Barrett’s sunflower Vitamin E oil too. Mixed it all together, and applied. Think it worked, Masha Allah. ‘Natural makeup’. Perhaps the chemicals in makeup-makeup end up seeping into, and gradually destroying, our skin in the long-run, forcing us to ‘rely’ on it even more.
I also [properly-ish] met my little cousin Badr. And baby Khalilah. I had a brief conversation with Mazhar’s friends: the quick ‘catch-up’ stuff. I sat with Nabeelah and her sisters; with Jameelah. Jameelah: strange how I never knew that she is this wonderful, Masha Allah: her name means ‘beautiful’, and she just is, Allahummabārik. She called me a creep today [turns out she has a mean sense of humour like Maryam and…me sometimes too]: I completely am. Turns out that she doesn’t really think I’m ‘weird’ in a bad way: she said she thinks she vibes with me well. Previously, I’d known she’s nice and all, but today I think I properly got to know her better. And I realised that beyond my silly insecurities that she and those cousins of mine would think me… off-puttingly weird somehow… everyone has their insecurities, in various, generally-hidden and often-surprising ways. Because things, generally, are not what they, without adequate investigation, consideration, listening ears and hearts and minds, granted to them, seem. And everyone is ‘weird’; quite a bit of it is masked away, before various social groups. Turns out Moosa (who knows both of us pretty well I think) thinks Ibrahim is actually weirder than I am [what?!]; today I sort of got a glimpse as to why… I do think higher expectations are culturally placed on girls though… to be more ‘proper’, and less… ‘talk-about-able’. Cyclical ‘toxicity’. And while boys can be a little more openly ‘strange’, without much in terms of social consequences.
Either way: this generation is the adult one now. We can change things! ‘Be yourself’ (within moral boundaries, of course). Best thing to do, and then others might feel more comfortable to do the same, in their own ways, too.
Being in love
is not being in lust. ‘Love’ is when you see somebody’s holistic humanity far better: how they are, say, right when they wake up. What they’re like when they feel angry; when there are natural pauses, silences, between you. When you are far better-acquainted with their necessary flaws [yet, you, hopefully, still determinedly seek out, commit to, the Khayr, which is hopefully there].
To love is… first, to know, and see. Deeply, and widely. And then: to smile upon, and to know you love. To see, and smile at. Not just a glimpse, and not just a shallow smile. Love is something that runs deep, and thus I can not blame the people who hold that there is no ‘love before marriage’ for thinking so. If love were trees: maybe lust is only a bough of green, green leaves. Love: the strength and effectiveness of all the root networks, which run deep beneath.
Love sees your goodness even when you do not. Encourages you to be better, also.
Did you know, for instance, that every single human being is essentially… pitiable, weak, unsure, grieving and afraid? Men, and their weaknesses, and what they cannot do; women without makeup [literal and figurative] on. And that a spouse is someone who comes to know your ‘pitiabilities’, pathologies, particularities and preferences, and personal goodnesses, best, and a good spouse is one who will guard your secrets, and who will beautify your character; be a good representation of you, before others.
Me: I’m going to try to not think about marriage or anything. Until someone nice nicely asks for my Walī’s details, maybe (or will I be the proposer? It remains to be seen). The main things to seek: good Deen and good character. [Being handsome, smart and funny and interesting might be useful qualities too though!]. In a human ― and not in any ‘super-human’ ― way: you have your flaws, and they have theirs too. Sigh. Between a-trusting cynicism and excessive romanticism. Somewhere quite in between.
Also: “you’re [actually] single until you get married”; you don’t know them until thou liveth with them.
Incidentally, I seem to have had certain ‘ideals’ in terms of my place in social spheres. To do things ‘right’; to be super comfortable in crowds, but I scarcely ever am. To be more outgoingly ‘elegant’, and to ‘care less’. ‘Be okay’ ‘all the time’. For whose eyes, though? Because yet: I think I care much, and much prefer those individual ‘small’ interactions, which are quite big not necessarily by way of ‘social reputation’ or anything else. But they end up being quite big in my heart, if that makes much sense at all. I so love it when people are ‘low-key’ and Islamically-inclined, among other things, so why not afford a similar sort of approval to myself? Shukr lillah: for these things. I just need to cultivate better ways of looking upon them. Upon how Allah has made our faces, and within what comes together to construct our personalities: there is Khayr, and I must learn to determinedly seek it.
After the wedding meal, at Mazhar’s house, we had to stand outside to throw rose petals at the arriving bride and groom. They were given milk, and some Mishti [AKA Mithai, AKA Desi sweet treats], and went and sat on the stage seat (which Sweetie had DIY-ed and then spray-painted, I believe. It’s already been used for another wedding, or maybe two). We ate cake, and there was chit-chat.
Bhabi went to her new room to relax a little, maybe. Last night, Sweetie had decorated it for them (as per tradition). Rose petals and things. We barely did anything, but she had still given the credit to us.
Nikkah is something solemn, and beautiful. Freeing, and binding, and where Pink meets Blue. Value, honour, and commitment; “it is bloody hard” at times. It is very real, and the Dunya is cold, and while Allah describes spouses as being like clothes for one another, in the Qur’an.
Now, I am tired and in the process of processing things more, I guess. Khala (Tamanna’s mum) ended up dropping me off home in her car. We had a good conversation about things. I love that I’m growing up, and with the right people with me, Masha Allah. I hope to pray Tahajjud more, inspired by this conversation. That things can get quite hard at times, and do not forget to seek the Khayr in all things.
What is Truth?
What is Beauty?
What is Goodness?
Such important questions, and their answers are everything, and Nikkah is done before Truth, in Beauty, and it is a Good thing. Reminds me of flowers and nice clothes and hearty embraces, you know?
[May Allah bless my cousin and his wife, and put much Barakah into their marriage, Āmeen.]
With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.