Monday, July 18, 2016

The Wedding Banquet

I had never had a Muslim friend before.  I knew little about the religion or the cultures that are predominantly Muslim.  But we lived in a neighborhood that has one of the largest Muslim populations in the US, so it was no surprise my oldest ended up going to school with children from Muslim families.  Actually the school had mostly students of Chinese decent and since I don’t speak Chinese, by default I ended up speaking to the only other mom on a class field trip that I attended who spoke English and she happened to be Muslim.  She dressed in a hijab and told me her family was from Yemen, but she grew up here and lived here her whole life.  Shortly after that I met her friend, a Moroccan whose husband was from Yemen.  Little by little we began spending time together with our kids outside of school and they were gracious enough to introduce me to their culture, their food, their customs, but also they were very much American which my white American self related to very much.

One day they invited me to the wedding celebration of a family member.  I had never been to a Yemeni wedding before (duh), but I was apprehensive.  I felt safe with my friends, but with hundreds of people I didn’t know and didn’t know me, I wasn’t sure.  Still I was honored and more than a little bit curious, so I went. 

When I walked in the banquet hall I was completely overwhelmed.  There must have been 300-400 women all covered in black.  I actually forget the name of the kind of dress, but there is a name for it.  They had their heads covered.  In Yemeni culture, men and women celebrate a wedding separately.  As for me, I stuck out like a sore thumb: blond haired, blue eyed, wearing a purple dress.  Everyone stared at me.  I mean can you blame them?  How many white chicks show up to a Yemeni wedding celebration?  No sooner had I begun to panic, that my friends found me, seated me, and made sure I had some food to eat.  I started to feel better.

Shortly thereafter the bride and groom arrived and began a procession in to have their first dance.  When they did all the women in the room pulled their veils over their faces (because there was a male in the room).  After they danced, the groom left to celebrate with the other males, and the bride remained to continue the part  Once the groom was out of sight, the women (literally all 300 of them) dropped off their black robes, to unveil the most beautiful, colorful gowns.  Their hair had been done to the nines.  They were so beautiful.  And then they danced.  And danced and danced.  They danced with so much joy.  And then they invited me to dance with them.  So I did.  It was one of the most joyful experiences of my life.  I don’t know why it surprised me that they just seemed so…?  Well they seemed just so much like me. 

There are a lot of misconceptions about people that are Muslim in this country.  I’m not looking to discuss the nuances of their holy book.  That’s not what I’m sharing here.  I’m sharing about what I saw, what I loved, what I experienced behind the veil of some incredible women that I call my friends.  Friends who hurt every single time there are people who kill other people in the name of their religion.  Friends who have been harassed, bullied, and spat on simply because they wear a hijab.  Believe me, if they didn’t wear one, you would never even know their background.  My one friend’s husband is currently in the process of becoming a police officer and his command of Arabic will be extremely beneficial to the department.  My other friend dreams of becoming a police officer one day herself.  In every group of people there are people that very poorly represent the whole.  I think it’s important not to forget everyone else. 

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