News & Politics

Marrying Traditions: East Meets Middle East

From circling a fire to tossing chestnuts, weddings can bring together a variety of customs

By: Lindsay Moran

Washington is an increasingly diverse area, and so is its wedding scene. The number of foreign diplomats, World Bank employees, and second-generation immigrants means that multicultural nuptials are common.

“It’s actually rare for me to plan a wedding where the bride and groom are the same religion or have the same ethnic background,” says Laura Metro, president of M Street Agency in Bethesda.

Throwing a multicultural affair has its challenges. Some couples host two events, each reflective of a different culture. Others design a ceremony and reception that incorporate divergent traditions.

Here is one couple who managed to pull off such a wedding, each in their own way.


East Meets Middle East

Amina Khan of Northwest DC often jokes that her 2003 wedding was “the Discovery Channel meets National Geographic.

Amina’s Pakistani family wished to observe South Asian customs, including nine nights of celebration that culminated in a Saturday-evening reception at DC’s Renaissance Mayflower hotel, while her Syrian-born husband, Firas Al-Hindi, brought in his family’s Middle Eastern influence.

Before the wedding, Firas gave his relatives a write-up that included the name of each event and its significance, such as why women applied decorative henna and the meaning of a dance competition between families.

Guests came from Pakistan, India, Japan, France, and Syria. Menus included Middle Eastern appetizers like hummus and stuffed grape leaves as well as such South Asian dishes as Afghani pulao, lamb and chicken seekh kebabs, naan, and rice pudding served in small clay dishes. There was a DJ at every event, and guests danced late into the night to a mix of Indian bhangra, Arabic music, and Turkish songs.

For henna night, Amina’s mother stationed candles throughout the bride’s house and hung a silk canopy from the ceiling. A Pakistani drummer stood outside to welcome the groom’s side, which traditionally arrives en masse. Amina’s family rented a palanquin—a covered sedan chair on which the bride sits—for male relatives to carry her to the groom, who wore a traditional Damascan gown and a hat known as a tarbouche.

Everyone sang Pakistani songs, which can be “quite rude,” says Amina, 37, a lawyer. “The husband’s mother is especially roasted.” Her mother-in-law, who’d been warned, took the ribbing in stride—it was all in Urdu, a language that she, an Arabic speaker, couldn’t understand.

For the wedding, Amina wore fire-engine red, the traditional color for Pakistani brides. The outfit’s floor-length skirt, which she wore with a dupatta (shawl) and veil, was hand-embroidered with gold and weighed more than 15 pounds. She had on a 1940s emerald-and-diamond choker from her grandmother’s wedding and a seven-strand necklace that her mother wore at her own. The necklace, made of pearls, gold, rubies, and diamonds, matched Amina’s tikka, an elaborate jeweled piece that hung in the middle of her forehead.

In Syria, the man’s family generally pays for the wedding, but Amina’s family paid because Pakistani customs—including her family’s 400-person guest list—prevailed. Firas, 43 and a data-services director at Democracy Data & Communications in Alexandria, hosted a dinner for 100 at the Hotel Washington the day after the wedding per Islamic custom.

The couple had unexpected guests. In Pakistan, family and friends who receive wedding invitations sometimes bring along other well-wishers. The Mayflower had to add four tables to seat people who just showed up.