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Transplanted traditions

Unlike most American families, those in traditional Jewish Persian communities and those in Islamic communities are involved in the courtship and wedding process from beginning to wedding. Settling in the Western world, taking root in America does not influence most of these customs as many immigrants cling to their native nuptial traditions.Jewish PersiansPersians constitute a vibrant ethnic group in Queens, coming from countries such as Iran, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Known for their art, music and exquisitely woven rugs, Persians enjoy lavish, family-oriented celebrations. In the traditional Persian Jewish community, parental consent plays a pivotal role in the success of any budding relationship."When a boy wants to go out with a girl, the mother of the boy calls the mother of girl," said Dina Ghermezian, a Persian Jew living in Rego Park. A background check ensues, with the girl's mother inquiring as to the boy's history, family and career. The parental oversight may be due in part to an average age difference of a decade between daters. Ghermezian's daughter, Jessica, was married in 2001 at the age of 19. Jessica's husband Kousha Askari, a pharmacist, was 32.After several months the prospective bride's mother organizes a festive gathering called the kola balah, which functions as a mixer for daters' families. Music and dance abound at the feast, which features traditional foods such as rice, kabab, choresht, gondi and dulma. The groom's relatives bring gifts to the gathering as well, and the families may discuss the couple's prospective engagement.Engagements in the Persian community rarely lasts longer than six months. "We believe if you are honest, you will show who you really are in that time (anyway), " explained Ghermezian.In the traditional engagement party an exchange of jewelry takes place, like rings and watches, and followed by much celebrating. Later, a party known as hana bandun is held which includes a bridal shower where girls bring the bride lingerie and clothing, followed by henna dabbing. The henna is prepared by the bride's mother.The bride and groom's palms and foreheads are dabbed with henna to ensure them good fortune. During the shower, the bride is also gifted with presents ranging from matching jewelry to even a car. "The bride loves to have so many nice gifts," said Ghermezian, "to change outfits, to be the center of attentionÉ Why do you think Ashkenazi girls want to marry Persian men? The girl is treated like a princess."That holds true for the wedding day as well, when both the bride and groom are considered royalty. The ceremony, which usually draws more than 300 guests, is conducted under the chuppah, the wedding canopy. The ceremony, officiated by a rabbi, includes the reading of the marriage contract, the ketubbah, as well as the recitation of blessings. It is only complete after the groom has claimed the bride as his own and placed the ring on her right index finger. At the end, he smashes a glass to commemorate the fall of the Jewish temple in Israel two millennia ago.The celebration of the marriage continues after the reception in the form of the pagosha with feasting, music and dancing lasting for seven nights after the wedding. "The Jewish Persian nation loves to live," said Ghermezian. "We do not believe materialism is everything, but we believe in getting together. We are very family oriented."Pakistani MuslimsIn contrast, the courtship and marriage process of devout Pakistani Muslims is more subdued. For instance, Islam forbids dating, according to Shalimar Yamin-Khan, the chairman of the Islamic Marriage Assistance Program. As with traditional Persians, the boy's parents contact those of the girl. Following an initial get-together in which both families meet, the couple can agree to future chaperoned meetings. There "they will be able to explore each other's character and personality and find out if they're really suitable for each other," said Khan.The pair can agree to marry. But don't expect a hanaa bandun scenario to emerge, said Yamin-Khan, because "by Islamic tradition, the relationship does not change once you're engaged. It still remains chaperoned. The real commitment is with the marriage."As the marriage approaches, a bride's friends may throw her a shower that includes henna painting and singing. Come the wedding day, however, the tone is more somber, as there is usually no singing or dancing at the reception.The marriage, or nikah in Arabic, is very simple. It requires the presence of a kazi (priest), the consent of the bride and groom to marry, at least two male witnesses and the wali (the bride's father or guardian.) The wali sometimes serves as the bride's representative, conveying her consent to the marriage to the kazi.Another prerequisite to the marriage: The groom is required to deliver mehr, a sum of money or its worth in goods, to the bride. "The guy has to pay every single dollar," said Amina Dwarkanath of India. "The parents of the bride usually do something, but they aren't obligated."Religiously simple, yet culturally diverse - ranging from the simplest ceremonies to elaborate extravaganzas - the form of the Islamic wedding depends greatly on its location. Pakistani weddings often exhibit customs influenced by its neighboring country, India. In both cultures for instance, brides commonly wear red and gold. There are also similarities between the customs of Pakistani Muslims and Persian Jews, in the courtship and engagement and wedding which is followed by a reception, the walima, where the kazi details the obligations of the wife and husband to one another. Their responsibilities are explicated in the khutbah, a nuptial document much like the ketubah of the Jews. Some Islamic couples even hold weeklong celebrations following the nuptials.

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