The Secrets of Nikah, the Islamic Wedding Ceremony, Part III

*** This post is a part of a series. To get caught up, check out “The Secrets of Nikah, the Islamic Wedding Ceremony, Part II” 

The Arab Spring kicked off in Bahrain four months after I moved there. Illustration by Ahmara Smith.

In the living room, the imam and Gökhan’s whole family was waiting for us. The imam guided me to repeat the Shahada, the Arabic script that would declare me a Muslim. “La ilaha illa Allah wa-Muhammad rasul Allah,” which translates to “I testify that there is no other God but Allah, and Muhammad is God’s messenger.” He said it slowly, pausing after every few syllables to allow time for me to mimic the foreign sounds. Even as I was uttering them, I didn’t believe them— I merely made the sounds to appease Gökhan’s conservative and religious mother. Afterward, I signed a piece of paper that the imam had prepared. Shortly after, he declared us husband and wife.

Shortly after the nikah, we legalized our union in Canada. Then we moved to Bahrain in the fall of 2010. Our marriage was a secret— our plan was to get ourselves settled in our new home, give Gökhan some time to look for a job, and once he starts working, then we will tell our family about the marriage and have a proper celebration.

However, the universe had a different plan for us. In December 2010, a young fruit seller in Tunisia, a North African state located between Libya and Algeria, doused himself in gasoline and set himself on fire in front of a government building. His self-immolation was a protest against the unfair “protection fees” demanded by the police. The event was a catalyst that ignited the Arab Spring— massive protests swept across the Middle East, from Egypt to Yemen to Syria. To this day, almost eight years later, the civil war in Syria rages on.

Bahrain is a small island state in the Persian Gulf, the site of the first oil rig in Bahrain. Also, the white dress I was wearing was the same one I wore for the nikah.

The Arab Spring caught on in Bahrain on Valentine’s Day 2011, led by the Shia Muslim majority against their Sunni minority rulers. Within weeks, with the help of the Saudis, the government took control and cracked down on the demonstrations. The Bahraini government shot the protestors, killing and injuring many.  They also arrested bloggers and activists. Furthermore, they charged the medical professionals with treason for treating the so-called “enemies of the state.” It was a terrible time in Bahrain— helicopters were whirling and buzzing in the sky 24/7, the roads were closed randomly when a protest was suspected and the smell of tear gas had become the norm.  The turmoil made it difficult for Gökhan to find work.

I was stressed-out and depressed. The civil unrest shook me to the core— growing up in Canada, I never experienced the government persecuting their citizens for speaking up against them. Looking back now, perhaps the situation in Bahrain was not so different from when the KMT first moved to Taiwan in the late 1940’s. I asked Gökhan to get a job elsewhere and take us away from the Middle East.

A year and a half later, he finally secured a job— in Dubai. He had dismissed my desire to leave the Middle East and chose to stay. By this time our marriage had crumbled— our union was built on compromised integrity and it couldn’t withstand the stress of political turmoil. Also, I never stopped resenting him for putting me through nikah and the coerced conversion to Islam. Instead of following him to Dubai, I got a job in Hong Kong to be closer to my parents in Taiwan. We broke up.

Three years later, Mazu found my love. After a whirlwind courtship, Derek and I became engaged on January 1, 2015. My parents were overjoyed— they adore Derek and was glad that I would share my life with an intelligent, capable, and loving man. We are happy and madly in love.  Everything was perfect, except there was one problem: I was still legally married to Gökhan.

I had tried to obtain a divorce as soon as I moved to Hong Kong. However, I learned that although I was able to marry in Canada as a non-resident, I was not eligible for a Canadian divorce. In Hong Kong, as a new resident, I also didn’t qualify to apply for a divorce.

I called Mama and told her my big secret. “Hi Mama, aren’t you so happy that I am about to marry this amazing man? By the way, can you help me get a divorce?”

She was shocked of course. And angry. And hurt. She yelled at me over the phone. However, she did help me. Within weeks, Gökhan flew to Taipei in March 2015. We filled out some paperwork in a municipal office and legally dissolved our union.

I learned a lot from my relationship with Gökhan, like communicating expectations, and accepting the people I love for who they are (instead of trying to change them).  Even though going through nikah and living in Bahrain was challenging, I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything else. Without it, I wouldn’t have learned the lesson I needed to be in a loving and equal partnership.

In October 2015, Derek and I had our Halloween art deco wedding. Since then, he’s been my partner, my champion and the most ardent supporter of my writing. I am ever so lucky to have him by my side.

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