Suitably Unconventional: Dina Toki-O’s Bicultural Wedding


Marking a return to her Aquila Style column, Dina Toki-O shares details of her big day and explains the basics of nikkah and walima.

An altogether different perspective on wedding ceremonies
Say cheese! – You’re getting Dina Toki-O’s perspective on wedding ceremonies

My wedding day: 01–09–2013.

It came around quicker than I’d anticipated, yet the wait felt like years had gone by!

I’d had eight months to prepare and plan, but realistically, I only got truly stuck when “panic mode” activated itself four creeping months before the big day. I have a tendency to leave everything to the last minute, though you would think that my wedding day, if anything, would have been an exception!

From a young age, girls dream of their “perfect wedding day” and the “perfect dress”. For most of us, I guess the outcome is usually “everything they’ve ever dreamed of”. But you can’t wait until the last minute (or in wedding terms let’s say the last month) to conjure up your “perfect picture”. By then, it’s very hard to bring that picture to life. If you have even one creative bone in your body, I’m sure you’re nodding in understanding of my chopping and changing ideas every two minutes, all about a single day that many couples will plan at least two years ahead!

Every week I was changing my mind about almost everything, especially the dresses. Dress-es? Yes you read it right – that was plural because I did undeniably have two dresses, since there were indeed two weddings. Two weddings for one couple! And no, it’s not because my husband and I are egotistical, self-centered showoffs who demanded two days of unwavering attention and “Look at me! Me, me, me!” attentiveness from our probably “seen-it-all-before” guests! No, that’s not the reason why.

The reason is simply because my husband and I are from completely different cultures! Let me break it down for you:

When Muslims get married they have the marriage contract (nikkah, or katb el-kitab) and the walima. ‘Walima’ is an Arabic word for something along the lines of a ‘marriage banquet’ or feast from the groom. There are varying opinions on when a walima should take place, and over time some cultures have grown used to holding them at certain times.

I’m sure any woman reading this can imagine the stress of deciding on one dress, let alone two!

For a lot of Egyptians and Arabs, the walima is held at the time of the marriage contract itself, so all in one day. For some, it is also held after the marriage contract and before the consummation of the marriage. Others hold it on a different day, after the consummation of a marriage. Still others hold it at the time of the wedding procession, when the bride leaves her family’s home for her new home with her husband.

In my opinion, all this has been confused over time and through culture, meaning that in many unions both families may end up spending thousands of dollars over a number of wedding events. But really, there are just two main events that shouldn’t really cost anywhere near what wedding bills come to in 2013!

The marriage contract, which when done on a separate day to the walima, is usually quite small, with immediate family and close friends only. Other guests who are neighbours, relatives and friends are invited to attend the walima on a separate day. Alternatively, both can be done together on one day. Nowadays, a lot of confusion and conflict is caused over the order of events, who pays for what, and how big it should be. In truth, it’s all quite simple:

Step one: Sign the marriage contract
Step two: Enjoy a big feast with friends and family. Finished!

Back to my point: due to unforeseen confusion and clash of cultures, we ended up having two walimas. And so I required two dresses. Although really, I should have just rocked the one dress twice! I’m sure any woman reading this can imagine the stress of deciding on one dress, let alone two! I would tell you more about my dress fiascos here, but truthfully, they deserve a whole other post for themselves (coming soon!).

The first walima, which was straight after the marriage contract, was planned by my husband and I together – just the two of us. We felt the event would reflect both our personalities in joining together on one special day to share with our closest. To be completely honest with you, he was the brains behind most of it, and it wouldn’t have gone perfectly without his attention to detail and perfectionist qualities!

From the day we got engaged I knew that I wanted to go with a vintage-feel theme. By the time the wedding came around, however, we were sick of hearing the word ‘vintage’! The invitations, the centrepieces and all decorations were made by us – well, him more than me. I remember the centerpieces consuming my life and haunting my dreams until the day itself, so thankfully I could trust the rest with my productive fiancé at the time!

If you know me well enough, you’ll know that no one tells Dina what to wear!

We knew we wanted some sort of entertainment and thought our trusty siblings could help with that, but last-minute nerves got the better of most of them! For months we searched for the perfect drum band to play at a reasonable price. Only four days before the wedding we had the privilege of watching a breathtaking street performance by a Cardiff samba group, Samba Galêz. We managed to book them last-minute to perform a wedding procession after the marriage contract was signed. And of course, with my trusty Egyptian haggling skills, I managed to secure a decent price – if I may say so myself! Samba Galêz really set the atmosphere and put everyone in a great mood just before dinner was served.

I do remember the unanticipated arrival of a little man, jumping out of bushes it seems, in traditional Punjabi attire and banging on his solo drum as if to initiate a ‘drum-off’ with the samba drummers! As amusing as it was to watch, the one-man band was no match for them!

Our brothers had made a funny little skit, filmed and edited beforehand, to play to the guests after dinner. My husband and I found it hilarious. We went on to cut the cake, which was slightly awkward. Believe it or not, we’re not a couple that enjoy being in the spotlight – in fact, we get very embarrassed by it!

The cake was… unconventional, let’s say (I’ll let the pictures do the talking), as was probably the whole day itself. It’s quite surreal thinking back to it now; what we had planned and what came of it in the end are pretty much on opposite scales to one another. Which just goes to show that perfect isn’t always what perfect seems!

It’s rare when two cultures can come together and manage to find a balance and even ground when it comes to the wedding ceremonies, so naturally the whole day was quite… different. Thankfully I managed to find a companion just as creative (if not more) than me, and a hundred times more skilled. And so together, we managed to bring our perfect day to life!

My husband’s family planned the second walima, so we both had no clue what to expect. It was what some would describe as ‘typically Asian or Pakistani’, but there were a lot of Hindu traditions brought in during the event, which provided another different sort of entertainment for everyone. One thing I can say that played out nicely was that the walimas were completely different to each other.

I was, however, involved in what I should wear. Typically in Asian customs, the bride will wear something chosen for her by her in-laws. But if you know me well enough, you’ll know that no one tells Dina what to wear!

Having said that, you’ll have to wait until next week to read all about it. Stay tuned!

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