Getting married from two nationalities is a really complicated and unromantic procedure. It includes pouring over tons of information and miles of paperwork. While in the U.S. Rio and I spent months trying to figure out which ceremony we wanted, what religious observances we’d make (Rio is Muslim and I explore ideas in line with Hellenic Polytheist views), and how to make all of our families and friends happy. No one thing could do it all. Eventually we made an agreement that I would get one wedding in America my way, and Rio would get his wedding in Indonesia his way.
So we got married in the U.S. in Orlando on May 3oth of last year (2015). It was very lovely. We followed it up with a reception in August at my family’s cabin/family reunion and it was just really cute and friendly. There was certainly a level of stress involved in planning these.
But the stress of our American celebrations were nothing compared to the stress of initiating into a religious conversion as well as a marriage ceremony in a language you don’t understand, in a country you have only just found yourself in.
In Indonesia the rules of marriage are quite different than those in the United States. You cannot marry outside your religion. At least not on paper. The two biggest religions in Indonesia are Muslim and Christian, although the Muslim population is without a question the majority. Conversion for marriage is a pretty typical act, although no one really wants to admit it because it seems blasphemous to some. One of our closest friends here in Indonesia has two sets of pictures from her wedding day; one in a traditional red and gold Indonesian style dress for her Muslim ceremony, and another in an all white dress for her Christian style wedding. I also had several fictional characters to look up to. Charolette converted for Harry in Sex and the City. Sex and the City’s Aiden aka John Corbett, converted as Ian Miller in a Greek Orthodox Church to marry his fair lady Toula in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Love is a funny thing.
It is with a lot of faith in my heart that I had decided to embrace my husband’s way of life and help his spiritual path as a Muslim. While I am not practicing with the same capacity as him, I did convert as an act of love and devotion. I don’t eat pork. I observed Ramadan last year and look forward to this year’s celebration. I have met practicing Muslims of the conservative, traditional, and non-traditional fashion as you would find in every religion and walk of life. I have seen Muslims drinking alcohol and eating pork just as I have seen Christians have sex before marriage and Catholics getting divorced! I’ve learned that everyone follows their own path and sense of right from wrong.
Converting to Islam is in reality a very easy, albeit serious, task. All you need to do is repeat the “Shahada” or, the testimony of faith. I practiced the day before and had it memorized within a night. The day of, I wrapped myself up for the first time in a hijab with the help of my sister in-law. My mother in law let me pick a fabric from her wonderfully varied set of hijabs and scarves. As the family piled in the van after applauding my new look, I anxiously sat in the backseat of the car ride to our enormous local mosque. It was quite beautiful. I’ve rarely entered large places of worship but whenever I have, I am always overwhelmed with a sense of power and focus. We entered a large, grand room on the third floor and I tried to imagine how full the masjid (mosque) must be on Friday afternoons. My walk to the front of the room was basked in a brilliant set of colors from the window. I thought of my southern grandmother who taught me to have a fine appreciation for colored glass, and wish I could have shared the moment with her.
While the ideas of the afterlife don’t necessarily coincide in our marriage, we have certainly made a pact to respect and support the decisions of one another. In a place as powerful as such, I felt honored to be included and celebrated in my new family. In true millennial fashion I took a discreet photo while we waited for the Imam to show up. To be fair though I only took out my phone because my mother in law was on hers anyway.
I was so scared I tripped over some of my words. Our Imam’s accent on the Arabic words of the Shahada made them unrecognizable and it wasn’t until I was halfway through my second repeat that I realized he was having me say the words I thought I’d be saying on my own. Still everyone was very happy, respectful, and it was a wonderful feeling to have it over. Plus, I am female so I didn’t have to consider the idea of circumcision to make me even more of a “legit” practicing Muslim. Woohoo! Female privilege!
I felt like an empty tunnel and a train had just passed through, compressing all of the air in my body into a tight rigid fixture. It wasn’t until we were home and I unwrapped my head, turned on the fan, and collapsed on the bed that I realized how nervous and excited I had been throughout the day. Now all we had to do was get married… again.