Apr 4, 2012

Posted by in Articles | 142 Comments

Anomalies of Khoja Weddings

There is a lot that is revealed, without a word being spoken, in weddings celebrated by the members of our community who have opted to live in the West. The actions show that the members of the community are uncertain and by a large measure, confused. I used the plural noun “anomalies” because what else can we call our weddings but that? Weddings are celebratory events, full of fun and merriment. Not the Khoja weddings. They, on the contrary exude a feeling of sadness, a feeling one gets at attending a funeral. At least funerals are better as there is an occasional emotional outburst and the melancholy in itself provides the quiet drama.

But our weddings are different and frankly nothing about them make any sense.

First and foremost let us talk about the wedding invitations. They are almost always issued invoking the memories of dead people. Now I know it is done out of respect for the departed members of the family, but for once in while can we not have them initiated in the name of laughing, breathing, happy and fun-loving living people?

The invitation card goes like “the family of ‘Late’ and the family of ‘Late’……..”. No wonder it is etched into our subconscious and what happens? The proceedings, using a different synonym, invariable start “late”. Guests are invited (by the family of dead people) at a specific time and the proceedings never commence on time. Quite often they are an hour or so off the mark.

Except for the Khoja weddings, there is never a wedding ceremony commencing without the presence of the two protagonists – the bride and the groom – in one room. In Khoja weddings, the bride and the groom are almost always late. In fact I have been in many weddings where the proceedings have already begun before the groom shows up. And of course, the bride is never present when the “Nikah” takes place or at any time during the proceedings. She is represented by an agent, more often than not, by a Mullah.

Wouldn’t you need the MC to take the situation into account that the proceedings have commenced late and that it would require of him to go through some creative pre-emption to hasten the proceedings? No, not in a Khoja wedding! The MC, normally a young man with a college degree who happens to speak the lingo in a natural Canadian accent, most probably a brother or a cousin of one of the protagonists, will make sure that you bear through with the tortuously dull proceedings while you are sitting down on the hard floor. At the appropriate time he will share with you some esoteric facts which, really, should be of no consequence to the guests. All this family tidbits should be dealt with separately at family gatherings or stag parties.

A college degree or being able to speak in local accent should not be a criterion in picking an MC. The problem with having these youngsters take on the important function of moderating the proceedings is that they have no experience and understanding of the time element. They have been appointed to the position for only one reason – having grown-up here, they don’t have their parents’ “funny accent”. But one can be biletul zilei fotbal as boring in a natural Canadian (or American) accent as one can in a ‘funny foreign accent”.

To feed into the Shia victim mentality, there will invariably be the recitation of Hadith-e-Kisa, followed by recitation from the Holy book (Arabic and English, to cater to some of the foreigners who are invited to bear the punishment of boredom), and of course a little (30-minute) of majalis by a Mullah. Those sermons are normally very dull and full of advices to the protagonists, citing the relationship the Prophet or the Imams had with their spouses. And invariably, the citing of the verse from the Qur’an which states that a man and a woman are a garment (comfort) unto each other.

About an hour and a half into the proceedings, there is no wedding ceremony as yet. Would the guests be ever relieved from this torture? No, not yet. We have to have somebody recite a Qasida or a series of Shayris as if it was part of the community’s accepted normal mode of entertainment. They never are.

Then, having exhausted any further ways of testing the patience of the guests, the MC finally announces that it is time for the nuptial ceremony.

And there is nothing romantic about an Islamic nuptial. At least in a Christian wedding ceremony there is the romantic notion with a promise (although never kept) of loving each other “till death do us part”(the marriage almost never lasts that long to test the validity of this commitment). Muslim nuptial, on the other hand, is strictly a business deal – like what Jackie Kennedy did when she married Onassis – when there is the pronouncement of a consideration the bride has demanded for sleeping with the groom. No wonder it is always recited in Arabic. How do you otherwise explain to your young kids as to what is at play?

This tradition came out of the old nomadic Arab way of life. But at least in that tradition there was always music and merriment. We experience it today when we attend an Arab or an Iranian wedding. But not a Khoja wedding! It is a dull state of affairs!

Now the Khojas never took the dowry (payment from the groom to the bride for pleasure of sleeping with her) seriously as it was considered a mere formality. They don’t want to sound mercenary although “marwaadism” is in their blood . But the Arab Muslims take it quite seriously. And it does show its ugly face when a Khoja groom marries an Arab bride. Whatever the agreed dowry, the Arab bride (or her family) would make sure the groom pays it before the marriage is consummated.

You feel a sigh of relief when it is all over. But is it? There is one more thing to do before you partake in a sumptuous meal – a long wedding party (males, of course) line made of the families and close relatives of the bride and groom. They stand on one side as the congregation passes by offering their good wishes. This process, quite often, takes another half hour as some people like to socialize with the hosts, at the expense of the rest of the congregation.

Thank heavens, you tell yourself, the boredom has finally come to an end and from hereon there will be merriment at the reception staged, for that very purpose, at a banquet hall outside. That would be the oasis in this sea of boredom, you tell yourself. There will be music, and people laughing, men and women together in one hall (without a partition), socializing. Not only that but also families – husband, wife, children and siblings – and their friends sit together at one table like normal people do in this world and partake in the celebration at hand.

But alas, that is not always the case. One could go to such a reception and be separated from their female companions to satisfy the whims of the sanctimonious few within the family of the hosts. We the liberals (in matters of religion) are always asked citizen to compromise our beliefs to the conservatives (in matters of religion) in our community. We are willing to, and do, attend a conservative wedding where men and women are separated; and women, if you happen to see them on the hallway are in hijab and there is no music or any other form of entertainment.

Would a conservative attend a reception where men and women sit together in dignity and respect, there is music (other than Qasida) and there is generally a climate of merriment? No, the sanctimonious, is not willing to compromise. Either it is his way or no way at all. Yet this person lives inCanada. He walks around in public and he sees males and females together. He experiences the same situation at his work place. Chances are that one of his bosses is a female. Chances are some of his co-workers are females and works with them, shakes their hands, as an expression of formality, at appropriate times.

Yet the hypocrite is not willing to compromise when it comes to celebratory occasions such as a wedding. We just seem to live many lives (or lies). We have a public persona that we must maintain in our life (if we have to prosper) in the mainstream business life; then we have a family life (that we live to impress upon our children); and then we have the community life (to advance our hypocrisy). These are all impenetrable compartments of lies that we have opted for ourselves. They are not an extension of our lives and morality because they are in a conflicting path with each other.

The religion is stuck in its coded sets of social laws that are over 1,500 years old and there is no attempt by the modern religious leaders who have a juggernaut hold on its interpretations to accommodate for changed circumstances and times.

So now, with the end of the commemorative months of Muharrum and Safar, the flood gates of matrimony are open in the community and the state of boredom shall prevail, as always.

Salim Sachedina, March, 2011




  1. Salim

    This is an excellent write-up with all valid points. One would think the families of bride & groom and the leaders (community & religious), would be aware of all this But no one seems to break with the traditions and rituals (there’s no religious requirements in most of these practices except the 30 second nikkah).

    On important thing I feel HAS to be mentioned is contents of the speech/sermon/talk by the ‘scholar’ during the wedding – and sometimes even in the qasidah or munajats. With total disregard and disrespect of the non-Shias and non-Muslims present, the individuals take full liberty in bashing the beliefs of other sects and faiths. (If I may digress a little bit, this is the norm at Juma’a salat khutbas too!)

    This is often embarrassing especially when it’s very evident that we have people from other faiths as guests at the event (or in the case of Friday prayers, the person praying next to you with his arms crossed just heard his faith and Khalifas bashed by the speaker).

    I don’t know who will be brave enough to ‘tie the bell around the cat’s neck’, but it’s about time some brave soul spoke up! (I know, I’m not that soul!)

    Keep up these intelligent and very necessary missives, Salim.


    • Salim Sachedina says:

      Thank you, Sameer, for your comments. For too long our community’s agenda has been under the control of the sanctimonious few while the silent majority just sit on the fringes and take it. This website is aimed at giving the “voice” to those who care about the community and have no say at what goes on. We have speak up and hopefully, others will be encouraged to voice their frustations and speak-up.

  2. You are talking to a wall brother Sachedina. Nothing will happen. This will continue to be like many other things that happens around us for years. To get back on the track, I hope, will not take as long the time taken for us to be on the wrong track in almost everything. All in the name of religion. I do not see any way as long as the people holding religious power stop to think and ask where they are leading their people !!!

  3. Sukaina says:

    Dear Br. Salim (may be I should cal you Uncle Salim)

    I was both happy & sad to read your posting.

    Happy because finally someone is bringing forward some (only some) of the issues facing this community and is responsible of its decay, especially among the young adults.
    Sad, because, no one (save a very very few) dare speak out against such issues facing the community.

    Our parents and elders seem resigned to status-quo of the ritualistic and traditional practices during our events, like the Khoja weddings you mention.

    Our colleagues the young adults, are either too brainwashed to fight back for what is right or have become indifferent & frustrated because they have no power to bring about the change needed.

    Our community leaders are too spineless to do the right thing as they need to as the resident alim for every move and action that needs to be taken.

    As far as our religious leadership is concerned, well……!!

    Is there any wonder the young adults have stopped coming to functions at our $ 30 million (!) facility? Can no one see the religious train wreck for this community? Are we waiting for the time when our Centers are empty after these elders and leaders are gone in the next 10-15 years?

    I am sorry I cannot articulate my arguments better but until we accept that we have a problem, we will never fix it.

    Thank you again for your posting


  4. Ali Aladin says:

    Bravo Salim! Once again you hit the nail right on the head.However you fail to mention the boring speeches from the clergy “We are garments unto you and you are garments unto us” or something to that effect.We are so submerged in tradition that we have lost our vision. Marshall Mcluhan used to say that the fish in the water does not realize it is in the water till it is taken out of the water.
    Maitaining tradition is easy to challenge it requires thought and creativity.
    Salim it is about time we get out of the water.
    Just my opinion take it with a pinch of salt.

  5. What an absurd article….Salim u r obscured by reality…….

  6. U mean khoja SHIA weddings don U? So what your blueprint for a khoja SHIA wedding?

  7. Faisal Dharamsi says:

    Dear Bro. Sachedina,
    What did you and your siblings do when they tied the MARRIAGE knots. Did you or your wakil say ‘Qabilto’
    Now if you think that it is wrong, nullify them.
    Dont Talk Rubbish’

    Thank you.

  8. Dear Salim
    A good friend of mine forwarded your latest article to me and that’s how I found out about your website.

    I wish to congratulate you for taking the time and the effort to bring to light very relevant issues in the Khoja community which are not discussed nor examined by the youth. These practices were common in Africa where the community leaders were ill educated and were totally under the influence of the Mullas, but for the system to be so deeply ingrained in this day and age in the western world is quite intriguing! Have the Mullas been able to indoctrinate the community through their preachings so much that even the educated youth of today succumb to their views? Or are the youth simply quiet in order to appease their parents and perpetuate our hypocrisy? Whatever the answer to that question may be, the situation is quite unhealthy for the community! It would be interesting to see what the next generation brings, but alas it will be too late for you and I to witness the awakening, if one is to materialize!

    Warm regards.

    • S/A Hassan

      I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s not just shocking but totally unbelievable that the mullas (clergy, resident alims etc.) HAVE been able to indoctrinate and brainwash the community so much through their preachings, mostly by guilt & fear, that even the educated youth of today have succumbed to their views.

      I personally feel feel that this community has lost a big part of the younger population and will be losing and even larger part of the next generation, that has been born in the last 10 years.

      Until the leadership and the masses accept that there is a problem, there will never be a solution.

      Why has this once such intelligent and vibrant community become so helpless?

      Doesn’t anyone care any more?

  9. As at date, we have had 8 comments posted by others. This is exactly the response I wanted when I wrote the article – a dialogue on issues that concern us. All comments – for and against – have been approved and you see them the way they were submitted. Only comments that are abusive to personalities will NOT be approved.
    This is a time for dialogue in this community. Let’s not be personal about people but about issues.

  10. Mohammed says:

    I agree with some of your points here, however I believe that much more compromise exists today in terms of Khoja wedding traditions and modern wedding practices. There exists a middle ground in which we can stay true to our religion as well as have a good time. Many families are opting for this form of marriage as making the event memorable is the main priority. I disagree with your funeral comparison, no amount of archaic custom can make a marriage feel anything but a joyous moment in the lives of the couple and the families.

  11. HMohamed says:

    Thanks for the article – a couple of points that may take this discussion a step further:

    1. Your article seems to discard any relevance of the different culture that Khojas may have to any other. Perhaps you are not one to understand the culture, but that does not mean it is not preferred by some. Were this written by a non-khoja, it would come across quite offensive. I understand that you consider these affairs dull, but some may not and you have to respect that. In addition, i’m sure there are other cultures which would put on a wedding you didn’t enjoy: don’t attend! I personally enjoy Khoja wedding ceremonies and would have it in the same style again.

    2. With regards to the religious beliefs of the conservatives – i see where you are coming from and agree with some of what you say. However, once again – i think respect is due for what others may believe to be correct. To paint them all with the brush of hypocrisy is in itself hypocritical from one who claims to be a liberal, as this requires open-mindedness. Some may be hypocritical, others are sincere.

  12. Asgarali Khatau says:

    How about the traditional Khoja (Hindu-Family) Last names?
    Mine would become Asgarali bin Abdulhussain

  13. Well written Salim…

    On the lighter side, I think it is we who may have coined the phrase ‘no pain, no gain’! right after we started putting RSVP on the cards (Rokda Saathe Vela Padharjo’ (it’s only the gujju way.)Gotta give credit for going ‘green’ though (pun intended!) with the PS ‘no boxed gifts please’ and what’s with those five pounder cards which we inadvertently bring bagfuls of to be hand delivered during a congregation so we can deny a contribution to the retiring postal workers union! Not to mention we may have destroyed half an acre of prime forestry in BC…oops, that should read Jodhpur…most are surface shipped from India or Pakistan or brought along by some poor sucker relative from there who may have had to leave behind his unmentionables given that you’re only allowed one bag these days.

    Gotta say though, the biryani/samosa/jalebis taste so much better after your ordeal although many have devised ways of scrambling for the food first and then rushing back to join the line…some have it down to a science! unfortunately the ‘kachumbar’ breath is a dead giveaway. Hope not too many catch on to this or else the sequence may end up reversing!

    And has anyone ever wondered what may be going thru the grooms mind as this thing just drags…’beam me up scotty’..I’ll bet he just wants to get the heck out of there.

    Keep up the good work Salim BUT in jest I should add that sometimes, the light at the end of the tunnel may actually be an oncoming train!

    • For quite a while I took the instruction (or request) for “No Boxed Gift” literally. I would go out buy an appropriate gift, unbox it, and deliver it personally at the wedding reception, until someone pointed out to me that it is meant to be “Rokda”.
      That got me to wonder about an opportunity this presents to financial institutions such as banks. There was a time when one was directed to go to a bridal suite link – e.g. The Bay or Ashleys – where there was a list of desired gift the couple was looking for. With the cash deal now being promoted, we could be directed, say, to a T-D Trust bridal suite where anywhere from money for a deposit on purchase of a condo to money for furnishing it could be all graphically displayed.
      What a world we live in!

  14. Sharmeen says:

    What a fantastic write up. Finally someone who shares by sentiments exactly! I rarely attend khoja weddings and the ones I do are with gritted teeth. I loath them! Unless there is misery and sadness, generally khoja folk cant be happy. The sadder the event the more points they believe they are notching up for the afterlife. Im inshallah going to make changes with my own kids and inshallah get the ball rolling for change!

    • If enough people like you come forward and express their sincere feeling about some of our meaningless rituals, we surely will have a reason to change for better. Otherwise it will be the same old, same old. Thank you for your comments.

  15. You are really rolling now! I can really understand your annoyance and contempt for some of these ridiculously silly, nonsensical, time and taste wasters. Really doesn’t matter what culture or religion, most of these traditional ceremonies contain elements that border on the mundane and absurd.

    • Now I got you going as well, Gabi. I figured, in my old age, having seen all the BS in my life, I should call it as I see it.
      Last Saturday I went to another Khoja (let’s say, half Khoja, as the the groom was from another sect and cultural background) wedding and what a joy it was to partake in it! There was music and dancing and there was a bit of religious ceremony as well. You know when you are having fun, even of bit of religious mumbo jumbo is not difficult to tolerate. All told, it was an evening of fun and one did feel that one was participating in a joyous occasion.

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