Sandra Thompson

To Order Close-Ups

Vows

In the car on the way to my daughter’s wedding I realized I had forgotten a scarf.

I was sitting in the back seat between the bride and the groom. My husband was driving, and my ex-husband, father of the bride, was in the passenger seat.

My daughter immediately picked up her cell phone.

“Sarah?” she said. “My mom forgot her scarf. Can you bring one?” She turned to me. “She wants to know what color.”

We met Sarah and her husband in the parking lot of the Islamic Center in north Tampa. She handed me a piece of beautiful ivory silk with delicate stitching of flowers. The colors were perfect.

On her way to her car, a woman in a traditional long dress, her head covered, heard we were having a wedding. She cried out congratulations and hugged the bride, Sarah, me.

We all introduced each other.

“I’m the Jew,” said the father of the bride, who had flown in from New York.

She laughed. “Oh, good, we can duck behind cars and throw rocks at each other!”

There were no rocks thrown.

The wedding party was ecumenical. My daughter is Jewish although I am not, so some strict interpreters would say neither is she. I was raised as a Methodist. My husband is Episcopalian. The groom is Muslim. My daughter’s friend, Sarah, is Muslim and her husband is a recent convert to Islam.

It may have been the first marriage between a Muslim and a Jew at this mosque.

We recognized the imam from Sarah’s wedding; he still had his cell phone clamped to his brown robe.

The imam guessed correctly that some of us knew little about Islam, so he gave us a brief lesson. In just the few minutes he spoke, I learned things I didn’t know. Islam is the newest religion in the developing history of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet, but they pray only to God: “There is no God but God.”

The marriage ceremony, while imbued with deep emotion because it was, after all, a wedding, was more a straightforward talk by the imam on the challenges of marriage, a negotiation and contract signing. While having children is a primary purpose of marriage, the imam advised the newlyweds to enjoy each other for a while before they have children.

My daughter and her husband negotiated the mahr, or dowry, money the husband must give to the wife upon marriage.

“This is your chance,” the imam joked. “Ask for something big -- a Lexus.”

They decided on $2,000 to be paid at later date. In the meantime, the groom would give the bride a symbolic amount.

“Twenty-five cents?” he suggested, smiling.

Not enough, so he handed her two dollar bills.

The marriage contract was signed, with the required witnesses, in this case, two Muslim men. And that was that.

It was all very friendly and casual, and, in its way, very beautiful. Of course it was my daughter.

Her father, who had lost his bid for a rabbi in attendance, said to the imam it was the best wedding ceremony he had ever experienced. “You talked about things that are relevant, what marriage really is about.”

People are surprised to hear that a Muslim man may marry a Christian or Jewish woman. They are also surprised that in Egypt, my son-in-law’s native country, women do not change their names when they marry. There are many surprises in Islam to the casual observer, as I was until this religion that is so now heavily political became very, very personal.

My grandchildren will be raised as Muslims.

My daughter's new mother-in-law sent her from Egypt, a jalibiyia, a long cotton dress, dark blue with colorful embroidery at the top.

She wears it around the house.

Outside she wears what she always wore – stonewashed jeans, T-shirts, sneakers.

No scarf.

Selected Works

Fiction
"Stunning wit and sparkle"
Washington Book Review
"A sad/funny first novel of real pathos and skill." -- Kirkus Reviews
Essay
Column, St. Petersburg Times, July 30, 2005