Desi wedding
Lifestyle Weddings

Blending Cultures in a Desi Wedding

February 11, 2019

A South Asian couple embraces longstanding wedding traditions while creating new ones of their own.

By Harsha Nahata

Photography by Ayesha Khan

Though Reham Khan and Zaid Iftekaruddin were University of Michigan undergraduates at the same time — even taking some of the same classes for their biopsychology major — a life together wasn’t on their radar.

Khan, 26, is a business systems analyst for Michigan Medicine, formerly known as the University of Michigan Health System. She attended U-M for her undergraduate education and later for a graduate degree in health informatics. Ann Arbor is also where she met Iftekaruddin, 27.

It wasn’t until Khan returned to Ann arbor in the fall of 2016 to pursue her master’s that they started talking more.

“Everything happened quickly,” Khan says. “We knew we weren’t here to waste each other’s time.”

By the end of the year, they met each other’s siblings. Soon after, the families were introduced.

Khan’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan; Iftekaruddin’s family is Muslim as well, but from Hyderabad, India. The wedding offered a chance to blend customs from both sides.

“My parents didn’t know anything about them,” Khan says. “But they trusted my judgment and were ready to meet him.”

Reham Khan

Reham Khan

Before long, they discovered a distant social connection — a father’s friend who knew Iftekaruddin’s family. These points of overlap often form a basis for trust in tight-knit immigrant communities.

In August 2017, the families met again, this time for a baat pakki ceremony (which roughly translates to “it’s final”). In many South Asian cultures, this unofficial engagement is a time for both families to come together and formally agree to the relationship.

For Khan, the proposal came after.

On a cold March day, Khan received a text from Iftekaruddin to meet some friends at 400 Maynard, an Ann Arbor apartment building with roof access. At first, she was skeptical.

“I didn’t want to go because it was cold,” Khan says. “And, I was hungry.”

But she grudgingly agreed, and to Khan’s surprise, a ring was waiting for her at the top.

“We already knew we were going to be married,” Khan says. “But I was like ‘Sure, I’ll marry you.’ ”

Blessing the Bride

The festivities began with a dholki — a bridal shower-style event thrown about a month before the wedding, usually by a family friend or aunt.

At the women-only event, Khan’s close friends and relatives gathered to offer their well wishes. Aunties sang traditional Pakistani wedding songs passed down through generations, while guests showed off their freestyle dance moves.

Wedding Week

Guests traveled from near and far, with relatives making the trek from Pakistan, Dubai, India and England. Khan’s maternal grandmother flew from Saudi Arabia.

“There were nearly 50 people in the house at all times in the week leading up to it,” Khan says. “People would come over just to hang out or help with anything that needed to be prepared.”

Whether creating decorations or gift baskets, this was a time for wedding guests to catch up and share in the spirit of the festivities. 

The first event of the weekend was a mayoun, a ceremony to pamper the bride before the big day.

On the night before the wedding, the bride’s family members apply a turmeric paste, haldi, to her skin. Turmeric is known to cleanse and clarify, and historically, the haldi ceremony is like a spa day to give the bride a pre-wedding glow. Per tradition, after this event the bride isn’t supposed to go out or do any work that could get her hands dirty. And the groom has to wait until the wedding to see her.

Reham Khan signing the wedding contract as her father looks on

Reham Khan signs the wedding contract as her father looks on.

Iftekaruddin didn’t have to wait too long as the nikah, or main marriage ceremony, took place the next morning on June 22 at the Tawheed Center, a mosque in Farmington Hills.

“In an Islamic marriage, they always go to the girl first,” Khan says. Once she gave her consent, the imam, a Muslim religious leader, asked her husband, and in the presence of witnesses they signed the official marriage contract.

Bride Reham Khan at the mehndi ceremony

Bride Reham Khan at the mehndi ceremony.

The two didn’t have much time to catch up as they had to change for the evening’s event: the mehndi or henna ceremony. Applied in intricate designs on both the bride and groom’s palms, henna is thought to bring good luck for the couple’s married life.

The colorful night was filled with vibrant dances and skits as friends and family recounted their own versions of how the bride and groom met. Elders blessed the couple with money to donate to charity, and the two families exchanged gifts to welcome each other.

Zaid and Reham receive blessings at the mehndi

Zaid and Reham receive blessings at the mehndi.

For Khan, the food was the most unique part. Wanting to do something different for the mehndi, she decided on a menu filled with South Asian street food. Stations of kabobs, kati rolls and pani puri, a hollow crisp ball filled with potatoes and flavored water, lined the Madison Heights venue, Club Venetian.

The Reception

The celebrations capped off with a 450-person reception the following evening at Farmington Hills Manor.

Decor at the reception.

Decor at the reception at the Farmington Hills Manor.

The reception blended in their experiences in the American diaspora, featuring customs that until recently weren’t part of celebrations in the motherland — speeches, a wedding cake and a sit-down dinner.

After getting ready with her sisters, Khan headed to a pre-reception photoshoot in her ivory, Champagne gown. Her clothes, and Iftekaruddin’s, for the weekend were custom-made in Pakistan. Some of her jewelry was her mom’s, which she one day hopes to pass on to her own children.

The bride and groom at the reception.

The bride and groom at the reception.

But the celebration wasn’t over yet. The next morning Khan got ready for the final event of the weekend, the walima, a welcome brunch hosted by the groom’s side to introduce her to the rest of the family.

Historically thrown by the groom’s family, this party was a way to take pressure off the bride’s side. It was one event Khan didn’t have to plan and the perfect lead-in to her post wedding break, a mini-moon at Riviera Maya.

For Khan, the months of preparation were worth it.

“Honestly, the best part was just having everyone there,” she says. “It really felt like they were all there for us.”

Wedding Details

Date: June 23, 2018


Nikah: June 22 — Tawheed Center in Farmington Hills

Mehndi: June 22 — Club Venetian in Madison Heights

Reception: June 23 — Farmington Hills Manor in Farmington Hills

Valima: June 24 — Byblos Banquets in Dearborn

Florist: A&H Event Design

Caterer: Naan Stop Grill in Warren

Cake: Mid East Pastry Delight in Sterling Heights

Entertainment/DJ: Mixta (Bhavdeep Micky Singh)

Dress: Custom made in Pakistan

Shoes: Badgley Mischka

Rings: Tappers

Hair/makeup: Kim Qureshi

Henna: Uzma Tarannum

Tux or Suit: Sherwani – custom made in Pakistan

Invitations: Custom made in Pakistan

Wedding planner: None

Photographer: Ayesha Khan

Videographer: Aria Films

Honeymoon destination: Riviera Maya, Mexico

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