The third part of this interfaith or multicultural stories series is Sonia and Simon’s multicultural story. In addition to their story, they’re a photography team who shoot a lot of multicultural weddings themselves! You can see some of their work at the end of this post.
Where are you both from?
Simon is English, a Leicester boy. Sonia was born and brought up in Warwick. Her mother is half Yemeni and half Omani, born and brought up in Aden, Yemen. Her father is from a village in Yemen – he came over to England when he was about 16. When Sonia’s mother married her father, that’s when she came over to England.
What religion are you?
We are both Muslim. Sonia brought up as a Muslim, Simon converted to Islam 5 years before meeting Sonia – we have been married for 5 years.
How did you meet + your first date?
Sonia’s grandmother and grandfather met because Sonia’s grandmother fell down a well.. Now that is a story you tell your grandkids! We met the modern way… On Facebook! Simon added Sonia because he saw she was a photographer and wanted to see more of her work. They both share a love for photography but found they had so much more in common than that.
Our first date was in Birmingham.. Nothing romantic, just a meet-up where Sonia picked Simon up from the train station and couldn’t find parking in the time that we had to meet. So, it was just a hi / bye in the car really! Sonia then went abroad to photograph an orphanage in Yemen and to visit family in Oman – spending time in Dubai as well.. Overall, away for 5 weeks, where Simon was trying to find ways to communicate via the internet.
How did you find dating someone from a different faith or culture?
When asking Simon his answer was, ‘well I certainly liked the food! Although, sadly Sonia doesn’t cook traditional food!’
Overall it was quite exciting to start with, but as time goes on you begin to learn a lot and slowly see the battles that you will have to face. If we are in an Asian area, we do find people can stare, also when we are abroad. But England is so multi-cultural that most of the time no one thinks anything of it.
Were your parents accepting of your partner?
Sonia’s family are quite multi-cultural anyway, with siblings who are half English as well. Her mother was a little worried, wanting Simon to learn Arabic, thinking about keeping the heritage to pass on to grandkids, but Sonia assured her that you learn together as a couple when you are married.
Simon’s family, it was a culture shock, as we got married within 6 months of knowing each other. The biggest issue that Simon had was because he wasn’t honest with all of his loved ones in the first place with his journey into becoming a Muslim. So some family members had the shock of ‘by the way, I am a Muslim, and I am getting married to an Arab girl.’
Was there any issues from extended family or the community?
Thankfully, none. But we aren’t really involved with a particular cultural community. Where we live, it is a very English community, and the Muslims we are involved with are often from a variety of backgrounds. But even then, we don’t really socialise with only Muslims. We love experiencing different cultures and love to travel.
Tell me about the proposal. Was the parent’s permission asked?
Simon never formally proposed, but as we are both practicing Muslims, we knew if we wanted to be together, we would need to get married. So it was a mutual understanding. It never really hit Sonia until Simon decided to meet Sonia’s dad and actually said the words, ‘I want to marry your daughter.’ Although Sonia’s mother and brother knew about Simon from the first meeting, Simon was slowly introduced to Sonia’s loved ones. Sonia’s mother didn’t want to meet Simon straight away, as she was a little anxious about meeting someone who could potentially break Sonia’s heart, breaking her heart in the process. So Simon met Sonia’s mothers friends and her brothers. Then Sonia’s mother decided to invite Simon over on mothers day, as Simon’s mother sadly passed away years ago. Then Sonia’s mother told Sonia’s father not long after that. So the official meeting was arranged.
How did you decide on having 1 or X amount of ceremonies?
We did our Islamic ceremony on 11th June 2011. The date was set around the marquee’s schedule due to it coming up to wedding season and availability was limited. All Sonia knew was that she wanted to get married in the home that she grew up in. We did the Islamic ceremony in the morning, a ladies party for Sonia’s mothers friends and Sonia’s friends that evening. And then the reception was the next day, and just one big party really. Simon’s father didn’t come to this weekend due to a fall out, so we decided to hold off on the legal registry. We wanted to do this on Simon’s mothers birthday and have it as an opportunity for Simon’s dad to be there. He was going away on Simon’s mothers birthday, so we had to do the legal ceremony a week before. This was just an 8 person registry office, so very close family there.
Did you have any difficulty in finding a place of worship to perform the ceremony?
Thankfully no difficulty. For the religious ceremony we had a really lovely Imam come to the house. When we had our Islamic contract signed, the Imam at the community centre said that it would be a good idea for Simon to have an Islamic declaration certificate, to state it is witnessed that he has become a Muslim, in case he ever wants to perform a pilgrimage. We are glad this was done then, as when we were sponsored to go on an Umrah pilgrimage, we already had it, so it made getting the visa a lot more simple.
Did you have any issues with regards to language barriers?
Sonia isn’t the best with Arabic, although she understands most, she is shy speaking it. Simon has tried to learn Arabic, but it is so complex with all the different dialects. When in a room with people all speaking Arabic, Simon often just switches off, or understands the odd word, but Sonia is always trying to translate so he understands. Sonia’s uncle who lives in Prague often says, ‘if you marry someone of a different culture, you automatically become a translator, no matter how bad you are at the language!’
How did you decide on food catering?
Sonia’s father is in the farming industry, so he straight away wanted to be involved. Everyone loves Lebanese food, so it was agreed that Sonia’s father would organise the meat and take it to a Lebanese restaurant to have the catering done and delivered on the day. Thankfully our guests still speak about the food to this day!
What traditions were you determined to have?
Sonia’s mother had a couple of requests which are specific songs or Quranic recitation, just at the start of the Islamic ceremony and also when Sonia entered the room on the wedding reception day. Just to bring in some Islamic and Yemeni culture.
How much of a say did your parents have?
Sonia, her mother and her mothers best friend who is Moroccan planned most of the wedding details. So we guess Sonia’s mother had quite a big say. But everything was ran past Sonia and Simon so there was nothing happening that we didn’t want to happen.
How did you decide on entertainment?
Because it was such a last minute wedding we didn’t over think this. Sonia and her friends sat down the night before the wedding organising an Arabic playlist, including a lot of Moroccan songs as well, as Sonia grew up with Moroccan’s.
Most stressful part of wedding planning?
Trying to please everyone and failing miserably. You can never please everyone at a wedding. Also the wedding dress! Sonia ordered a dress from a store claiming to be in the UK and then realised it was actually based in China. Then she was told by many that ordering a dress from China is a great idea.. This was the biggest mistake. Thankfully it meant Sonia got the initial dress she fell in love with, as she had to get a dress within a week from the local store that she had tried dresses on in previously. She wished she had done this from the very start!
Advice you would give to other couples planning their multicultural – fusion – interfaith wedding?
Both bring what cultures and traditions you want to the wedding day. It is so beautiful to see a mix of cultures, watching them fuse together. Although there can sometimes be battles especially with older generations, maybe ask them what they’d like included, but only if that is what you want. Often couples do things just to please their parents on the wedding day, but it’s nice to come to a middle ground and bring your own traditions. It is ultimately your day and it’s important to enjoy every minute of it. It happens so fast, and what always shines through in the pictures is people having fun / showing true emotion.
And any other information you want to provide
We are a husband and wife wedding photography team. We absolutely love photographing weddings together. Seeing couples come together with their loved ones around them, celebrating the love they have for each other. It is such a special time and truly an honour to capture. Ultimately, getting the chance to photograph these moments, alongside the person you love, it is such a special feeling. Truly thankful for the blessing. It is a unique one.
We often get hired by like-minded couples, from multi-cultural backgrounds. It is so unique, merging two cultures and ultimately forming your own. We were photographing a Pakistani / Italian wedding once and the registrar said to us, ‘it is so beautiful having two nations come together through love.’ Those words have stuck with us ever since.
Photography of Sonia & Simon by Chris Giles