History of the Gujurati Muslim Community in Gloucester, UK
The story below is part of the Gloucestershire County Council’s Untold Stories series.
Zawaj.com is a Muslim marriage website that also has many unique features, including a section on Muslim wedding photos, and another on Muslim wedding customs around the world. So what I mainly found interesting in this article was the historical photo of the first Gujarati Muslim wedding in Gloucester, UK, on April 21 1972.
And note that the schoolboy Rashid on the left, who (along with his sister) was the first Gujarati Muslim school child in Gloucester, is also the groom in the first Gujarati Muslim wedding in Gloucester! Cool, huh? Ma-sha-Allah.
I have reprinted the entire article for those who are interested:
The Gujurati Muslim Community
The bulk of the Gloucestershire Gujarati Muslim community arrived in England during the 1960′s, in response to a call from the Commonwealth leader for workers to meet the demands of the labour shortage. They came from towns, cities and even remote villages from Gujarat State in India.
What kind of obstacles did they encounter? Most émigrés remember the harsh, frigid winters with icy roads, and fridge-freezer air. They coped with very different working conditions. There was no siesta or break during the day – just one long 8-12 hour working shift. Most laboured at the mills and factories of Lancashire and Yorkshire and moved often, to find work elsewhere. They were wanted as factory hands and labourers. Those with professional qualifications were informed they were not wanted.
Gloucester boasted very little industry in the late 50′s and early 60′s and so many worked in hotels at first and transferred later to such companies as Williams and James Engineering, British Nylon (Du Pont, Brockworth) and Walls Ice Cream. Many private and commercial companies candidly told job interviewees that they ‘weren’t hiring blacks’. It was quite legal to do so before the Race Relations Act criminalized such practices.
In the absence of families and long-term friends, the men formed close friendships with their compatriots and joined together to purchase properties to use as flats and houses. Many landlords in the sixties would hang “No Blacks” signs in their windows. Thus the arrivals had no choice but to buy the properties outright to enjoy a roof over their heads.
Some of the earliest men to arrive became known for leasing out rooms as temporary accommodation for new arrivals. Some beds would actually never turn cold, as a daytime worker would vacate the bed for a nightshift worker in the morning.
It seems that there is a disproportional representation of Gujarati Muslims in Gloucester. But there seems to be a similar pattern of disproportional representation in most regions in Europe. For example, there is a Sikh majority in Hounslow, and mostly Hindus in Leicester. This could be the result of colonial ties and also the fact that first arrivals would become contact points for later arrivals. As a result, if several Gujarati Muslims had established themselves at an early stage in Gloucester, later arrivals would find the path ‘already beaten’ and reap the benefits.
A Muslim community has to abide by dietary protocols and Muslim butchers soon appeared. Similar to Jewish Kosher food, Muslim Halal meat is obligatory for all. Today there are five major grocery/butcher shops in central Gloucester that cater not just to Muslims but to any person who appreciates vegetables and spices not commonly found at regular shops and superstores.
The men, at first, used empty rooms in their own homes as places of congregational worship, but soon banded together, raised funds and established mosques for their burgeoning communities. The two domed mosques in Gloucester today are difficult to miss but are quite recent additions. For decades, men prayed at non-descript buildings that had originally served as warehouses or TV Rental shops.
Later, the families joined the men and experienced the strange land of England from another viewpoint. Men experienced England from a working man’s perspective. Wives and mothers saw England through a female prism. The children entered schools and came to know England from another completely different standpoint.
As bilingual children, the youth quickly adopted the norms and culture of their host country and thus weaved between two foreign worlds, able at a moment’s notice to switch from the dialect of an English borough to the idioms of a state many thousands of miles hence. Always conscious of being the ‘outsider’, young people kept a low profile and were often perceived as diffident, shy individuals. Teachers would often report them as ‘model’ students, perhaps because they were least likely to cause incidents in the classroom and because they were disciplined by parents to work hard at school.
Discipline for youth was uncompromising. English schools then also used corporal punishment and it was certainly practiced at the ‘Madressah’; a school attended by Muslim children every evening after regular school. Nowadays, this form of discipline is outmoded, partly because of recent laws regarding child rights but primarily because second and third generation parents are less tolerant of excessive smacking and caning today.
At the Madressah School, usually based in a room at the local mosque, children learnt to recite the Holy Koran (the Koran is to Muslims as the Bible is to Christians), to practice different forms of worship and to understand laws and scripture from books written by scholars and teachers. The Koran is written in Arabic but children aren’t taught Arabic grammar or even the meanings of words. Children are taught the sounds of letters and words which they learn to recite. Imagine reading this paragraph aloud but without understanding any of the words or the sense of the sentences? Recitation of the Koran is an important form of worship but some parents are addressing the Arabic language gap and attending Arabic classes with their children. A few Indian families in Gloucester speak Arabic exclusively to their young infants. After all, the language of the afterlife will be Arabic, so a ‘headstart’ is prudent.
Fathers and grandparents didn’t always come to England direct but often lived a generation in a third country as guest workers. Perhaps passage to England could prove to be too expensive. One source claimed Nehru, the Indian Prime Minister prevented Indian citizens travelling to England because he feared they were being exploited by the colonial ‘mother’ which was making professional migrants undertake unskilled, low paid manual work. To avoid the barriers many men first obtained visas to a third country and then moved onto England. The author has found no data to confirm this but it’s certainly how one person remembers it.
Indian Muslims are a minority in England and a minority in India. Other nationals, such as Pakistanis are gifted with a genuine homeland. Indians are conscious of being in the fringe, even in their parents’ country of origin. Their parents and grandparents establish their roots during childhood through everyday memories of family and a sense of belonging to their homeland. Younger community members, born in Europe, may visit the ‘mother’ country briefly and may identify a few faces from family photograph albums. But the connection to the ‘extended’ family is tenuous and there can often be a language barrier.
The young generation occupies a larger footprint in this country’s industrial and commercial sectors than their forebears. Fathers and grandparents, confined to manual labour, dreamt of higher ambitions for future generations. Today, sons and daughters are employed as factory hands, IT Professionals, lawyers, doctors, architects and also self-employed as business-owners. More recently, adults and teenagers joined the British Army, marking an enormous cultural leap. Would the Army allow the observance of prayers and sensitivity to dietary restrictions? The MOD has relaxed a number of regulations to encourage ethnic minority participation. The Muslim Territorial recruits enjoyed the Army experience without jettisoning their Muslim observances. One Muslim recruit is considering a full professional career with the Forces. Invisible ceilings denying access to many job sectors have become porous.
Sometimes the barriers are within. Young people have rarely participated as members of Gyms or other leisure clubs. Membership costs can be prohibitive and even today there is an untapped fund of talent for certain sports. There has admittedly been an insular attitude stemming from the elderly generation and infecting the young men and women. However, the spirit of youth often dares to step outside the box.
The elderly Asian population, though small, is increasing. Those who migrated during the 60′s were relatively young and are now facing old age in Great Britain; something for which they did not plan. The current elders did not envisage remaining in Britain permanently. Their objective was always to earn some money, and to try and improve the standing, conditions and circumstances of the extended family back ‘home’ in India. The emotional roots remained in India and still do, to this day.
Growing old in a foreign country can raise the spectre of isolation and depression. National research has highlighted the low uptake of mainstream services, especially community care services. There are specific needs relating to language, culture, religion and tradition. The Asian Elders Drop-in Centre at Hatherly Day Centre and the Mainstream Day Care Provision at Great Western Court (managed by Social Services) respond to these specific needs.
These elderly men and women left all that was familiar in their youth and embarked on a voyage to ameliorate the economic standing of their families. They cabled monies to fund buildings, amenities and to succor the general well being of relatives. At the same time they raised their own immediate families and established a quality of life for their sons and daughters unknown to themselves in their youth.
They sacrificed with a purpose, and people on two different continents have reaped the benefits. The present generation and generations to come owe a debt of gratitude to the courageous spirit of their elderly parents and one day, perhaps with the help of this history project, will recall the love and labour expended on their behalf.
An Iraqi Wedding in Syria
A marriage of inconvenience
Violence and political instability have made weddings in Baghdad virtually impossible. Caitlin Fitzsimmons joins one family who crossed the border to celebrate
Caitlin Fitzsimmons, The Guardian
Hind Al-Rubawawi twirls on the dance floor with her groom. Dressed in white, including the obligatory hijab, the 22-year-old university student from Baghdad beams as she gazes at her new husband, Sami Al-Tameemi, and the 50 or 60 guests gathered to celebrate her wedding. Instead of confetti, her new mother-in-law throws sweets, while her young brothers run about with a spray can sending fake snow flakes into the air. It is a joyful occasion, but this wedding, at a dance hall in Damascus, Syria, nearly didn’t happen.
These days it is almost impossible to have a wedding in Baghdad. Some couples, like Hind and Sami, are choosing to marry abroad at great expense, while others forgo the wedding in favour of perfunctory legal and religious formalities. “Often fundamentalists come to break up parties and set off bombs, or fight with the military or the family to make instability,” explains Hind.
Before 2003, it was common to have up to 1,000 people at a wedding, and when Hind’s parents got married in the 1980s, their guest list numbered well into the hundreds. They had a big party at a hotel in Baghdad with a singer and a band, and went on honeymoon for a week in the Iraqi countryside. Yet for many of Hind’s friends, getting married has been a much quieter affair. “Since the war everyone has been afraid and they’ve reduced the weddings, so it’s only at home, it’s not so big, and it’s without music because the fundamentalists and military don’t allow it,” she says. “Some people only go to get the bride from her father’s home and take her away without any celebration.”
Another reason why Hind and Sami came to Damascus is that 42-year-old Sami is a refugee, legally resident in Norway. The expense and difficulty of organising a wedding and obtaining visas for both families meant that a Norwegian wedding was impossible, so Damascus was chosen as the next best option to Baghdad.
Sami left Iraq in 2006 because, having been a member of the Ba’ath party as a student, the situation had become dangerous. “I was not in a high position – it was normal within the university,” Sami says. “But with the US invasion, they were starting to kill many Ba’athists and were making troubles for me so I decided to leave.”
Sami was accepted as a humanitarian rather than political refugee after al-Qaida seized his father’s house and burned his papers.
The couple had not met in person until a week before the wedding, but the courtship started seven months ago. In December, Sami told his friend Hashim, Hind’s uncle, that he wanted to marry. Hashim played matchmaker by contacting Hind’s family and securing permission to pass on her telephone number and email address. The courtship was carried out by phone and on Yahoo! Messenger, with a webcam.
Though the couple’s first meeting was at the airport in Damascus, both say it was their own decision to marry and that they are very much in love.
Once Sami had proposed to Hind, his family paid a visit to her family. On the second occasion they brought her the engagement ring, a gold necklace and another ring as an engagement present. Sami is also expected to provide Hind with £2,600 as security in the event of divorce.
“The internet helps many young couples connect with each other and make a family,” Sami says. “It was, of course, my dream to get married in Baghdad, but the particular situation was too difficult to arrange a marriage there, and for me to go to Iraq.”
Marrying in Damascus might be practical for security reasons, but it is an expensive exercise. Hashim, a businessman with interests in Damascus, played an instrumental role in securing passports, visas and car hire, and renting apartments in the Sayedah Zeinab area, 10km from central Damascus, where many Iraqis live.
Sami is one of 10 children and his mother, father and three siblings travelled to the wedding from Baghdad, while a fourth came from his home in Vienna. Hind’s mother, grandmother and two brothers travelled to the wedding, but her father and another brother and sister remained behind because of the expense.
For the Baghdad contingent, costs ran to £180 each for a passport and visa, £50 each for the businessman’s card that the Syrian government require for every visitor, even Hind’s 78-year-old grandmother, and £20 each for car hire. Hind’s family faced a 14-hour drive from Baghdad to Damascus, but the 10-hour stopover at the border made the journey much longer.
When the bride and groom arrived in Damascus, their first step was to be married by a mullah. Since Sami and Hind are practising Shia Muslims, they could not be together in public until they were married, so the mullah came directly to the family home.
During the ceremony, as is customary, Hind was asked three times, in private, if she was being forced into the marriage, to which her answer was no. A few days later came the civil wedding in the courts in Damascus. Sami and Hind repeated their vows before the court officials, and Sami and Hashim shook hands – symbolising the contract between both families. Sami then spent the rest of the day getting papers signed and stamped by various officials.
Finally it is time for the party. It might not be on the scale of pre-2003 Baghdad weddings, but the number of family and friends present is an indication of how many Iraqis are now living in Damascus. There is a band with a singer – though many people cover their ears to the Arab pop music as the sound system is so loud. There is a western-style cake, which Sami and Hind cut with a sword. The guests drink Fanta – although a few sip beer secretly under the tables so as not to offend the more religious family members – and eat roast chicken, pita, tabbouleh and hummus.
Ordinarily in Iraqi culture, there is a breakfast for family the day after the wedding – so they can check the sheets for the signs of blood they believe prove the bride is a virgin. The custom is waived in this case, not because of any modern sensibility, but because it is deemed sensible to preserve Hind’s virginity until she has the visa to join Sami in Norway.
Hind studies French at Mustansiriya University in Baghdad and only has one more year to go, so the couple have decided that she should finish her studies before she moves to Norway. “I would like to get married to a woman who has education so I can have a discussion with her,” Sami says. He is also keen that she study English and Norwegian when she arrives in Norway, so that she can mix with the community.
Sami works at a gas company in Molde and he says that while there are a few other Iraqi families there, he has been making an effort to integrate, participating in a government programme that twins refugees with local families, and joining a political party. “The Norwegians have given me peace and stability and this is what I hope to give to Hind so that she does not sit at home and feel lonely,” Sami says. “I love her and she loves me, and everything will be OK. This is most important. But also she should learn the language so we can introduce [her to] the culture and the people and she will feel at home.”
This trip to Damascus has been Hind’s first glimpse of life outside Iraq. Living in Baghdad has, she says, become increasingly constrained. “Now, when the sun sets we should be at home. Before 2003, we could go to the theatre, make excursions. Now it’s impossible, it’s all closed,” she says. “We live in a Shia area so it’s not so bad as the mixed areas, which is where they have the most problems, but I still can’t go with my friends on the streets.”
Hind is not nervous about her impending move to Norway. “I think it will be not such a big problem because they have a few Iraqi families there,” she says. “My dream is to make a happy family and I will give 100% to fulfil that vision”.
Wazwan, the soul of Kashmiri Muslim Weddings
The Wonders of Wazwan
An elaborate, overwhelmingly generous meal, wazwan is the soul of Kashmiri Muslim weddings
by Shonaly Muthalaly
Reprinted from TheHindu.com
Singing and spinach make for a charming, if unlikely, combination.
It’s a bracingly cool morning in Srinagar, where we’re attending a friend’s wedding. We’re cross-legged on the lawn helping her aunts and grand-aunt de-stalk crackly-fresh spinach leaves for the wedding lunch. As the community unites, from different parts of the country or city — which involves braving bandhs, curfews and random stone-pelting — to celebrate, preparations to feed about a thousand people are already in full swing.
The women sit in a circle singing beguiling folk songs, steadily working their way through baskets piled high with the leaves. All the while, a kahwa lady hands out cup after cup of the soothing sweet green tea, fragrant with saffron, spiced with cardamom and afloat with crisp almond slivers, from a silver samovar, which bubbles ceaselessly through the three-day-wedding thanks to cleverly concealed cavities holding glowing charcoal. Beside it, there’s a basket of tandoor-baked soft Kashmiri bread from down the road for breakfast. It’s necessarily light. After all, everyone’s gearing up for wazwan — an elaborate, formal, overwhelmingly generous meal integral to Kashmiri Muslim weddings.
A huge tent has been set up next door to the house for the preparation of this meal, which is served for lunch and dinner through the wedding and features anything from 20 to 44 different courses — most of them meat, mainly mutton. The mathematics is precise and has to be adhered to, following tradition. Shahid Mir, brother of the bride Shaila, explains it, as he walks us around the quaint kitchen-tent, which bustles with activity — hoards of oversized furiously bubbling pots, crackling wood-fires and about ten cooks preparing the meal with the kind of regimental precision, poise and co-ordination that can only come from having done this hundreds of times before.
“For thousand people, they use 120 goats,” he says, “and about 1,100 chickens.” Wazwan is served in huge plates, each of which is shared by four people. “Every plate holds around 4 to 5 kilos of meat.” The brilliance of the cook really comes into play here, because every dish tastes distinctly different. Like the conductor of an orchestra, the head cook directs and guides the team. With minimal talk, responsibilities are divided. One group cuts the meat, ensuring it’s halal. The next lot sits in a row, pounding endlessly to tenderise it. The steady thud’s rhythm is surprisingly cohesive with the folk songs, also sung through the wedding. Another group does the blending, boiling and frying.
With 24 courses on the day of the wedding, this is — of course – far more than most people can comfortably eat. However following long-established protocol handed down through generations, Kashmiri families ensure that there’s no reduction whatsoever in the amount of food served.
After we grapple helplessly with a couple meals, wasting embarrassing quantities, Shahid’s mom Shamima explains the mystery of how the rest of the wedding guests seem to be clearing their plates. It’s a delightfully practical solution. To really enjoy the nuances and flavours of every course, guests are equipped with bags, so they just pack up the excess food and take it home.
As the tempting scents of smoky kebabs, spice-laden curries and smoking-hot ghee begin to weave their way across the garden, we sit down for
our first wazwan experience. The boys in the family do all the carrying and serving, so one of the cousins sets down the tash-t-nari, a quaint silver basin accompanied by a jug straight out of Arabian nights so we can wash our hands. Then comes the plate, piled high with rice, topped with a dash of cooked spinach curry and a dense, meaty gravy made with lamb liver, kidney and intestines.
Then, the wazwan starts moving faster. Scalding chicken red curry served with a huge ladle is carefully poured on the rice, along with a huge meaty piece of chicken for each of the four people sitting around the plate.
Then come the tender sheek kebabs. Rogan josh, fiery with red Kashmiri chillies. The delicious tabak maz, which are flat rib cuts cooked in spiced milk and then fried in pure ghee till they’re dark and crackling. Delectably spongy paneer in a rich tomato sauce. Gushtaba, soft mutton meatballs cooked in a gravy of fresh curd, end the meal.
Not surprisingly we loll about like pythons once we’re done. More kawah. More singing. The thudding from the tent begins again. After all, there’s wazwan for dinner.