A matter of faith


Noreen Kureishy and James Gilsinn

March 18, 2001|By Joanne E. Morvay | By Joanne E. Morvay,Special to the Sun

Noreen Kureishy and James Gilsinn's wedding was, like the couple's relationship, a blend of American and Pakistani traditions anchored by the Islamic faith. Though Noreen and James are both practicing Muslims now, James was raised in the Catholic faith, and their religious difference was an obstacle when their relationship began more than two years ago.

Under Islamic law, Noreen could not marry outside her faith. "The fear is that I would bend toward my husband's faith," she explains.

James and Noreen met in 1998 while going to graduate school part time at Johns Hopkins University's Montgomery County campus. They took the same computer programming course. When Noreen had trouble with homework, James offered to help.

It turned out the couple worked only two miles apart. Noreen, 28, is a systems engineer for Lockheed Martin Corp. in Rockville. James, also 28, is an electrical engineer with the National Institutes of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg.

Noreen took James to dinner to thank him for his help, and their relationship grew. The couple managed to see each other fairly often. But as things progressed, Noreen worried about how her Islamic faith would affect their future.

The couple continued to date, never really voicing the depth of their feelings -- and never truly touching on the issue of their religious differences.

Then, early last year, Noreen introduced James to her parents, Zafar and Naheed Kureishy of Parkville.

"Once I started getting to know her parents," James says, "a lot of things in our relationship became more comfortable and we could start dealing with these other issues on a much more serious basis."

James began studying with Imam Mohamad Bashar Arafat, who also serves as the Muslim chaplain to the Baltimore Police Department. James formally became Muslim in November.

James, who was raised in "a very accepting home," says his parents, David and Judith Gilsinn of Gaithersburg, are comfortable with his new faith and the Pakistani customs Noreen has brought to their lives.

"I was never hesitant about Noreen," Judith Gilsinn says. "I really liked her and I thought the two of them got along very well together."

James' mother even wore traditional Pakistani dress to the wedding. The ceremony at Liriodendron Mansion in Bel Air March 10 was the centerpiece of a three-day Pakistani wedding celebration, although some Western traditions were included.

The festivities actually began last year when Noreen and her mother flew to Pakistan to choose Noreen's bridal attire. The three-piece garment was handmade from a shimmering burgundy fabric shot through with gold threads. The blouse was left plain to better set off the jewelry that James' parents presented to Noreen (according to Pakistani custom) as a way of welcoming her to their family.

Over the past few weeks, Noreen's family held a number of gatherings, including two dholak parties -- for women only. There, Noreen's family and friends, along with James' mother, celebrated Noreen's coming nuptials with Pakistani songs and dances.

The night before the wedding, Noreen and James were honored together, at her family home in Parkville. In accordance with tradition, guests from both sides of the wedding party fed the couple sweets to congratulate them. And as part of an old-fashioned custom, Noreen's brothers laughingly stole James' shoes, making him pay to get them back.

The evening of the wedding, Noreen and James' 100 or so guests arrived an hour before the ceremony to mingle. All were seated and quiet when Noreen descended the staircase, hidden behind her veil.

She and James sat facing one another before a fireplace. Imam Arafat, speaking in Arabic and then translating his remarks in English, explained the customs as the ceremony went along. The imam brought in expressions and touched on religious figures that were relevant to all in the room, mentioning Mohammed as well as Jesus and Moses.

Noreen's departure from the wedding reception -- to a sad Pakistani song traditionally played as the newlyweds leave -- was emotional for her family. She and her mother wept. But there was no sign of tears the next night at the valima. The party, given by James' parents, welcomed Noreen and her family to a new phase in their lives.

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