Last night I attended the jaha for my best friend Abdullah, who was visiting here from Canada for a few weeks. I’ve known Abood for over 13 years and so I can safely say this is definitely the only jaha I’ve been to in Jordan where I was actually happy for someone and/or happy to be there. To my non-Arab readers, I’ll make an attempt at explaining what it is, and to the Arab readers, specifically Jordanian readers, this should sound familiar.
A Jaha is essentially a “group of men” who get together for a certain social purpose. In most cases, that purpose is designated to getting two people married. The groom’s family, lead by family or tribal elders, heads towards the bride’s house in jaha-form, where they are received. This is all prearranged beforehand, so it’s not like they just show up on the doorstep like Ed McMahon. The jaha is meant to be an official coronation if you will; a public demonstration.
At the jaha, the men and women are seated separately, although in most jahas you’ll find a lot of the younger women gathering around the doorway to eavesdrop on the most important part of the ceremony. This is the part when most of the men are seated, and the hosts serve everyone coffee, but the sheik or the oldest man in the groom’s family doesn’t drink. He instead puts down his cup and stands, and a quiet falls upon the room. This is supposed to signify that “something is up”.
At this point the man begins to speak, usually saying something along the lines of not being able to accept the hospitality of the hosts until they have met their demands, in this case being their daughters hand in marriage. Usually a similar family-elder from the bride’s side is there to respond and for a moment it looks like a play, which I suppose, technically it is. The details vary according to the family and their origin, size and/or importance. At times, the Quran is often quoted, usually related verses that concern the event at hand. When the bride’s family accept, the fatha – the opening chapter of the Quran – is read by everyone in the room and the deed is done. Screaming women and fireworks ensue.
What follows is what can only be described as an ass-whooping of awkwardness for the groom who has to shake hands and kiss-on-the-cheek every person in the room. This feat is nothing compared to what happens to him when he enters the room full of women, who converge on him like a defensive line tackling a quarterback, smothering him with kisses. He will often emerge sweaty, disheveled, with his face covered in red prints and his eyes in a daze of confusion. Later, they might force him to dance in the middle of the room like a monkey. Meanwhile, his friends – his primary support system – are enjoying knafa, chocolates, candy-coated almonds, drinks and coffee, while usually making fun of him every time he looks to them for support.
Them’s the rules.
So what made this jaha so special for me was the fact that years and years ago, me and Abood had attended a wedding where we spent most of our time pointing out all the awkward situations that take place. Situations we ourselves would love to avoid if humanly possible. But on the jaha-ride in the car from his home to the bride’s home, my friends and I reminded him of these situations, which is like telling a guy who’s about to go into surgery just what kind of pain to expect! Suffice to say it was hilarious. For us.
I should also point out that in this case, the marriage was between two cousins, which is not only very common in Jordan but I would argue (based on nothing more than observation) is becoming more common due to the economic status quo. I mention this because it was interesting to see the family-elder who came to ask for the hand, jokingly say it was his duty to also accept the request. Kind of a schizophrenic but unique, ceremonial procedure.
That being said, it was a fun night for me and my friends.
And a great-big congrats to Abood, who in a few years, as we have all generally agreed, will have a belly, gray hair, 6 kids and having to ask his wife if he’s allowed to go out with the rest of us on a Thursday night!
Here’s to you bro!