Despite their religious divide, couple Akram, the muslim groom, and Sally, the Christian bride, was not stopped from marrying each other.
“Everyone kept telling me I should marry a girl from my community – but it was impossible,” Akram said with his eyes crinkling. “I couldn’t stay away from her,” he said in the morning before their wedding on the west bank of the Nile.
The two lovers met seven years ago in Aswan, on the eastern bank of the Nile — just a short boat ride where young people behave like normal young people; have fun, eat ice cream, flirt, and enjoy life.
For seven years, the couple were both prohibited by their parents to see each other. Members of the community, even friends advised them to refrain from meeting, but the lovers still managed to arrange some stolen moments.
The recent attacks on Coptic (Christian) churches in Northern Egypt highlight the dangers faced by the country’s Christian minority. But among the Nubians – an ethnic group that lives along the upper reaches of the Nile – Muslims and Christians mostly live in harmony.
“Some of the Christian buildings here have been attacked by outsiders, but we all got together and we drove them away,” said Akram.
Elsewhere in Egypt, Akram and Sally’s marriage would have been a bad and risky idea. But for Nubian couples like Akram and Sally, marrying across the religious boundaries is not totally forbidden, but remains a social taboo.
So they agreed to get married at night, “so as not to bring shame on either of the families,” Akram says. “We’re the first people to marry outside of our religion here. That’s very difficult, especially for my parents,” he added.
‘Round the corner of a mosque in Akram’s neighborhood, an imam (prayer leader) proudly shows off his bookshelves loaded with theological works on Islam, Christianity, and other religious texts.
“We had Christianity here for more than 800 years. For me, inter-marrying is not a big deal. I want people to accept each other. Muslims and Christians, we can live in peace,” the imam says while patting Akram’s shoulder.
“In our community (Nubian), divorce is not common. And marrying more than one woman is not allowed. For our young men, Christianity has had a very positive influence,” the imam added.
For Sally, getting to this moment has taken years of secret, quiet conversations with her husband-to-be and slightly louder discussions with her family.
“I have always loved him, but I didn’t think we would be allowed to marry. My father said no for a long time, but now the imam and the pastor have agreed, it’s not so bad for him,” Sally said.
“I don’t care about the vows. That’s all for other people, not for us, the couple. It’s not my priority.”
Akram took his vows alone while Sally recites her prayers quietly at home. With different religions, they became one with one love. Afterwards, they went on for the Nubian-style ceremony and celebration; a merry-making aura of dances and traditions.
“Now we can go back to Shadeed, eat food and begin our lives together,” Akram exclaimed enthusiastically while Sally smiled shyly next to him.
When the BBC news reporter asked her if she’s looking forward to the next phase, she answered “Yes, I’m ready to begin having a family. I want lots of children,” eyes flicking up briefly to her husband, face blushed and eyes bright. “I hope now everyone will accept our marriage and it will become easier for us.”