When Daniel R. Jou ’08 first broached the topic of marriage with Ola B. Aljawhary ’09, Aljawhary, who had just turned 19 and was still in her self-proclaimed “tomboy stage,” she worried that she was too young and put the idea on hold.
Aljawhary and Jou met during her freshman year through the Harvard Islamic Society. According to religious tradition—both are Sunni Muslims—the two could not date without a chaperone and their interactions were limited to group settings.
“We didn’t really know each other very personally before engaging the process for pursuing marriage, “ said Jou, explaining that they didn’t flirt and that generally, romance was not a part of their courtship.
Following Aljawhary’s initial hesitation, both continued to work together for HIS, although their relations were admittedly “very awkward.”
Eventually, Jou returned to the subject during his senior year. After a series of encounters in which Aljawhary’s family and friends asked Jou to answer a “list of questions” in order to gauge his potential as a husband, Jou proposed officially over last Thanksgiving break. In a symbolic acknowledgment of Aljawhary’s Egyptian background, Jou, whose parents are Iranian, wrote and pronounced the proposal in Arabic.
While the moment may have been awkward for everyone involved, Jou noted playfully that “she is still more embarrassed than I am.”
“It’s really embarrassing to have someone go and on and on praising you for two pages,” Aljawhary responded, adding that it is “very flattering, but also nerve-wracking.”
Throughout the entire engagement process, both families remained heavily involved, providing an important “support system” for the young newly-weds, said Aljawhary. While Aljawhary may have originally been wary of marrying at a young age, she found that she and Jou had “a lot more in common” than she had anticipated.
Jou and Aljawhary were officially married in December, a month after his proposal, in a ceremony performed by an imam. The wedding reception will take place in New Jersey, where the bride’s family lives, in July, because the couple wanted to wait until after Aljawhary’s graduation for the festivities. The party will, in many ways, resemble more familiar Western weddings: the veiled bride will wear white as guests feast and dance.
Aljawhary and Jou have also been careful to obey Muslim standards regarding courtship, while at the same time trying to adapt timeless traditions to the context of recent Muslim-American immigrant communities.
“It’s definitely a challenge because you have to be very creative and you have to be open-minded,” Aljawhary said.