Indianapolis couple find faith in Indiana after fleeing Afghanistan


Editor’s note: This story is part of an occasional series about the Akbarzadas and their journey in life and love in the United States

The wish, act 1

“Marriage is a joyful time. When we think of weddings, we think of the charm of love, the warmth of home and all things pleasant as one of the most important events in our lives. It is the most important and binding promise known to man.

On a recent Sunday, the third day of Ramadan, a Christian pastor celebrated the wedding of a young Muslim couple.

“Are you ready?” Reverend Chad McFadden began to a small group of relatives and friends at a church in Indianapolis.

With shy smiles and intertwined fingers, Sulaman and Arzo Akbarzada walked down the aisle, dressed in the black tuxedos and white robes they had worn before.

It was their third attempt at marriage. They hoped this time would work.

On their first wedding day in August, they were forced into hiding after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan and put their lives in danger. “If we stay, we will die,” Sulaman recalls. They fled to the United States with their families and thousands of other Afghan citizens, whom the United States was hosting as refugees.

On their second wedding day in October, new friends in Indiana — U.S. soldiers, State Department officials and volunteers — were so touched by the plight of the new couple that they held a ceremony wedding ceremony for them at Camp Atterbury, an Indiana National Guard training. site. Sulaman, Arzo and about 7,200 other people were staying there temporarily as part of the government resettlement mission in Afghanistan.

Movements of love:The war disrupted their marriage. Love helps them start a new life in Indiana

Atterbury Camp:Inside the Indiana camp housing thousands of Afghan evacuees

That marriage went well, and soon after, Sulaman and Arzo moved into their Indianapolis home, but after the initial marital bliss came…bureaucracy.

When they went to apply for their marriage license, they learned that their union was not legitimate. They didn’t have photo ID or proof of residency at the time, which meant that despite the fanfare and photography at their ceremony at Camp Atterbury, they were technically not married.

You must remarry, Sulaman was told.

“Again??” he remembers thinking.

The story continues under the gallery.

The wish, act 2

“To have and to hold from this day forward. For better for worse. For the richest, for the poorest. In sickness and in health. To love and cherish. As long as we both live.

Since leaving Afghanistan, Sulaman and Arzo have had to take a leap of faith — as husband and wife and as new Americans — while dealing with astronomical life changes that only immigrants can comprehend. Fleeing their homeland in crisis. Finding accommodation in a foreign country.

“Arzo was the only one, she just helped me a lot (when I) was in pain,” Sulaman said. One of the hardest parts of his journey was leaving his sister behind in Afghanistan. In moments of pain, Arzo comforts him.

“She always gives me heart, strength and says, ‘OK, you’re here, she’s coming. … Don’t worry.’”

They try not to worry too much, but even here there is no shortage of challenges.

Sulaman treated his sick wife in the hospital. Arzo worries about her husband when he works long hours.

They lived out their wedding promises long before their ceremony in April, the “official” ceremony that would cement their marriage on paper and in the eyes of the law.

The story continues under the gallery.

Unlike their wedding at Camp Atterbury, this time they were married by a pastor instead of an imam, who conducted the ceremony in English instead of Arabic. They were standing in an almost empty church, with family members and a few close friends.

Sulaman grew up in a Muslim family, but he chose the church and a Christian pastor, Reverend McFadden — not just by chance and circumstance — but also because he was always open-minded about religion.

“It doesn’t matter,” Sulaman said. “(What) matters is that I made a promise to my wife. … It’s about the promise (you) make (to) your wife. That’s all.”

For years, Sulaman was curious about different religions, always asking questions “about everything”, he said. He has general knowledge about other religions, but he wants to read each of their major texts, like the Bible and the Torah.

“I really like to know my God, and I want to hear about (Him) himself,” Sulaman explained. “If I find my God in a religion, I will stick to it.”

He wants to find what is best for him. He wants to be firm in his faith. Here in his country, Sulaman said, he can do it freely and without fear.

“In America, the best thing is that you can choose your own path,” Sulaman said. “In my country, no way.”

“You don’t even have the right to (cut) your beard or (grow it)”, he added, for example.

The Taliban previously ruled Afghan society with a harsh interpretation of Islam, saying shaving or trimming beards was against religion. The remnants of this old governance seem to be returning.

In September, the group ordered barbershops in one region to stop shaving or trimming beards, according to the Associated Press. Last month, Reuters reported that the Taliban have instituted a rule requiring all government employees to wear beards and follow their dress code, or risk being fired.

Since being in Indiana for seven months, Sulaman has changed his facial hair several times, going from a trimmed beard to a clean-shaven face back to the bearded look.

He has always enjoyed American culture, learning English through Hollywood movies and rap music. It lists 50 Cent, Akon, Eminem, Tupac, Dr. Dre, saying “they were my teacher”. After they got engaged in Afghanistan, he took Arzo on dates to eat pizza and chicken wings.

Deep down, he always imagined he would one day come to America.

Today he is here, in a dream born of a nightmarish scenario. But he is here.

“I am here. I am free,” Sulaman said. “I can choose for myself.”

The wish, act 3

“The rings are the symbol of the promises you have made to yourself. Their endless circle, as a picture of your love for each other, must be endless in this lifetime. It is made from precious metal to show that this relationship should be valued more than anything else.

On the day of Sulaman and Arzo’s “remade” wedding, a mixture of beliefs and backgrounds came together in an intimate family gathering.

McFadden, the Christian pastor, quoted the Bible and helped the couple get married in a church. Before and after the ceremony, Sulaman’s parents, Parwin and Dawood Akbarzada, and his brothers prayed five times during the day to the holy land of Mecca for Ramadan.

They fasted that day too, but they still cooked and graciously served a home-cooked Afghan meal of white rice, skewers and meat and lentil curries for their guests – new friends who are now a chosen family.

The pastor, his wife and four young children. Their worker with refugees. A government employee and an Indiana National Guard soldier who were stationed at Camp Atterbury. All helped the Akbarzada family adjust to life in America.

Sitting around a coffee table in the living room, they feasted on each other’s food and company.

Sulaman Akbarzada, second from left, and Arzo Akbarzada made their marriage official with a new service on Sunday, April 3, 2022, in Indianapolis.  After the Indy service, friends joined them for good food, stories and laughs.

Parwin, Sulaman’s mother, made a point of meeting the pastor’s children — she loves children, Sulaman explained. Family friend Larry Cassagne joked about how Arzo seemed to be back to his Mountain Dew habit. They stayed for hours.

“In our culture, we say guests are like God’s guests,” Dawood, Sulaman’s father, said, smiling and speaking in Hindi, one of the many languages ​​he speaks. “It brings luck.”

The Akbarzada family came to America to be accepted, but now that they are here, they also accept and welcome others into their home.

“It’s amazing, I was sitting in the room…looking at all the different backgrounds that were there,” McFadden said. “And to think that only God could bring friendship into all of this and unity, and being able to love one another.”

Sulaman recently requested a Dari Bible, which McFadden was able to order from him in Canada. And after meeting the Akbarzadas and previous years hosting foreign students, McFadden is also studying the Quran to better understand Islam.

Arzo and Sulaman Akbarzada talk after their wedding.  They made their marriage official with a new service on Sunday, April 3, 2022, in Indianapolis.  Their first planned wedding was canceled when the Taliban arrived in their Afghan town.  Their second marriage attempt was at Camp Atterbury where they and their family arrived after leaving their home country.  But they did not have the necessary papers to obtain a marriage license.  So this wedding was complete with an official marriage license after having the proper documentation, photo IDs and proof of residency, to get the license.

Although his family fasted that day, Sulaman did not. He wanted to support Arzo, who was not fasting.

It was his choice.

Soon Sulaman and Arzo will be able to pass on this gift as parents.

The couple have a baby boy due in November.

“I won’t force him into anything,” Sulaman said. “He can go and see and find. I will support him until I die. I will support him…until he finds his way.”

Contact Rashika Jaipuriar at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @rashikajpr.


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