Real Weddings: Alexandra Chen And Mohammad Zakaria's Lebanese Wedding
Alexandra Chen and Mohammad Zakaria’s whirlwind romance was the stuff of storybooks—and so was their wedding. Our protagonists are a Hong Kong-born, Harvard-educated child protection and mental health specialist (Alexandra), who is Christian and works in conflict zones, and a Palestinian Muslim refugee working as a civil engineer in humanitarian aid management, who has lived through wars and bombings (Mohammad). Their story begins in a refugee camp on the Syrian border where they are both working. Their time together is fleeting and, yet, in just five days they manage to fall head over heels in love.
“In the midst of this maelstrom of violent armed conflict in Syria, the heated election in Lebanon and immigration barriers that made our long-distance relationship almost impossible, I met the love of my life while serving refugee children and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” says Alexandra. “Our shared vision of making the world a better place is a huge part of our love. Our marriage, and our wedding, was the impossible made possible.”
Lebanon is at the heart of their romance. Mohammad proposed at Harissa and the couple were formally engaged last year in an Islamic ceremony and party for 200 in Tyre on the Feast of the Annunciation, a day that is important to both Muslims and Christians. Although they officially wed at Hong Kong City Hall in December 2017, it is here in Lebanon that they chose to celebrate their marriage, with a three-day party in May this year, including sightseeing and other special events before and after the partying.
Aside from Lebanon’s significance in their lives as a couple, they both felt this was an opportunity to bring their worlds together and “to not-so-subtly encourage my friends and extended family to finally travel to the Middle East and encounter the world that is now my home,” says Alexandra.
Lebanon is a cultural melting pot, and so too was the wedding celebration. It began with a tour of the sights and the food of Lebanon, with family and friends visiting Beirut, Baalbek, Beiteddine, Saida and Tyre (where Mohammad was raised). The following day, celebrations officially kicked off with a Chinese tea ceremony at The Blue House, a private tea salon in Beirut.
“Our amazing bridesmaids and groomsmen transformed this private venue to host the first Chinese wedding in Lebanon,” says Alexandra, who wore a qipao she designed herself, which was made by 1.618 Couture & Bridal in Hong Kong. Mohammad, meanwhile, wore a Tang jacket from Blanc de Chine. A rare opportunity to share culture aside, “the tea ceremony was key for us to thank our parents and grandparents for loving and supporting us unconditionally,” say the couple. “We wouldn’t be here without them.”
A day or two before the wedding, unplug from all the planning and hosting and make time for just the two of you to be with one another. Go on a date. It will allow you, as a couple, to focus on what really matters, your love, and go into your wedding day together—Alexandra & Mohammad
The main event followed on Saturday May 5, with a Christian ceremony, an Arabic zaffe (a wedding march with drummers, dancers and fireworks) and then a party for 250 people at Domaine du Comte in Harissa. Overlooking Beirut, this stunning 18th-century venue was the perfect setting to celebrate a fairy-tale romance. “We must have seen 25 venues together and Domaine was the last on our list,” says Alexandra. “The minute we walked in together, we squeezed each other’s hands and knew this was it.”
Surrounded by forest and sea, the beautiful bride, who positively glowed on the day, wore a white dress conceptualised by the groom and made by Lebanese fashion designer Abbas Harajli, a dear friend. Later, she changed into a Chinese-style blue gown designed by Lebanese designer Naja Saadé in a nod to Alexandra’s heritage. Her groom wore a traditional abaya for the zaffe wedding march, followed by a tuxedo by Saint Laurent and local brand Moustache. The finishing touch to his outfit? “Custom-made dopamine molecule cufflinks from my nerdy psychologist wife,” jokes Mohammad.
Dancing was a big part of the main event, with everyone taking to the dancefloor before and after the speeches. “Perhaps the most touching remarks we heard separately from several of our guests were, ‘Your wedding is a vision of what heaven looks like—people from all over the world just dancing together and celebrating love with so, so much joy,’” recalls Alexandra.
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Their guests came from 25 countries; among them Afghanistan, Cyprus, Sweden, Ukraine, Iraq and, of course, Hong Kong. Alexandra and Mohammad wanted to embody this mix of cultures in their celebrations, and it came through in the food by Lebanon’s leading caterer, Faqra Catering. “Our menu included Lebanese, Palestinian, Armenian and Italian, French, as well as Asian-inspired desserts,” says Alexandra, whose sweet tooth prompted her to create a special dessert table laden with more than 30 desserts. Also representing the reconciliation of cultures, and of Christian and Muslim creeds, were table frames containing the couple’s favourite Arabic love poems at the main event, and an Islamic teapot and cups from Xinjiang at the tea ceremony.
Alexandra and Mohammad are no ordinary couple, and this was no ordinary wedding. As well as giving their guests a taste of Lebanon’s capacity for celebration, they also gave them an insight into their work with refugee children, arranging for friends and family to volunteer at the camps they both work in, before and after the wedding. “As humanitarians first and foremost, this was a priority for us,” say the couple.
Also unusual was the political controversy happening in the background. The third official day of wedding celebrations coincided with Lebanon’s elections. “It was a bit risky,” say the couple, “but none of our guests encountered any trouble at military checkpoints, alhamdulillah [thankfully].” A happy and fitting ending to this most unique wedding—and a fitting beginning to the story of our protagonists’ lives together.