When their love story coincided with the coronavirus pandemic, one young couple decided to hold one of the most important events in their lives over Zoom: their wedding.
“We were consulting with our families when and how the wedding could take place, when slowly the situation got worse and the restrictions increased,” Noura Scoggin says of planning her May 2020 wedding to Raji Scoggin. “We were really worried how we could still have the wedding in a reasonable amount of time and make it possible for both of our families to attend.
But the idea of a wedding over Zoom was previously unheard of, and many worried about whether the online platform could really do the spiritual nature of their union justice.
The couple first met in 2018 in Haifa, Israel, where they both served as volunteers at the spiritual and administrative center for the Baha’is of the world. They were both 18 and working in the cleaning maintenance department, Noura in a specific building and Raji cleaning and maintaining floors everywhere. They had a few opportunities to work together. Having meaningful conversations and seeing each other’s attitudes as they worked, they began to get to know each other better—and eventually fell in love.
As Baha’is, they made the commitment to get to know each other’s characters as they served together. “The first thing I noticed about him was his dedication to service and striving for excellence,” Noura says. When their period of service was over and they moved away — Noura back home to Germany and Raji to start college in the United States — they continued to get to know each other. Abdu’l-Baha, the son of the founder and prophet of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah, explained the importance of this process:
Baha’i marriage is the commitment of the two parties one to the other, and their mutual attachment of mind and heart. Each must, however, exercise the utmost care to become thoroughly acquainted with the character of the other, that the binding covenant between them may be a tie that will endure forever.
One and a half years later, Noura and Raji decided to get married. “What made me decide to marry Raji was the conviction that no matter under what circumstances, with him I was always able to serve to a capacity that I didn’t know I possessed,” Noura says. “No matter what challenges we faced together, I always witnessed both of us coming out stronger and spiritually matured.”
Noura says that their desire to get married soon came through a profound process of prayer and meditation. “One thing that was really important for both of us was the idea to try to perceive what is God’s will for us and try as much as possible to be detached. Prayers and service accompanied us through our entire process. In the end we just both had a very firm belief that marriage was what God wanted for us.”
Marriage is a life-changing decision for anyone, but for Raji and Noura it came with a few added logistical challenges even before a Zoom ceremony was on the table. One was that they were both 19 and still making decisions about college and their careers — an age many people consider too young for marriage.
“Society makes us believe that marriage should be faced at a later point in our life,” Noura says. “It is probably less challenging in some ways: If you have financial stability, know your income, your career plans, all of that.
“But I remember Raji sharing with me a quote from the Guardian [of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi], where he says that young people should be encouraged to marry early in their lives and financial circumstances should not be the reason for this to not happen. This gives us some powerful implications of what marriage truly is! It is the union of two souls, of course in a material world, but first of all in the spiritual realm.”
The Baha’i Writings explain: “The true marriage of Baha’is is this, that husband and wife should be united both physically and spiritually, that they may ever improve the spiritual life of each other, and may enjoy everlasting unity throughout all the worlds of God.”
“It is important to figure out your financial situation, but it seems like there is an overemphasis on this in our society,” Noura says “an idea a close friend shared with me was that marrying at a young age, you still have a lot of flexibility: you can spiritually and in your habits adapt to each other, which I can imagine probably creates a strong and lasting bond for a healthy marriage.”
Obtaining Parental Consent
Like many cultures and faith traditions, Baha’is see marriage as a union of families — a bond that lasts both in this world and in the next. Because of this, a Baha’i needs to obtain consent from all parents to marry. This allows the couple to benefit from their parents’ wisdom and objectivity when making the decision to unite their lives, and also prevents resentment or hostility from taking shape between the families, as all must be in agreement for the wedding to take place.
When they made the decision to marry, Noura and Raji approached their parents separately. “It was a very beautiful process, though full of challenges,” Noura says of her experience asking for consent to marry. “My dad agreed immediately. My mother and I were truly guided through that process by prayer and a growing level of understanding. I think this was an event in our lives that strengthened our relationship and love for each other the most.
Noura says her mother’s concerns about her getting married at 19 were reasonable — although she liked Raji, she wanted Noura to finish college first.
“The consultations we had about this were really not easy, and I am incredibly thankful to Raji for his accompaniment,” Noura says. “First when my mother and I grew to understand each other and admitted in tears our love and admiration for each other’s accomplishments, we were able to really see with clear eyes: This marriage is the next step in my life, and there is no valid reason to postpone it.
“With Raji’s parents, it was very different. Raji asked them for consent before I had met his family, which was a shock for them,” Noura says. “Then when I met them, we became good friends and his parents took their time to study guidance, consult, and pray about it. When, a few days later, their consent came, we were both very happy.
“After Raji’s parents gave consent, we officially announced our engagement.”
A Cross-Cultural Marriage
Noura says that cultural differences have been a great source of strength in their relationship. “We both grew up with two different cultures, he with Ecuadorian and American, me with German and Persian culture. This, I think at least, nurtured in both of us an openness and appreciation for different cultures. And to me it seems that the ability to recognize fields of service and provide service under all conditions was really what helped me in the different circumstances.”
But a cross-cultural relationship did bring some logistical considerations. While Raji had just moved to the United States to begin his undergraduate studies, being able to live close to each other — and once married, together — would require some creative thinking. Thankfully, Raji’s city held opportunities that were very much in line with Noura’s own aspirations as a psychology major. She moved to Davis, California, almost a year after leaving Haifa.
Relocating wasn’t without its challenges. “Materialism and superficiality here in the States used to be very frustrating to me, but when I learned to focus on the high receptivity and willingness to build friendships and community, I started to love the community here,” Noura says. “All of the difficulties we face seem to eventually be just a challenge for us to strengthen our willingness to serve and appreciate whatever qualities we find around us.”
A Wedding Mid-Pandemic
As both families began to plan the wedding — taking into consideration that Noura’s family was in Germany, Raji’s extended family was in Ecuador, and his nuclear family was visiting him in the United States — COVID-19 started making headlines.
We looked at different options: having the wedding in Ecuador, in the States, or even in Germany,” Noura says. “But then, first, there were travel restrictions from Europe, then Ecuador closed its borders.”
As California went into lockdown, Raji’s family was forced to stay instead of returning to Ecuador. And Noura and Raji didn’t want to put off the wedding, especially in such uncertain circumstances as a pandemic. As they consulted about what to do they reflected on the story of the wedding of Shoghi Effendi and Ruhiyyih Khanum in 1937. They had a very simple but profoundly spiritual wedding, with only their parents in attendance.
“We understood again a little bit more about the true implications of a wedding: the spiritual nature and the importance of the holy ceremony over everything else,” Noura explains. “The event of a wedding celebration is really secondary.”
Ultimately, their online nuptials had some wonderful advantages. They were able to have many guests with very little expenses; over 100 guests from all around the globe attended the Zoom event. Thanks to a carefully crafted program, many guests performed songs and prayers in different languages one after another, creating a beautifully moving environment, and members of both families were able to tell stories about the bride and groom and congratulate the happy couple.
While it was a significant sacrifice to not have Noura’s family present, they found ways to help everyone feel a part of the celebration. Strategically placed cameras and microphones allowed family and friends to see Noura and Raji’s beaming faces as they said the Baha’i marriage vow: “We will all, verily, abide by the Will of God.”
Building a Future Together
Noura and Raji currently live in Davis, with Raji working and both pursuing their undergraduate degrees. “Both of us really felt that this is our place to stay and serve at the moment,” Noura says. “After that, we are pretty open to opportunities that will arise.
“Raji’s mother one time told me something I felt was very profound: that many couples, at the beginning stages of getting to know each other, read, and study a lot together, but later in their marriage lose that habit,” Noura says. “It is both of our wish to not lose the habit of constantly striving to recognize God’s will for us, to always be ready to be of service, and keep happy and full of hope to accept whatever doors God opens for us.”
Photo credit: Joshua Scoggin