It all started with “I love you”: Ahad and Kelsey became friends during their undergraduate years at the University of Missouri. They often hung out with a group of friends, but when Ahad invited Kelsey to accompany him to the South Asian Student Association dance and she felt nervous, she knew she had developed deeper feelings for her best friend.
Shortly after, he offered her a ride from Columbia to the airport in St. Louis. After he dropped her off, Ahad called her to say how hard it was to not say he loved her when he said goodbye. She told him she felt the same way.
“We started with ‘I love you,’” Kelsey says. “It was a lot.”
From there the two—along with Kelsey’s dog, Nugget—quickly became even more inseparable. Because Kelsey’s roots are Irish Catholic while Ahad comes from an Indian and Iranian background, the early stages of the relationship-centered on learning about each other’s culture and using that knowledge to build relationships with each other’s families.
“We were navigating a lot of differences,” Kelsey says. “Both of us are really close with our families. It took a lot of trust-building. We made a lot of mistakes, and we learned a lot.”
Ahad’s family in particular didn’t want him to lose his connection to his Iranian and Indian heritage and thus was initially skeptical of the match. Today, she is a regular guest at his family’s Sunday night dinners, where she’s “spoiled” by all the special dishes his mom cooks just for her.
“Kels has always met my immigrant identity with empathy and an open heart and mind,” Ahad says. “She’s met my family where they are, and that’s led to my empathy growing as well.”
A lifetime of learning and growing: Ahad proposed to Kelsey on the winter solstice, Dec. 22, 2018. He kicked off the day with a gift, the Nintendo Switch she’d been wanting. He arranged for her to get a manicure and massage and meet her friends for brunch before taking an Uber to meet him at the St. Louis Art Museum. With the museum lobby’s elaborate Christmas decorations as a backdrop, Ahad got down on one knee.
Why the museum? Not only have Ahad and Kelsey created many positive memories in the building, but the museum is also a perfect metaphor for what their relationship has been about from the beginning—learning and growth.
“That feeling, if you’re a dork like us, of when you first walk into a museum and get so excited about what you’re going to see and learn—that feeling is something we’re always trying to reach for,” Kelsey says.
A binding contract: To highlight their diverse cultural traditions, the couple planned several ceremonies. They were all postponed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. After trying to reschedule several times and having trouble with vendors, Ahad’s brother managed to book a time at the Four Seasons in St. Louis just two weeks in advance. Both the bride and groom and their families were working up until the moment the ceremony started. Kelsey’s ring didn’t arrive in the mail until noon the day of the wedding, and Ahad was making a playlist and polishing shows at 3:30 p.m.
About 50 people were allowed to witness Ahad and Kelsey’s marriage in-person, while additional family members watched via live stream. The couple’s officiant, a family friend of Ahad’s and a prominent Shia Muslim scholar who lives in Florida, also attended via FaceTime. He called from near the fountains of a Catholic church to honor Kelsey’s faith, too.
The event included a nikah, a Muslim wedding ceremony in which the bride and groom sign a contract committing them to each other and to mutual growth. The couple customized their contract to include a promise to travel to Ireland, India and Iran together someday. Kelsey’s friend also performed a Celtic handfasting ceremony. Lastly, the couple completed a Sofreh Aghd, an ancient Persian traditional wedding table filled with decorations and food believed to bless the marriage. Ahad says his family spent hours setting it up.
Kelsey wore an intricate dress Ahad’s mother flew to India to purchase. It was a soft blue color traditionally worn by Shia Muslim brides. The other traditional color, green, was present in Kelsey’s emerald jewelry provided by Ahad’s sister. The color happens to be Kelsey’s birthstone and also calls to mind her ancestral Ireland.
Following the ceremony, Ahad’s brother, Nadeem, gave an impactful speech about how Ahad lives “a life full of flavor.” He brought the speech back to Kelsey by quoting a beloved Persian song. “Dokhtar Irooni,” or “Iranian Girl,” tells of a beautiful, kind girl with fair skin and light eyes who makes everyone feel warm. Kelsey, Nadeem said, “is that for our family.”
Photographer: Bella Tiamo Photography & Videography
Hair: Laura Zumsteg
Makeup: Samantha Degunia
Catering: Sameem’s Afghani Restaurant
Cake: Four Seasons St. Louis
Dress: Family purchased in India
Flowers: Enchanted Florist
DJ: Millennium Productions
Car Service: A Lamborghini borrowed from a friend
Officiant: Sheik Hussain Al Nasheed, Syed Hammad Haider, Emily Luft