Hafizabad's Rayan Sheikh and wife brought their baby to their valima

Shahjahan Khurram
A photo of Rayan Sheikh and Anmol with their baby. Illustration: Geo.tv/Aisha Nabi

Hafizabad's Rayan Sheikh and his wife, Anmol, were the talk of the town a few days ago after photos of the young couple from their valima ceremony went viral on social media.

The reason: their two-month-old baby was there too. 

Sheikh, 25, had tied the knot with Anmol, 23, on March 13 last year, only to wake up the very next day to news that outdoor activities — marriages included — had been banned in Pakistan following a surge in coronavirus cases.

Their valima ceremony — the banquet thrown by the groom — was to be held the very next day of their wedding — on March 14, 2020 — but the directives issued by the government meant the couple would have to wait for the pandemic to subside before they could continue with their festivities.

"It was a new development for us [the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown] and we expected it to subside within a few days," Sheikh told Geo.tv. 

"However, the lockdown was imposed throughout Pakistan, as you very well know, and was extended beyond Ramazan to even Eid," he added.

Sheikh said his relatives from Saudi Arabia and other countries were to attend his valima ceremony, but when the lockdown was imposed, it was then that his family decided to hold the event at a later date, "with proper planning".

When Pakistan limped back to normalcy in September-October with a significant decline in the number of coronavirus cases being reported daily, the couple still could not hold their valima ceremony.

Sheikh said when marriage halls were finally allowed to hold weddings by ensuring strict compliance with coronavirus SOPs, his wife was expecting their child and wasn't in a condition to be present at the ceremony.

"We then decided to hold the valima after the baby's delivery," he said. 

It helped that his family owned a marriage hall.

Sheikh and Anmol welcomed their child on January 19, 2021. The family planned the valima ceremony for March 23, because their marriage hall hadn't been booked for that day owing to the Pakistan Day public holiday.

Rayan Shaikh poses with his son at his valima ceremony. Photo: Rayan Shaikh

"We decided to hold it on that day as it was a national holiday and the entire family was free," Shaikh explained, adding that on occasions like these, most members of his family like to get involved.

Enter the bride and the groom — with their baby

Speaking about the Valima ceremony, Sheikh said the couple didn't initially decide on making their entry into the marriage hall with their child.

"It was decided that the baby will accompany its grandparents and the rest of the family after us," he said. "However, the child started crying, hence Anmol carried him in her arms."

Sheikh then took his child from Anmol and someone at the event clicked the picture to share it on social media. "The function hadn't even ended when I realised the picture had gone viral," he said.

Sheikh said his first priority was to see off the guests that had arrived at the event before checking social media. However, the very next day, he saw his picture had gone viral on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

Sheikh on going viral and the subsequent social media response

"I was a bit skeptical at first about people making fun of me because of my son's presence at the valima, but in the end, we decided to invite close friends and family members only due to the prevalent coronavirus situation," said Sheikh.

However, he said the response was 'positive', adding that his family was very happy with the event. 

"If my family is happy, then, for me, nothing else matters," he said. "I didn't care what or how people would react or what they would say."

How did he feel about the social media response and what was his wife's reaction?

"The response on social media was mostly positive. I'd say around 80-90% of it," he said. "There were a few people who reacted negatively but I guess it happens."

For Anmol, the couple going viral was a good experience. "She was happy. I would say it was a good experience. Honestly, we didn't know what to do," said Sheikh.

Why was he adamant about holding a valima event, despite the frequent delays that spanned a year?

"My family was adamant on it [the valima ceremony]," he said. "They said this function was pending. Our dresses and arrangements were all ready too so it wasn't that big a deal," added Sheikh.

Sheikh said the valima was an opportunity for the family as they were able to celebrate their marriage and at the same time, also host an event for their son.

"My family decided it would also be a function for our child," he said. "People hold aqeeqas and other ceremonies, we decided to keep this."

Sheikh said his family welcomed the news as well, adding that it was never the couple's intention to go viral. He said the reason his family held the valima ceremony — despite a year passing since their marriage — was that they wanted to uphold the tradition of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him).

"Our intention was to practice the Sunnah [of the valima ceremony], hence we wanted to go ahead with it," he said.

If others face a similar conundrum during the pandemic, Sheikh has this advice for them:

"Do what works best for you. Critics will keep on saying whatever they want to say. We have to do what our heart desires."