“Raqqa will be glad once more,” said Ms Khaldiya, the prep’s close relative, as she tapped out a beat on a little drum. “Nobody will keep us from singing and moving,” the 30-year-old said. “We will party as we like.”
Jazra was one of the first districts of Raqqa to be captured by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters that broke into the city in June.
The groom’s family, unlike many others who fled Raqqa during the fighting, were able to return to their neighbourhood and celebrate. “We’re very happy, it’s the first wedding since the jihadists left,” Ahmed’s father Uthman Ibrahim said as he received guests.
“Before ISIS, there was dabke, songs and the traditional rituals of the region at our marriages, but ISIS banned everything, there was not a single celebration,” the man in his fifties said. “Today it’s a return to joy,” he added, his face lit up with happiness.
An elderly man, wearing a long robe and a pristine white headscarf, performed mawals, unaccompanied poetic songs sung across the Middle East.
Female guests, forced under jihadist rule to wear all-enveloping black including gloves and face veils, took obvious delight in sporting patterned robes and bright red lipstick.
Some covered their hair with matching patterned scarves, while others, including the bride, had their locks coiffed for the occasion.
Seated on plastic chairs, the young bride and groom looked slightly nervous.
Eighteen-year-old Ahmad wore a traditional brown robe, while his new wife was dressed in a frothy white wedding dress, a layer of tulle embroidered with a floral pattern draped over its ballgown bottom.
A delicate veil edged with white flowers rested on her tightly curled hair, and a gold headpiece dangled over her eyebrows, darkened with make-up. Her hands were painted with henna patterns and she fiddled nervously with a bouquet of artificial flowers.
Around the couple, guests took photos with mobile phones while little girls also made-up with darkened eyebrows and coloured lips danced to the beat of the music. Other children handed out water or brought chairs for late arrivals.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had a party,” said Umm Ahmed, the groom’s 25-year-old cousin, dressed in a traditional robe with black hair tumbling over her shoulders.”We’re celebrating with joy this marriage after the end of ISIS’ rule,” she said with a large smile.
The smell of perfume hung in the air, and women ululated in celebration. Khalaf al-Mohammed, another of the groom’s cousins, was delighted by the celebration.
“It’s been years since we danced the dabke, we’re tasting life again,” the 27-year-old said, leading the line of dancers and spinning his prayer beads.