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Singer Nguyen Phuong Anh converts to Islam to marry her half-Pakistani groom

In demure dress, but with tiny diamonds in her nose and teeth, pop star Nguyen Phuong Anh happily married her husband at a traditional Muslim ceremony last May.

She wore the foreign attire, including a shawl over her hair, with pride and smiles.

The groom, businessman and devout Muslim Muhammad Khan, was born in 1980 to a Pakistani father and a Vietnamese mother.

Anh, 27, says that some branches of Islam allow men to marry many wives at the same time. She says the traditional process stipulates that a man's first wife must propose marriage to all subsequent brides.

But Muslim customs require the husband to treat all his wives fairly, she says. If one of them feels she is being treated unfairly, she can sue the man.

"The polygamy custom doesn't apply in Vietnam," says Anh. "Born and raised in Vietnam, my husband is like any other Vietnamese. He never mentions the polygamy. I sometimes joke: 'Do you want more wives? I'll fetch you some, but can you take care of them?'"

Religious road

Anh says she became a Muslim before the marriage.

"Though it's my husband's religion, I myself have a strong faith in it. I'll never eat pork again - I haven't done so in a year... Now that I'm committed to the religion, I follow it strictly."

Anh says that while some Muslim countries impose laws on what women can and can't wear, she says she's free in Vietnam and in her marriage.

But the hard thing for Anh is Ramadan.

During the holy month, which falls in August this year, Muslims don't eat or drink anything from dawn until dusk. Some don't eat until 2 a.m., says Anh.

She says another difficulty was memorizing the lines from the Qu'ran she had to read at her wedding.

"The Qu'ran is in Arabic, which is difficul to pronounce, understand and memorize."

According to the the traditional Muslim wedding custom, if a non-Muslim spouse reads his or her Quran section incorrectly three times, the wedding must be canceled.

But Anh got it right on her first try and even translated the meaning for her Vietnamese guests.

There's not much difference between a Muslim and a non-Muslim couple, says Anh.

"My father and mother-in-law treat each other fairly. My husband and I have some religious characteristics, but we're really just like other young couples. We're equal."

Though Anh's mother was first worried about her entering the new culture, she's settled into the idea after seeing that it required very few major changes.

Military diva

Born and raised in the northern port city of Hai Phong, Anh began her singing career with the Navy Art Troupe at the age of 16. She went on to study singing at the Army's College of Culture and Arts, where she was a member of the Dong doi (Comrades) student band.

She now often performs for soldiers posted on far-off islands. The singer says she considers it her duty. "I don't get paid, but I love it." She'll perform for the troops at Phu Quoc Island next week.

She says her recent trip to the Truong Sa (Spratly) Archipelago off the central coast was a big success, adding she had a lot of time to relax and was treated to lots of delectable, fresh seafood from the islands.

She sang and danced with the soldiers, saying "that kind of thing helps me forget all the worries of life."

Anh often sings patriotic songs and encourages her crowds to join in.

"We must sing deeply, emotionally or very boisterously when we perform for the troops.

"Though the soldiers receive several art troupes every year, there are still tearful goodbyes when we leave."

Phuong originally gained fame with her debut pop album Sao Mai diem hen (Tomorrow's meeting point) in 2005.

Her fourth and most recent album, 9, was also a chart-topper.

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