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Muslims in interfaith bonds are proliferating. Imams keen to marry them should not.

(RNS) — When Faiqa Cheema and Jeff Beale had been planning their September 2021 wedding ceremony, it was necessary to Cheema that it embody components of the standard ceremony of her Muslim religion, whereas additionally being significant for her husband, who was raised Baptist.

The couple’s path to their dream interfaith wedding ceremony turned out to be extra difficult than they anticipated. Whereas such unions are more and more frequent, Muslim clergy have lengthy frowned on marrying exterior Islam, and Cheema and Beale struggled to seek out an imam who would officiate, a lot much less adapt the Islamic ceremony, often known as a nikah, to acknowledge Beale.

Many imams refused to marry them, Cheema mentioned, as a result of their bond is “in opposition to Islamic educating and was a sin.” Beale was advised to think about changing to Islam. “It’s not one thing that I wished for him,” Cheema mentioned.

Their search solely got here to an finish when Cheema bumped into the Instagram profile of Imam Imaad Sayeed. The founding father of The London Nikah, a 10-year-old marriage company that’s now primarily based in New Jersey, Sayeed has officiated some 250 Muslim interfaith weddings up to now 5 years, marrying {couples} from world wide.

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Sayeed’s busy schedule, he mentioned, is the results of being one of many few imams keen to adapt the nikah to demographic actuality.

In line with a 2015 Pew Research Center survey, 79% of U.S. Muslims who’re married or dwelling with a associate are with somebody of the identical faith. That leaves 21%, presumably, in interfaith relationships.

The principles about intermarriage favor males, based on Imam Abdullah bin Hamid Ali, head of the Islamic Legislation program at Zaytuna Faculty, a Muslim liberal arts faculty in Berkeley, California. Ali mentioned the Quran is evident that males are allowed to marry non-Muslim ladies so long as their brides are “Folks of the E book” — Christians or Jews, each of whom acknowledge Abraham as their non secular forefather, as Muslims do.

A Muslim lady, nonetheless, can’t marry a non-Muslim man until he converts. 

Whether or not the conversion is honest or a matter of comfort, Ali mentioned, is a query between the particular person and God. “If he converts as a result of he actually wishes to be together with his spouse, we don’t know, we solely know his testimony of religion, which is indicative of his conversion.” 

Imam Imaad Sayeed. Video screengrab

One other interfaith couple whom Sayeed married through a big-screen Zoom name final yr mentioned they, too, had consulted different imams who anticipated the husband’s conversion. 

Sayeed, who thinks the Quran’s guidelines for marriage are open to different interpretations, sums up his perspective with the logic of affection. “I consider that two folks coming collectively and main a lifetime of dedication and love is a good looking factor,” Sayeed mentioned. “And why would God not bless that?” 

“I don’t require anybody to transform, as a result of conversion is one thing that occurs from the guts,” he mentioned. “We have now to remain true to who we’re, and I additionally don’t need to ostracize these {couples} from Islam,” Sayeed mentioned.

Muslims for Progressive Values, a nonprofit group, based its Marriage Celebrancy division, providing wedding ceremony celebrations for {couples} with various non secular backgrounds, in 2006 and claims on its web site that its practices are “deeply rooted in each Islamic and democratic rules.” In 2020, MPV’s community of officiants celebrated about 75 weddings within the U.S. and, with associate organizations, one other 20 in Canada, the U.Ok. and Europe.

Ani Zonneveld, founder and president of MPV, mentioned that the way in which marriage is interpreted in Islam immediately is “cultural,” and it’s not prescribed within the Quran. Whereas males are clearly restricted to marrying inside Abrahamic religions, ladies are suggested to marry “believers,” Zonneveld mentioned, however the time period is ambiguous.

Zonneveld mentioned there’s additionally proof of mixed-faith marriages within the hadith, the commentaries on the Quran and Muhammad’s teachings. A number of Muslim religion leaders warned that Zonneveld’s scholarship is exterior the mainstream. 

Fifteen years in the past, when MPV first began celebrating nikahs, interfaith weddings had been as quiet as they had been uncommon. “When it did happen, it will be a yard wedding ceremony on the non-Muslim mother and father’ residence,” Zonneveld mentioned, with a supportive Muslim sibling or two in attendance. “Now,” she mentioned, “interfaith weddings are giant and indulgent, from a family-only occasion of 20 to a marriage in Cancun.”

Often, {couples} would require a joint service with the clergy of one other religion, adjusting the readings and a few of the structural components. 

The process is simpler with members of Abrahamic traditions however tougher for Muslim-Hindu {couples}, Zonneveld mentioned, because the construction of the Hindu wedding ceremony is extra elaborate. “If the service I conduct is the one marriage service the couple has,” Zonneveld mentioned, “then I make it some extent to incorporate the non-Muslim custom and tradition as effectively.” 

Interfaith {couples} married by Sayeed say he has a knack for creating ceremonies that really feel “pure,” “intimate” and “inclusive” and praised the way in which he blended their cultures. 

Anyone can conduct a nikah ceremony, and traditionally, probably the most knowledgable particular person inside the neighborhood — not essentially an imam — performs it, Sayeed defined. 

However the truth that Sayeed is a historically educated imam who has the Quran memorized helps some households settle for the validity of an interfaith nikah. That is notably true for folks of a girl who could also be marrying a non-Muslim, Sayeed mentioned.

Nonetheless, progress is halting. A lady from Boston who not too long ago received married to a non-Muslim man mentioned that, whereas “no one protested her selection” and her household was “very good” concerning the wedding ceremony, none of them confirmed up apart from her brother and her mates, who had been all very supportive.  

Cheema, who mentioned she grew up in “a really conservative Muslim family in Pakistan,” mentioned they confronted some resistance from her household. She mentioned her mother and father nonetheless have a tough time accepting her relationship with Beale. However they attended the ceremony, they usually loved assembly Sayeed.

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Cheema and Beale at the moment are adopting one another’s non secular habits. “We’re very open-minded about one another’s religion,” Cheema mentioned. 

They have a good time Christmas and fast together for Ramadan, and when Cheema teaches Arabic to her two youngsters by a earlier relationship, he reveals curiosity about it. Generally they even pray collectively.

“You may have a relationship like ours,” Cheema mentioned. “You may nonetheless thrive and keep your individual religion and have your individual id.”

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