If your GetReligionistas have said it once, we have said it a thousand times since we opened our digital doors 13 years ago: There is no one, monolithic Islam.
Thus, there is no one Muslim "Tradition," with a big-T. There is no Muslim Vatican or college of cardinals. There is no conference that speaks with one voice, like the annual gathering of the Southern Baptist Convention. There is no Islamic equivalent of the global Anglican Lambeth Conference (which, come to think of it, doesn't speak for all Anglicans these days).
With that in mind, let's ponder this: What makes a "Muslim wedding" a real Muslim wedding?
This question is not easy to answer, since in Islam weddings do not have the same kind of sacramental significance that they have, let's say, in Christianity. But two things appear to be clear and they create a kind of creative tension linked to this subject.
(1) When people talk about Islamic wedding traditions they often discuss fine details -- clothing, rituals, social events, even the amount of religious content -- linked to the culture in which the rite is taking place.
(2) In Islam, weddings have strong legal, as opposed to sacramental, implications. The key is that the rite creates a relationship that is viewed as legally binding in a Muslim community. Thus, it is a Muslim wedding.
With that in mind, consider this Time magazine headline: "This History-Making Couple Just Had One of the U.K.'s First Same-Sex Muslim Weddings." Here is the heart of this short story:
Newlyweds Jahed Choudhury and Sean Rogan are helping make history in the U.K., which legalized same-sex marriage in 2013. ... But another element of Choudhury's identity sets this wedding apart: Choudhury grew up in a traditionally Muslim family, and says he is ostracized from his relatives for his sexual orientation.
The couple met in 2015 when Choudhury says he was crying on a bench not long after attempting suicide by overdose, he told the Express and Star. He had made a series of attempts to appease his family by taking on religious pilgrimages and dating a woman, none of which panned out; he was ultimately banned from his mosque and, he says, assaulted.
Rogan and Choudhury moved in together soon after meeting, and tied the knot in a low-key official ceremony at the registry office in Walsall, West Midlands on June 22. Both chose to come decked out in traditional wedding attire, a nod to Choudhury's heritage.
Now, there is nothing unusual about UK Muslims getting married in a government office, since many mosques have not been registered as religious sites for legal weddings. However, the question, again, is whether or not this was -- as the headline states -- an actual Muslim wedding. Was this civil ceremony coupled with any kind of Muslim community event?
Using the Muslim term, was there a "nikah" ceremony linked to this government event recognized by a specific Muslim community? In other words, was there more to this than mere appearances?
A GetReligion reader sent us an excellent set of questions that someone at Time needed to ask (if anyone at Time did actual reporting on this clickbait item). First, our reader asked the same question I asked about the defining characteristics of a Muslim wedding, then added:
* Did Sean Rogan convert to Islam before the ceremony? If so, were the clerics (probably not the right word) aware of his [active] sexual orientation and his intention to "marry" his partner?
* The young men's stated intention of "show[ing] the whole world that you can be gay and Muslim" -- what does this actually entail? Are they going to observe Muslim dietary laws, pray five times a day? Do they plan on performing hajj together? ...
* Was there anything "Muslim" about this ceremony other than their Bangladeshi dress?
* (From the Time article) "Rogan and Choudhury moved in together soon after meeting." So, is the cohabitation of unwed partners acceptable in Muslim tradition? Would an imam allow a heterosexual couple to cohabitate before a marriage ceremony?
Great questions. Way to think like a reporter!
Now, if you click around online for a few seconds, you will find some attempts to sum up the essential details of the Islamic ceremony. This note at Bride.com is typical:
This is the ceremony in which the marriage license is signed. The nikah ceremony is essentially the groom's formal proposal (with at least two witnesses in attendance), as well as the couple's acceptance of the marriage contract. In a more traditional marriage ceremony, the bride's father or another representative will agree to the marriage contract on her behalf. The nikah is more of a legal agreement than a religious ceremony, so this is often followed by a sermon, which may include readings from the Quran. Muslim wedding ceremonies do not always include vows -- agreement to the marriage contract during the nikah suffices as agreement by the bride and groom to enter into marriage.
So, was this a Muslim rite or not? I would assume that there have been other civil same-sex marriages in which one or even both of the partners were, to one degree or another, raised as Muslims. Right?
So what set this ceremony apart, other than fine clothes and henna tattoos?
If you look at the Express & Star source material -- "WATCH: Delighted Walsall couple in UK's first gay Muslim marriage" -- that led to the Time aggregation blurb, you will not find answers to any of these questions. In fact, check out the opening of this piece:
The first UK same-sex marriage involving a Muslim has taken place in the Black Country.
At a low-key ceremony at Walsall registry office, Jahed Choudhury, aged 24, from Darlaston, tied the knot with his partner Sean Rogan, 19.
Note that the "involving a Muslim" language does not, in the lede, claim that this was a "Muslim wedding" (while the headline did). At the same time, this story makes the amazing claim that this was the first UK same-sex marriage involving a Muslim. How would one go about proving that?
No, what sets this story apart is its claim that this was, in some real sense, a "Muslim" rite. Without that, there is no news hook.
So the crucial question remains: Are these men active Muslims? Is this union recognized as legal -- in Islamic law -- in any Muslim community (even some kind of postmodern, do-it-yourself independent stream of Islam)?
It does not appear that anyone thought to ask questions that would support the headline. Instead, as is the norm in this advocacy journalism genre, readers are given a completely one-sided account of the events that led to this union, from the heroic reformer's point of view. This is long, but gives you a taste of the story:
Growing up with Bangladeshi parents and three siblings in a traditional Muslim household, Mr Choudhury recalls being the "black sheep" of the family.
He added: "I stood out like a sore thumb -- I never liked football, I preferred watching fashion shows on TV. I remember feeling trapped."
Mr Choudhury then went to secondary school -- Darlaston Community Science College – where he claims he was repeatedly bullied. He said: "It went all over school, people would spit on me, empty the rubbish bins on me, call me pig and the Muslim people would shout 'harum' -- which is a very nasty insult in my language."
A period of trying to change his sexual orientation consisted of him having a girlfriend, changing his social circle, taking medication and even going on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh. According to Mr Choudhury the situation only got worse -- he was assaulted by fellow Muslims in the street where he lived and 'fag' was sprayed on his front door.
The mosque he'd been attending for the past 15 years no longer allowed him in and he was physically attacked by other Muslim boys. Feeling ostracised, Mr Choudhury attempted to kill himself.
At the very least, reporters needed to make some attempt to talk to someone at the mosque. Would the man's family offer its point of view? Finally, it would have been easy to have called a scholar familiar with the details of Islamic marriages to get background material.
The bottom line: Did anyone attempt to do the basic reporting -- #JournalismMatters -- to support the claims in the headline? Or was the goal, from the start, a public-relations piece with a splashy, clickbait headline?
FIRST IMAGE: Screen shot from social media.