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Why Millions of Muslims Are Signing Up For Online Matchmaking

By Lydia Green for BBC Arabic
Reprinted from BBC Online
Zawaj.com Muslim Matrimonial Service

Zawaj.com is one of the oldest and best known Muslim matrimonial services.

Arranged marriages are standard practice in many societies, but the introductions and screening process can be an ordeal for the young people involved – even if they are pleased with the eventual outcome. Some Western Muslims have concluded that online matchmaking can help reduce embarrassment.

“You don’t like her? Why not? She got two legs, she got two arms, she’s a professional. How can you not like her?”

Adeem Younis remembers all too well the trials of his family-orchestrated matchmaking. “Someone would be brought round for an evening meal and it was a really big deal. The samosas came out and the chicken and the chapattis… It was so highly pressurised.”

Along with others in Europe and the US, Younis began looking for samosa-free ways to help young Muslims tie the knot, and Muslim online matchmaking was born.

Adeem Younis encourages people to involve their families in an online search

Sometime in the last decade or so, online dating became a mainstream activity, in Europe and North America at least. These days everyone is at it, from the likes of Halle Berry and Adele – both say they have given it a go – to your aunt, my grandmother, and half the people swinging like coat hangers on the early morning commute.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that Western Muslims adapted the idea to their needs. For many, online dating offers a low-stress solution to the daunting challenge of finding a partner for marriage in countries where few share their faith, and in communities where matchmaking is considered a family affair.

Younis’s own matchmaking site, SingleMuslim.com, which he founded above a fast-food shop in Wakefield while still a lowly undergraduate, now boasts more than a million members.

However, as the young entrepreneur tells me, to call the practice “Muslim online dating” would be inaccurate. The goal of such sites is often far more ambitious than the average hook-up website. Instead of hazy morning-after memories and hopes of receiving a follow-through text message, sites like SingleMuslim.com aim to provide clients with a partner for life. It is a responsibility not to be taken lightly.

“In Islam, marriage is equal to half of your religion,” he says, quoting a saying thought to have been uttered by the Prophet Mohammed, “so you can imagine how important it is… Islam teaches us that marriage is the cornerstone of society as a whole.”

SingleMuslim.com now claims a success rate of about four matches per day. But the site is just one example of a booming market serving Muslims of all ages and degrees of religiosity.

For example, there is Muslimmatrimony.com, which allows members to search for partners not only by sect, but by the particular doctrine of Islam that they follow and the languages they speak.

Another, HipsterShaadi.com used to market itself as the site for people looking for a partner with whom to “write poetry and dance in the rain” but of whom their parents will also approve. It has now changed its name to ishqr.com and says it is the place for feminists looking for a “bold, humble, feminist brother or a Rumi-and-granola-loving Muslim”.

Muhammad met his wife Catherine through an online matchmaking site four years ago. Today he is happily married with two children. But his search for marital bliss wasn’t always an easy ride.

Muhammad and Catherine with their first child

“There isn’t that scope to meet people,” Muhammad says. “Devout Muslims don’t go pubbing and clubbing. In typical Western cultures that’s OK, but in Muslim culture it’s frowned upon. So there are very few avenues, apart from family contact, for matchmaking to occur.”

Muhammad had been on various secular dating websites before he decided to give Muslim online matchmaking a try.

“It was round about Easter 2010 when I first emailed Catherine,” he recollects. “Things escalated very, very rapidly. Three or four months from initial contact we got married – we just knew really. When you meet the right person, you know.”

Muhammad, who is of Bangladeshi origin, and Catherine, who is British and converted to Islam at university, may seem like an unusual couple, but in many ways their relationship exemplifies the kind of relationships that these websites seek to endorse.

¨The internet makes meeting easier culturally.¨ – Mbaye Lo, Professor of Arabic

“The identity of global Islam is not physical, it’s more ideological – its constituency is a global constituency,” says Mbaye Lo, professor of Arabic at Duke University and author of an academic paper titled Muslim Marriage Goes Online.

“That is why the websites often show an African Muslim man with an Indo-Pakistani girl, for example, on their main page. They portray themselves in a physical manner that postulates Islam’s globality in order to engage people on a global level and give them more of a global outlook, a global citizenship.”

According to Lo, the websites not only encourage global citizenship, they also allow young people in conservative countries to choose potential matches with greater freedom. “The status quo in many countries doesn’t always favour women in making choices – the internet makes meeting easier culturally,” he says.

Riad, who hails from the Tunisian capital Tunis, met his wife online in 2012. “I fell in love with her the moment I saw her,” he recollects, “a real coup de foudre”.

However, like many in the Middle East and North Africa, he has reservations about online dating. Despite his own positive experience, he would not necessarily recommend it to others. “The virtual world is a world of lies,” he warns, “you just don’t know who you are talking to.”

Unlike in the West, where Muslim online matchmaking often appeals to young people with a strong religious identity, in Tunisia, Riad tells me, the opposite is true.

“Very religious families would prefer that their children meet future partners in the traditional ways, through the family. They take the view that meeting a partner online isn’t natural and they are therefore very suspicious.”

In the West, however, the industry is booming. Younis, who set up SingleMuslim.com in 2000, never imagined it would turn into a full-time career.

However, 14 years on, the website has given him more than one thing to be proud of. A few years after setting up the site, the young entrepreneur found a wife of his own online. He is now a proud father of four, his last child, a healthy little girl, having been born while this article was being written.

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Traditional Rural and Ethnic Iranian Weddings: 20 Beautiful Photos

A traditional wedding in the village of Adineh Qoli in North Khorasan.

A traditional wedding in the village of Adineh Qoli in North Khorasan.

Iran is an amazing land with a huge variety of ethnic subgroups, each with their own unique wedding customs. There are the Qashqai nomads, the Kurds, Azeris, Turkmen, Kazakhs and more.

Click on the thumbnails below to see the larger photos:

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All About South African Muslim Weddings, Part 1

South African Muslim Malay Wedding

All About South African Muslim Weddings, Part 1

By Zeenat Mowzer
Reprinted from w24.co.za

The first entry of a three-part series telling you everything you need to know about Muslim weddings in South Africa.

Although they share a religion, cultural customs differ between Muslims from various countries or demographic groups. Because of this, each Muslim community will have a unique set of wedding festivities. In South Africa, most of these festivities are inspired by Indian and Cape Malay traditions.

Over the next few weeks, we will give you the low-down of South African Muslim weddings – from the proposal, right up until the couple’s photo shoot.

For now, we chat about pre-wedding events, the ceremony and attire.
South African Muslim wedding couple Fatima and Ziyad

Pre-wedding events

Although it can be overwhelming to have a romantic proposal that gives you all the feels, that often doesn’t happen in the Muslim community. This is mainly because Islamic rules place limitations on the interaction between unmarried males and females – even if they do consider themselves an item.

Because of this, proposals are typically formal and can sometimes be business-like. The groom visits the bride’s father’s home to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. This can be nerve-racking for the poor guy, which explains why he may have a few family members in tow for moral support. The bride makes the final call, and if it’s a yes, the celebrations can begin.

Indian Muslim families host a ritual called a mangla, which announces to the couple’s extended family that they will be getting married. At this event, the groom once again visits the bride and her family, although this could be at a hall rather than her home. A high tea is usually the order of the day at a mangla.

The engagement party is a separate occasion, normally hosted by the bride and her family. At this event, Indian Muslim brides sport traditional garb such as punjabis, ghararas or saris. At the engagement party venue, the bride sits on a stage in front of all her guests as she waits for her groom to arrive.

Just before he makes his entrance, his family brings in a variety of beautifully wrapped “engagement parcels” for the bride. In very conservative families, these parcels are made up of Eastern sweet meats and fabric (which she is expected to take to her local dressmaker). The parcels are exhibited on tables. It’s almost like they’re artifacts at a museum.

South African Muslim bride and groomA typical groom’s entrance involves a suit-clad chap on his best behavior, slowly walking to the sound of a Bollywood ballad. In his hand is a bouquet of flowers, which he gifts to the bride on the stage.

What’s more important than the flowers though, is the revealing of the bride’s engagement ring. A confident “Yes!”, or a tearful nod of the head, is a Non-muslim groom’s cue to slip the ring onto the bride’s finger. However, female family members of an Indian Muslim groom put the ring on for the bride, along with other jewelry.

It doesn’t end there. Some Indian Muslim families really do love to turn weddings into an all-week extravaganza. This means that the engagement party occasionally happens in the week of the wedding. There could be a social gathering every other night during that week, perhaps a braai, a family dinner or even a karaoke evening.

An affair that the ladies look forward to is the henna evening. As the name implies, henna is applied for the bride at this event. In certain families, old (and often tone-deaf) aunties sing Indian songs for the bride as she has her henna done. It’s not always the most melodious music to listen to, but shame, they mean well.

Cape Malay families on the other hand are not as big on pre-wedding events. They don’t regularly have week-long celebrations, but they do make an event of taking the bride’s clothes over to her new home.

She and her family pack her clothes in decorative boxes, sometimes tied with a ribbon. Before leaving the bride’s home, a prayer is conducted. The groom’s family is on standby to welcome the bride’s family at the couple’s home-to-be, and offer them refreshments.

Muslim Wedding Ceremony (Nikah)

A Muslim wedding ceremony is most commonly known by its Arabic term, nikkah. (Zawaj.com Editorś note: it should more properly be spelled nikah, with one k). The nikkah typically happens at a mosque, on the morning of the wedding day, before the reception. However, some Muslim couples do away with tradition, by opting to have it at their reception venue, or in the afternoon.

Before the nikkah, the bride’s home is full of life, with little cousins, grandmothers and aunties, walking in and out of the bride’s room to try and help her get ready. Sometimes it all gets a bit too much for the bride, and she is left with no choice but to lock her door.

The bride herself has no role to play in her wedding ceremony, as the nikkah is essentially a procedure whereby the groom accepts a proposal from the bride’s father, to marry her to him. Because of this, many brides choose not to go to their nikkah, and await their groom at their home, or in a hall close to the mosque.

Nevertheless, more and more brides are beginning to visit the mosque since the nikkah is what makes the marriage official, and they don’t want to miss that. Female guests keep the bride company, wherever she may be, while the male guests escort the groom.

Although this does not usually take the place of the wedding reception, light snacks and desserts are served at a small gathering after the nikkah. This is a rather emotional time for the couple because they see each other as husband and wife for the first time.

They share an intimate moment as they slide on each other’s wedding bands. The classic “you may kiss the bride” moment isn’t a rite of passage at a Muslim wedding, but he’ll probably give her a peck on the cheek or forehead.

Nikah Attire

South African couple Shuabe and Ruwaida weddingIn most cases, traditional religious or cultural garments are worn for the nikkah, and Western garments are donned for the reception. With the wide range of attire on show, weddings are like fashion parades with the bridal couple as the star act.

For the groom, traditional religious clothes would be a long, white robe, sometimes worn with a turban, or a hat known as a fez. In the Indian culture, it is customary for the groom to wear a kurta, an ensemble consisting of a long top and pants. He then changes in to a suit or tuxedo for the reception. Looking at his outfit changes, he pretty much goes from Sheik/Bollywood movie star to James Bond within a day.

The dress code for Muslim women obligates them to cover their entire bodies, although it’s fine for their face and hands to be exposed. This applies on their wedding day as well. Because the nikkah is the most sacred part of the wedding, most brides try to follow this dress code during the nikkah, but relax the rules at the reception.

Conventional religious apparel for a bride would be a headscarf and an abaya, which is also a long robe, yet more intricately embellished than that worn by the groom. Indian Muslim brides frequently wear detailed sari’s, accessorised by bold jewellery and dramatic eye makeup. Brides, who want to add a modern twist to their nikkah outfit, wear a formal dress, much like an evening gown.

The reception is the bride’s opportunity to transform herself into the fairytale princess that her 5-year-old self always dreamed of. Thus, Muslim brides normally wear a white Western wedding dress, which is majority of the time, more elaborate than their nikkah dress.

Most brides decide to have their wedding dress made by a resident dressmaker, recommended by her sister’s friend’s mother’s half-sister- or something like that. However, for added convenience or because of short time frames for wedding planning, brides may opt to buy a wedding dress from a bridal boutique.

Stay Tuned for Part 2!

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If you think I’m beautiful…

Muslim woman wearing red bootsMuslim woman in white on horsebackThe famous Islamic scholar Rabia al Adawiyya was walking one day, when she saw a man staring at her. She asked him, “What is it?!”

He replied, “I have never seen anyone more beautiful than you, are you married?”

“If you think I’m beautiful,” Rabia said, “you should see my sister, who’s walking behind me.”

The man looked behind her but saw nobody. “Where? I don’t see anyone.”

Rabia replied, “If you were worth marrying, you wouldn’t have looked behind me, you would have said, ‘there can be nobody more beautiful than you.’ Now get away from me!”

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How an Arranged Marriage Worked for Me

Loving mother in law

By Feni Shah. Reprinted from AkkarBakkar.com

I was 24 when I got engaged and it was actually a miracle. A girl who never understood the concept of arranged marriages and was always of the opinion that it’s impossible to judge someone in a few meetings, was suddenly so positive about a guy in the first meeting. I come from a nuclear family and his was a big joint family with 14 people staying in one house.

India is known for joint families and most of the time, staying with mothers-in-law is unavoidable and also painful. After marriage when a girl goes to stay with her in-laws, even a simple day to day life looks like war for her. A war of emotions, a war of preferences, interest, love, and even living becomes a whole big fight. I think nobody ever understood why mothers-in-law are so difficult to handle.

My case is very different and that’s why I’m writing this. Every time I listen to the miseries of my friends who go through hell with their husbands’ families, I always thank my stars. My mother-in-law is nothing like what I hear of from my friends. She’s a loving woman. I smile a little more in my house because of her.

It’s been a year that I’ve been married but not once have I heard a knock on my room’s door early in the morning. I’m free to put my alarm on snooze and sleep some more. In fact she keeps telling me to go back to sleep when I wake up early on holidays.

Glass of milk

“She always ensures that when I leave for work, I have a glass of milk.”

Usually I’ve heard my friends complain that they are supposed to cook and come to office and go back home and cook again. In my case, I always have my tiffin ready and hot and fresh food available by the time I come back home from work. This credit also goes to the joint family I live in. The small things that my mother-in-law does like, she always ensures that when I leave for work, I have a glass of milk or she will make sure I carry a fruit with me to the office to have it in evening — all of this makes me feel at home.

There are times when I’m angry and just then, I remember the first advice ever given to me by my mother-in-law — “LET GO”. and I actually let go and ignore it, trust me, the situation becomes much easier to handle.

I just want to thank her for being a part of my dream. With her and my husband and the entire family’s support in this one year I have again started studying and pursuing my Master’s in Law. I was always passionate about teaching and with their encouragement, I gave it a try. I got selected as visiting faculty in one of the colleges for teaching Law. Also being a Company Secretary by profession, with the support of my family, I have started my own firm along with my existing job.

Everyone says that a mother-in-law can never be a mother, but in my case, she is my mother, I just met her 24 years too late in my life. She is the heroine of my story and I can’t thank her enough for being one.

Author’s Note:
This is my personal story. Today is my first anniversary and I thought I should gift my husband something. But then before him, I want to gift something to the lady who made marriage so simple for me.

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Nikah Khutbah Video by Imam Zaid Shakir of USA

Imam Zaid Shakir

Imam Zaid Shakir

Wael Abdelgawad | Zawaj.com

Imam Zaid Shakir is the co-founder of Zaytuna Institute and is Imam of the Lighthouse Mosque in Oakland, California. He is well known as a religious thinker, speaker, educator and activist for justice. Here he speaks beautifully about the necessary qualities of a successful marriage.

The Imam pointed out that while today shyness is often seen as a personality flaw, in Islam shyness or hayaa’ is a branch of faith and is a virtue.

Another important quality is beauty. While it is important for marriage partner to beautify themselves for each other, it is more important to beautify themselves spiritually, because physical beauty fades, but spiritual beauty can grow and increase. The relationship that was once sustained by physical beauty is then sustained by spiritual beauty.

Imam Zaid mentioned permanence. He said that the newlywed couple enters the marriage with an attitude of permanence, firmly intending to be together for life, and even after life in the aakhirah inshaAllah. By holding to this concept of permanence, they ensure that they will remain together through good times and bad.

Remembrance of Allah is another key. Keeping the remembrance of Allah on your tongues, in your lives and in your homes, prevents Shaytan from interfering with your marriage and causing division between you.

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62 Year Old Saudi Prince Pays $50 million for 25 Year Old Bride!

Prince Sultan bin Salman and his new bride.

Prince Sultan bin Salman and his new bride.

Reprinted from Punch
May 1, 2018

Saudi prince, Sultan Bin Salman, has allegedly paid the sum of $50m (about N18bn) as bride price for his new wife, a 25-year-old woman.

It was gathered that the bride, who is believed to be a national of United Arab Emirates, received numerous gifts for her elaborate wedding, aside from the $50m bride price.

No fewer than 30 large boxes were offloaded from a white luxurious bus to be presented to the bride’s family.

A chariot filled with gifts for the bride and her family was also seen at the venue of the wedding.

Stories about the elaborate wedding, which took place at the Four Seasons Hotel in Kuwait at Burj Alshaya, have gone viral on the internet, with many reactions trailing it.

A Twitter user, Amal Abdul @amalabdul, shared the details of the wedding on her handle. She tweeted:

“Sultan bin Salman Saudi prince 68 years old married a 25yr old girl. Her dowry was 50M dollars, the convoy had about 20-30 white range rovers, a lot of diamonds as gift and this was her in the wedding gown.”

Amal posted this photo, showing the bride in a wedding dress apparently large enough to make tents for 50 refugees:

Bride in immense wedding gown

Bride in immense wedding gown

Sultan Salman Abdulaziz al-Saud was born in 1956 in Riyadh, so he was actually 62 at the time of the wedding, not 68. He was the first Saudi, Arab or Muslim to travel into space, which he did in 1985 aboard NASA’s space shuttle Discovery. His father has been king of Saudi Arabia since 2015.

Here is a video of the wedding:

My Reaction

I’m honestly sick of reading about Saudi princes buying 300 million dollar homes, a $450 million painting, a half billion dollar yacht. Meanwhile Muslims are dying in refugee camps, starving in Yemen (due to bombing by the Saudis themselves), suffering in Palestine… It’s wretched and disgusting.

It doesn’t bother me that the “groom” is 62 and the bride is 25. I don’t care that this is a cynical arrangement in which he gets a sexy young wife and she gets a filthy rich old geezer. They both know what they’re getting. They’re adults and can make their own choices.

What bothers me is the way the wealth and resources of the Ummah are being squandered. These Saudi royals did not do anything to earn this money with their own hands. They happened to be sitting on top of immense oil fields. Almost overnight they went from being simple Bedouins to the richest people in the world.

This resource is a gift to them from Allah. In fact it is a gift to all Muslims. It is their duty to use it to help all suffering people. Furthermore they should be using this wealth to ensure a future for their own nation after the oil runs out. It should be used to educate the populace to a high level, and to develop industries and technologies that will enable Saudi Arabia to become a world leader.

Instead the money is being wasted on frivolous things, and is being spent to fund wars that harm innocents.

I can understand the impulse to say, “Oh, but it’s so romantic, like a fairytale.” But I don’t agree. All the fairy tales I know are about the brave prince rescuing the damsel in distress.Not about a prince wasting all the kingdom’s wealth on diamonds, chariots and Range Rovers.

So? What do you think?

– Wael Abdelgawad, Zawaj.com Editor

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Out-of-Wedlock Children in Islam: Their Status

Wael Abdelgawad | Zawaj.com

Happy babyMany Muslims believe that any child born out of wedlock has no relationship whatsoever with the father. That the child cannot take the father’s name, cannot inherit from the father, and receives no financial support from the father.

This is all true only if the parents are not in a common-law relationship equivalent to marriage; and if the father does not acknowledge paternity and does not live with the mother.

Let’s look at a situation in which the father does acknowledge paternity. The scholars have disagreed on the matter in this case, but one opinion outweighs the other.

Claiming Paternity

Some scholars are of the view that the out-of-wedlock child is not to be attributed to the zaani (fornicator), even if he acknowledges him and wants to attribute the child to himself; rather the child is to be attributed to his mother only.

Other scholars are of the view that if the zaani wants to attribute his out-of-wedlock child to himself, then the child should be attributed to him. This was also the view of some of the salaf (early generations) and was narrated from Imam Abu Haneefah.

The scholars at IslamQA.com say that the view that the out-of-wedlock child is to be attributed to the zaani if he wants to acknowledge him and if the mother was not married to any other man, is more correct, and Allah knows best. It was the view favoured by Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah have mercy on him) and his student Ibn al-Qayyim. See: al-Ikhtiyaaraat al-Fiqhiyyah (p. 477) and Zaad al-Ma‘aad (5/374).

Ad-Daarimi narrated in his Sunan (3106) that Sulaymaan ibn Yasaar said: If a man claims that a boy is his son and that he committed zina with the mother, and no one else claims that boy as his, then he may inherit from him.

Ibn al-Qayyim said: Rationally speaking, the father is one of the two parties involved in the act (of zina), and as the child is attributed to his mother and she may inherit from him and he may inherit from her, and the blood relationship is established between him and the mother’s relatives, even though she bore him as the result of zina and the child was the product of the water of both parties and they both agreed that he is their child, why shouldn’t the child be attributed to him if there is no other man who claims to be this child’s father? This is based purely on rational thinking.

So if the father acknowledges paternity of the child, he is considered the father’s child with all the rights and obligations that entails.

Owner of the Bed

Baby sleeping in a shoeIn a separate issue, if the man and woman are in a relationship where they live together – even if they are not married – then the child is considered to belong to that man, as the Messenger of Allah (sws) said, ‘The child belongs to the owner of the bed, and the stone is for the adulterer.’ [Al-Bukhaari and Muslim].”

Also understood from this hadith is that a child born to a married couple is considered to be that couple’s child and is attributed to the husband, even if there was some suspicion of adultery, or even if the mother was raped by someone else. This is best for the stability of the family and the well being of the child, who is innocent in the situation.

On the other hand, the scholars have said that if the relationship was a mere love affair (boyfriend-girlfriend); and the father denies paternity; then the child is not attributed to that man and he does not have to spend on him. The child is attributed to his mother.

DNA Testing

Dna strand

DNA

There are situations where DNA testing could be used to determine parentage, and therefore to accord the child his paternal rights, such as when the couple are unmarried and there is some doubt or question about paternity.

Many Islamic scholars have been slow to acknowledge the possibilities of DNA testing in fiqh. This matter should be seriously considered and studied by a group of scholars. After all, Allah encourages us to learn and use our minds, and to develop new understandings of the world:

“In the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and day are signs for those of understanding.” (Quran 3:190)

Zawaj.com Editor Update: I spoke to a local scholar and former professor at Al-Azhar University, Dr. Khalil Gharib, who said that DNA testing can indeed be used to determine paternity in Islam. He reminded me of an incident regarding Umar ibn al-Khattab (RA):

Malik related to me from Yahya ibn Said from Sulayman ibn Yasar that Umar ibn al-Khattab used to attach the children of the Jahiliyya to whoever claimed them in Islam. Two men came and each of them claimed a woman’s child. Umar ibn al-Khattab summoned a person who scrutinized features and he looked at them. The scrutinizer said, “They both share in him.” Umar ibn al-Khattab hit him with a whip. Then he summoned the woman, and said, “Tell me your tale.” She said, “It was this one (indicating one of the two men) who used to come to me while I was with my people’s camels. He did not leave me until he thought and I thought that I was pregnant. Then he left me, and blood flowed from me, and this other one took his place. I do not know from which of them the child is.” The scrutinizer said, “Allah is greater.” Umar said to the child, “Go to whichever of them you wish.”

The salient point here that is ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) hired someone who specialized in studying children’s features to try to determine parentage. That is, essentially, a very crude method of DNA testing. No doubt if modern DNA testing had been available, ‘Umar would have ordered it.

No Shaming

Lastly, the out-of-wedlock child is a full citizen and is innocent of his parents’s sin. He should not be shamed, accused, or made to feel inferior to anyone. No one carries the burden of another’s sins. I detest the terms “son of haram” or “illegitimate” child. “Illegitimate” implies that the child’s very humanity is in question. No human being is illegitimate! We are all spiritual beings, equal in Allah’s sight but for our faith and deeds.

The out-of-wedlock child enjoys all the rights of any other citizen and should not be looked down on in any way.

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A Bulgarian Muslim Wedding: 7 Beautiful Photos

Bulgarian Muslim wedding night

In southwest Bulgaria, Slavic Muslims—aka Pomaks—hold traditional wedding ceremonies in the winter months. In this photo, newlyweds Selve Kuivashi (left) and Djamal Vurdal pose on their wedding-night bed in the village of Ribnovo.

From NationalGeographic.com
BY Becky Little
Photographs by Guy Martin
April 27, 2016

In Ribnovo, Bulgaria, the traditional winter weddings of Slavic Muslims—aka Pomaks—span two days and involve the entire village.

THE SYRIAN REFUGEE crisis has brought international attention to Muslims in Europe. It’s also given rise to a new wave of anti-Islamic sentiment. But as photographer Guy Martin shows in his photos of Ribnovo, Bulgaria, Muslim communities have long been an established part of the Continent.

The remote village of Ribnovo is one of two in the country that hold regional types of Slavic Muslim—or Pomak—wedding ceremonies. These take place every winter, the traditional wedding season.

Traditional Pomak wedding dance

In Ribnovo, a wedding party does the traditional houra dance for Salve Kgiselova and her groom, Reihan Kiselov.

Ribnovo Pomak weddings last for two full days, spanning all of Saturday and Sunday. Every winter weekend in Ribnovo, you can see people dancing, eating, and building elaborate bedrooms to celebrate new brides and grooms.

These bedrooms, says Martin, are setup early on Saturday morning outside the bride’s family’s house. They’re meant to show family, friends, and neighbors what the couple’s new life will look like—and also to show off: The bigger and more elaborate the set-up, the better.

Bulgarian Muslim bride with traditional makeup

Salve Kiselova emerges with her makeup finished and her eyes closed, tinsel covering her face.

Soon thereafter, friends and neighbors arrive with presents, which they drop off outside of the bride’s family’s house. Martin says the bride’s family also constructs a 20-foot-tall (six-meter-tall) wooden scaffolding outside the house, where people hang “blankets and rugs and carpets and clothes—[some] handmade, some bought—for the new bride and groom to have in their new home.”

Community involvement is key. Martin says the scaffolding, for instance, usually takes “up to 10 or 15 men to build.” Then there’s the task of setting up the bedroom and dismantling it all at the end of the day. “It takes an army of 50 to 60 people each wedding,” Martin says.

After the morning bedroom spectacle, the bride’s family hosts a Saturday-afternoon celebration. Pomaks eat, pin money on the bride and groom, and dance the traditional houra in the village square. Later, in the evening, the bride and her friends might paint their hands with henna. Young people will end the night at coffeehouses, smoking and talking.

The next day, it all happens again. The bedroom set and the gifts come out in the morning; the groom’s family hosts another party in the afternoon.

Pomak wedding bedroom

Outside a Pomak bride’s family’s house, a wedding bedroom awaits its new inhabitants.

But on Sunday night, the bride doesn’t just have her hands painted with henna. She also lies down while her female friends and relatives carefully decorate her face with white paint and jewels—a process called gelina that Martin says can take hours.

Afterward, the bride is lifted to her feet with her eyes closed and walked out of her parents’ house. Martin says that’s symbolic, “because she’s leaving that house and will not come back there to live.”

Young Bulgarian Muslim woman on her way to wedding celebration

Wearing traditional attire, a young woman in Ribnovo makes her way to Letve Osmanova and Refat Rvdikov’s wedding celebration.

At that point a crowd gathers outside, and the bride and groom stand before them for up to an hour, receiving gifts and having their pictures taken (all with the bride’s eyes still closed). An imam might say a blessing or a prayer. Then the bride begins her ceremonial walk to the house of her husband’s family.

“The bride and groom—it doesn’t matter if they live next door to each other or if they live a mile away from each other—will have to walk … while her eyes are closed,” says Martin.

Bulgarian Muslim teens in a cafe

Before the houra dance at the wedding of Fatme Inuz and Feim Osmanov, teenagers smoke, flirt, and cuddle in a café.

Once they arrive, the groom’s family follows the newlyweds up to their bedroom. The groom’s relatives may lift a red veil from over her face—a throwback to when all marriages were arranged—so that they can symbolically meet her.

After that, everyone (finally) leaves the newlyweds be, for three full days.

Pomak Muslim woman with her baby in the snow

In Ribnovo, a Pomak woman carries her baby in the snow.

Today young people in Ribnovo frequently move abroad in search of work—sometimes for part of the year, sometimes for all of it. And as dating becomes more acceptable, arranged marriages are becoming less common. (Some young Pomaks skip the elaborate ceremony for another reason—one that has less to do with tradition and more to do with finances. After all, it takes a whole lot of money to stage a communal wedding.)

Though Martin says that the Pomak wedding tradition is firmly in place, it remains to be seen whether young people from Ribnovo—exposing themselves to new ideas when they move abroad—will keep coming home to wed.

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Top 10 Ways to Meet a Muslim for Marriage, Part 2 – Talk to Your Friends

Muslim woman blows hearts at husband

One of the best ways to meet a Muslim for marriage is through your network of friends.

By Wael Abdelgawad | Zawaj.com

Part 1 – Family Friends

It’s not easy to find and meet a good Muslim man or woman for marriage. This is part two in a series that gives concrete advice on how to find the perfect Muslim spouse.

Part one of this series referred to friends of your family. In this part, I’m talking about communicating with your own friends and asking them if they know of someone who might be a good match for you.

It can be embarrassing to say to your friends, “I’m trying to get married. Do you someone who’s looking?” But in my opinion, being open with your friends about your search is one of the most effective means to find a Muslim marriage partner.

Why does this work so well? Three reasons:

Friends Carry Authority

We tend to give weight to the opinions of our friends. We also tend to think of them as unbiased sources of information. If they do have a bias, it’s usually in our favor. So if a friend says to me, “I know someone who is perfect for you. I’ve known her for a long time and she’s a good Muslim sister.” Then I will probably listen to that friend and trust his opinion. I will be much more likely to consider the woman. Without the recommendation, she’s another face in the sea. With it, she’s a serious candidate.

Just make sure that the friends you talk to are people with good character and morals. If you have a friend who lives a haram lifestyle and goes from one disastrous relationship to another, that’s not the one to ask. But if you know any Muslim couples who are pious and happily married, they’re the perfect ones to solicit help from.

People Care About Friends’ Perceptions

Cute Muslim couple

One of the factors by which we measure a potential spouse – whether we admit it or not – is whether or not our friends will be impressed. It may be shallow, but we all do this on some level. When a woman thinks of being with a man or marrying him, she asks herself, “What will my friends say? Will they like him? Will they approve?” We tend to think of a spouse as an extension of ourselves and our reputations. So a attractive, appealing spouse boosts our own sense of self-worth.

Since our friends’ opinions matter, it’s wise to choose someone from the beginning who our friends approve of. Asking friends for recommendations and connections is one way to do this.

Friends Can Act as Go-Betweens

Another good reason to involve your friends in seeking a spouse is that the friends can act as intermediaries between you and the other candidate. If you know a Muslim couple this works particularly well.

Let’s say you are a man seeking a wife. You tell your friend Ali about it. He talks to his wife Maryam. She says, “Yes, I know someone who would be perfect! Her name is Ghada.” So she talks to Ghada, and perhaps Ali and Maryam host the two of you for dinner. You’re able to meet Ghada in an environment where the two of you are comfortable.

Next: Part 3 – Talk to the Local Imam – But Exercise Caution!

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How Muslim South African Cape Weddings Have Evolved

Capetown South Africa Muslim Wedding

Capetown South Africa Muslim Wedding

By Thakira Desai for Voice of the Cape
FEBRUARY 22, 2016

Cape Town, a canvas of amalgamated cultures, ethnicities, and religions, has over the years experienced many significant changes. With the commercialization of many regions of South Africa, Cape Town has transformed itself into a contemporary city. These changes are evident in the ever popular ‘wedding season’ which takes place across Cape Town during the summer season.

Weddings, specifically within the Muslim community, have adopted a much more ‘organized’ appeal. In previous times, guests knew what to expect; the food was pre-packaged; with meals consisting of chicken, salad – and, if you are lucky, a roll – a cool drink and an ice cream. The tables of guest were also traditionally served Konfyt and snacks.

Today, wedding guests are served five-course meals, with every aspect of the reception venue decorated.

A mother of a new bride, Aziza Allie, describes modern-day Cape Town weddings as “everything has to be a certain way.”

Weddings are big business

Within the Muslim community of Cape Town, couples are more readily usurping western culture. Where previously entire families assisted in the planning and execution of wedding ceremonies, today, it is found that the immediate family residing within the wedding home are the family members who provide assistance. These days, for the wealthy elite, there is also a wedding planner or wedding stylist.

Allie feels that the cost of hosting a wedding reception has increased drastically. The expenses required to host weddings ceremonies, ranging from between R25,000 to R250,000, are so high that many may say could be used instead to purchase a home.

Haniyah Davids, for example, started her own “wedding fund”, choosing to diminish the burden on her parents.

“My husband and I decided to save our money in one account and have a joint wedding. Weddings are so expensive and we really didn’t want to bother our families with money and organizing etc. I felt it worked out better because I had full control of the wedding, but at times I realized it was a costly burden to bear.”

The character of modern-day weddings Allie describes as ‘very stiff’. In contrast, weddings that occurred 30 years ago witnessed the vibrant singing of the cape-Malay Hollandse Liedjies (Dutch songs).

Numerous parents described the cost of modern-day weddings as ‘too’ exorbitant, deeming the reception an ‘unnecessary addition’ to wedding celebrations. Instead, they feel that the nikaah (Islamic wedding ceremony) is “all that is required” – perhaps accompanied with cake and tea for the immediate family. Allie further asserted the importance of the nikaah as the main ceremony of the day.

Allie beseeches couples to learn about marriage; specifically the Islamic aspect of marriage. Also stating that couples should never neglect learning about the deen (religion of islam), an aspect of marriage she regards as ‘vital’ to the overall success of a marriage.

The ‘huisbruid’

As catered weddings are on the increase, the culture of the ‘huisbruid’ appears to be a thing of the past. (Zawaj.com Editor’s note: I don’t know what a “huisbruid” is. I tried to look  it up but couldn’t find anything. Does anyone know?).

Yasmina Jones Sawant, owner of Mina Moo and Baby, who is married for 11 years, met her husband whilst living abroad in London. The two decided to travel to South Africa and make nikaah. Not wanting to impose an unnecessary financial burden on their parents, the couple opted to host a ‘huisbruid’.

Sawant is of the opinion that the choice to host a big ceremony is a personal one. Whilst she prefers to have hosted an intimate ceremony, others may feel more inclined to host a glamorous wedding “with all the frills”.

Sawant recalls that previously family members “would be running around, washing up dishes, and serving wedding guests.” This makes them feel that they are part of something.

Today it could be said that the culture of weddings, with all the “extra trimmings”, appears to distract from the marriage itself – the most important contract that married couples enter into.

“They forget why they are actually getting married and how they are going to spend the rest of their life together,” says Sawant.

Weddings today provide both the family and the wedding couple with a leisurely experience. This has, however, removed from the experience the time spent bonding with family members in the planning stages of the wedding.
Sawant discourages individuals from placing a financial burden on themselves and their parents when planning their weddings, “instead, start a life you can build on, rather than, work for.”

Capturing those moments

An all important aspect of weddings is the ‘photo-shoot’, which could be described as a staple of weddings since the advent of photography. The owner of A&R Photography, Abubaker Abdullah, explains that Cape Town couples no longer wish to be photographed in Cape Town and Claremont gardens. Couples, instead, prefer more ‘alternate’ venues such as vineyards and farms.

Muslim wedding party in Capetown South Africa

Muslim wedding party visits Claremont Gardens in Capetown, South Africa, for a wedding shoot.

Photography in general has altered the capturing of weddings; where previously couples captured one staged moment, couples today choose between hundreds of photos to be placed in a coffee-table book. With the advancement in technology, weddings are captured, moment by moment, from the Nikah to the ‘bruidskamer’.

Couples are, therefore, through the video-graphical lens, able to appreciate and absorb their special day.

Abdullah explained, that as a staple of wedding ceremonies, photographers charge various prices, ranging between R4 000 to R15 000 – depending on the number of photographers that the couple wishes to employ.

Whilst, videography services range between R10 000 to R15 000, depending on the couples preference of having both angles captured – yes, ‘both angles’!

As service providers, photographers are responsible for capturing what can only be described as a couple’s ‘most important day’.

Why we host a walima

Well known Cape Town aalim, Shaykh Abdurahman Alexander, explained that when the bridal couple marries, according to the shariah (Islamic law); it is Sunnah to host a walima. A walima refers to the celebration of the marriage and a celebration of the bridal couple.

The walima, according to Islam, is hosted after consummation has taken place. Within the Western Cape, however, it is common practice for a reception to be hosted after the nikah on the day of the wedding, prior to consummation of the marriage.

The preferred rule according to scholars, however, is to host a feast after consummation has taken place since consummation indeed calls for a celebration.

An important purpose of the walima is the ‘publicizing’ of the marriage.

The walima holds great esteem within the religion of Islam, to the Extent that the Prophet Muhammad (May peace and blessings be upon Him) stated that if an individual is invited to a walima, the invitation should not be declined. [al-Bukhaari]

Shaykh Alexander further notes that the religion of Islam discourages individuals from placing themselves in financial difficulty when hosting a wedding reception or walima.

The Prophet Muhammad [May peace and blessing be upon Him] is reported to have said that “The most blessed nikaah is the nikaah with the least expenditure”. [Bayhaqi]

Importantly, Islam encourages individuals not to restrict the invitation list to the rich and elite within the community, but rather extend the invitation to the poor as well.

The Shaykh, however, noted that one has the right to invite whomever one wishes, so much so that the Prophet Muhammad [May peace and blessing be upon Him] is reported to have said that “Whoever is not invited to a walima, and subsequently invades the ceremony, they are like thieves that break into homes at night.”

The Prophet Muhammad [May peace and blessing be upon Him] mentioned that one must not be wasteful and exorbitant about it; everyone can spend according to their means.

The dress requirement, specifically the dress code of the female, is the covering of the entire body, with the exception of the hands and face. It is however permissible that the bride adorns herself whilst preserving her modesty.

The guests of the couple – males and females – are expected to dress modestly according to the requirements of the shariah.

With regard to the separation of genders at the ceremony, Shaykh Alexander, asserts that the religion of Islam prescribes that no unnecessary intermingling between the two genders take place.

In certain areas of South Africa wedding ceremonies separate the genders with the use of a curtain. There is, however, “no hard-and-fast rule for this” within the Qur’an and Sunnah.

Certain individuals do, however, argue that the guests invited to a wedding are generally close relatives and therefore do not require the ‘parda’; the Shaykh however echoes the sentiments of the shariah which implores that no unnecessary intermingling should occur.

In modern times it is becoming prevalent for Muslim couples to adopt Hindu and western culture. The Shaykh asserts that if customs contradict the teachings of Islam and directly violate the Shariah, then these customs should be banned.

Islam, however, embraces customs that results in the bonding of family ties.

The importance of dowry

South Africa Muslim couple at wedding

South Africa Muslim couple

With the regard to the dawer, mahr, or the more commonly understood term, ‘maskavi’, the Shaykh explained that it is the first gift that the husband gives to his wife, and should not be considered the ‘purchase’ of a wife.

The mahr is mentioned in the Qur’an, where Allah says (which may mean): “And give the women their dowries with a good heart” [Qur’an 4:4]. This is the prerogative of the bride. It is, however, advised that brides not make unreasonable requests. Brides should therefore request the mahr according to the income of her groom.

It is narrated by Sahl bin Sad As-Sa’idi that one of the ashaab (companions) came to the Prophet Muhammad [May peace and blessing be upon Him] and said that he does not have anything to provide to his bride as mahr. The Prophet Muhammad [May peace and blessing be upon Him] asked him if he owns anything, he replied that he owned a small iron ring, which the Prophet Muhammad [May peace and blessing be upon Him] stated should be given as the mahr.

The Shaykh, who has been performing nikaah’s since 1985, explained that the mahr can therefore be anything of value, in the form of money, property, or in the form of a university degree. The Shaykh further noted that in a ceremony, over which he presided, the bride requested that the groom teach her the Qur’an as her mahr. The most popular request in Cape Town is the Kruger Rand or silver coins, with requests ranging from R5,000.

The bride may grant the groom a gift, if she so wishes, which can only strengthen their bond.

Shaykh Alexander stressed the importance of the duty of parents, and implored them to encourage their children who have reached marital age to attend premarital classes.

The culture of marriages has certainly changed; marriages previously lasted lifetimes. Shaykh Alexander alarmingly recalled that he “performed a marriage that lasted one month.”

The Shaykh attributes the current divorce rate to the influx of romanticized expectations of weddings and marriage produced in television programmes. He explains that individuals in the modern era are conditioned to absorb ideas from television. Couples, instead, should take heed of the marriages of The Prophet Muhammad [May peace and blessing be upon Him] and understand its lessons.

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