Less than a week after the government announced the process for implementing religious civil partnerships, BBC Radio 5 Live are to broadcast an investigation into the growing numbers of gay Muslims seeking Islamic marriages.
Last week, the Movement for Reform Judaism joined Liberal Judaism, the Quakers and Unitarians in offering to host civil partnerships and calling for same sex marriages. One religious denomination that made no formal move was Islam. But, according to a BBC investigation to be broadcast tonight, there are Muslim clerics who are willing to officiate at gay weddings.
5 Live Investigates speaks to one couple who have had a ‘nikah’ – an Islamic marriage contract.
Asra, one half of the lesbian couple featured told the BBC how she got together with her partner Sarah: “We met about three years ago, at an iftar – a breaking of fast during Ramadan.
“I think a lot of Muslims find that time of year very spiritual and very enlightening, and so I think that’s why our relationship developed, because we spoke about our faith. Eventually we went on a date.”
“After the first date, which was about an hour, Sarah casually asked me to marry her.”
Sarah said: “I think it was more like four hours, after dinner, coffee and walking. I didn’t really plan it, but it just really seemed like the way it was between us, I should try and keep it as pure as possible.
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“That may sound strange being lesbians, but it felt like we should do it the most honourable way we could.”
The couple decided that they wanted to have a nikah, to cement their relationship, that they were able to enter into without the help of an official Imam, or Islamic cleric. Unlike Jewish rabbis or Christian priests and vicars, Imams are not ordained ministers in a formal sense. “A few friends said you don’t really have to have an official Imam, but you need someone who is knowledgeable enough about the Qur’an to do it,” Sarah said. “Fortunately, one of our friends was, and she offered to do it. She’s a lesbian herself, and she said we could do it in her home.”
Three months after they met, the paid signed their nikah and held a ceremony.
“We got rings from Camden market, and we drew up contracts – we got a blueprint off the internet of a heterosexual contract and we both looked at it separately,” Sarah expained. “To see if there were things we wanted to change. I remember I put about the dog – that if we broke up, Asra wouldn’t steal the dog.” The couple had a dowry of £5.
Asra’s parents are not accepting of her homosexuality. Sarah’s on the other hand are, she says its because she wasn’t born a Muslim: “I converted five years ago – I think my family is quite accepting of my sexuality.
But sometimes it seems like they are waiting for me to grow out of being a Muslim.”
In America, a gay Imam, Daayiee Abdullah has performed a number of more fomal nikah ceremonies. He claims that denying gay Muslims a religious union, is against Islamic law. He told the BBC: “Since Islamic legal precedence does not allow same sexes to wed, Muslim societies make it a legal impossibility within Islam [but] by not allowing same-sex couples to wed, there is a direct attack on the Koran’s message that each person has a mate who is their ‘comfort and their cloak’.”
Sarah and Asra say that as a couple they face two types of discrimination. They face homophobia from the Islamic community, and Islamaphobia from the gay community, something that Sarah says: “really worries me”.
5 Live investigates is broadcast at 9pm this evening on BBC Radio 5 Live. A podcast of the programme will be available here shortly after broadcast.