BBC Radio 5 Live Investigates broadcast a unique insight into the lives of British lesbian and gay Muslim life speaking to pioneering lesbian and gay couples about their ‘nikah’ – a Muslim matrimonial contract – and asks how they balance their sexuality with the Islamic faith.
BBC –-Many lesbian and gay couples who marry in this way say they have actively rejected secular civil partnerships, as they say it is vital to have their union recognised by Allah, and not just by the state.
The ceremonies are based on heterosexual Muslim marriage ceremonies, and are often conducted in private, without the knowledge of the couple’s family, for fear of damaging so-called ‘honour’. (Under Islamic law they must be executed for being homosexual)
5 Live Investigates spoke 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.”
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 (photo at right) 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”.