Opening Up Muslim Weddings

By SHARON ADARLO
Oct. 25, 2013 9:05 p.m. ET

At a Muslim wedding in New Jersey more than a year ago, Wajahat Ali recalled, guests were confused when the bride and groom emerged from a back room—already married.

SARA

Sara Desouki, right, and Evan Sholle are cheered on as they drink soda together after their wedding in Ossining on Oct. 5. Andrew Spear for The Wall Street Journal

The couple had wanted a service that would be meaningful to both their Muslim and non-Muslim guests, but instead, for reasons Mr. Ali didn’t understand, they were married out of sight of some of their family and friends.

Sara Desouki, right, and Evan Sholle are cheered on as they drink soda together after their wedding in Ossining on Oct. 5. Andrew Spear for The Wall Street Journal

This wedding and others that were similarly awkward or confusing prompted Mr. Ali and a group of New Yorkers to form Muslim Wedding Service, a business that creates customized Muslim ceremonies. The goal is to help Muslim brides and grooms fulfill the requirements of Muslim weddings while still having a personalized service, and also to educate non-Muslims, whose first exposure to Islam might be the weddings.

“All weddings are joyous in all cultures. It’s no different in Islam. [Weddings are] always a great venue to demonstrate how we are more alike than different,” said Mr. Ali, 37 years old.

The company, which was formed earlier this year and caters to Sunnis and Shias, recruits as wedding officials Muslims who are comfortable with public speaking and agree with the business’s goals. So far, it has six people in its roster who speak languages such as Bengali and Turkish, Mr. Ali said.

The service has been performing about two weddings a week, with about a dozen already booked for next summer.

Their clients have expressed nervousness about impersonal ceremonies, Islamic practices that aren’t explained to non-Muslims in the audience and imams or wedding officials giving off-putting wedding sermons, said Mr. Ali.

“There was a huge void of…relevant, substantive topics being discussed during sermons,” said Khalid Latif, 30, the Muslim chaplain at New York University’s Islamic Center, and one of the company’s founders.

Anas Hassan, 29, another founder, recalls one wedding officiant’s rambling sermon that began “Howdy, Muslims” and veered into an anecdote about sheep and a discussion of the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage.

“That’s exactly what we are trying to avoid,” he said.

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