(RNS) — When Faiqa Cheema and Jeff Beale were planning their September 2021 wedding, it was important to Cheema that it include elements of the traditional ceremony of her Muslim faith, while also being meaningful for her husband, who was raised Baptist.
The couple’s path to their dream interfaith wedding turned out to be more complicated than they expected. While such unions are increasingly common, Muslim clergy have long frowned on marrying outside Islam, and Cheema and Beale struggled to find an imam who would officiate, much less adapt the Islamic ceremony, known as a nikah, to recognize Beale.
Many imams refused to marry them, Cheema said, because their bond is “against Islamic teaching and was a sin.” Beale was told to consider converting to Islam. “It’s not something that I wanted for him,” Cheema said.
Their search only came to an end when Cheema ran into the Instagram profile of Imam Imaad Sayeed. The founder of The London Nikah, a 10-year-old marriage agency that is now based in New Jersey, Sayeed has officiated some 250 Muslim interfaith weddings in the past five years, marrying couples from around the world.
Sayeed’s busy schedule, he said, is the result of being one of the few imams willing to conform the nikah to demographic reality.
According to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey, 79% of U.S. Muslims who are married or living with a partner are with someone of the same religion. That leaves 21%, presumably, in interfaith relationships.
The rules about intermarriage favor men, according to Imam Abdullah bin Hamid Ali, head of the Islamic Law program at Zaytuna College, a Muslim liberal arts school in Berkeley, California. Ali said the Quran is clear that men are allowed to marry non-Muslim women as long as their brides are “People of the Book” — Christians or Jews, both of whom recognize Abraham as their spiritual forefather, as Muslims do.