Officiating Weddings as a Path Towards Greater Human Connection - Afraz Khan
In my time so far with Muslim Wedding Service, it has been a privilege to have been able to officiate dozens of nikah (wedding) ceremonies for couples across the U.S. I am extremely humbled to be performing such a significant duty through which two souls are permanently enjoined together in the eyes of God. Beyond gaining more exposure to the incredibly diverse Muslim American community, I have also slowly learned more about the unique journeys of so many of our couples who put forth an immense amount of love, care and effort in ensuring their families, loved ones and communities are fully a part of their wedding experience. It is a type of love that is fueled by compassion and is transcendent of any boundaries or differences in belief. Through being with these couples and speaking to such diverse gatherings, I have gained a deeper appreciation of the overarching principles of my faith that can truly connect our individual human experiences.
One particular couple and nikah experience comes to mind. Last summer, I was requested to officiate a nikah ceremony in Florida. The bride was Sudanese and grew up in multiple cities across the world and the groom was Colombian and had spent some of his formative years in UAE, where he accepted Islam. The couple met in the U.S. a few years ago and, after being friends for quite some time, were now excited to embark on a new journey together and host a marriage ceremony in which friends and family members from around the globe would be present.
The couple and I connected over the phone multiple times to discuss the setup of the venue, the logistics of the ceremony, the themes to be discussed in my sermon as well as the contract they would sign as part of their nikah ceremony. Throughout our conversations, I was in awe of the close attention the couple paid towards their guests in ensuring this nikah ceremony would be wholly inclusive for them, especially the groom whose family largely came from a Catholic background. However, the desire to be inclusive did not simply stem from the couple wanting their guests to experience a memorable wedding; the couple themselves had a profound relationship with their faith and knew there was a unique beauty regarding the significance of love and marriage within the Islamic tradition that they hoped their loved ones could learn about and appreciate.
I remember still feeling amazed by the sheer diversity of guests present at the nikah ceremony on that day. The groom had flown out multiple members of his family, including his parents and grandparents from Colombia to attend the wedding. As with so many of the nikah ceremonies I attend, I feel blessed to see our community proudly sharing their faith with others through their marriage ceremony as this is an aspect of the tradition that is rarely mentioned when society talks about Islam.
One of the major themes I discuss in my marriage sermon is the unique ways in which God describes Himself to His servants through His Attributes. To make Himself tangible to His Creation, He has provided 99 (and more so) of His Traits e.g. He is Al-Wali (The Protector & Helper), Ar-Rahman (The most Merciful), and Al-Mujeeb (The Responder to Prayer). One of God’s prominent names is that He is Al-Wadud, The Loving One or The Source of Love. We thus have the blessing of experiencing God through the care, support and sacrifices our family and friends demonstrate towards us. It is through the love we feel from our parents, our siblings and our peers that we can begin to comprehend God’s as the one who is Al-Wadud. When God seeks to elevate His Servants, He blesses them with the gift of marriage. It is a blessing because two lives are permanently being brought together to experience a new kind of love unlike anything they have experienced before. Through knowing, feeling and receiving such love that only exists within a marriage, these two souls are granted the opportunity to experience God’s Love and God Himself in a completely new manner as well. Thus, the marriage is not simply the union of two individuals but the joining of two souls that are now journeying together in their path towards seeking the Eternal One.
I completed my sermon, continued with the nikah ceremony, finished with a short prayer and then, along with all the other guests present, congratulated the couple on their marriage. Oftentimes after I officiate a wedding, individuals will come up to thank me for my service and the words I shared. This ceremony was particularly memorable because immediately after the wedding was completed, the father of the groom directly approached me. The way he walked over made it seem that he had something urgent to discuss. He grabbed my full attention and before anything else, he simply said, “I felt so connected.” This was a man who, without needing to identify with or be connected to my faith tradition in any way, expressed how deeply the sermon resonated with him. He said the belief that there is a Divine Power that all humans are constantly engaging with through their day-to-day experiences is something he holds closely and one that was only further reaffirmed through his son’s wedding ceremony. I could tell this man knew and experienced love in his own life in deeply enriching ways and I believe he still found God, just through the lens of another creed. After we had the chance to speak to one another, he then brought me over to his own wife and parents, all of whom were generous with their words of gratitude and appreciation.
Nikah ceremonies are performed for the purpose of marrying two individuals in accordance with the Islamic tradition. However, it is through these very nikah ceremonies as well that officiants like myself have the opportunity to further connect our faith community with other communities by sharing our theology’s rich perspective on love, compassion and marriage and the love embodied by the Prophets (upon them be peace), all of which are rooted in life experiences that many of us can relate to. I am humbled to find myself in such a role where I can establish bridges of understanding through the platform of a marriage ceremony. I also pray that through these efforts, our faith tradition can be seen with more nuance beyond the few unfortunate buzz words so much of society chooses to categorize it by.