A strange article by Jemima Khan in The New Statesman on what she calls “Asian” marriage but discusses mostly as Muslim or Islamic marriage.
Marriage Asian-style is practical, contractual and, to the western mind, deeply unromantic. “The spinster crisis is an issue of modernity,” preaches an energetically gesticulating man in a white prayer cap, jacket and trainers. “Success is the right attitude – no conspiracies, please. Can’t blame Israel.” Cue laughs from those assembled: women in hijabs seated on one side of the wood-panelled hall; men, mostly in suits, a few of them in Arab dress with beards, on the other; chaperones at the back.
The speaker is Mizan Raja, the engaging founder of the UK-based Islamic Travels agency, who also set up the Islamic Circles community network and now presides over the east London Muslim matrimonial scene. I’m at a Practising Muslim event at Toynbee Hall in Whitechapel. According to the network’s website, the event is held four times a year and is “especially geared towards those Muslims who are actually practising, ie, not a ‘fasiq‘ – open sinner – as defined by the classical texts in sharia law”.
See what I mean by strange? It starts off sounding cheery and vaguely tourist-like, then suddenly veers into the sinister, then reverts to the cheery tourism (Mizan Raja is “engaging”) then goes beyond the sinister into the frankly scary. What are we reading here? A journalistic report on quaint customs in East London or an exposé of theocratic abuses of women’s rights ditto?
Mizan says he is meeting a need for something that is a duty in Islam. There’s someone for everyone: “Even the disabled have needs” and Islamic Circles holds regular events for them. And increasingly, he says, career women are electing to become “co-wives” – in other words, to become a man’s second or third wife.
And the “duty in Islam” is what? Being married? Being married no matter what, including not wanting to be married? Apparently.
Home Office figures show that Muslim men bring almost 12,000 women to Britain as spouses from the Middle East and the subcontinent every year. One reason for this is the perception that women with careers tend to be “a bit lippy” and don’t make good wives, according to Parag Bhargava, a moustachioed natty dresser in blue shirt and sleeveless navy cardigan…
There it is again, the mix of the travelogue and the sinister. “The perception” is clearly that women who think they are people too “don’t make good wives” – which indicates to me that we’re talking about men who don’t make good husbands. Jemima Khan, however, gives no sign of noticing.
For his efforts, Mizan has been spat at in the street and punched by hardliners who believe that free mixing of the sexes is taboo in Islam. “I’m a businessman, not a bloody imam – but I’ve had to marry people when the imam won’t,” he tells me. At least I think he tells me: he refuses to look me in the eye and politely answers my questions by addressing the man to my right.
Politely? Politely? Oy.