From Worlds Apart to 'Banglish' Wedding
Despite very different backgrounds, Muhammad Ali (37) and Catherine Heseltine (31) found love and compatibility on Muslim matrimonial website, SingleMuslim.com. They married on 9th August 2010 with a "Banglish" wedding, a fusion of Bangladeshi and English cultures.
Bangladesh-born Muhammad moved to Manchester with his parents when he was three years old. British-born Catherine is a Londoner, a Muslim revert and CEO of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (www.mpacuk.org). Muhammad was reluctant to look for a marriage partner online until his sister gave him a four-month subscription to SingleMuslim.com for his birthday and told him to find someone in that time. "And it really did happen!" Muhammad laughs.
"It was hard for me as my family is not Muslim and weren't able to introduce me to anyone," says Catherine. "There are few enough avenues out there as it is for us, as Muslims, to meet someone," agrees Muhammad. "The internet seems an unconventional way of doing it but I don't think that the traditional way works anymore. What our mothers and aunts want is different to what we want. Yes, we may be Pakistani or Bangladeshi or Indian, but we're British and we think that way."
Muhammad saw Catherine's profile, liked the fact that she was sporty and family-oriented, and made first contact. "I'm family-oriented myself and I know that, unfortunately, a lot of families disassociate themselves from relatives who have converted to Islam."
"I liked his profile," says Catherine. "He seemed quite chilled out but serious about the deen, active and caring about the world. He worked with kids from deprived areas and seemed to be someone who'd understand my activism." The first time they spoke on the phone, on 1st April, they talked for an hour. "We chatted about the important things: what are you looking for, how do you see marriage, how do you see Islam?" recalls Catherine, "It was really important to me that Islam was at the centre of his life and that he would get on with my non-Muslim family."
Five weeks later, Catherine travelled to Manchester to meet Muhammed for the first time. "Time just flew," says Muhammed, "we were so comfortable and I knew there was something special about her."
The relationship really took off when Muhammad travelled to London for Spring Bank Holiday. Catherine remembers, "We spent the day together and, by the end of it, we were stupidly loved up!" "We kind of knew what we wanted from then," adds Muhammad.
At their third meeting, Catherine met Mohammad's mum. Soon afterwards Muhammad met Catherine's family and they agreed on the date and venue for the wedding.
"We had a Banglish wedding," says Catherine. "Bangladeshi and English. We had Asian food but I wore white - a hijabified version of a traditional English wedding dress. We had wedding cake and all the speeches."
It was a family gathering with no segregation. The ceremony was simple and explained in English for the non-Muslim guests. "It was a really good day," says Muhammad. "The feedback we got was fantastic because nobody had experienced that kind of wedding before."
The couple married two days before Ramadan. "Ramadan is special time and it gave us the time to spiritually bond together. I thought that was important," explains Muhammad.
One can only wonder at the path that brought the couple together. "It's a beautiful thing that Muhammad was born in a village in Bangladesh and I was born in Chelsea in London," says Catherine.
"Yet we have connected through Islam, and SingleMuslim.com" concludes Muhammad.