Lessons in the Wedding Announcements

Blog entry posted 10.18.2010 in United States

As much as I gripe about being pressed for time, I really shouldn’t be flipping through the wedding announcements in the Sunday New York Times. But there I was, scanning all the happy faces on the small chance I might see someone I know (never happened) or spot a humorous combination of names, like Moore-Bacon (happens rarely).

The October 17 Times’ wedding announcements, however, were noteworthy, at least if you’re a reporter who covers Muslims in the United States. Among the happy couples pictured: Samira Khan and Faraz Ali, a striking pair with South Asian roots who, according to the announcement, were married at a California ranch by imam Dr. Khalid Siddiqi. As it turns out, Khan graduated from the Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 2006, and went into the security and defense industry. Ali is marketing director for the Genzyme Corporation in Cambridge, Mass.

Why does this matter?

Because at a time of rising anti-Muslim rhetoric, when Islamophobes seek to demonize and marginalize Muslims in the U.S., it’s refreshing to see a Muslim couple among the other smiling couples of different faiths. I understand that a wedding announcement isn’t an example of groundbreaking reporting. But it is a small item that humanizes Muslims and portrays them as individuals, and if it gives pause to an Islamophobe who also obsesses about high society, all the better. This little wedding announcement is also a small sign of Muslim integration and success in America, and a finger in the eye to Muslim extremists who say Muslims are marginalized in America.

The item is also important because one of the criticisms journalists often here is that we dehumanize Muslims, preferring to show them as a faceless monolith rather than individuals with often complex views on faith. To be sure, there is lots of superficial journalism about Muslims that fans hysteria and feeds negative stereotypes. But this item shows that some media also depicts Islam and Muslims as ordinary people in everyday life situations.

Indeed, I’ve seen lots of stories and photos of people who are evidently Muslim, yet their belief wasn’t highlighted. Flipping through a copy of a parenting magazine a couple of years ago, I came across an advice article whose accompanying showed a smiling woman in a lime hijab playing with her happy son, wearing a toothy grin. The front page of the Oct. 5 New York Times “Science Times” section featured a fascinating story about computer researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University, including Derry Wijaya, the only female member of the team, smiling under a violet hijab. And in the same NYT that announced the Khan-Ali union, there was a small piece in the Travel section about Marrakesh. “Make your way to Ben Youssef Medersa, a 16th-century Koranic school adorned with dazzling mosaics, intricate cedar panels and religious verses carved in white plaster,” the article advised. Not a word about sword verses or terrorist training.

Now, I know wedding announcements and travel tips won’t drown-out the noise of the Islamophobic blogosphere, but they do something that many say the media doesn’t do enough: they humanize Muslims.

Just when I thought my Sunday night couldn’t get any better, I looked to the right of the Khan-Ali announcement, and saw another intriguing announcement, this time for the wedding of Umut Sarpel and Ozan Aksoy, an accomplished couple with roots in Turkey. Who officiated the wedding? A chaplain from the American Humanist Association.

My, what you can learn from the wedding announcements.

Omar Sacirbey is a correspondent for the Religion News Service