Muhammad & Catherine - Married August 2010
From Worlds Apart to 'Banglish' Wedding
Despite their very different backgrounds, Muhammad Ali and Catherine Heseltine found love and compatibility on SingleMuslim.com. The happy couple married on 9th August 2010 with a "Banglish" wedding, a fusion of Bangladeshi and English cultures.
We met Muhammad and Catherine recently at the SingleMuslim.com office in Wakefield, where they filled us in on their backgrounds as well as their unique wedding journey.
Muhammad: I'm from Manchester; originally from Bangladesh. My parents have been living here since 1976 - when I was three. I've been in Manchester all my life except when I studied in Cambridge for four years and I spent three years working in London. Since we've got married I've moved back to London. I'm 37.
Catherine: I'm a Londoner. I'm 31. I work as the CEO of Muslim Public Affairs UK (MPAC), where I'm involved with empowering Muslims in mainstream politics and media, dealing with Islamophobia or anything practically anything that's happening to the Ummah. I used to be a nursery teacher but I gave that up in July to focus full-time on campaigning.
Could you tell us about your search? What avenues had you tried in the past?
Muhammad: We've both been married and divorced. I got married in 2003, also via a website. Not SingleMuslim.com though as I wasn't aware of it at the time. I met someone from the States. She relocated here and we were together almost five years but things just didn't work out. Basically, we both wanted different things out of life and so we decided to go our separate ways.
Catherine: I got married to someone I met at sixth form. We got married when we were still at university; I was 20 and I was married for seven years. It just didn't work out and we divorced. But marriage is important to our deen and it's what I wanted in life - marriage and a family. It was really hard as my family is not Muslim and so they weren't able to introduce me to anyone. It's important to meet as many people as possible to have a chance of finding the right person. I told friends to keep a look out. I also went to various marriage events. Some weren't productive. At one there were three times as many girls as guys! I tried registering on other websites but SingleMuslim.com was by far the most professional and most productive.
Muhammad: I think it's a great service because there are so few avenues out there for us, as Muslims, to meet someone. If you're not Muslim, there are lots of opportunities but a lot of those we cannot do. How can you meet someone when you can't make eye contact? So the internet seems an unconventional way of doing it rather than the traditional way of mums or aunties doing the matchmaking. Personally, I don't think that works anymore, especially between the different generations. What our mothers and aunts want is totally different to what we want. Yes, we may be Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Arab or from any other country of origin but we're British and we think in that manner. We don't have that "back home" mentality. It's so difficult to find that middle ground where as many people as possible are happy.
How did you come across SingleMuslim.com?
Muhammad: Initially, I did a Google search on Muslim matrimonial and I think SingleMuslim.com was the top result. I clicked on it but, having been divorced, I was reluctant to go online. However, my younger sister bought me a four-month subscription to SingleMuslim.com for my birthday and told me I had to find someone in that time! And it really did happen!
Catherine: We've got a lot to thank your sister for.
Muhammad: Alhamdulillah, it worked out perfectly.
Catherine: I came across SingleMuslim.com on Google. I had a quick look through and saw that it was organised and professional and there were really a lot of people on there. With that many people, there's a reasonable chance that someone is compatible with you.
Muhammad: That's what attracted me as well - a high number of registered users and lots of pictures. I think that's important.
Were your families involved with your search?
Muhammad: They were aware I was looking. My younger sister was very proactive and everyone else chipped in with ideas.
Catherine: My family were aware. My dad was funny; he's never been on the internet. "What? You can download a boyfriend nowadays!" He did a speech at the wedding and his opening joke was, "I'm so happy that my daughter has found this nice young man on Ebay!" It was a new concept for my family but they were very supportive of it. They didn't have any nice young Muslim men to introduce me to, so they were happy for me to go out and look for someone I might be compatible with.
And what features did you like about the SingleMuslim.com website?
Muhammad: The search criteria stood out for me. It was very finely detailed.
Catherine: I used the search criteria. I felt I'd have more in common with someone who was British, had grown up here and had the same educational level. It's good that you can specify your practice of religion; whether you pray five times a day - that was important to me - whether you fast, keep halaal... I think the message feature is also very good. We exchanged things like video links.
Muhammad: It's really good that you can carry out your initial exchanges on the website and protect your identity until you feel comfortable giving out your private email or phone number.
Catherine: I didn't use the Live Chat but I liked the fact that you could switch it off.
So, could you tell us about your journey? Who made first contact and where did you go from there?
Muhammad: I made first contact. I read Catherine's profile and some parts really stood out and put her head and shoulders above the rest for me. She'd put that she was a nursery teacher; that meant that she must be good with kids. She said she spends a lot of time with her family. Again, that meant a lot to me. I'm a very family-oriented person and I know that, unfortunately, for many Muslims who have converted to Islam a lot of families disassociate themselves.
Another thing was that she said she worked for MPAC. That suggested to me that she was really keen on politics and caring for people. And she said she was really sporty and I'm really into my sports. I sent her a quick message saying, "Masha' Allah, you have a really good profile. Please look at mine. If you're interested, get back to me. If you're not, then best of luck in your search."
Catherine: I looked at his profile and liked what I read. He seemed quite chilled out but serious about the deen, active and caring about the world outside our little lives. He said he worked with kids from deprived areas and seemed to be someone who'd understand my activism. I messaged back and suggested chatting on the phone. We had our first phone conversation on 1st April and we chatted for about an hour. We talked about the important things: what are you looking for, how do you see marriage, how do you see Islam?
Muhammad: It saves a lot of time wasting. We both knew what we were there for - the intention of marriage.
Catherine: Because we've both been married before, we had a clearer picture of what we wanted and what we didn't want.
Muhammad: Exactly. You know what works for you and what doesn't from previous experience.
Catherine: It was really important to me that Islam was at the centre of his life but also that he was someone who would get on with my non-Muslim family. And that we found each other interesting. It was about five weeks that we were just chatting on the phone.
Muhammad: Chatting and texting as she was busy with the election.
Catherine: We eventually got around to meeting up. I finally had some free time the weekend after the election.
Muhammad: On the 8th May she came to Manchester. I took her for a coffee first then we went to a local masjid. Then we went out to lunch at a halaal Thai restaurant.
Catherine: We'd got to know each other really well through phone calls but he only had one photo on his profile. And guys choose the most rubbish photos! It was dark, I could hardly see his face, so I had no idea if I was going to fancy him!
Was it love at first sight?
Muhammad: I wouldn't go as far as love at first sight but I knew there was something special about Catherine. I didn't know what it was at the time but I knew she was different to what I'd experienced before.
Catherine: At that first meeting, we got on really well together.
Muhammad: Time just flew - we were so comfortable.
Catherine: For the first meeting I thought I'd wear my old jeans and trainers and not going to make an effort with my appearance. I don't want someone shallow!
Muhammad: (Laughing.) And I was dressed up properly with a nice shirt on, formal trousers, shiny shoes!
Catherine: He wanted to meet me a second time, based purely on what we were saying. That time I made a bit of an effort!
Muhammad: I was due to come down to London for the second May bank holiday so I asked if she'd like to meet up.
Catherine: This time the relationship really took off. We had the whole day together and, by the end of it, we were stupidly loved up!
Muhammad: We kind of knew by then. From then it was phone calls every day.
Catherine: The third time we met, I went to stay with a friend in Manchester.
Muhammad: That was the first time she met my family.
Catherine: I was really nervous. We went to play tennis and then he took me straight from the tennis court to go and meet his mum! Luckily his mum is a really nice person. When Muhammad came to London again and he asked me what kind of wedding I'd like if we got married. I held back but then I sent him an email saying, "Well, this is what I'd like!" So then we started talking about dates.
Muhammad: I went to see Catherine's father around the middle of June.
Catherine: My father invited us to have lunch with him at his Gentleman's Club in Central London.
Muhammad: It was about 200 years old and really posh!
Catherine: And so my dad sat there with a whole series of questions, including "How do you intend to keep my daughter in the manner to which she is accustomed?" When Muhammad explained that in Islam, it's the responsibility of the husband to support the wife financially, my dad was thinking "What? She's off my payroll?"
Muhammad: He loved it by then! I totally won him over!
Catherine: And then we had a nice dinner with my mum, my sister, brother-in-law and baby nephew.
Muhammad: Shortly after that we agreed on the date and venue for the wedding.
Catherine: We had a "Banglish" wedding; it was Bangladeshi and English. We had Asian food but I wore white - it was a "hijabified" version of an English wedding dress. My mum made the wedding cake and we got it decorated in tiers, and we had all the speeches. We wanted to get married before Ramadan but it was hard trying to find a date when all our families were free. In the end, we fit it in two days before Ramadan.
Muhammad: We did it! I was really keen to get married before then because Ramadan is a really special time and it gives us the time to spiritually bond together. I thought that was important. Otherwise we'd have to wait another full year before we can experience Ramadan together.
Catherine: We really enjoyed the wedding day.
Muhammad: In a traditional Muslim wedding, the bride sits in one room and the groom sits in another. We wanted a family gathering, where families can sit together all on one table - brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, friends. We didn't want the separation. It was so different to a traditional wedding. On the day, I arrived first, not last, and I welcomed all the guests.
Catherine: It was really nice that all our friends and family were getting to know each other. We had the Nikkah in front of everybody. It was a simple ceremony and a friend of mine conducted it. He was able to explain the whole thing in English because there were a lot of non-Muslims there.
Then we had the speeches; the father of the bride, the groom, best man. I threw my bouquet - supposedly whoever catches it will be the next person to get married! And when Muhammad's brother-in-law drove us to the hotel, he had decorated the car with balloons and shaving foam!
Muhammad: It was a really good day and the feedback we got from everyone was fantastic because they'd never experienced that kind of wedding before.
What's it like living together and what would you say makes your relationship special?
Catherine: I've been divorced for three years and I was used to my own space so I thought a husband would just get under my feet! It's been a pleasant surprise that we've gelled really well and it has been so nice just having each other's company.
Muhammad: It's amazing how things have fitted in so easily in such a short space of time. We didn't have any hiccups at all.
Catherine: I was very clear at the beginning that I have a job that takes up a lot of my time. There are evening meetings, phone calls, travelling up and down the country at weekends, and Muhammad was happy to support me and be part of that. That was so important.
Muhammad: We're very different but we have a great deal of understanding and respect for each other. Our backgrounds are massively different. Catherine is from a middle class family in London where everyone goes to Oxbridge (Oxford or Cambridge University). Our origins are in Bangladesh but, Masha' Allah, even though my parents did not have that educational background, they have supported me and my three sisters and between the four of us we have ten degrees. And how many Asian families would openly accept you marrying a white girl? They welcomed her with open arms.
Catherine: It's a really beautiful thing that Muhammad was born in a village in Bangladesh and I was born in Chelsea in London and our lives took these different paths.
Muhammad: And that we've connected together through Islam.
Did you try any other websites? And did you meet anyone else on SingleMuslim.com before finding each other?
Muhammad: I looked at a couple of other websites but they didn't have that level of functionality. I found SingleMuslim.com very user-friendly and it has everything you're looking for.
Catherine: I did sign up on a couple of other Muslim marriage websites but SingleMuslim.com was by far the best. On SingleMuslim.com, there were a lot of people who were British Muslims, Londoners, same educational background and I did meet up with a few brothers for coffee. It gave me a lot of hope in my search. Not that I felt I was compatible with them, but they were eligible people; the kind of brothers I'd introduce my friends to if they were looking. I enjoy talking to people and meeting people so I actually enjoyed the whole process!
Muhammad: I found the process quite stressful. Before meeting Catherine, I met three or four people from SingleMuslim.com. That shows you that there are plenty of people out there. But the whole process takes time and you need to psyche yourself up before meeting someone. I was really nervous before meeting Catherine.
Catherine: I just thought, "Let's have a nice day and hopefully something will grow from that." That's the attitude! Don't put pressure on yourself - enjoy it!
Muhammad: That's the key thing. Catherine's got a great attitude. If you put pressure on yourself it makes it more difficult. If something happens, great! If not, it doesn't matter.
How do you feel about males paying for SingleMuslim.com's services while females get it free?
Muhammad: I didn't even know that until Catherine told me!
Catherine: I think it's a very good policy. If it were free for the brothers then it'd have loads of time-wasters.
Muhammad: It does work well, otherwise ladies can get intimidated.
What are your plans for the future and do you have any advice for our brothers and sisters who are still searching?
Muhammad: Insha'Allah, we want to have kids. Maybe not straightaway; a couple of years down the line. We've got plans for going abroad - not moving abroad but holidays.
Catherine: When I set out to marry again, I wondered how I would find someone who's compatible with me. But I made my effort and hoped that Allah would help me to find the right person. Don't be demoralised by the search. Go for it! Be proactive.
Muhammad: Just be yourself. When you're writing your profile, don't pretend to be someone that you're not. You will get found out. You have to put the effort in and make your du'a. Insha'Allah it will happen for you too.
Catherine: And be confident. Realise that someone is lucky to have you! Don't feel that there's a pressure to get married by 30 and you have to compromise. This is the rest of your life!
And on that sound advice, SingleMuslim.com founder, Adeem Younis, was delighted to present the newlyweds with tickets for Umrah as a thank you for sharing their story.