Strengthening Muslim marriages – with art

Islamic art has always been something where you’re making everyday objects more beautiful. I was just thinking, “What is something that we all use that could be made more beautiful?” And I found the nikahnama idea. Nushmia Khan wants to give Muslim marriages a more solid foundation by reviving the tradition of decorated nikahnamas. A former wedding photographer, Khan started an online nikahnama shop in 2019, and has created stylized contracts for couples around the world. I’m trying not to paint too much while I’m pregnant, but these people they really beg me. But her project is about more than making beautiful objects that couples can hang on their wall. A lot of times Muslim couples, I saw them taking a very passive role in their wedding and their nikah ceremony. I hope that they take a more active role, that they really think about the wedding contract that they’re about to sign. By designing a beautiful cover page, Khan hopes to draw couples’ attention to the writing of the actual contract. It’s a space where couples can negotiate the conditions of their marriage, everything from money to where to live to the wife’s right to education and work. But according to Khan, many people sign their contract thoughtlessly, and some do not even read it. When we are talking about protecting the interests of women in marriage, the contract is fundamental. What I put in the standard contract that I give, is that she is able to continue either her education or work in the field that she is educated in. Or she might want to stay within her geographical area, so she could be near her family. A well-thought-out contract will include things like this. I had so many friends who were having trouble in their marriage, and a lot of their problems were things that I thought that they should have probably considered before they got married, or talked about it. One of my friends, her husband was trying to say, “No, I have a right to your money.” And Islamically that’s not allowed. I wish that they had written it in there, just so he was completely clear that this is what he agreed to. This is a new design that I’m working on. Once signed, the nikahnama takes on a religious and moral force for the couple. The contract can play an important role in disputes in front of a community elder, and certain financial clauses are widely enforceable in American courts. That’s why I tell them to take their time. Spent time in crafting that contract, and don’t take it lightly. I remember at my own wedding, I had a wedding contract, but I just had to use Microsoft Word. Most contracts are in Times New Roman. I used a fancier font, but that was all I could do, because there was nothing available. What I love about what Nushmia is doing is kind of, through art, bringing this added element of significance and solemnity to the moment. In Islam, there is an amazing tradition of having this marriage contract and encouraging the idea of negotiating. And so I find a lot of power in that.


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