Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Fatima Chohan plans to travel around the country addressing communities on the significance of Muslim marriage officers under South African law. Chohan was in Salt River on Monday night, delivering a talk at Daroel Ielm on the implications of imams working as marriage officers. The minister was invited by Sheikh Shahied Gamieldien and Imam Rashied Omar to advise young people of the new choices that have opened up to them when planning to tie the knot.
On April 30th this year, 117 imams from around the country graduated as marriage officers through a programme run by the department. However, since then, there has been much confusion and misinformation around the role of marriage officers.
Addressing community members on the implications for imams as marriage officers, Chohan said it was of utmost importance that any couple entering into marriage signs an Ante-Nuptial Contract (ANC) as approved by a religious authority before having their marriage solemnised by a marriage officer. The role of the marriage officers would then be to solemnise the marriage in terms of the Marriage Act of 1961 after the nikah. The contract must be signed before a notary public.
“The role of the marriage officer is to register the marriage formally with the Department of Home Affairs. If you have an imam conducting a marriage and he is not trained to fill out the correct forms, then he will not be trained to deal with some of the aspects of marriage which is central to the interests of the state,” she explained.
The implications for a couple registered with a Muslim marriage officer were that the state would recognize the marriage. In simple terms, the registration of a Muslim marriage under South African law gives Muslims protection under the Constitution in terms of religious freedom and access to justice. This would provide legal consequences for both parties, should any disputes arise.
“This could be left to the courts to decide as does happen with many Muslim marriages, where there are no contracts governing the relationship between the two parties, particularly the consequences of that relationship between the parties, in the event of a divorce or death,” said Chohan.
“What we are offering is the opportunity for people to be able to regulate the consequences of their marriage through an Islamic contract based on Shariah law or their understanding of Shariah law through one or other form…and have this contract govern the consequences of such a marriage in the sad event of a death or divorce.”
The department has been working closely with the United Ulema Council of South Africa (UUCSA), an umbrella body of various ulema groups nationally. UUCSA have agreed to host the different marriage contracts that the organizations have drafted, along with a list of all the registered imams on its website soon.
Chohan said a national awareness campaign was vital and urged community members to attend any workshops by the department in their areas.
“People have a range of choices and if they are not educated about their choices then they will not make the right decision for themselves.” VOC