The Women’s Legal Centre (WLC) will re-launch its application at the Western Cape High Court in March to push President Jacob Zuma to enact the Muslim Marriage Bill into law. The bill has divided Muslim opinion and has been fiercely contested by individuals and organisations in South Africa. This has delayed the passing of bill.
WLC filed for this particular application in 2009, but was promised by the state that the bill was on the legislative timetable. Four years later, attorney Hoodah Abrahams-Fayker says there is still no legislation, which has prompted the WLC to rethink their strategy.
“Unless we take the matter to court to say that the legislation must be passed within a specific time frame, there will be an undue delay,” Abrahams told VOC News.
In October 2013, the Western Cape High Court gave the then-Justice Minister a nine-month deadline to report on the progress made with the Muslim Marriages Bill. With this deadline having lapsed, the WLC said it had not choice but to turn to the courts. Abrahams-Fayker says the issue of Muslim marriages is one that needs to be understood and recognised to ensure the equal rights of Muslim women in particular.
“Our offices are based in Cape Town and one aspect of our services that we provide to the public is free legal advice. Many Muslim women come to our offices, seeking legal advice at the termination of their marriages; usually when the husband has issued a talaq and in most cases, he has worked for the majority of their marriage, while the wife has taken the role of house wife. We find that he wants to evict her and she has nothing to show for the marriage in terms of what she has contributed to the assets,” she explained.
“In another prevalent case, we find that some women come to us when they have requested a fasakh to terminate the marriage but is declined by the ulema as according them, the reasons for the termination may not be valid.”
In these particular examples, Abrahams places emphasis on the bill and its constant change due to frequent submissions from the community.
“Women are suffering, their needs must be addressed. There are many cases where Muslim women have found themselves in difficult positions and have desperately turned to the courts for relief and there have been judgements which were granted in Muslim Marriages but no legal framework in place.”
Muslim couples are considered single and unmarried unless a legal registration of their marriage is made in court. Abrahams says their [WLC’s] application, inter alia, will request that instead of making the legal registration optional for Muslim couples, instead have it automatically registered and offer them the option of opting out.
“I think it’s important for the Muslim community to understand the importance of recognition and how it can have a positive impact on their lives. The actual provisions of what the legal framework will have is still not finalised, and the latest bill that was published is not the final bill.”
“In principle, I think that it is important for the Muslim community to understand that they need to be proactive in the end result as it will have an impact on them directly or someone that they know,” Abrahams-Fayker added.
Organisations such as the Muslim Lawyers Association (MLA), the Islamic Unity Convention (IUC) and the United Ulama Council of South Africa have opposed the bill since its formation. In a submission to the South African Law Reform Commission in 2011, the MLA calls the bill “unconstitutional at its core”, because it “alters Islamic law through impermissible state regulation”. VOC (Ra’eesah Isaacs)