Muslim marriages now legal in South Africa
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor recalled her wedding in a mosque “many moons ago” yesterday when it was announced that Muslim marriages are now legal in South Africa.
Pandor married into a Muslim family under Islamic law and had a complimentary civil ceremony.
“Our marriages are now legal… We are making history,” she told a gathering in Cape Town.
Pandor and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe were at a graduation ceremony for 117 imams who yesterday qualified as marriage officers.
This means when they officiate over Muslim marriages they would also register the unions with the National Population Register, which had previously not happened.
Motlanthe said the government viewed this as efforts to “push back the frontiers of exclusion that have so long been visited on the Muslim community”.
“The registration of Muslim unions will accord Muslim marriages legal status and with that, the protective instruments of the secular state may be accessed to ensure that these Qur’anic values are realised and complied with,” he said.
Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) deputy president Sheikh Riad Fataar, one of the graduating marriage officers, confirmed that they would not fall out of line with Islamic law.
“Our work is aligned with Islam. In the past, we could only tell people to do as Allah orders. Now we can take the law against them because they don’t do what Allah requires,” said Fataar.
Farieda Omar, wife of the democratic government’s first justice minister Dullah Omar, attended the graduation yesterday. Her Struggle icon husband worked towards implementing laws that would recognise Muslim marriages.
Pandor said the government would still focus its efforts on passing into law the Muslim Marriages Bill.
“We haven’t left it as a project. It is something that we would like to see concluded. It remains as a draft piece of legislation. We hope the next executive will see it through,” said Pandor.
Fataar said the Bill was needed as current marriage legislation does not legalise polygamy which is allowed in Islam. This was one of the issues that needed to be addressed with legislation.
Home Affairs Deputy Minister Fatima Chohan said Muslims planning on getting married could decide if they wanted to be registered or not with a marriage officer.
“If people don’t want to get married with an Islamic marriage officer, there is no obligation. Those who want their marriages legalised have the choice to do so,” said Chohan.
“When a divorce or death occurs, there is no reference to the marriage of partners. This has been part of the concern, particularly of Muslim women, many who have been left to fend for themselves at the end of a marriage. They are then left with very little.
“There is no clarity on what the understanding was between the parties when they got married. We would like to urge young couples to use this to ensure that their marriages have legal status and that the protections afforded by the laws are also pertained for their marriage.”