Cape Town - While Muslim marriages are still not regarded as legal under South African law, government has made it easier for couples to have their unions legally recognised by registering more than 200 imams as civil marriage officers.
On Heritage Day, 21 couples walked down the aisle at Masjidul Quds in Athlone for a second time.
Some of the couples have been married for decades, but never went to the Department of Home Affairs for a civil marriage.
Because Muslim marriages are not recognised, there are often problems with issues of divorce, inheritance and polygamous unions.
But this could soon change following a Western Cape High Court ruling at the end of August, when Judge Siraj Desai declared that a union made under Sharia law is valid, even after its dissolution.
This after the Women’s Legal Centre took to the courts seeking the same privileges for Muslim women as in other marriages.
Previously, Muslim women had no automatic rights if they divorced or if their husbands passed away.
The centre also wants judicial oversight of Muslim divorces, arguing constitutional rights, including the right to equality, were being violated.
Desai gave government two years to comply with his ruling, effectively ending a four-year legal battle.
The Divorce Act, used in civil marriages, has been ordered as interim relief for Muslim women until legislation is enacted.
The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC’s) second deputy president, Sheikh Riad Fataar, said the ruling is a milestone for Muslims as a minority in South Africa.
“The significance of this judgement is that the president of the country has now been tasked to enforce the legislation.
“We would like to remind the president that he can make his mark in history by recognising the Muslim community in their marriages - which is long overdue,” Fataar said.
On Monday, the presiding imam, Sheikh Abduragmaan Alexander, officiated the civil ceremonies.
Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Fatima Chohan, was also present to answer questions about Desai’s ruling.
Couples were then led to the office one at a time to say civil marriage vows.
Repeating after Sheikh Alexander, they took each other “in holy matrimony, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health” before saying “I do”.
“They were then pronounced man and wife and the grooms could kiss their new brides,” Alexander says.
Nur and Rozana Kamish were the first to get married for the second time.
Nur, 45, says they were married in a Muslim ceremony on 31 March 2018. The couple met in January.
He says they were both previously married and congratulated Desai on his decisive ruling.
“I was married according to Sharia law before and my ex-wife and I are still fighting over the house,” says Nur.
“We have been to the MJC and the court and for years it has gone on, unresolved. This new law protects us from such unpleasantness and will now also protect our children.”
Asked whether he and Rozana were enjoying their honeymoon, Nur said: “We have been on honeymoon since the day we met.”