Mtishka Kazi, eThekwini Deputy Mayor Fawzia Peer, Deputy Home Affairs Minister Fatima Chohan and Jameela Mayet at the Al Ansaar Hall in Overport. Picture: Arushan Naidoo

Durban - Muslim women should be more aware of their civil rights and the repercussions of unregistered marriages.

This is according to Deputy Home Affairs Minister Fatima Chohan, who addressed several communities in KwaZulu-Natal at the weekend.

She spoke at the Al Ameen Mosque Hall in Phoenix, Al Ansaar Hall in Overport, and to residents of the uMngeni Municipality.

“Historically, Islamic marriages were regarded as illegal under the pre-1994 dispensation, for the reason that they were potentially polygamous in nature - polygamy being outlawed as a crime in Roman-Dutch law,” Chohan explained at the Overport meeting.

“This gave rise to a non-registration of marriage amongst the different Muslim communities in South Africa during the apartheid era."

"However, since the advent of the constitutional era, the objection to Islamic marriages based on the Roman-Dutch law fell away.”

The deputy minister explained that in a marriage there are certain processes that are required to be independently verified by the marriage officer who performed the solemnisation of that marriage. 

A marriage officer, she said, is a person who has taken an exam set at the Department of Home Affairs, and once they have passed that exam, they are certified by the minister to perform marriages.

“In 2014, the Department of Home Affairs began discussions with the different Ulama groupings to see if during this legislative impasse we couldn’t use the existing law on the statute books to enable Muslim couples to marry according to Islamic rights while registering their marriages on the national population register.”

Currently, more than 200 imams are certified marriage officers across the country. 

After completion of a special marriage officer course, they are issued with official marriage registers.

“These imams are now able to facilitate marriages they perform on to the national population register,” Chohan said.

This will broaden the options available to Muslim couples who would like to ensure that their marriages are registered on the national population register.

Couples who decide to embark on this will have the following options:

First, they may conclude nikah and then go to Home Affairs to record their marriage as a civil marriage.

Second, they will be able to utilise the services of an imam who is already a marriage ­officer, who will perform both the nikah as well as ensure the registration of a civil marriage.

Last, in the case that the couple to wed has chosen a specific imam to perform nikah, they may request another imam who is a registered marriage officer to authenticate the civil marriage.

Said Chohan: “Suffice to say that the situation as of now is that the Muslim Marriages Bill has not been finally processed through Parliament, and therefore is not law.

“I want to stress that the issues that have remained unresolved relate to the consequences of those marriages and not the recognition of Islamic marriages.”

Prospective couples would have to decide how the matrimonial property will divulge upon a divorce or a death.

“Ultimately, I think as women, we have to understand what our rights are, what our options are."

"We have a lot more power than we think sometimes. It is really up to us to ensure that we assist our future husbands to keep to the dictates of the Qur’an or Sha’rif when it enjoins justice, fair play and equity in the unfortunate event of a divorce, and the only way to do it is to sort out your affairs upfront.”

For a couple to conduct a marriage that is solely recognised by their religion, and should they want any consequences of their marriage to exist under the religious law, they would then have to establish a prenuptial contract.

According to Chohan, should a contract not be concluded, the in-community-of-property regime pertains.