Definition of Marriage
Islamic marriage refers to all marriages that have been contracted between a Muslim male and Muslim female immaterial of their races and ages and have been witnessed by at least two males or a male and two females. Generally, the marriage is solemnized by a Muslim male that is called ‘Qazi’ in India.
Witnesses in Marital Contract
The marriage contract in Islam requires at least two males or a male and two females as witnesses who simultaneously witness the marriage solemnization is essential for the validity of the Islamic marital contract. In the case where both the proposed husband and proposed wife are present before the person solemnizing the marriage. It is noteworthy the person solemnizing the marriage cannot act as the witness as well.
Generally, since the Islamic marriage is preferably solemnized in the Masjid, where the married couple is nominated and celebrated by the whole attendees. In the case, the proposed wife is absent, the representative of the bride who would transmit her consent on the marriage as well as two witnesses to the representation, and two other witnesses to the solemnization of the marriage are a minimum requirement. The requirement of two witnesses to the representation is according to Hanafi school of jurisprudence.
Bigamy and Polygamy in Islam
It is allowable in Islam that a man have more than one wife with the limitation of four female spouses, but this is stipulated by the ability to administer justice between one’s wives, as indicated by the Glorious Qur’an. Almighty Allah says,
And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphan girls, then marry those that please you of [other] women, two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then [marry only] one or those your right hand possesses. That is more suitable that you may not incline [to injustice]. (Al-Nisa’ 4:3)
Written Marriage Certificate
The Islamic marriage is considered valid, whether it is recorded in any written format or it is purely solemnized verbally without any written documentation. However, the need for a written record with essential personal identification is a legal expedient necessity and an obligation that needs compliance for civil records and to protect the marital rights and obligations of both spouses.
Marriage of Converts
Any person who acknowledges the Unity of Allah and the finality of the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him) and admits, without any form of denial or negation, to all the Qur’anic teachings and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would be considered a Muslim. Thus, a person converting to Islam would immediately be granted the status of having Islam without waiting for any term or period.(1)
In Islam, marriage is considered both a social agreement and a legal contract. In modern times, the marriage contract is signed in the presence of an Islamic judge, imam, or trusted community scholar who is familiar with Islamic law.
Negotiating and signing the contract is a requirement of marriage under Islamic law, and certain conditions must be upheld in order for it to be binding and recognized.
Consent of Both Parties
Both the groom and the bride must consent to the marriage. This is done through a formal proposal of marriage (ijab) and acceptance of the proposal (qabul). A first-time bride is usually represented in the contract negotiations by her Wali, a male guardian who looks out for her best interests. Even so, the bride must also express her willingness to enter into marriage. Consent cannot be obtained from those who are legally unable to give it, i.e. people who are incapacitated or those who have physical or mental impairments which limit their capacity to understand and consent to a legal contract.
Mahr (Bridal Gift)
Specifying a Mahr (bridal gift) is essential in the marriage. However, failure to consider it would not render the marriage as invalid and the Mahr (bridal gift) would then be subject to mutual agreement by the parties or other rulings related to a Mahr (bridal gift) equivalent of the female status of her family as was prescribed in Islamic law.
The word Mahr is often translated as “dowry” but is better expressed as “bridal gift”. The bride has a right to receive a gift from the groom which remains her own property as security in the marriage. The gift is payable directly to the bride and remains her sole property, even in case of later divorce. The Mahr can be cash, jewelry, property, or any other valuable asset. Either full payment or an agreed-upon payment schedule is required at the time of contract signature. The Mahr may also be deferred until termination of the marriage through death or divorce; in such an instance the unpaid Mahr becomes a debt against the husband’s estate.
Walimah of Marriage (Feast)
After the contract is signed, a couple is legally married and enjoys all the rights and responsibilities of marriage. In many cultures, however, the couple does not formally share a household until after thepublic wedding celebration (walimah). Depending on the culture, this celebration may be held hours, days, weeks, or even months later. The feast of marriage is a Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and it is a desirable and meritorious act but not an obligatory ruling. It should be done within the limits of richness and wealth of a person. One does not have to take a loan to do it. Also, it should be far from the spirit of competition as occurs now since this is not permissible in Islam. (2)
(1) http://www.fatwa.org.za/definition_islamic_marriages.htm (Last accessed on 3/10/2013)
http://islam.about.com/od/marriage/a/contract.htm (Last accessed on 3/10/2013)