Faizel Patel, Radio Islam News, 2014-04-30
Muslim marriages will be recognized for the first time in South African history – a move described as more than 300 years in the making.
Over 100 Imams (Muslim clerics) from the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces received certificates, recognising them as Marriage Officers in accordance with the Marriage Act of 1961.
This also means that marriages they preside over will be registered in the national population register and that they will enjoy the same rights accorded to civil unions.
The imams took part in the Department of Home Affairs’ pilot programme to train as marriage officers.
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe congratulated the imams who were accredited as marriage officers in Cape Town on Wednesday.
“Their accreditation in terms of the 1961 Marriage Act would enable Muslim marriages to be legally recognised for the first time officially”, Motlanthe said in a speech.
Previously, Muslim couples needed to have civil unions to convert their traditional marriages to legally recognised unions.
“As a result of the imams being designated as Marriage Officers… 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, within the Constitutional state,” said Motlanthe.
This development will mean Muslim marriages will also enjoy the rights attached to civil unions and have positive implications for instances of inheritance or divorce.
It would also help to conquer the exclusion historically experienced by the Muslim community.
In order to qualify as marriage officers, the imams had to sit for a two-hour examination and achieve a mark of at least 70 percent.
The Muslim marriage act is still under consideration by the Department of Justice. If the Bill is passed, it will endorse Muslim marriage contracts as valid.