It is noteworthy that Islam pays great attention to marriage, taking all measures to protect the family life and relations between the spouses against any suspicion or difficulty that may arise in the future. Like all contracts, the Shari`ah demands witnesses for the marriage contract and it lays stress on announcement so as to protect the spouses against suspicion from the society and protect the rights of each partner for likely future disputes. In line with the aims of theShari`ah the registration of marriage in non-Muslim countries is of paramount significance in protecting the rights of the spouses.
Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, President of the Fiqh Council of North America, states the following: For marriage a minimum of two witnesses are required. These witnesses are not for bride or for groom but they are the witnesses for the marriage of the couple for whom they accept to be the witnesses. Nikah (marriage ceremony) is both a legal ceremony and a public ceremony. According to the Shari`ah, there should be two witnesses for all important legal contracts. Nikah as a public ceremony should also be done in the presence of many people (or at least two as minimum), so that more people know that this man and this woman have come together as legally married couple.
Concerning the mahr (dower), Allah says in the Qur’an, [And give women (on marriage) their dower as a free gift; but if they, of their own good pleasure, remit any part of it to you, take it and enjoy it with right good cheer.] (An-Nisaa’ 4: 4)
[Those among them (i.e. your wives) whom you enjoy give them their dowers as determined. But there is no blame on you, if after a dower is determined, you mutually agree to vary it.] (An-Nisaa’ 4: 24)
[If you divorce them before consummation and you have fixed a dower for them then half of the dower is due to them, unless they forgive it or it is forgiven by him in whose hand is the marriage tie.] (Al-Baqarah 2: 237)
According to the Shari`ah, the Mahr should also be reasonable. There is no fixed amount of Mahr in the Shari`ah. It should be given according to the financial status of the husband and according to the time and place. We cannot apply the Mahr of 7th century in the 20th century, nor the Mahr of India or Pakistan can be applied in the United States and Canada. As the financial conditions of the people in different time and places change, so the amount of Mahr can be determined accordingly.
However, it is a principle of the Shari`ah that the Mahr should not be too expensive. It is wrong to declare large amount of Mahr at the time of marriage to show off or to boast. Sometime bride’s family put pressure on the groom and his family for a large amount of Mahr so that they may show their pride to their relatives and friends boasting that their daughter was married for a big Mahr. Sometimes the groom declares a big amount and secretly thinks that this is just a commitment on paper. People are often heard saying, “Write whatever you want, no one asks and no one pays.” This is a play with the rules of Allah. Muslims should only commit what they are really capable of paying and what they intend to pay. It is haram to enjoy relations with a wife and then deny her the Mahr promised to her.
However, we must keep in mind that Mahr is not a bride price. It is a woman’s right and it signifies a husband’s love and appreciation for his wife. In the Qur’an it is called “Sadaq” which means a token of friendship. It is also called “Nihlah” which means “a nice gift or present.” Mahr also signifies a husband’s commitment to take care of his wife’s financial needs (Nafaqah).
It is correct that Nikah ceremony can be performed by any Muslim, but in order to organize this serious legal contract, in Muslim countries some people are authorized by the governments to perform the Nikah or to register the Nikah. These people are called “Ma’dhunShar`i” or “Qadi” etc. In America, the Imams of the Islamic centers or someone authorized by the Islamic centers should officiate the Nikah. Some states in the US and Canada require that the person who perform the marriage must be a justice of peace, or a judge or a licensed clergy. In some states it is illegal for an unlicensed person to perform marriages.
In the United States and Canada it is also required for the couples who intend to get married to take a license before their marriage. The person who performs the marriage then signs this license along with two witnesses. After that the license is sent to the Registrar of Marriages. The Registrar’s office then issues a marriage certificate. No marriage in the US and Canada is recognized as legal marriage unless it is registered.
Some Muslims do not follow these procedures. They say that in Islamic marriage paper work is not necessary. They also say that they only care for what is halal and want to marry according to the Shari`ah, they do not care whether the marriage is legally recognized here or not. However, there are some cases where Muslim women have greatly suffered, due to these unregistered marriages. Some Muslim men marry without any legal papers and then leave their wives. These women do not know what to do and how to get divorce from their husbands who abandon them. Upon resorting to the US and Canadian courts they are told that according to the local laws they are not considered married. These women have nothing to prove their marriage and the courts have no marriage record of these women. Even the local Islamic centers in the US and Canada are unable to help them, because the laws in these lands do not give the right of divorce to anyone except to the local superior courts. It is important for Muslim men and women to have their marriages and divorces properly documented. Islam teaches fairness and justice in all cases.