Marriage in Islam is a solemn contract for which the Sharia lays down rules and arrangements to guarantee its stability.
Valid marriage has to meet certain requirements such as ishhar (announcement), the payment of the dower, the consent of both parties, the permission of the wali (woman’s guardian), and the presence of witnesses.
Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, states:
For marriage a minimum of two witnesses is required. These witnesses are not for the bride or for the 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 the minimum), so that more people know that this man and this woman have come together as a legally married couple.
Concerning the mahr (dowry), Almighty Allah says, “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); “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’: 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: 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 the 7th century in the 20th century, nor can the mahr of India or Pakistan be applied in the United States and Canada. As the financial conditions of the people in different times 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 a large amount of mahr at the time of marriage to show off or to boast. Sometimes the bride’s family puts 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 (unlawful) 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’s 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 true that the 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’dhun shar`i or qadi, etc.
Some Muslims do not follow these procedures. They say that in an Islamic marriage, paper work is not necessary. Or they say that they only care for what is halal (lawful) and want to marry according to the Shari`ah; they do not care whether the marriage is legally recognized in their country or not. However, there are some cases where Muslim women have suffered greatly due to these unregistered marriages. Some Muslim men marry without any legal papers and then they leave their wives. These women do not know what to do and how to get divorce from their husbands who abandon them.
It is important for Muslim men and women to have their marriages and divorces properly documented. Islam teaches fairness and justice in all cases.