“The new constitutional order is based on the recognition of our diversity and tolerance for other religious faiths.” – Daniels v Campbell and Others 2004 (5) SA 331 (CC) para 54.

Prior to our progressive and tolerant constitution, marriage was an option available only between a man and a woman in terms of the Marriage Act of 1961. Today same-sex couples may marry in terms of the Civil Union Act of 2006 and the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act of 1998 allows for African customary marriages.

South Africa has yet to enact legislation (law) that specifically caters for Muslim marriage.

Luckily there have been a few positive strides: 

  • There are instances where our law does in fact recognize a Muslim marriage to a certain degree in order to offer protection. For example, only a ‘spouse’ can apply for maintenance from the deceased estate of their loved one after his/ her passing. To be considered a surviving ‘spouse’ in terms the Maintenance of Surviving Spouses Act, your marriage must, however, be legally recognized and therefore valid in South Africa. In the Constitutional Court case quoted above, the surviving wife (married in terms of Muslim law) was acknowledged as a ‘spouse’ and in the court case of Hassan v Jacobs the surviving spouse of a polygamous Muslim marriage was also accepted as a surviving ‘spouse.’
  • The Muslim Marriages Bill is a draft law that was compiled back in 2003. This Bill has, however, been subject to much criticism. For example, it states that Muslim Marriages will automatically be OUT of community of property unless parties enter into an ante-nuptial agreement stating otherwise. In terms of South Africa’s other marriage laws mentioned above, a marriage will automatically be IN community of property. Being married IN community of property often offers protection to a spouse who gives up his/ her career and opportunities to stay at home and take care of the children. Should the couple divorce, parties married IN community of property will split everything fifty-fifty.
  • A few years ago Imams (Muslim clerics) were trained and appointed as authorized marriage officers, enabling a Muslim marriage to be solemnized by a registered Imam marriage officer in terms of the Marriage Act. Whilst the aforementioned is great news, many questions still remain unanswered pending the enactment of the Muslim Marriage Bill to deal specifically with many rights, responsibilities and consequences of a Muslim marriage.
The point of having a specific act (law) such as the Marriage Act, Civil Union Act and the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act, is to offer case sensitive regulation and protection.
Without a specific act, many questions that arise include the logistics and rights when it comes to the resolution of the marriage, for example. There are also a few other concerns regarding Islam law which have been cited as reasons why the enactment of the Bill is dragging its feet, including the man’s exclusive right to end the marriage unilaterally (talaq) and the custom that a woman may be wed by proxy.

“Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion… This section does not prevent legislation recognizing… marriages concluded under any tradition, or a system of religious, personal or family law… Recognition… must be consistent with this section and the other provisions of the Constitution.” – Section 15(1), 15(a)(i) and 15(3)(b) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996

We wish you a wonderful and thought-provoking Heritage Month. South Africa’s rich diversity of religious communities, cultures, languages and customs have a great deal to offer. As the preamble to our Constitution asks, may we all live ‘united in our diversity.’

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