Registration of women imams ‘a right step’

2014-05-02 00:00

CAPE TOWN — The registration of more than 100 women as imams this week to marry couples has been described by politicians as “historic” and as “a step in the right direction” by Muslim women.

Hoodah Abrahams-Fayker of the Women’s Legal Centre on Tuesday said the female imams may marry couples in terms of the Marriage Act of 1961, but this allows only monogamous marriages.

In terms of Muslim law, men may however marry four wives.

Minister of Home Affairs Naledi Pandor, however, described the step as “historic”, saying this registration meant Muslim marriage will now be legal without a second civil ceremony in a magistrate court as had been required up to now.

Pandor praised Fatima Chohan, Home Affairs deputy minister, for initiating the female imams with the Muslim community after wives had raised concerns about the status of their marriages.

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe described the development as a new chapter in the history of the Muslim community in South Africa.

Abrahams-Fayker said while this step was a welcome one which would help with legal issues, the national Marriage Act still did accommodate Muslim laws.

She explained that when an imam married a Muslim couple, they now had the option to conduct the civil ceremony at the same time.

“By conducting the civil ceremony at the same time the couple can now turn to the courts to dissolve the marriage or to call on the law. This does not, however, happen automatically — there must be an agreement in terms of the Marriage Act to marry,” Abrahams-Fayker said.

Spokesperson for Pandor, Lunga Ngqengelele, said the Department of Justice was still working on a bill for Muslim marriages.

More imams will meanwhile be trained and registered to marry Muslim couples.

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