Nikahnama vs. Marriage Certificate

It may take some time before the ongoing debate settles down over the government’s move to make registration of marriages compulsory for Muslims. Those opposing the move have raised a valid point as to why doesn’t the government recognize nikahnama as an official document at par with other registration documents. Interestingly, this is one of the few issues over which a section of Muslim women have strongly asserted their stand demanding registration of Muslim marriages. In this context, if nikahnama is accorded the status as a registration document, the debate may settle down a little but not entirely. It may be noted that nikahnama is still recognized as a valid legal document in India but it does not have the same validity in other countries.

Let us also accept it that in this age, even in India documents are required at practically each and every level, from birth till after death. Birth certificates are needed for admission to schools and practically everywhere, where verification of age is required. The birth certificates, stating the place of birth in India, are also regarded as valid documents for establishing the national identity of Indian citizens. Considering that practically no hue and cry has been raised over the legal status of the birth certificate, it is surprising that the proposed marriage certificate for Muslims has provoked a debate.

From one angle, a marriage certificate does not reduce the religious or legal validity of a nikahnama. It adds to the legal validity of marriages recognized by the nikahnama for institutions and countries which do not view a nikahnama as a legal document. Against this backdrop, it is in the interest of Muslims to ensure that in addition to a nikahnama, they procure a marriage certificate also.  

There is a view that the proposed marriage certificate must not be made binding for all Muslims. It should be left to Muslims to decide on whether they should apply for a marriage certificate or not. Perhaps, in this context, marriage certificate as well as nikahnama must be deliberated upon keeping in mind different conditions that they are needed for. Socially and as per practice of Islam in India, there is no denying that a nikahnama has been viewed as a sufficient legal proof of marriage among Muslims. But if a section of women insis to that marriage certificate must be made compulsory for Muslims, their viewpoint should be considered. There is the prevalent fear that nikahnama may not help women who have been deserted by their husbands for a second marriage and/or to move out of the country. In cases such as these, the concerned authorities opposing the registration of marriages among Muslims must present an effective stand on how can they help such ladies on the basis of a nikahnama which does not have a legal status outside India. It has been stated that applying for a marriage certificate to ensure registration of marriages is a very tedious and cumbersome procedure, which may be extremely difficult or not possible for poor and illiterate Muslims to go through. In view of these authorities, would fighting for the rights of deserted Muslim women in foreign countries be a much easier and cheaper process for them without a marriage certificate considered legally valid outside India? Or would they prefer remaining non-committal on problems that these ladies may face in these circumstances?

 In this context, greater importance should be given to enhancing the legal validity of a nikahnama so that its importance is not sidelined or ignored by either/both parties. In addition, if a party remains insistent on securing a marriage certificate also, this request/demand must be met. Statistically, it is relevant to give importance to the number of Muslims securing marriage certificates. Even if a minimal percentage is taking this step, the importance this holds for them must be given a greater consideration by people debating against registration of marriages for Muslims.

There is yet another aspect that cannot be ignored. This refers to a trend among non-Muslims opting for second marriages by converting to Islam. They remain satisfied with a nikahnama as a proof of their marriage. What is disturbing here is that their so-called conversion and nikahnama’s importance is limited to securing a social and to a degree legal recognition of their second marriage in India. In these cases, where people convert only for the sake of a second marriage, registration of their marriages as Muslims must be made compulsory. It must be taken note of that in these cases, conversion to Islam and adoption of Muslim names remains confined to nikah and nikahnama. Once this stage is passed, they proceed with life, raising even children as non-Muslims. Yes, they have the right to lead their lives as they wish to but they certainly should not have the liberty to use conversion to Islam and subsequently securing a nikahnama as they consider appropriate for their interests. Securing a marriage certificate must be made legally compulsory (not voluntary) in these cases!

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 May 2012 on page no. 11

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