Fatwas against registering marriages a huge challenge: Family Court chief judge

Fatwas claiming that registering marriages at the court is unnecessary and un-Islamic are posing serious challenges to the Family Court, Chief Judge Hassan Saeed has said, suggesting the formation of an official state institution to issue fatwas.

“As Maldives is a 100 percent Muslim country, legally mandating some people to issue fatwas officially will encourage people to follow the law,” Saeed was quoted as saying by newspaper Haveeru.

Registration of marriages was a common practice in all countries, he observed, calling on religious scholars to publicly discuss and clarify such issues.

“Is there any basis in law or Sharia to say that [registering marriages] is not an Islamic requirement? You cannot say it is okay to perform a marriage hiding inside a room with two random witnesses [to whom] you give some treat,” Saeed was quoted as saying.

The Family Court issued a statement last week announcing that it will not register marriages performed by individuals without the court’s involvement, which would be in contravention of the Family Act.

Complaints regarding the refusal to register such marriages will also be rejected by the court, the statement noted.

As such marriages have come to the court’s attention, the Family Court noted that it could not accept cases related to divorce or other disputes as the marriages were not registered officially.

The rights of couples and their children could only be protected through wedlock within the bounds of law, the court said, insisting that marriages could only be performed or sanctioned by the state.

Marriages performed outside the Maldives are registered by the Family Court upon submission of legal documentation.

The penalty for violating the Family Act is meanwhile a fine of up to MVR1,000 or banishment to another inhabited island for a period less than six months.

The issue of unregistered marriages was raised by the court in 2010 as well.

Religious extremists in the Maldives have both endorsed and performed such marriages, claiming that even private, out-of-court marriages should be treated as legal as long as the minimum Shariah requirements for marriage are met.

Some cases of out-of-court marriages include child marriages, which are to a large extent illegal in the Maldives.

Under the Family Act, children under the age of 18 can get married at the court if he or she has reached puberty and has received a special permission from the court.

The Child Sex Abuse (Special Provisions) Act however states that engaging in sexual activity with a child through a marriage performed in accordance to Islamic Shariah principles shall not be considered child abuse.

In October 2009, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives looked into a case involving the marriage of a nine-year-old by religious preachers, whilst police investigated a similar case earlier that year.

In 2007, local media reported that a 14-year-old girl was married privately to an older man on Himandhoo island – a hotbed of religious extremism at the time.