Is an online nikah valid in the Shafi’ee school?
All the classical scholars in the Shafi’ee school have explained that a marriage contract requires the physical presence of the bride’s legal guardian ( الول ي ) and two morally upright witnesses ( الشاهدان العدلا ن ). The famous Shafi’ee primer text commonly known as ‘Matn Abi Shujaa’ ( متن ابي
شجاع ) mentions:
ولا يصح عقد النكاح إلا بولي وشاهدي عدل اه
“The marriage contract is not valid except with a legal guardian (t. representing the bride) and two morally upright witnesses”
Ibn Qaasim Al-Ghazzi رحمه الله explains in his commentary, ‘Fathul Qareeb’ ( فتح القري ب ), that the statement means ‘physical presence’ ( حضو ر ):
لا يصح عقد النكاح أيضا إلا بحضور )شاهدي عدل( اه
“The marriage contract is also not valid except in the physical presence of two morally upright witnesses”
Al-Baijuri رحمه الله explains in his meta-commentary (حاشية البيجوري ):
وانما قدر الشارح الحضور في الشاهدين دون الولي مع انه لا بد من حضوره ايضا،
لان المقصود من الولي عقده لا مجرد حضوره، والمقصود منهما مجرد حضورهما اه .
“The only reason the commentator (t. Ibn Qaasim Al-Ghazzi) expressly extended ‘physical presence’ for the two witnesses without (t. mentioning) the legal guardian; even though his (t. the legal guardian’s) physical presence is also required (t. for the validity of the marriage contract); is because the main purpose of the legal guardian is his (t. execution of the marriage) contract and not just his physical presence (t. which is assumed). Whereas the only purpose of the two witnesses is limited to their mere physical presence.”
(t. note: the role of the witnesses is to testify that they witnessed the marriage contract in case of a dispute regarding its execution; therefore ‘mere physical presence’ assumes the witnesses’ ability to identify both parties and to hear the offer and acceptance; thus witness the integral elements of the marriage contract.)
It is for this reason, my teacher, the honourable Shaykh Abdul Haleem حفظه الله تعالى , mentioned that he, as well as his senior colleague Shaykh Tayfur Ali Wafa حفظه الله تعالى , would not be comfortable to go beyond what is expressly mentioned in the classical texts. Thus the meaning of physical presence is being in a single location in the same single gathering (اتحاد المكان في مجلس واحد ).
However, Shaykh Abdul Haleem حفظه الله تعال ى , continued by saying that it is the scholars’ responsibility to try their utmost to find a sound and acceptable Islamically legislated solution if there is a legitimate difficulty faced by a Muslim community. There is also a balance required to appreciate that modern issues are likely to bear differences of opinion. For this reason, he shared the fatwa from the Islamic Fiqh Council (مجمع الفقه الاسلًمي ) disapproving of it and the fatwa from the Syrian Islamic Council (المجلس الاسلًمي السوري ) approving it under certain circumstances. Both are highly regarded Islamic bodies with senior Shafi’ee representatives. Therefore, any ‘online nikah’ would require an authorised mufti to decide on the merits of a particular set of circumstances of the parties involved, to determine which legal opinion (fatwa) may be more suitable for a given case.
For the sake of brevity, the fatwa from the Islamic Fiqh Council, after laying down the legal principles concerning the permissibility of executing contracts via modern communication methods concludes:
إن القواعد السابقة لا تشمل النكاح لاشتراط الإشهاد فيه اه
“The legal principles previously mentioned (t. which allow executing contracts through modern communication methods) do not apply to marriage (t. contracts) due to the requirement of (t. physical) witnessing (t. not electronic or otherwise).”
Regarding, The Syrian Islamic Council‘s fatwa on marriage contracts executed via modern communication tools:
وأما إجراء عقد الزواج بالاتصال الهاتفي والبرامج الصوتية فقد أجازه جمعٌ م ن
أهل العلم المعاصرين بشرط توفر جميع الإجراءات التي تضمن صحة العقد، من وجود
الولي والشاهدين، والتأكد من شخصية الزوجين بالمعرفة أو السماع، وسماع
الشهود لطرفي العقد في مجلس واحد لا يكون فيه فصل أو انقطاع، بحيث يسمع كلُّ
طرف كلًم الطرف الآخر في الوقت نفسه، في كون الإيجاب من الولي أو وكيله، ويليه
القَبول من الزوج أو وكيله على الفور، مع الأمن من التدليس والغلط، فلو اقتصر
سماع الشهود على الإيجاب الصادر من الولي فقط، أو على القبول من الزوج لم يصح
العق د .
“As for the proceedings of a marriage contract via a phone call or any other voice communication tool, a group of contemporary scholars permitted it with the condition that it fulfilled all the procedural requirements for a valid (t. marriage) contract, including:
1. The presence of the bride’s legal guardian and two (t. morally upright) witnesses
2. Confirmation of the identity of the bride and groom either by knowing them (t. personally) or hearing them (t. identify themselves)
3. The witnesses’ hearing both parties in the (t. offer and acceptance of the marriage) contract in a single gathering without delay or disconnection (t. as an immediate acceptance to the offer of marriage).
The proceedings need to be in such a way that every participating party (t. required for the validity of the marriage contract) hears the statement of the other party at that exact moment (t. the statement is made). This means having the bride’s legal guardian’s offer or his representative being followed by the groom or his representative accepting the marriage offer immediately.
The proceedings also need to ensure that it is safeguarded from anyone being able to hide their true identity or be mistaken (t. thus identified as someone else or not hear what is actually being said). If the witnesses only hear either the offer of marriage from the bride’s legal guardian only, or the groom’s acceptance only, the (t. marriage) contract is not valid.”
ويرى المجلس الأخذ بهذا القول بضوابطه المذكورة عند تعذر إجراء العقد بالطرق
المعتادة، وتعذر التوكيل بعقد الزواج؛ مراعاة لأحوال السوريين، ودفعاا للمش قة
عن ه .
“The (t. Syrian Islamic) Council opine the adoption of this position along with the above mentioned parameters, considering the plight of the Syrian people, to remove the extreme difficulties they face and (t. as a last resort) when it is not possible to:
1. Perform the marriage under normal conditions (t. meaning all parties being physically present in the same location at the same time, as the first preference); or
2. Appoint a representative (t. from each party i.e. the bride’s legal guardian appoints a representative and the groom appoints a representative; both to be present in the same location at the same time as the witnesses) for the marriage contract (t. as the second preference).”
The fatwa goes on to say that if a video conference facility is available, a fortiori ( اول ى ), it’s permissibility would be even stronger provided it still fulfilled all the above mentioned conditions and safeguards.
In compliance with the principles of issuing a legal opinion (fatwa), its application is limited to the time and place it is referring to, and the specific set of circumstances considered.
In conclusion, this discussion is for the purpose of elaborating some of the elements that will be considered by an authorised mufti. Therefore, to re-iterate, a specific fatwa would be required for the specific set of circumstances of the parties involved in any ‘online nikah’.
والله اعل م
Prepared by Abdur Raheem Halim
Checked by Shaykh Abdul Haleem Felimban