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Secret Marriages and Marriage Laws in the US

Should Muslim Imams in the US solemnize religious weddings if the couples have not registered their marriage with the state? The question becomes tricky when a couple approaches an Imam asking that they wanted to get married under Islamic rules and not under the state law. This happened several times to me as an Imam and director of the Islamic Society of Nevada. In general, my response is simple, get your marriage license from the state and I will solemnize the weddings. They quickly argue, we only want Islamic and not legal. I usually respond back, “legalizing your wedding is Islamic, getting it registered is Islamic and getting the marriage license from the state is Islamic. Their reaction: you must be kidding, or you are not a good Imam or you are secular.”

The fact is that such marriages take place especially when the husband is taking a second wife. This usually happens secretly and quietly and no one with the exception of the couple, imam and two witnesses knows about it. It is justified under the pretext of Islam without ever bothering to understand its real intent.

I am raising this issue for a few reasons.

1. First of all, according to Islamic rules, it is essential that the marriage is open and known to people.

2. Second, it should be recorded so that the legality of the marriage is not disputed because it involves the status of children and spouse as well as inheritance etc.

3. Third, it is important that the facts are legally verified and not just verbally accepted.

4. Fourthly, it is Islamic that marriages are recorded for public view.

Our Islamic institutions are not equipped to deal with any of these aspects.

I personally think that an Imam should never solemnize a secret wedding; he must never perform the marriage if he knows that the husband is taking a second wife or if he is sure that the marriage is not licensed. Should there be some exception to the rule? I cannot say anything about it. People are responsible for their actions.

The following case reported in a newspaper highlight the dilemma that our growing community faces in the US. The report has everything that must make us think about the way we are conducting our affairs. It raises fundamental questions about our education system and our code of conduct. It shows how much we have to evolve in terms of organizing our affairs. We can only pray that this is an isolated incident. However, this is one case that has come out in open because some people had the courage to make it open. There may be several, who may be suffering silently. We must not feel bad about seeing our dirty laundry. Rather, we should clean the dirt if we find some. Here is the story. You will find the source at the end of the report.

NY Islamic School Principal Ousted over Sex Allegations...

The principal of an Islamic boarding school on Buffalo’s East Side has been forced to resign after allegations that he was sexually involved with one of his students and that he claimed to have taken her as a second wife.

Evidence suggests Mohammed Ibrahim Memon, a father of seven, persuaded Sajidah Khan, then 21, to marry under Islamic law as a pretense to sleep with her.

Memon, an Islamic scholar, and imam has agreed to leave his post at Darul-Uloom Al-Madania, 182 Sobieski St., for a minimum of seven years. The private, Islamic secondary school and institute of higher learning is located alongside Masjid Zakariya mosque in the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood.

Memon also agreed to never teach in the girls school again if reinstated.

Dr. Khalid J. Qazi, president of the local chapter of the Muslim Public Affairs Council expressed disappointment over Memon’s “inappropriate and intimate relationship.”

“Parents have trusted their best assets, their children, to Imam Ibrahim, and he has broken that trust,” Qazi said.

Mixed views expressed

“We were betrayed,” said Chaudhary A. Khan of Woodbridge, Va., Sajidah’s father, who has sent four children to Madania.

“I want families to know these people are not following Islamic laws, they are not following American laws. They claim they are serving Islam, but they are just serving themselves,” he said.

At issue is Memon’s relationship with Sajidah Khan, now 23.

Khan says Memon proposed to her at school in August 2006 and proclaimed within days he had married her himself, under Islamic law, with two witnesses present. He also told her to keep their marriage secret.

Interviews with several Muslims reveal a mixed view on additional marriages under Islamic law. Some said it is not allowed under United States law and therefore is forbidden; others said it can be permissible under Islamic law anyway. Even so, there are several steps required for an Islamic marriage to be recognized, and the description of Khan and Memon’s marriage violates those tenets.

Memon denies marrying or engaging in physical contact with Khan. He claimed to The Buffalo News only to have listened to Khan’s problems over the telephone when he should have referred her to her father.

However, Qazi said Memon signed an agreement admitting “intimate, clandestine and highly inappropriate” relations with Khan from August 2006 to July 2008.

Memon did so at an Aug. 17 meeting organized by local Islamic leaders and Khan’s family. It was held in Johnson City, west of Binghamton, to accommodate three school donors.

Memon, a 40-year-old married father of seven who has helped run the school since 1991 with his father, the school’s founder Ismail Memon offered oral and written apologies along with his resignation.

The agreement also calls for the appointment of an independent board to oversee the school.

Sajidah Khan, observing strict rules of separation between the sexes, was relegated to listening from the next room.

Darul-Uloom Al-Madania consists of a complex of brick buildings, along with Masjid Zakariya, a former church cathedral.

Because interaction between the sexes is forbidden under Islam until marriage, girls and boys are not allowed to be in the same classroom or have outside contact.

When girls are taught by male teachers, they must listen in another room.

Khan attended the girls secondary school through 10th grade. She continued her studies with a five-year program leading to a certificate of Islamic scholarship in 2006.

Imam denies marriage

It was in her last year of study, Khan said, that Memon sought her out. Khan says he arranged a secret meeting on Aug. 30, 2006, in the locked basement of a heating room.

Khan said the imam flirted with her, and she had to repel him when he tried to have physical contact. That day marked the first time he talked of marriage, she said.

Until that day, Khan said, she could count the social contacts she had had with males on one hand.

“In our culture, we don’t even let girls sit with their male cousins, and this guy is a teacher. Why is this man, who has said we are not even allowed to chat with a boy, doing this?” she said.

“At the same time, I’m thinking, ‘He is a teacher, he is very famous, maybe he knows something I don’t know.’ ”

Memon persisted with marriage requests. Khan says after she agreed, Memon told her he had finalized their marriage the next day, Sept. 8, in her absence.

Memon insisted she tell no one, including her parents, Khan said.

She returned home to live with her parents in a Virginia suburb, but schemed with Memon for meetings near her home and in Buffalo.

Khan said Memon was always concerned about covering his tracks so their relationship wouldn’t be detected.

She was surprised to hear the educator make dismissive comments about the girls who studied at Madania, and “often said women were [on Earth] only to satisfy men.”

Chaudhary Khan, Sajidah’s father, said Memon eventually admitted marrying his daughter, but wouldn’t send a marriage contract to confirm it. Later, the father said Ismail Memon told him his son divorced Sajidah in ritual involving Memon family members.

A former Madania student, who wished to remain anonymous, also told The News she had a relationship with Memon several years ago as a student. Days after accepting his marriage proposal, she said, Memon told her he married them both in front of two witnesses she came to believe never existed.

Also, like Khan, the former student said Memon told her not to tell anyone. But she did, and soon her father removed her from the school. The woman no longer believes she was married to Memon and is bitter toward the school and its teachings.

“When I talked to [the former student], we realized it was almost the same story for both of us,” Khan said.

Khan currently attends a community college in Virginia, and plans to marry, with her parents’ blessing, in October.

Meanwhile, Memon, author of “The Book of Purification,” denies being romantically involved with Khan.

“As far as marriage and divorce, that has never been there. Not even Islamically, not even from the religious point of view,” Memon said.

Later, he said, “[Marriage] is just a term that we were using, but we were never considering it a marriage, really. Even she knows.”

Apartment in question

Asked for further explanation, he said he was at fault for not referring Khan’s phone calls to her father. “If you take the Islamic perspective out, then you would see nothing really wrong there,” Memon said.

Memon also denied being involved with renting short-term apartments Khan stayed in. However, Patti Boal, manager of Corporate Manor Apartments, 303 North St., tells a different story.

Boal says she rented apartments with monthly leases twice in 2007 and once this past February under Khan’s name. She said she saw Memon during that time “at least four or five times,” and he always paid in cash.

“I remember him saying the first time, ‘I’m renting this for my wife, and she will be here at a later date to pick up the keys,’ ” Boal said.

Memon’s signature also appears on a lease dated Jan. 6, 2008. And he listed the return address for a security deposit as 40 Parker Ave., Boal said, the address of Masjid At-Taqwa, a mosque where Memon presides as imam.


Marriage Laws in the US

Marriage Laws in the US vary from state to state. The following summarizes the state laws.

The Marriage License Laws for a man and a woman to marry vary from state to state.

Although there are differences between the requirements in the various states, a marriage between a man and a woman performed in one state must be recognized by every other state under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution. Some requirements can include:

1. A marriage license issued by the county clerk or clerk of the court (along with payment of a fee).

2. Both man and woman are 18 or older, or have the consent of a parent or a judge if younger.

3. Proof of immunity or vaccination for certain diseases

Many states have done away with mandatory premarital physical exams or blood tests. Some states still require for venereal diseases, and a few also test for rubella (also known as German Measles, a disease that is very dangerous to fetuses), tuberculosis, and sickle-cell anemia.

4. Proof of the termination of any prior marriages by death, the judgment of dissolution (divorce) or annulment.

Where there is a valid marriage, termination of marital status is obtained through a dissolution or divorce the lawsuit, which results in a judgment that returns both the man and the woman to the status of an unmarried (single) persons.

5. Sufficient mental capacity (often this is determined as the ability to enter into a contract).

Marriage requires two consenting people. If either person cannot or does not understand what it means to be married (due to mental illness, drugs, alcohol, or other factors affecting judgment), then that a person does not have the capacity to consent and the marriage is not valid.

6. The couple are not close blood relatives.

Close blood relatives cannot marry, although, in some states, first cousins can marry. Of the states that allow first cousins to marry, a few also require that one of the cousins no longer be able to conceive children.

7. Blood test for venereal disease.

Due to the rise in HIV and AIDS, many states now require that parties applying for a marriage license must be offered an HIV test and/or must be provided with information on AIDS and tests available. Presently, no states require a mandatory premarital HIV/AIDS test.

8. The satisfaction of waiting from the time the marriage license is issued to the time the marriage ceremony is performed.

Most, but not all, states require a waiting period, generally one to five days, between the time the license is issued and the time of the marriage ceremony. The purpose of the waiting period is to give a short time to cool off during which the parties can change their minds if they wish. The waiting period can be waived for good reason. For example, if the groom is arriving in the bride's town only one day before the wedding, but the state has a three-day waiting period, the waiting period probably can be waived by a judge or clerk of court. Twenty states require couples to wait a few days after applying for a marriage license before they receive the license:

1-day Waiting Period: Illinois, New York, South Carolina, Delaware.

2-day Waiting Period: Maryland.

3-day Waiting Period: Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington.

4-day Waiting Period: Delaware if both of you are nonresidents.

5-day Waiting Period: District of Columbia, Minnesota.

6-day Waiting Period: Wisconsin.

9. Performance of a marriage ceremony with witnesses and a person recognized by the state to have the authority to perform marriage ceremony (such as an imam, priest, rabbi or a judge).

A religious ceremony should be conducted under the customs of the religion, or, in the case of a Native American group, under the customs of the tribe. Religious ceremonies normally are conducted by religious officials, such as imams ministers, priests, or rabbis. Native American ceremonies may be presided over by a tribal chief or other designated official. Civil ceremonies usually are conducted by judges. In some states, county clerks or other government officials may conduct civil ceremonies. Contrary to some popular legends, no state authorizes ship captains to perform marriages.Most states require one or two witnesses to sign the marriage certificate.

10. Recording of the marriage license after the marriage ceremony is performed.

The person who performs the marriage ceremony has a duty to send a copy of the marriage certificate to the county or state agency that records marriage certificates. Failure to send the marriage certificate to the appropriate agency does not necessarily nullify the marriage, but it may make proof of the marriage more difficult.

11. Consummation of the marriage by the act of sexual relations (only a few states require this).

Most states consider a couple to be married when the ceremony ends. Lack of subsequent sexual relations does not automatically affect the validity of the marriage, although in some states non-consummation could be a basis for having the marriage annulled.

12. A marriage performed in another jurisdiction -- even overseas -- is usually valid in any state as long as the marriage was legal in the jurisdiction where it occurred.

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