Photo: Marlyn Juliana and Anuar Halim had their nikah, or solemnisation, ceremony done via Skype amid Malaysia's movement control order during COVID-19. Photo courtesy Anuar Halim.

Islamic Lifestyle

Nikah by Skype: Coronavirus no match for love, or Malaysian religious authorities


KUALA LUMPUR - Anuar Halim was determined not to spend another Hari Raya alone, five years after his divorce.

The Malaysian business development executive had been expecting to tie the knot the month before Ramadan, and then celebrate Eid al Fitr as a married couple. Then, on March 18, an order restricting Malaysians to their homes was carried out days before his wedding to fellow divorcée Marlyn Juliana.

With deposits paid and celebrant booked, the couple was forced to put their marriage solemnisation ceremony on hold, perhaps missing Hari Raya altogether.

“I have been single for a long time now. But after a few relationships I finally got to meet someone I really like and weve dated for two years,” Anuar told Salaam Gateway.

“When we decided to get married, none of us knew that this situation was going to happen. It was a bummer for both of us that the wedding had to be called off.

“But we stayed positive, and kept telling ourselves that this was going to happen, no matter how,” he added.

The couple kept in regular touch with the state religious department for Selangor, JAIS, to work out their options and lobby officials.

After a month of lockdown spent wondering when they might eventually tie the knot, the couple heard from a friend that some couples were being allowed to celebrate their weddings online using live-streaming.

On April 20, the religious department announced it would begin authorising solemnisation ceremonies, or nikah, to take place over video conferencing, as long as the couples had completed the formal process that is required before a marriage can take place.

Announcing the measure through the Selangor state government portal, assistant director of JAIS’s family law division Nik Suhaila Nik Hussin, said: We have no problem running this session during Ramadan, as long as movement restrictions have not ended.

“However, we advise couples not to violate the movement order just to marry,” she said, adding that couples would be sent a PDF copy of their marriage certificate.

With 364 applications already received before the announcement, Malaysia’s first online wedding, between Mohd Syukor Misman and Fairina Jantan, took place immediately in the Sepang district of Selangor.

The first day was not a complete success, however, prompting Nik Suhaila to note that unreliable wifi had proved to be a challenge.

The third marriage had to be repeated many times due to telecommunications coverage problems before it could be successfully resolved.

"This is important because we need to make sure that the marriage process is in accordance with Islamic law," Nik Suhaila added.

“This initiative has been made available to couples who have fulfilled the application process. It is also based on their own request, as most couples have just chosen to postpone their weddings,” said Suhaimi bin Ahmad Wakid, the JAIS registrar of marriages, divorce and rujuk for the neighbouring Petaling district.

Suhaimi told Salaam Gateway that ceremonies take place over Skype, with a celebrant officiating and two officers from the local JAIS office serving as witnesses. Up to seven couples a day can celebrate their wedding in Selangor.

“Most people ask us if this format fulfils Shariah law. In simple terms, we adhere to the guidelines of the Selangor Fatwa Council for nikah. If the fatwa allows it, we will see it through,” he added.

The online nikah will only be available for couples during the lockdown, which extends to May 12 but was eased to allow offices and restaurants to open today.

According to Suhaimi, it could still be an option in some exceptional cases, such as when a marriage application has been approved but the groom is stranded abroad, or “couples who need to get married urgently”.

“We will consider the options based on each case as it’s presented,” he added.

Elated, Anuar visited JAIS’s offices at the Selangor government complex in Shah Alam.

“One of the officers took out a schedule and said there was a slot on April 28. I told them yes immediately. Id take whichever slot was available. We were given number six,” said Anuar.

When their turn came, Marlyn was joined on screen by her father and a wedding dress she had picked out before the lockdown was imposed. Anuar joined from his own home, accompanied by his brother, while the officials also had places on the screen. Seven were present at the ceremony, which lasted 20 minutes and was later shared on Facebook.

The new bride expects to organise a formal celebration after social restrictions are lifted. “When the government decides to lift the ban and people can start walking around again, we will definitely have a small makan-makan with close family and friends,” she said after joining her husband on the line to Salaam Gateway.

“Everyone has given us so much support, and they are so proud of us. The situation has not been very easy for us and theyve given us a lot of motivation.”

“Especially my dad,” interjected Anuar. “Hes a thrifty guy and I got two thumbs up from him because there was no money involved.”

“But seriously, we are going to be looking back on this as one of the most memorable experiences in a lifetime.”

(Reporting by Richard Whitehead; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim emmy.abdulalim@salaamgateway.com)

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Richard Whitehead