What is Nikāh and is it a valid legal marriage in BC?

In Islam, a Nikāh is considered to be a contract between a husband and wife. A Nikāh can be oral or written, however confirmation of the agreement must be done in front of at least two adult male witnesses or one adult male witness and two women. Preferably, the Nikāh would be put in writing. A Nikāh alone is not equal to a legal marriage in BC.

Depending on the juristic school of thought, the requirements for Nikāh vary slightly; however, one requirement that is steadfast is that a Nikāh must be performed in the presence of:

  • The bride, or in the event that she is not present, her appointed representative;
  • The groom;
  • The Wali — A Wali is the male guardian of a Muslim woman. A Wali is the male member of a woman’s family who Islamic law entrusts with the responsibility to look after her financial and societal interests. The Wali is generally the bride’s father. If the bride’s father is not present, then the Wali can be any of the bride’s closest Mahārim (plural of Mahārim). A Mahārim is a close male relative to a woman, who Islamic law prohibits a woman from marrying, such as a paternal grandfather, brother, paternal uncle. If no one is available, the judge known as a Qādhi (or in a Western context, the Imam) will assume the role of a the Wali;
  • A Qadi, Imaam, or a marriage officiant – The person who officiates the wedding can be anyone but is often an Imam (a religious scholar) or a Qādhi.
  • If they are a revert and don’t have any male relative that is also a Muslim, any Muslim well known for his knowledge of the religion and his good morals will do, preferably an Imam.
  • Two Muslim men known for their good morals to act as witnesses — the requirements for being considered of good moral standing are stringent though, so many of religious scholars suggest having a congregation instead.


In order for a marriage to be valid in Islam and for the Nikāh to be valid, there must be a Mahr.  Mahr, which is considered to be a part of the Nikāh, is a stipulated amount of money or gift given to the bride by the groom at the time of the marriage contract.

Now, moving on to the aspects that are not strictly required for a marriage in Islam. Marriage, as a ceremony, is supposed to be simple in Islam. There is a hadith narrated by ‘Uqbah ibn ‘Amir: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The best marriage is one that is easiest.” [narrated by Al Tabarāni]

According to Islam, it is preferable not to change names after marriage but it is permissible to do so.

Under BC law, two people are “spouses” if they marry each other or live with each other in a “marriage-like” relationship for two years or more (or, for the purposes of spousal support, if they have a child together, even if they have lived together for less than two years). With a few exceptions, this will represent the majority of marriages in BC including an Islamic marriage.

Marriage Licenses

In the three months prior to their wedding date, a couple ought to buy a marriage license. Only one member of the couple is required to apply but most do so in person and present primary identification for both parties. At the time this article was written, marriage license fees amount to approximately $100.

Marriage Registration

At any wedding in BC, the couple, two witnesses and the officiant marrying them must sign the marriage license and registration of marriage after the ceremony has been performed. Within 48 hours of the wedding, the officiant submits the registration to the Vital Statistics Agency where the registration information becomes a permanent legal record.

Marriage Certificates

Every couple marrying in BC receives a marriage certificate by mail once the Vital Statistics Agency has registered their marriage. This usually occurs three weeks after the wedding.

Getting Married Abroad

Certain countries may require proof of freedom to marry. For couples planning to get married abroad in such countries, they can get a marriage search certificate for approximately $50.00 (note: this is the cost at the time this article was written).

Last Name after Marriage

After marriage, either one of the couple can choose to use:

  • The same last name as their new spouse;
  • The last name of a previous spouse by marriage; or
  • The last name that is on their birth certificate.


Pursuant to the Name Act, one can legally assume their spouse’s last name without applying for a legal change of name. When one legally assumes their spouse’s last name, they can return to the use of their previous name at any time.

If one decides to legally change their surname after marriage, the surname listed on their birth certificate would be changed to their new chosen name. If that person later decides that they wish to return to their previous surname, the would have to complete a second change of name.

Co-Authors: Mina Khan and Olivia Oszkiel, reviewed by Imam Momla Yahya and Ravina Sandhu

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