The need for better reporting on Islam in Muslim lands

Reporters in lands where there is limited access to Islamic legal scholarship can be excused for not knowing basic points of Islamic law. The same cannot be said of reporters living in countries where Islam is the official religion and there is easy access to Islamic scholarship – especially when it comes to matters that are frequent, sensitive, and commonly known to Muslim laity.

Take, for example, the role of witnesses of marriage contracts.

It is commonly known amongst Muslim laity that a Muslim marriage contract requires the bride’s guardian and two witnesses. Evidence for requiring two witnesses comes from it being mentioned in numerous reports attributed to the Prophet ﷺ that “There is no marriage except with a guardian and two upright witnesses [shāhiday ʿadl]…” The textual evidence clearly differentiates between guardians and witnesses. Witnesses are there to observe the making of that contract to ensure that there’s a public record of the contract and to facilitate dispute resolution. Whether or not the witness approve of the details or particulars of the contract is not significant to the validity of the contract itself.

With this in mind, read the following paragraph from an English-language newspaper article from a city in the Middle East with easy access to English-speaking Islamic legal scholarship:

Under Sharia, a woman’s guardian – who could be her father, uncle or brother – and two witnesses must approve her marriage. When they refuse, women are increasingly turning to legal action.

While the mistake is evident to people who deal with Islamic law every day, it should still be very obvious to readers simply by knowing the meaning of the words and the concepts involved. (Hint: the two witnesses do not need to approve the marriage. They can disapprove and it is still valid.)

Islam, Islamic law, and laws pertaining to marriage are all sensitive issues. Public media in Muslim land need to do better when reporting on them.