Michigan Court Enforces Muslim Mahr Agreement in Divorce Case
The separation of church and state is a principle that dates back to the early days of the United States and is often mistakenly believed to be part of the First Amendment of the Constitution. The concept stands for the proposition that government should not be intertwined with religion by putting its stamp of approval on or interfering with matters of faith. As a recent Michigan divorce case shows, courts may enforce an agreement entered into by a couple that married in a religious ceremony that shaped some of the terms and financial conditions of their relationship.
The Michigan Court of Appeals recently ruled to enforce a Mahr agreement that a Muslim couple entered before they married. The pact, commonly negotiated in the course of an arranged marriage, required the husband to pay his wife $51,000 in exchange for her hand in marriage. The court rejected the claim that it was being asked to enforce Sharia law, a religious law that’s shaped from the Muslim faith.
“Despite defendant’s argument that the contract was a ceremonial document governed only by Sharia law and not by the civil law of any state, we also stress that we are not interpreting or applying the contract between the parties under Sharia law, but are applying Michigan law to the review of the parties’ contract and the judgment of divorce entered by the trial court,” the court said.
The situation started when the groom approached the father of the bride, asking him for permission to marry the man’s daughter. The father said he would agree to the union if the groom paid the bride $51,000, a pact often referred to by Muslims as a mahr. The groom agreed and one year later married the bride. A marriage certificate signed on the wedding day stated that the groom agreed to pay the mahr as part of the union.
The appeals court said a trial judge was correct when he ruled that the payment was required as part of the marriage certificate agreement bride and groom signed. That agreement was an enforceable contract under Michigan law even if it included a mahr, the court said.
“In this case, neither the trial court nor this Court is required to resolve ecclesiastical questions,” the court said. “The trial court did not claim any power to grant the parties a divorce under Islamic law, but only the power to grant the parties a civil divorce under Michigan law.”
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