Everything you need to know about marriage in Mauritania

6 Jul 2023·19 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in Mauritania 01

Mauritania is a sovereign country in northwest Africa, officially known as the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. The country is quite popular for its mountains and mineral resources. There are different types of marriages performed every year in Mauritania by Mauritanian nationals and other foreigners. In Mauritania, the act of marriage is governed by civil and sharia laws. The state religion is Islam, and the country boasts of being the most Islamic nation in Africa. Religion is held to a high level of importance, and marriage can either be performed under one’s religion's beliefs or in a civil ceremony. Generally, both types are recognized under the laws of the country; however, the majority of religious marriages are performed by Muslims. 

The number of Christians living in the country is quite small; hence, Christian marriages are not so popular in Mauritania. The legal marriage age in the country is 18 years for both male and female spouses, whether they are foreigners or Mauritanians. With parental or legal guardian’s consent, a spouse aged 16 or 17 may be allowed to marry. Mauritania has one of the highest rates of child marriages in the world. Over 37 percent of the total marriages performed in the country are entered by spouses below the age of 18. Statistics put the percentage of spouses married before the age of 15 at 18 percent. This is quite high and alarming compared to other countries.

Child marriages are driven by poverty and gender inequality. Female children are often seen as being lesser than male children, and in many cases, they are uneducated. About 43 percent of all women in Mauritania with no education were married off as children, and only 22 percent completed a secondary school education. The Muslim organization in the country has also frowned upon child marriages, and efforts have been made to prevent these types of marriages from happening in the country. Continue reading to find out more about marriages in Mauritania, as well as their customs and traditions. Let’s get started.

Civil marriages 

Civil marriages in Mauritania must be performed in accordance with the civil codes laid out by the marriage laws of the country. This type of marriage is performed by an authorized civil registrar, and it takes place in the registrar's office. Spouses who want to get married in Mauritania are required to present a declaration of marriage at the local office where the marriage documents are produced. The declaration must be submitted by both spouses, stating their marriage intentions. After the declaration is submitted, the registrar makes an official publication of the notice of marriage. This is often announced to the public in the local newspaper or on the notice board at the registrar's office. 

The notice of marriage is left for a certain period of time, which will be decided by the marriage officer. The marriage will only proceed if anyone or anything does not spring up to prevent it from happening. The civil registry used by spouses must be the local one where either or both of them reside. Spouses may be provided with the option of performing their marriage registration faster by skipping the waiting period; however, this often attracts higher fees. If the partners are in a foreign country, they may also perform a civil marriage in the embassy or consulate of Mauritania in that country. 

Getting married in Mauritania involves the submission of different documents by the bride and groom. The civil registrar must ensure the marriage conditions are met by the spouses before proceeding to register the marriage. Regardless of the age of both spouses, marriage must be performed with the full consent and free will of the partners. Forced marriages are illegal in Mauritania, and if this type of marriage is performed in the country, it will be rendered invalid. Partners who are related to each other are not allowed to marry. This includes those related by blood or adoption and other close relatives. Child marriages are rampant in the country, and there have been various efforts and amendments to prevent the number of child marriages. 

Therefore, before the marriage is performed, both spouses will be required to submit valid documents showing their ages. They must have reached the age of 18, as spouses below this age will not be able to contract a legal marriage unless parental or legal guardian consent is provided. The civil laws in the country work hand in hand with the sharia laws. All marriages need to be registered in Mauritania for them to be legally binding and recognized in the country. The documents required are listed below.

Documents Required 

  • National ID card or valid passport
  • Divorce or death certificate. Previously married spouses must submit either of these certificates during marriage registration.
  • Both partners are required to provide two valid witnesses who have reached the legal age in the country and are not related to their spouses.
  • Deed Poll. This applies to partners who changed their names prior to the marriage application and registration.
  • Copies of birth certificates may be requested from the spouses.
  • Proof of address This must be submitted by a foreign spouse who wishes to get married in Mauritania. All documents obtained from foreign countries must be translated into Arabic by an accredited translator before they are submitted for registration.

Religious marriages

Religious marriages are the most common types of marriages in Mauritania. This type of marriage is legal and recognized throughout the country. Mauritania is an Islamic state, and over 99 percent of the total population are Muslims. The country's religion is homogeneous, with the majority of Muslims belonging to the Sunni Muslim denomination. Christians in the country are very few, with only about 4,500 people in a population of over 4.4 million residents. Muslim marriages often involve various unique traditions that are celebrated over the course of the different ceremonies. Just like in most Muslim weddings, there may be multiple ceremonies, and the marriage process can last up to a week. The bride and groom's respective families may also hold separate parties that will be attended by the guests they have invited. In the Nikah ceremony, the bride and groom will sign the marriage contract with the witnesses provided. The contract states the duties and responsibilities of both partners in the marriage, and after it is signed, the imam may then proceed with the marriage and join the spouses together as husband and wife.

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Marriage traditions in Mauritania

Ijab-e-Qubool 

This is one of the most important parts of marriages in Mauritania. Here, the bride and groom are kept separate from each other. The officiating priest then asks both partners for their consent before the marriage becomes official. The couple must say "Qubool Hai" three times as a way of giving consent.

Dowry

The payment of dowry is an important tradition in Muslim marriages. Most times, the dowry required from the bride's family is livestock and other similar food items. In some cases, the family may request actual cash. Even today, dowry is still paid in many Mauritanian marriages.

Black bridal dress

In most other countries in the world, the wedding dress is white. Black is used to signify sadness or mourning. However, the reverse is the case in Mauritania. In the country, brides wear black dresses on their wedding day, and this is popularly performed in different parts of the country.

Same-sex marriages 

Same-sex marriages are illegal in Mauritania. There is no recognition of any form of union, partnership, or marriage between two people of the same sex. The status of homosexuality is also illegal for both partners, and practicing this act may result in capital punishment for men and imprisonment as well as the payment of fines for women.

Polygamous marriages 

Polygamy is legal in Mauritania. A man is allowed to marry multiple wives without any legal consequences. Polygamy is widely practiced across the country; however, polyandry is illegal. A woman is not allowed to have more than one husband at any given time.

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Marriage Laws and Rights Costs and Duties

Laws

The laws of marriage in the Islamic republic of Mauritania are established in the Islamic laws that rule the country. Sharia law dictates the requirements intending couples have to meet before marriage can take place. Under the Sharia law of marriage in the country, polygamy is legal; therefore, a man is allowed to marry more than one wife at once without any restrictions, provided he receives the permission of his current wife or wives before doing so. He must also be financially capable of contracting multiple marriages, and there must be equal treatment among the wives. The law states that before marriage can take place, the husband and wife must give their full and free consent to marriage. They must both be in a stable state of mind to give their consent to marriage. 

However, this same law states that the silence of the bride is her agreement to marriage, even if it is not in her interest; the husband, on the other hand, can make decisions on his own. The legal guardian of the bride, also known as the "wali," is responsible for giving consent on behalf of the bride. The legal age for marriage under civil laws is estimated to be around 18 years for both men and women; marriages between minors who are aged 16 are allowed if they have parental permission or a court's ruling. But under religious and customary laws, there is no fixed age for marriage; once the couples have reached the age of puberty, they are allowed to get married without asking for other requirements. The law does not recognize marriages between same-sex spouses because it is against the natural law. 

Foreigners are allowed to get married, but they must first accept to host the Oroboyvu celebration. According to the laws of marriage in the country, the couple must be eligible for marriage in their various countries. The husband and wife must have an adequate understanding of the concept of marriage before contracting marriage. The law does not permit the marriage between two close relatives; brothers, sisters, etc. are not permitted to marry one another. Two witnesses must be available at the time of marriage; they must also be of majority age. The law also states that marriage between a Muslim man and a Muslim woman is permitted; however, marriage between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man is prohibited, but a Muslim man is allowed to marry a non-Muslim woman.

Rights

The rights of the husband and wife in marriage in the Islamic republic of Mauritania are not equally divided. The couple does not have the same access to equal inheritance, divorce, and custody rights, legal guardianship rights, parental authority rights, etc. Under Inheritance Rights, the husband has the right to inherit his wife's property if she dies, but this does not apply to women, and when the husband does, the wife is frequently cheated out of her inheritance. 

According to the law, the husband and wife have the same right to procreate and decide on the number of children they wish to have. When it comes to divorce, husband and wife have unequal rights. While the husband can perform talaq, where he has the total right to divorce his wife without any reason and sometimes even in her absence, the wife, on the other hand, has to prove to the court beyond every reasonable doubt her reasons for filing for a divorce, which is oftentimes not granted. After divorce has been finalized, custody of the children is then transferred to the father, except in cases where the children are not yet of legal age. 

On the part of the groom, he can make as many decisions as he wishes. They both have the right to work and be paid for it, but if the husband believes his wife is not performing her duties properly, he has the authority to fire her. The right to perform one's role as the legal guardian of the children is granted to the father; the husband also has the right to exercise parental authority at all times.

Costs

The average cost of marriage in Mauritania largely depends on the financial ability of the husband and his family. For polygamy to be legal, the husband must have enough financial resources to be able to take care of the family. The average cost of marriage in the country is estimated at 2,000 Mauritania Ouguiya, and it can easily increase based on what the couple hope to achieve and the number of guests at the event. 

The cost of the couple's attire depends on whether it is bought, rented, or sewn. For couples who wish to cut back on costs, it is advisable to rent the wedding dress since it will not be needed in the future. The cost of catering, renting a wedding venue, and hotel accommodation all add up to the total cost of marriage in the country, alongside the payment of dowry and other minor fees paid during the ceremony.

Duties

The average Mauritania society places a lot of expectations on couples, from marriage expectations to marriage maintenance. According to the traditional roles in marriage, the husband and wife have a duty to one another. The husband has a duty to always provide maintenance for the wife throughout the duration of the marriage, and in return, the woman is required to obey her husband at all times and never question his authority. 

The woman carries on the bulk of the work in the home, such as maintaining the finances and resources and also ensuring that everyone is well taken care of, even guests. The wife has a duty to be hospitable and provide her husband with good counsel at all times. The husband has a duty to ensure that his wife is respected at all times; he must also ensure that the family is protected from any harm or disrespect to the family name. The husband and wife need to carry out their duties in order to ensure that the family is properly managed.

Final Thoughts

Mauritania is one of the largest countries in Africa; however, the population in the country is quite sparse. The desert country has vast expanses of pastoral land, and it is also one of the least visited countries in the whole world. This implies that not a lot of marriages are performed by foreigners in Mauritania.

The history of Mauritania is a major reason why it is rarely visited by foreigners. The Muslim country was the last country in the world to ban slavery. This act was banned in 1981, but it was not criminalized until 2007. Nevertheless, both foreigners and Mauritanian nationals are allowed to perform marriages in the country or at the Embassy of Mauritania in a foreign country. We hope this article has helped you understand everything you need to know about marriage in Mauritania.

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