Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas
Question: 1. Does the person conducting the ceremony have to be an “imam”?
2. Is a guardian (wali) essential for the bride?
3. Are two male witnesses essential?
4. Must the dowry (mahr) be discussed?
5. Must both bride and groom be Muslim?
6. Is the nikah a civil contract or a religious one?
Answer: assalamu `alaykum
1. No. There is no requirement for there to be an imam figure when it comes to the marriage ceremony. The basic elements of the nikah are: (a) the two parties (or their appointed representatives), (b) the witnesses, and (c) the actual offer and acceptance.
However, it is good to have a religious figure overseeing the process to ensure everything is conducted soundly.
2. According to the Hanafi school, a guardian is not necessary for the validity of the marriage contract. Yet, one may be engaging in sinful behavior if parental guardians are excluded for unjustifiable reasons. For more details see:
3. Two male witnesses are a requirement or one male and two females.
4. The dowry should be discussed and agreed upon between the two spouses. However, if it is not, the marriage contract will be still valid, and, a specific dowry would still be due.
5. A Muslim man may marry a woman from the People of the Book. A Muslim women is only permitted to marry a Muslim man. Please see:
6. A nikah is primarily a religious ceremony, meaning the involvement of civil authority is not a necessary component for a valid nikah. However, a state or civil authority may get involved in regulating certain aspects of marriage. In this case, even though a nikah would remain a religious ceremony, it would also take on aspects of a civil contract.
[sources: al-Mawsili, al-Ikhtiyar; Ibn `Abidin, Hashiya]
Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani