• break-off engagement before marriage

    BREACH OF BETROTHAL: BREAK-OFF AN ENGAGEMENT A MONTH BEFORE MARRIAGE

    BREAK-OFF ENGAGEMENT QUESTION: Assalamu’alaikum Peguam Syarie Faiz Adnan. I am Nur from Bangsar Utama. I was engaged with my ex-fiancée in a proper engagement ceremony that was held at my parents’ house early March this year. Both of our families have set the date of our marriage ceremony to be held on 15th July 2018. To my utter dismay, in mid-June very recently, my ex-fiancée had phoned me to convey that he desperately had to cancel off our engagement.  I was caught by surprise to receive the terrible news as we were always in good terms ever since we got engaged. What angered me more and made me feel humiliated was to find out that my ex-fiancée had actually married his neighbour in Bukit Damansara early this month. I was so disappointed as my parents and I have spent a large sum of money on catering, wedding dress and shoes, door gifts, wedding cards and we have paid deposit for the wedding venue. I would like to inquire if there is a possibility for me to recover the expenses that we have spent as preparations for the wedding and if I could claim anything from my ex-fiancée due to humiliation and embarrassment that we have to bear in consequence of the cancellation of engagement? Thank you.

     

    ANSWER:

    • Wa’alaikumussalam. Thank you Puan Nur for the question. First and foremost, I would like to express my utmost sympathy towards the trial that had befallen you and your family due to the cancellation of engagement. As a believer of the Muslim creed, I believe that there is an underlying hikmah (wisdom) that is only known by Allah regarding the incident that had occurred to you and your family. Before I give some legal advice which hopefully would enlighten you on how to resolve this matter, it is best to firstly understand the concept of engagement in Islam before we delve into the legal repercussions and remedies of breach of betrothal (engagement) in the eyes of the Malaysian Islamic Family Law. 

     

    • According to the The Islamic Law of Personal Status written by Jamal J Nasir, betrothal or engagement in Islam can be defined as:

    The request by the man for the hand of a certain woman in marriage, and approach to her, or to her next of kin, with a view to describing his status, and to negotiating with them the subject of the contract and their respective demands in that connection.

    From this definition, betrothal can simply be understood as a proposal by a man for the woman’s hand in marriage either by asking her directly or through an intermediary. This proposal would be a good avenue for the man to explain and tell the family of his future wife regarding his status, financial standing and family background, among others. It is also a norm that both families would discuss in detail about the engagement contract such as the total or estimated amount of marriage expenses to be spent for the marriage ceremony, the date and place of the ceremony, etc. 

    • What most of us might not know and realise is that betrothal or engagement is not merely an adat (custom). It is also recognised and in fact encouraged under the Islamic law. There are authorities for betrothal in the Holy Qur’an and hadith of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. In Surah Al-Baqarah verse 135, Allah says:

    There is no blame on you if you make an offer of betrothal or hold it in your heart. Allah knows that you cherish them in your hearts.

    In an authentic hadith, the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. says:

    When one of you asks a woman in marriage, if he is able to look at what will induce him to marry her, he should do so. Jabir said I asked a girl in marriage. I used to look at her secretly, until I looked at what induced me to marry her. I therefore married her. (Saheeh Muslim) 

    • Having known the general concept of betrothal in Islam, we shall proceed in determining whether you have a right in law, to claim the wedding preparation expenditures and damages due to humiliation. A few issues can be summarised as follows:
      • Whether can claim the compensation for the wedding preparation expenses?
      • Whether can claim damages due to humiliation?

     

    WHETHER HUKUM SYARAK AND/OR THE ISLAMIC FAMILY LAW IN MALAYSIA ALLOW(S) THE   PAYMENT OF COMPENSATION DUE TO BREACH OF BETROTHAL?

    • The issue pertaining breach of betrothal is not foreign under the Islamic law. As betrothal is a species of contract or a covenant, verse pertaining to breach of covenant would apply. In the Qur’an, Allah says in Surah Al-Israa’ verse 34:

    وَاَوۡفُوۡا بِالۡعَهۡدِ​ۚ اِنَّ الۡعَهۡدَ كَانَ مَسۡـُٔوۡلًا‏

    And fulfil (every) covenant. Verily, the covenant, will be questioned about.

    • In another verse, Allah says in Surah Al-Ma’idah, verse 1:

    يٰۤـاَيُّهَا الَّذِيۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡۤا اَوۡفُوۡا بِالۡعُقُوۡدِ​

    O you who have believed, fulfil [all] contracts.

    • Whereas the hadith  of the Prophet which governs this matter is reported in Saheeh Muslim which says to the effect that:

    Muslims are bound by their promises and the conditions which they have agreed to.

    • On the other hand, the four major schools of thought (madhhahib) provide different stances regarding breach of betrothal. According to the Hanafi School, if the gifts are still intact and their characters remain unchanged, or have not been consumed nor destroyed, the giver can request for the return of the gifts, if the breach of engagement is committed by the other party. Meanwhile, the Maliki School is of the view that if the breach is committed by the man, he has no right to seek the return of the gifts given by him. In contrast, if the woman is the one in breach, the man would have the right to request for the return of the gifts regardless whether the gifts are still in existence or not. If the gifts have been damaged, the woman has to pay their values.

     

    • Our school of thought (Shafi’I School) opines that if there is a breach of betrothal, gifts should be returned whether they still exist or not. If the goods are still in existence, then the goods themselves should be returned. Nevertheless, if the goods have been consumed or used or lost, then the value of the gifts should be returned. 

     

    • From the above, we could observe that there is a juristic opinion which takes into account the gender of the defaulting party as a determining factor with regards to the liability in the case of breach of betrothal. Whereas, another juristic opinion views that the return of gifts/goods is only required if they are still intact. 

     

    • Moving on to the law and practice in Malaysia, since Puan Nur is from Bangsar Utama, which means within the province of the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, thus by virtue of Section 4 of the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territory) Act 1984 (thereafter shall be referred in short as “IFLA”) which states, “Save as is otherwise expressly provided, this Act shall apply to all Muslims living in the Federal Territory and to all Muslims resident in the Federal Territory who are living outside the Federal Territory the provisions under IFLA which govern betrothal-related matters would be applicable on Puan Nur.

     

    • Section 15 of the IFLA provides that:

    If any person has, either orally or in writing, and either personally or through an intermediary, entered into a betrothal in accordance with Hukum Syara’, and subsequently refuses without lawful reason to marry the other party, the other party being willing to marry, the party in default shall be liable to return the betrothal gifts, if any, or the value thereof and to pay whatever moneys have been expended in good faith by or for the other party in preparation for the marriage, and the same may be recovered by action in the Court.

    • Thus, from the above provision, the essential points that can be deduced are:
      • There must be an oral or written betrothal agreement or covenant
      • The agreement is entered into by the parties personally or through an intermediary
      • There is a breach of such an agreement by one party without lawful reason’
      • The defaulting party shall be liable to return the betrothal gifts if they are still in existent, if not, the value of the gifts must be compensated
      • The defaulting party must also pay whatever expenditures that have been spent in preparation for the marriage (that has to be tendered to Court)
      • Such gifts and expenses may be recovered by bringing an action in the Syariah Court

     

    • In the prominent case from the State of Kedah cited as Aishah v Jamaluddin (1978) 3 JH 104, the male party who had breached the engagement was ordered by the Court to pay compensation as agreed by the parties in the betrothal agreement which amounted to a sum of RM 24 for mas kahwin, RM 800 for marriage expenses, RM 25 for clothes, RM 400 for house repair in preparation for the wedding, and also the ring that was given by the man to the woman was allowed by the Court to be kept by the woman.

     

    • Based on the aforementioned case and provision from the statute, rest assured, after assessing the facts of your case that you have relayed, since the party in breach is your ex-fiancée, if you could prove to the Court that your ex-fiancée had broken off the engagement without lawful reason (“sebab yang sah”), you are likely would be able to recover the expenditures that you have spent in preparation for the marriage (provided that all the expenditures can be proved by way of receipts and/other documentary evidence).

     

    WHETHER CAN CLAIM DAMAGES DUE TO HUMILIATION

    • With regards to the above issue, the case of Salbiah Binti Othman lwn. Haji Ahmad Bin Abdul Ghani is relevant to be regarded as a reference. In this case, the Plaintiff, Puan Salbiah binti Othman and the Defendant, Tuan Haji Ahmad bin Abdul Ghani were engaged on 28th July 2001 and the date of marriage had been set and decided to be held on 31st August 2001. Unfortunately, the Defendant had breached the engagement through his representative on 17th August 2001. Due to the breach and the cancellation of the engagement, the Plaintiff had sought from the Court damages due to humiliation amounting to RM 200,000 and compensation for the expenses amounting to RM 9677.00.

     

    • In respect of the first claim, the honourable Court decided that such claim is not within the jurisdiction of the Syariah Court and the most suitable place for such a claim to be brought to, would be the Civil High Court (Civil Claim), as this matter is concerning general damages due to humiliation/embarrassment. 

     

    • Hence, referring to the above case, since a claim for damages due to humiliation is a tortuous claim that is clearly not within the jurisdiction of the Syariah Court, I would advise Puan Nur to bring that particular claim to the Civil High Court instead of to the Syariah Court, as the latter does not have the jurisdiction to try such a claim. 

     

    CONCLUSION

    • In conclusion, having studied the facts of your case, I believe that Puan Nur would be able to seek for compensation for all the expenses that have been incurred by yourself and your family in preparation for the marriage if you would be able to prove that your ex-fiancée had breached the engagement due to unlawful reason. The learned Judge would determine the exact costs to be borne by the defaulting party due to the breach of engagement. Nevertheless, as what have been explained in the foregoing paragraphs, the claim for damages due to humiliation is not a claim to be brought and sought before the Syariah Court. The alternative would be for Puan Nur to bring such a claim to the Civil High Court.  It is advisable for Puan Nur to consult and seek assistance of a Syarie lawyer as this issue involves complicated matters revolving around the law and hukum syarak which are best dealt by the expert in this respective field. Wallahu a’lam. Thank you.

    Article published for Peguam Syarie Faiz Adnan

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