Malaysian couple opts for Skype wedding amid COVID-19 curbs

Amir Yusof

SERI KEMBANGAN, SELANGOR (CNA) – It was one of the biggest days of her life and Siti Jaslin Johari was dressed in her best – a tan-coloured hijab and cream baju kurung.

She was sitting beside her father on the sofa in their living room, facing the television. On its screen was a live feed of her fiance, Muhammad Ameer Ashraf, reciting his marriage vows.

As he uttered the promise to take care of her in fulfilling his duty as a loving husband, tears fell down Siti Jaslin’s cheek and she used her sleeve to wipe them off quickly. Her father noticed and kissed her forehead lovingly.

Siti Jaslin and Muhammad Ameer, both 25, had been close friends for seven years, and now they were finally getting married.

“I was not sad that I had to get married online. I was happy and grateful because we were finally Halal as husband and wife,” said Siti Jaslin in a phone interview with CNA.

“Among my five siblings and I, I am the first to get married and I was honoured to have my dad alongside me,” she added.

Following the cancellation of their wedding reception due to COVID-19 movement restrictions, Siti Jaslin Johari and Muhammad Ameer Ashraf (on the television screen) found a way to get married through an online solemnisation ceremony. PHOTO: CNA

Of course, getting married online was not their Plan A.

Siti Jaslin, a marketing major at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia and Muhammad Ameer, an electrical engineering undergraduate at Universiti Tenaga Nasional, had planned on having the ceremony on a dias in a big hall, witnessed in person by all their family and friends.

However, because of the movement control order (MCO) imposed by the Malaysian government to curb the spread of COVID-19, the pair had to get married in their respective homes and could not even hug or put wedding rings on each other’s fingers.

But for Siti Jaslin, an online solemnisation ceremony was “more than sufficient”.

“We didn’t want to delay getting married anymore. We were offered the chance to do the nikah ceremony online, so we jumped on it,” she said.

The pair decided to hold the ceremony after the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) announced on April 20 that solemnisation ceremonies could be done via video conferencing, provided both the bride and groom had submitted their required documents for approval.

WEDDING RECEPTION CANCELLED DUE TO MCO

Siti Jaslin and Muhammad Ameer had initially planned a wedding reception for April 4, as the date 4/4/2020 was memorable.

However, as the virus continued to spread across the country in late March and early April, the basic tenets for hosting a wedding became dangerous and eventually illegal under the MCO. A large gathering of people, including elderly relatives, felt less like a celebration and more like a reckless move, so the couple decided to postpone the wedding indefinitely.

However, when JAIS permitted online solemnisation, they thought a good opportunity had come their way.

“We had already completed all the required procedures by JAIS to get married, which included attending a wedding preparation course and doing an HIV test. And our form (approval from JAIS) also has an expiry date, so we decided that it was best to just do the ceremony online,” said Siti Jaslin.

She and Muhammad Ameer contacted JAIS and their request to hold the ceremony on April 22 was accepted.

Following protocol by JAIS, the two families had to install the video conferencing app Skype and conduct a rehearsal 24 hours before the scheduled ceremony to check if the network connectivity was fine.

On the actual day, only a handful of people were required to be present on the Skype video feed.

For the bride’s family, Siti Jaslin, her father, who is her legal guardian, and two witnesses were required to be present. Meanwhile for the groom’s family, only Muhammad Ameer needed to be in front of the camera. The rest of their family members at home remained in the background.

A third party consisting of a marriage official employed by JAIS to lead proceedings was also digitally present.

Siti Jaslin streamed her wedding video on Facebook Live so that their loved ones could tune in and post congratulatory messages in the comment section.

SELANGOR AND FEDERAL TERRITORIES PERMIT ONLINE MUSLIM WEDDINGS

The newlyweds, who co-own a modern fashion online store, also posted on their business’ Twitter page to show how their wedding ceremony was conducted.

The Twitter thread garnered more than 79,000 likes and 35,000 retweets, with many people congratulating the couple and expressing interest in how they did it.

However, some critics were skeptical of the legitimacy of the ceremony. This is because in Islamic tradition, the groom, the bride, her legal guardian and two witnesses need to be physically present for the marriage to be recognised as legal.

So far, only Selangor and the federal territories allow online Muslim weddings, but not the other states. As of last Monday, JAIS has approved 13 out of the 364 applications received, according to Selangor government’s official media SelangorKini.

Neighbouring country Singapore, where residents’ movements are restricted by circuit breaker measures, is set to introduce a Bill that could soon allow marriages to be solemnised remotely using technology from as early as mid-May.

When asked about the skepticism on the legitimacy of her wedding, Siti Jaslin said she and her husband read the negative comments, but they do not pay much attention to them.

“We are confident it is a legitimate marriage because it was approved by the state’s religious authority. My father also consulted a few religious leaders and they all said it was allowed if we followed protocol by JAIS,” she said.

On Friday (May 1), Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced that Malaysia is set to open most economic sectors from Monday, allowing restaurants and offices to operate again.

Even though the government is starting to ease some of the COVID-19 restrictions, Siti Jaslin and Muhammad Ameer’s plan to eventually host a wedding reception is still on hold as large gatherings are still not permitted.

Siti Jaslin said that they are still determined to have the reception in the future as the couple had already paid deposit fees for a photographer and a make-up artist.

However, she was prepared to accept that the event might not happen this year.

“JAIS said there might not be any mass gatherings allowed for six months up to a year after MCO, so we are mentally prepared for that,” said Siti Jaslin.

“We want to share the joy with our loved ones too, but now we just have to be patient and wait for when the authorities say it is fine,” she added.

For now, Siti Jaslin is looking forward to Monday so that she can meet her husband. Before that, she cannot do so legally because they are each living in separate households.