Regarding a Nikah, the Jurists have stated that, in order for the Ijaab and Qabool (offer and acceptance) to be valid, it must be pronounced in the past tense or present tense.
My question is, how is it that many of the Nikahs conducted, the Ijaab is done in the form of a question e.g. Do you agree to marry so and so, do you accept to marry so and so, do you take so and so hands in marriage? Is this Ijaab valid?
Also, what exactly is the role of the Imam in conducting a Nikah? Does he initiate the Ijaab or the Ijaab is initiated by the bride or the groom?
بسم الله الرحـمن الرحيم
The Ijaab and Qabool are requirements for the validity of the Nikah. It is pronounced by the bride and groom or their representatives, in one Majlis (session), in the presence of witnesses.
In the Arabic language, there are three types of verbs used to indicate the tenses;
Maadi indicates past tense
Mudari’ indicates present and future tense
Amr is the imperative form which indicates future tense
The Jurists of Islam have stated that the Ijaab and Qabool must be pronounced using the past or present tense.
As for the imperative form of the verb, it is not actually Ijaab, rather it’s the authorisation of the second person by the first person to marry him or her e.g. Marry me (or marry me to your daughter) i.e. I authorise you to marry me to yourself (or to your daughter). Thereafter, all that is required from the second person (authorised person) is to say: I marry you or I marry you to my daughter or I have married you or have married you to my daughter. The nikah is now contracted and completed and there’s no need for the authorised person to say I accept or I have accepted.
The Mudari’ wording of the verb carries both a present and future tense meaning, the latter indicating a promise and willingness to marry rather than actually contracting a marriage. Thus, the nikah will not be contracted because of this possibility.
In the English language, the present tense has a specific wording and if used in Ijaab and Qabool, it will be valid eg. I marry you or I am marrying you or I give you my daughter’s hand in marriage (Ijaab), I accept or I accept your daughter’s hand in marriage (Qabool).
Thus, regarding your query, if the Ijaab and Qabool are in a questioning form, this merely indicates one’s willingness and desire to marry rather than actually contracting a Nikah e.g. Do you agree to marry so and so? and do you accept the marriage of so and so? For this reason, many of the jurists have stated that if the Ijaab and Qabool was done in a questioning form, even with the intent of the present tense, the nikah will not be contracted as a question (according to Arabic language) is not placed to indicate present tense.
Nevertheless, Al Haskafi (ra) mentions in his al-Durr al-Mukhtār, if the speaker, uses the mudari’ form of the verb (which is placed for both present and future tense) and intends the present tense and not the future, the ijaab will be valid. Ibn Abideen (ra), commenting in his Radd al-Muhtār ‘ala al-Durr al-Mukhtār states, similarly is the case, if the Ijaab was done in the majlis of a Nikah contract, in the form of a question, with the present tense intended. (i.e. it will be valid and consequently the nikah will be contracted) e.g. Do you accept so and so in marriage? 
Nb: This (initiating of the Ijaab with a question) will only be valid at the time of contracting a Nikah (majlis al ‘aqd). If done prior to that, it will be considered a khitbah (proposal) and not an Ijaab as it indicates one’s willingness and desire to marry (in the future).
We advise however, that one should ensure that the Ijaab and Qabool are done in the present or past tense as it accepted by all of the Jurists as opposed to it being in a questioning form (with the intent of present tense in the majlis al ‘aqd)
As for the second part of the question, it is customary for the Nikah to be conducted by the Imam who initiates the Ijaab. The jurists however, have stated that the Ijaab and Qabool should be pronounced by the bride and the groom or their representatives. The Imam is usually not a direct representative of the bride or the groom. Nevertheless, in a case where, the groom and wakeel of the bride are present, it can be said that the Imam is considered the representative of the bride as consent and authorisation would have been established from the Wakeel of the bride, even if it is done extrinsically, i.e. by way of indication (Dalaalatan). Thus, the Imam, being a representative of the bride, when he initiates the Ijaab it will be valid. . The groom then completes the Nikah contract by pronouncing his acceptance (Qabool).
However, as mentioned above, it is better for the Imam to initiate the Ijaab using the present tense rather than the customary questioning form eg; I give you Zainab the daughter of Zaid in marriage.
Nb: The Imam can still ask the groom; do you accept or do you accept Zainab in your marriage. This questioning is not part of the Ijaab. It’s a mere prompt to the groom as to what he should reply if he accepts the proposal/offer.
Also, in the customary nikah ceremony, the Imam after initiating the Ijaab, and the groom pronouncing the Qabool, he (Imam) further asks the bride’s representative if he accepts (as if he’s seeking Qabool), when in fact, there’s no need to do so, as the Nikah has already been contracted.
The Imam should ensure that he conducts the Nikah in the proper manner as outlined to us by the Jurists of Islam. If the Imam conducts the Nikah in the presence of the Groom and the wakeel of the bride, it can be done in the following ways;
Method of Nikah #1
The Imam should seek consent from the wakeel of the bride to be her representative. He (the Imam) will initiate the Ijaab (on behalf of the bride) by saying to the groom e.g.
I give you Zainab the daughter of Zaid in marriage
The groom will then pronounce the Qabool by responding;
I accept or I have accepted Zainab in marriage.
Method of Nikah #2
The Imam can do Talqeen and allow the groom and the representative of the bride to contract the Nikah. This can be done in the following manner;
The Imam tells the representative of the bride; say to the groom:
I give you my daughter, Zainab the daughter in marriage or I am giving you my daughter Zainab in marriage. Do you accept?
The representative of the bride then says to the Groom:
I give you my daughter, Zainab the daughter in marriage or I am giving you my daughter Zainab in marriage.Do you accept?
The Imam then tells the groom; say to the representative of the bride;
I accept or I have accepted you daughter Zainab in marriage.
Method of Nikah #3
Imam says to the groom; say to the representative of the bride; Give me your daughter; Zainab, in marriage or marry me to your daughter Zainab
Groom says to the representative of the bride:
Give me your daughter; Zainab, in marriage or marry me to your daughter Zainab
Imam then tells the representative of the bride, say to the groom;
I have accepted or I have given you my daughter Zainab in marriage
The representative of the bride says to the groom:
I have accepted or I have given you my daughter Zainab in marriage
In this method, while the imperative tense was used, it was not used to initiate the Ijaab. Rather, it was used to appoint the bride’s representative to be his representative also. In that case, one person became the representative of both the bride and groom which is permissible.
It is mustahab (recommended) for the Nikaḥ ceremony to be conducted in the masjid. The bride should appoint her Wali as her representative, who will marry her off to the groom. Hence, there’s no need for her to appear in the public domain, displaying her beauty and adornments in the presence of strange men.
Nikah in Islam is an act of worship and should be done in total conformity and adherence to the laws of the Shariah. Those conducting marriages should seek guidance from their local scholars to ensure that the marriages they conduct are valid. The closer a person’s Nikah is to the Sunnah of our beloved Nabi ﷺ , more the blessing, barakah and mercy of Allah is placed therein.
Mufti Kaleem Muhammad
Darul Iftaa, Marabella, Trinidad.
تحفة الفقهاء (2/ 30)
وَإِن كَانَ أَحدهمَا بِلَفْظ الِاسْتِفْهَام بِأَن قَالَ أتبيع مني هَذَا الشَّيْء فَقَالَ بِعْت وَنوى لَا ينْعَقد البيع لِأَن لفظ الِاسْتِفْهَام لَا يسْتَعْمل للْحَال إِذا أمكن الْعَمَل بِحَقِيقَة الِاسْتِفْهَام
بدائع الصنائع في ترتيب الشرائع (5/ 133)
وَلِهَذَا لَا يَنْعَقِدُ بِلَفْظِ الِاسْتِفْهَامِ لِكَوْنِ الِاسْتِفْهَامِ سُؤَالَ الْإِيجَابِ وَالْقَبُولِ لَا إيجَابًا وَقَبُولًا، كَذَا هَذَا وَهَذَا هُوَ الْقِيَاسُ فِي النِّكَاحِ
الدر المختار وحاشية ابن عابدين (رد المحتار) (3/ 11)
(قَوْلُهُ: إذَا لَمْ يَنْوِ الِاسْتِقْبَالَ) أَيْ الِاسْتِيعَادَ أَيْ طَلَبَ الْوَعْدِ وَهَذَا قَيْدٌ فِي الْأَخِيرِ فَقَطْ كَمَا فِي الْبَحْرِ وَغَيْرِهِ. وَعِبَارَةُ الْفَتْحِ لِمَا عَلِمْنَا أَنَّ الْمُلَاحَظَةَ مِنْ جِهَةِ الشَّرْعِ فِي ثُبُوتِ الِانْعِقَادِ وَلُزُومِ حُكْمِهِ جَانِبَ الرِّضَا عَدَّيْنَا حُكْمَهُ إلَى كُلِّ لَفْظٍ يُفِيدُ ذَلِكَ بِلَا احْتِمَالٍ مُسَاوٍ لِلطَّرَفِ الْآخَرِ فَقُلْنَا لَوْ قَالَ بِالْمُضَارِعِ ذِي الْهَمْزَةِ أَتَزَوَّجُك فَقَالَتْ زَوَّجْت نَفْسِي انْعَقَدَ وَفِي الْمَبْدُوءِ بِالتَّاءِ تُزَوِّجُنِي بِنْتَك فَقَالَ فَعَلْت عِنْدَ عَدَمِ قَصْدِ الِاسْتِيعَادِ؛ لِأَنَّهُ يَتَحَقَّقُ فِيهِ هَذَا الِاحْتِمَالُ بِخِلَافِ الْأَوَّلِ؛ لِأَنَّهُ لَا يَسْتَخْبِرُ نَفْسَهُ عَنْ الْوَعْدِ، وَإِذَا كَانَ كَذَلِكَ وَالنِّكَاحُ مِمَّا لَا يَجْرِي فِيهِ الْمُسَاوَمَةُ كَانَ لِلتَّحْقِيقِ فِي الْحَالِ فَانْعَقَدَ بِهِ لَا بِاعْتِبَارِ وَضْعِهِ لِلْإِنْشَاءِ، بَلْ بِاعْتِبَارِ اسْتِعْمَالِهِ فِي غَرَضِ تَحْقِيقِهِ، وَاسْتِفَادَةِ الرِّضَا مِنْهُ حَتَّى قُلْنَا: لَوْ صَرَّحَ بِالِاسْتِفْهَامِ اُعْتُبِرَ فَهْمُ الْحَالِ قَالَ فِي شَرْحِ الطَّحَاوِيِّ: لَوْ قَالَ هَلْ أَعْطَيْتنِيهَا فَقَالَ أَعْطَيْت إنْ كَانَ الْمَجْلِسُ لِلْوَعْدِ فَوَعْدٌ، وَإِنْ كَانَ لِلْعَقْدِ فَنِكَاحٌ. اهـ قَالَ الرَّحْمَتِيُّ: فَعَلِمْنَا أَنَّ الْعِبْرَةَ لِمَا يَظْهَرُ مِنْ كَلَامِهِمَا لَا لِنِيَّتِهِمَا، أَلَا تَرَى أَنَّهُ يَنْعَقِدُ مَعَ الْهَزْلِ وَالْهَازِلُ لَمْ يَنْوِ النِّكَاحَ، وَإِنَّمَا صَحَّتْ نِيَّةُ الِاسْتِقْبَالِ فِي الْمَبْدُوءِ بِالتَّاءِ لِأَنَّ تَقْدِيرَ حَرْفِ الِاسْتِفْهَامِ فِيهِ شَائِعٌ كَثِيرٌ فِي الْعَرَبِيَّةِ. اهـ. وَبِهِ عُلِمَ أَنَّ الْمَبْدُوءَ بِالْهَمْزَةِ كَمَا لَا يَصِحُّ فِيهِ الِاسْتِيعَادُ لَا يَصِحُّ فِيهِ الْوَعْدُ بِالتَّزَوُّجِ فِي الْمُسْتَقْبَلِ عِنْدَ قِيَامِ الْقَرِينَةِ عَلَى قَصْدِ التَّحْقِيقِ وَالرِّضَا كَمَا قُلْنَاهُ آنِفًا فَافْهَمْ
 اللباب في شرح الكتاب (2/ 145)
(فإن وكل بغير إذن موكله فعقد وكيله) أي الوكيل (بحضرته) أي الوكيل الأول (جاز) لانعقاده برأيه. (و) كذا (إن عقد بغير حضرته فأجازه الوكيل الأول جاز) أيضاً، لنفوذه برأيه
فتح القدير للكمال ابن الهمام (8/ 101)
فَإِنْ وَكَّلَ بِغَيْرِ إذْنِ مُوَكِّلِهِ فَعَقَدَ وَكِيلُهُ بِحَضْرَتِهِ جَازَ لِأَنَّ الْمَقْصُودَ حُضُورُ رَأْيِ الْأَوَّلِ وَقَدْ حَضَرَ
الفتاوى الهندية (1/ 298)
الْوَكِيلُ بِالتَّزْوِيجِ لَيْسَ لَهُ أَنْ يُوَكِّلَ غَيْرَهُ فَإِنْ فَعَلَ فَزَوَّجَ الثَّانِيَ بِحَضْرَةِ الْأَوَّلِ جَازَ، كَذَا فِي فَتَاوَى قَاضِي خَانْ فِي كِتَابِ الْوَكَالَةِ