Following the Channel 4 Documentary The Truth About Muslim Marriage, there has been a raised awareness over the issue of many Muslim marriages in the UK failing to be recognised under British law.
A lot of Muslim marriages in the UK are Nikah only, meaning the couple have only had the spiritual ceremony and their marriage is only recognised in the eyes of Islam; not the law. This is leaving many Muslim women in tough situations if they choose to divorce their husband as under British law, they are only seen as cohabitees – not husband and wife.
“”Muslim women do not feel able to ask for a legally binding ceremony, or even a divorce, from their husband.”
Melanie Webb is a family law solicitor who has had experience in dealing with Islamic marriages in Sharia Law and the impact it can have on women in the UK. She said, “If the Muslim couple had the Islamic Marriage in this country, this is not legally binding and is therefore a huge concern for women.
“Sharia Law does not offer the same rights and status to a wife as it does to a husband. In Sharia Law, a husband has more rights over marital assets including property, investments, pensions etc, not to mention that the husband has more rights than the wife in respect of the care for their children.”
In the UK, if a husband and wife are going through a divorce both the man and woman are treated equally in regard to their finances, children and so on; most judges will try to split the couple’s assets 50/50.
According to the research conducted by those on the Channel 4 documentary, 60.1% of the 923 Muslim women questioned did not have a civil ceremony as well as a Nikah ceremony meaning 3 out of 5 of those women are not married in the eyes of the law. 28.2% did not know they were not legally married.
Zamzam Ibrahim, a 23-year-old muslim and President of the Student’s Union for Salford University said, “Because it is currently not mandatory in the UK for Muslim couples to have a civil service, people don’t do it. Some will feel that because their marriage is recognised in the eyes of God, it doesn’t matter if it is recognised by the Government as well.
“I think it’s incredibly important for women to make sure they’re protected and to look after themselves – by not having a civil service as well, women are putting themselves at risk.”
60.1% of 923 married Muslim women asked did not have a civil ceremony
In Melanie’s experience, she has found many Muslim women do not feel able to ask for a legally binding ceremony, or even a divorce, from their husband due to the fear of the repercussions from the local community. 78% of those surveyed by Channel 4 researchers said they want their marriages to be legally recognised.
For any Muslim women looking to get a divorce from a marriage that is not recognised by British Law, Melanie advised to seek help from a family law specialist. She said, “By speaking to a specialist they can establish whether they have any rights under property law, for example, that may be explored. We would also suggest that they seek advice from the Sharia Council who can also offer advice and potentially practical support in respect of the breakdown of the relationship.”