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UK: Most women in UK who have Islamic wedding miss out on legal rights

Tuesday 21 November 2017, by siawi3

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/20/women-uk-islamic-wedding-legal-rights-civil-ceremony-marriage

Most women in UK who have Islamic wedding miss out on legal rights

Poll for Channel 4 documentary finds 61% have not had separate civil ceremony to make marriage legal under British law

If the marriage breaks down, women who have only had a nikah marriage are unable to go to the family court to seek a division of assets. Photograph: Sanjeev Gupta/EPA

Harriet Sherwood
Religion correspondent

Monday 20 November 2017 15.15 GMT
Last modified on Monday 20 November 2017 18.27 GMT

Six in 10 women in the UK who have had a traditional Muslim wedding ceremony are not in legally recognised marriages, depriving them of rights and protection, according to a survey.

It found that nearly all married Muslim women have had a nikah, a religious marriage ceremony, but 61% had not gone through a separate civil ceremony which would make the marriage legal under UK law.

If the marriage breaks down, women who have only had a nikah are unable to go to the family court to seek a division of assets, such as the family home and spouse’s pension.

The survey was carried out for a Channel 4 documentary, The Truth About Muslim Marriage, to be broadcast on Tuesday. Female Muslim researchers questioned 923 women in 14 cities in Britain.

They found that more than three-quarters of respondents wanted their marriage to be legally recognised under British law.

One of the consequences of Nikah marriages is the ease with which husbands can enact the “triple talaq”, or instant divorce, even by phone or social media.

Rukshana Noor, an IT consultant, was unable to access the family court when her nikah-only marriage broke down, she told the programme. Judges in the family court take as their starting point a 50-50 division of assets.

Instead, Noor had to go to a civil court to prove her financial contribution to the purchase of the family’s home, a process that took five years and cost her more than £100,000.

A lawyer specialising in Islamic family law said the proportion of young Muslims opting for non-legal marriages has increased.

Aina Khan, a specialist in Islamic law, launched a campaign, Register Our Marriage, five years ago to make it compulsory for all marriages to be registered. According to the campaign, more than 100,000 people in the UK do not have legally recognised marriages, and more than 90% of mosques are not registering religious marriages under civil law.

Khan told the Guardian: “My experience of 25 years as a lawyer specialising in Islamic marriage and divorce is that this is not only a major problem but a growing problem. My anecdotal evidence suggests that in the last five years, the proportion of people under 40 having nikah-only marriages is as high as 80%.”

These were easier to terminate than legally registered marriages, she said, adding: “[And] here has been a dramatic lessening of the stigma of divorce. So marriage has become easy and divorce has become easy. It’s a disturbing trend in the young.”

Khan said she wanted the law on marriage to apply to everyone equally. “All faiths must be governed by the rule of law. We shouldn’t have to opt in to a system; the default position should be that all marriages must be registered.”

Bana Gora of the Bradford-based Muslim Women’s Council said the MWC received daily calls from women inquiring about their marriage rights. “Almost half of these calls are from women in unregistered marriages,” she said. “Bradford is projected to have the largest Muslim population in the country by 2030, a community which will be vulnerable to the downfalls of unregistered marriages, so it’s incredibly important for men and women in our community to know their rights.”

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, weddings do not have to take place in a registered venue, but an authorised celebrant – including imams – can conduct legal weddings anywhere.

The Channel 4 survey also found that just over one in 10 Muslim marriages in the UK were polygamous, and a third of women in such marriages had not agreed to it. Almost nine out of 10 respondents overall said they did want to be in a polygamous marriage.

Anna Hall, who directed the documentary, said the research into British Muslim women’s attitudes had “produced some really interesting and valuable new insights to help inform debate” on whether Britain’s marriage laws needed updating to reflect the country as it was today.

There are more than 3 million Muslims in the UK, approximately 5% of the total population.