Over half of Muslim marriages in the U.K. are not legally binding reveals The Truth About Muslim Marriage, a documentary by Britain’s Channel 4. A survey of 923 women shows that 61% of Muslim marriages have been conducted according to Sharia marriage rites, but have not been ratified by a legal civil ceremony, leaving the women with no legal rights and no recourse in family courts.
The Register Our Marriage campaign further states that 90% of mosques do not register their marriages under British civil law and estimates that 80% Muslims in the country do not have legally recognized marriages.
Over a third of women admitted that they were pressured into the arrangement against their will while 28% were unaware that their marriage wasn’t legal. At least 10% of these marriages are known to be polygamous, a practice which is permitted in Islam, but illegal in Britain and most non-Muslim countries. While some Muslim women enter polygamous marriages willingly or under the pressure of their families, others are taken by surprise.
LEFT WITHOUT RIGHTS
Habiba Jaan was left homeless and poverty-stricken after leaving a polygamous nikah marriage. Rukhsana Noor also appears on the documentary after getting married in a Sharia nikah ceremony only to find out later that her husband already had a wife of 13 years. With no legal recognition of her marriage, Rukhsana was left unable to seek the help of family courts upon getting divorced. Unable to claim any ownership of the family house, she was instead forced to take the matter to civil courts, costing her £100,000 (US$ 133,000) and five years.
There would only be an Islamic divorce because we were not legally married, so we’re seen as cohabitees. It’s not a divorce settlement, you’re fighting for your share of the property,” says Noor, ‘That’s when I had a wakeup call. Silly me, went to university, been brought up in the UK, and I believed it.’
78% of women surveyed said they would prefer to have an additional civil ceremony, though only a third said they actually planned to do so, indicating family and community pressure. But by far the most disturbing trend in British Muslim marriages is the increase of child marriages which are also permissible under Sharia law, a matter further explored in the Real Stories documentary Forced to Marry.
A CHANGE OF LAW?
Channel 4 documentary director Anna Hall suggests that the situation merits a change in British law:
This is the first time anyone has done this type of in-depth research into British Muslim women’s attitudes and experiences of religious marriages which has produced some really interesting and valuable new insights to help inform debate whether our unreformed marriage laws need updating to reflect the country as it is today, rather than as it was two hundred years ago.
Britain’s basic marriage laws are centuries old and changes have been made over the years to meet modern demands; the most recent significant change being the 2013 Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 which legalized gay marriage.
However, Ms. Hall’s suggestion is not as innocent a statement as it may at first seem. A change in the law would be a move to either legalize polygamy within the U.K. or more worryingly, to legally recognize Sharia law in British society. Even if a change in the law began by recognizing Sharia wedding ceremonies as legal, it would set a dangerous precedent that could be used by Islamic activists to push for further concessions toward legitimizing full Sharia law in Britain and other Non-Muslim countries.
Even if Sharia marriages were made legal in the U.K., it seems unlikely that this would improve the lot of Muslim women. Sharia divorce laws heavily favor the husband, who has only to tell his wife “I divorce you,” three times in order to end the marriage in a talaq procedure, a right not afforded to the wife who can only initiate a divorce by petitioning her local Sharia council who must approve the application (khul’a). Neither do Sharia divorces distribute assets evenly, but each party keeps their own individual property, often leaving divorced women destitute after sacrificing their own jobs during the marriage to raise the family children.
Rather than a change in the law, which would only legitimize the inequalities of Sharia, a better solution would be (as it always is) to educate women. If women in the Muslim community were educated about their legal rights and responsibilities, this problem would simply go away.
It seems strange that despite the government’s awareness of the situation, not a single politician has stepped forward to even begin a debate on this.
Editor ~ To find out more about this topic, check out this Liberty Nation TV interview with author Laura Volkavic.