I am filled with elation at the news that a shariah marriage has been recognised by British courts.
Nasreen Akhter wanted to divorce Mohammed Shabaz Khan, her husband of 20 years, but he blocked it, arguing that the couple were not married under English law and therefore no divorce was necessary.
20 years earlier, the couple had signed documents at a religious marriage ceremony called a nikah, conducted by a religious leader and attended by guests.
This year Akhter, who is a solicitor, petitioned for divorce, saying the nikah constituted a valid marriage. Her husband tried preventing the divorce, which would save him from a legal divorce settlement. He claimed they were only married under Islamic law, despite having lived together for 20 years and having what was a marriage ceremony. Both individuals classed themselves as married, til justice for a divorce was required.
This case means a lot more to many women in the UK than just an acknowledgement of a shariah law in a western court. This acknowledgement has given a woman back her legal rights, and as Hazel Wright, a family law specialist at Hunters Solicitors said, the ruling had “given heart to many who otherwise suffer discrimination”.
The Muslim marriage, the nikah, is a contract between man and wife, acknowledging marriage between two people, they are done in halls, restaurants or in the mosque, often in front of hundreds of witnesses who will congratulate them on their new partnership.
In the unfortunate circumstance that there are problems in the marriage, either individual is able to walk away, without any legal repercussions. You may be surprised about how easy it is for someone to become untraceable, and if you require legal help, you are not eligible because your marriage was not accepted by the law of the land.
A god send some may think, but it leaves others extremely vulnerable, open to exploitation and injustice. When you enter a marriage, you do not expect it to end in divorce, so thinking about what your legal rights are- should the circumstance arise- is probably the last thing on a newly wed’s mind, but I encourage everyone to take this seriously.
Imagine buying a house together, falling pregnant, leaving your job to care for your children and then your husband leaves you with no fear of repercussions. You have children to care for, nowhere to live and may find it difficult to get back into work. With no division of assets, the woman and children are usually left worse off.
Imams are chosen as the trusted individuals to marry two people, they should do more to educate young couples on the importance of legally registering a marriage.
Aina Khan has been working to spread this message to educate the faith community about their religious ceremonies. For more information visit https://www.registerourmarriage.org/
See the Channel 4 documentary :https://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-truth-about-muslim-marriage/on-demand/64545-001