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

Associate Leesa Longden-Thurgood comments on the recent Channel 4 documentary which have highlighted the problem that 61% of women who have had a traditional Muslim wedding ceremony, called a nikah, have not also had a separate civil ceremony to make their marriage legal under British law. Leesa says: “the traditional Muslim marriage ceremony is not legally recognised as a marriage ceremony in England and Wales depriving women of their rights and protections. Muslim women should be made aware of how they can get rights through an additional civil ceremony”.

Specialist in Islamic law, Aina Khan, told the Guardian that from her professional experience the last five years the proportion of people under 40 having nikah only marriages is as high as 80%. According to Channel 4's survey, nearly all married Muslim women have a nikah, but 61% had not gone through a civil ceremony making 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 divorce or a division of assets such as the family home and spouse’s pension. The only remedy is to go to a civil court to prove the financial contribution to the family home, a process that is more complicated, lengthy and costly than an application to the family courts. In contrast, the husband can easily enact the "triple talaq" or instant divorce. This may be carried out by telephone or even on social media.

Director of the Channel 4 documentary, Anna Hall, said that recent research into British Muslim women's attitudes towards their legal rights in marriage contributed to some “interesting and valuable insight to help form debate” on whether British marriage laws should be reviewed and updated. Leesa adds: “the ease of terminating a nikah marriage, alongside a visible trend where marriage has become easy and divorce has lost stigma, reflect the need  for an update of Britain’s marriage laws”.

If you require advice on any family matter, please contact Leesa on (023) 9282 0747.

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