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nikah marriage and divorce

(56 Posts)
BluebonicPlague Sat 15-Feb-20 00:49:18

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-51508974
The couple had an Islamic wedding ceremony in a west London restaurant in 1998 in the presence of an imam and about 150 guests, but no civil ceremony subsequently took place, despite Mrs Akhter repeatedly raising the issue.

They separated in 2016 and Mr Khan tried to block his wife's divorce petition two years ago on the basis they had not been legally married in the first place.

Am not Muslim so feel unqualified to comment much on this. But on first principles I wonder if
a) mostly, people assume nikah marriage is legal and protected under English law
b) mostly, people don't assume that and prefer to be governed by shariah law
c) people don't have a clue
d) actually some people do have a clue and don't care

Somehow, I suspect c) and d).
It's tragic if so. It means that some Muslim women are woefully unprotected when marriage breaks down. One solution might be to license imams to conduct marriage ceremonies, but that's not going to help people already stuck in damaging scenarios.
What should we be doing to improve matters?

ArranUpsideDown Sat 15-Feb-20 00:56:25

The One Law for All conference covered this last year with excellent contributions from a number of sources including Southall Black Sisters - SBS has issued this press release:

southallblacksisters.org.uk/press-releases/akhter-v-khan/

Purpleartichoke Sat 15-Feb-20 00:59:05

The only thing that should matter from the perspective of the state is the paperwork. Specific locations, officiants, etc is just window dressing. Sign a form in a government office and boom, you married. Then have whatever ceremony you want.

ErrolTheDragon Sat 15-Feb-20 01:55:28

* Sign a form in a government office and boom, you married. Then have whatever ceremony you want.*

That's what adherents of other religions do - and IME (though that's limited) in that order. Wouldn't the simplest solution (to prevent further cases) be for imams to insist on seeing the legal paperwork before allowing the religious ceremony? What possible justification could there be for them not doing this?

frazzledasarock Sat 15-Feb-20 02:10:40

IME

A lot of Muslim women aren’t aware their nikah isn’t a legal marriage in England. They only find out when things go wrong.

A lot of mosques are now licensed for legal marriage contracts.

The mosques which aren’t tell the couple this beforehand, I know of a mosque which won’t conduct nikahs unless the legal marriage has been conducted.

Some couples are aware that nikahs are not legally binding but prefer that if they don’t want a legal wedding immediately for whatever reason. Eg they want to live together and both have independent wealth and don’t want to lose it if things don’t work out.

I personally think the nikah officiant should make it crystal clear that the nikah is not legally binding (if the mosque isn’t authorised to conduct legal marriages), and inform both parties that in the event of a divorce or death the mosque can do nothing to settle financial disputes or inheritance matters.

I’ve seen a lot of women also assume that as they’ve been long term in a nikah that it’s considered common law marriage. I’ve had to tell so many women that’s not the case.

If a couple are happy to only have a nikah knowing full well in the event of a divorce one of them will end up with the same rights as a cohabiting couple. Then that’s up to them.

Goosefoot Sat 15-Feb-20 02:44:23

It's not all that uncommon for non-Muslims to make incorrect assumptions about their rights and status, and what will happen if there is a separation, if they have been living together long-term without being married. I think many people have some confusion about this.

SD1978 Sat 15-Feb-20 04:04:05

With this case specifically- she knew it wasn't legally binding, and repeatedly asked for documentation to make it legally binding, so no- I don't think it should have been treated the same as a recognised legal marriage. However- the issue this also brings up is that if the Muslim marriage ceremony is held first, the man has no obligation to sign the paperwork, is already married in the eyes of the people who's opinions matter to him, and can practise financial abuse and coercion for good as the wife has no legal grounding to having a fair share of assets as not married. It's a really tough one:

sashh Sat 15-Feb-20 05:25:17

It's even more complicated, if you have a Nikah in some other countries then it is a legal marriage in the UK.

A group of students were discussing this after a TV programme, one had got married in Pakistan and when the couple got back to the UK tried get paperwork and were told it is legally binding because it is in Pakistan.

The problem with paperwork is that a man can have more than one wife in a muslim wedding, you can't do that legally in the UK.

Abusive men will exploit the Nikah, the programme linked to above, a women had a Nikah and only when the relationship broke down did she find out that a) she wasn't married and b)her husband was legally married to another woman.

I know people who consider the religious bit to be the proper marriage, not just muslims. I worked with a woman who was only going to have the religious marriage but then she and husband to be found out they could get some tax back if they legally married. This was obviously a few years ago.

Maybe that would help? Not the old 'married man's allowance' but something for the couple just in the first year of the marriage. It would not need to be much.

KTJean Sat 15-Feb-20 07:13:42

SD1978 the fact that she repeatedly asked for the Nikah to be made legally binding and this did not happen shows that Muslim women are still at risk of inequality - her wishes were essentially ignored which leaves her financially vulnerable now because she does not have the protection of civil law marriage. So she had a Nikah assuming the civil ceremony would follow (and many women trust their husbands when they get married, add in community norms and pressures) and only once she had the Nikah did it become apparent this was not going to happen. To me this ignoring of her request and the legal need for civil marriage to protect her rights is part and parcel of financial abuse and coercive control - it is certainly not treating her as an equal and ensures she does not get the same settlement she would be entitled to in a civil divorce. That is financial abuse.

In other words, in this specific case, the woman has been and is being financially abused (and the point that her wishes were not respected early on shows this). So the specific case proves your general point.

BluebonicPlague Sat 15-Feb-20 07:17:16

Thanks for some helpful and insightful replies. I was particularly concerned about the possibility of a man deliberately resisting English legalisation and leaving his wife with nothing, as seems to be the case here. Common law wives have next to no rights in English law. Mrs Akhter has been very poorly served. I don't know the details and background to her case but on first principles it's outrageous that her marriage should be disregarded. It's particularly galling to learn that the exact same ceremony would be regarded as legal here if it had been conducted in some countries abroad.

I strongly recommend the Southall Black Sisters article that ArranUpsideDown recommended: southallblacksisters.org.uk/press-releases/akhter-v-khan/

IMO as a society we shouldn't be leaving women with no alternative to sharia courts. This potentially affects a lot of women and needs urgent attention.

Mockersisrightasusual Sat 15-Feb-20 07:23:12

We need to copy the French. You get legally married by filling in a form at the Registry Office, with no music and no ceremony. Then you can go off and arrange whatever you like, which has no legal status whatsoever.

SuperLoudPoppingAction Sat 15-Feb-20 07:26:57

I like the way it is in Scotland where it's the person who's licensed to perform a marriage ceremony.
There's lots less people up here with no civil marriage.
Also you can eg get married in a random castle or on a hill.

Another thing women don't know a lot about or don't feel confident to advocate for is terms within the nikah that give them protection.
It is quite flexible and can be tailored to the couple.
You can say that if you separate you want to be given financial provision for 6 months rent and 800 quid a month for expenses.
Or whatever you both agree on.

Women generally do seem to know about this in principle but worry the imam wouldn't agree or that their fiance wouldn't .

KTJean Sat 15-Feb-20 09:41:54

Superloud I understand what you mean, but the question is also how do we know there are fewer people (proportionately speaking as the population is smaller) with a Nikah and no civil marriage in Scotland, because the point is precisely that the Nikah is not registered. So there are no official statistics.

Mockersisrightasusual Sat 15-Feb-20 09:43:20

It's a variation of 'common-law marriage,' a zombie factoid that will not lie down.

KTJean Sat 15-Feb-20 09:43:26

Plus even if those terms were agreed in the Nikah that you suggest, they have no weight in the civil court so cannot be enforced in terms of the law.

frazzledasarock Sat 15-Feb-20 09:49:14

Actually been reminded. A friends wedding venue was changed by her fiancé at a very last minute point.

The new venue wasn’t licensed so their nikah wasn’t legally binding. And once the Nikah had been completed he was reluctant to have a civil marriage.

He turned out to be all sorts of abusive as well, I think personally she had a lucky escape as she fled the marriage and didn’t have to go to court however the man and his family kept her jewellery and refused to return it denying all knowledge of it. Essentially it’s her word against his family’s.

A few years down the line and a woman contacted friend to ask why they’d got divorced as she’d been approached with a proposal by this mans family!

frazzledasarock Sat 15-Feb-20 09:52:37

Agree Superloud, in England the nikah contract is not worth the paper it’s written on. So unless the mahr is paid up front, there’s no way the terms of the nikah will be honoured if the bloke turns out to be a dick.

And if he’s a good man the family will ensure the nikah is completed legally anyway. There’s the Islamic requirement of adhering to the law of the land. Which a lot of men who are not intending to treat their wives honourably tend to gloss over.

Aesopfable Sat 15-Feb-20 09:58:59

In many ways it is no different from cohabiting couples and ‘common law wives’. There are hundreds of thousands of non-Muslim women in the uk who live under the delusion that they have rights similar to married women to family property, next of kin etc. A friend on Facebook shared her daughters upcoming ‘marriage’ except they aren’t getting married; they are having a party and she is changing her name. I suspect she has no idea that she is leaving herself open especially if she gives up work to bring up kids.

ArriettyJones Sat 15-Feb-20 10:05:35

* The couple had an Islamic wedding ceremony in a west London restaurant in 1998 in the presence of an imam and about 150 guests, but no civil ceremony subsequently took place, despite Mrs Akhter repeatedly raising the issue.*

In many ways it’s analogous to a white British couple having an engagement party with friends and family in 1998 and buying a house, but never getting formally married, despite the female partner repeatedly raising the subject.

Some people will believe that Nikah or cohabitation confer rights under U.K. law, some will know they don’t but be trying to win round a reluctant or vague potential groom (“repeatedly raising the issue”). Some will be deafened by their biological clock. Some will believe assurances of “later/when we have more money/once we’ve bought a house/whatever”.

If the answer is legislation, one set of legislation could solve both problems.

dratalanta Sat 15-Feb-20 10:40:44

It should be a legal requirement that any ceremony describing itself as a marriage, nikah, wedding, civil partnership etc. but which will not result in a legal marriage / civil partnership must include a statement that "This ceremony does not mean you are married under the law. In law, you are two single people. If the relationship ends, you will have no rights in law to financial assistance from each other, and you will not be able to divorce in the courts. If your partner dies, you will have no automatic right to inherit" etc.etc.

Anyone "married" in a pseudo-wedding without this sort of statement should be able to sue the celebrant for the alimony / inheritance they would otherwise have received.

Redwinestillfine Sat 15-Feb-20 11:12:10

Hopefully this will highlight the issue but probably education in schools, via TV, through mosques would have the most impact. It should be part of the ceremony, as it is in the Catholic church.

totalnamechanger Sat 15-Feb-20 11:22:55

Thanks for this OP and to all contributions so far. This topic is of personal and professional interest. Personally it’s not of concern but with some of the people I’m in contact with professionally it could well be.

I hadn’t considered the vulnerability of a nikah - actually it could be more of a problem than the ‘common law’ relationship assumptions because in some families the nikah is what is seen to legitimise the union (cultural/ religious conformity) so there is little onus to go down the legal route. This means that the man can appear honourable -and won’t experience social pressure- but the woman still has no rights as a wife. That’s very interesting and encouraging that some mosques are putting measures in place to address this.

NonnyMouse1337 Wed 19-Feb-20 19:01:02

It should be a legal requirement that any ceremony describing itself as a marriage, nikah, wedding, civil partnership etc. but which will not result in a legal marriage / civil partnership must include a statement that "This ceremony does not mean you are married under the law. In law, you are two single people. If the relationship ends, you will have no rights in law to financial assistance from each other, and you will not be able to divorce in the courts. If your partner dies, you will have no automatic right to inherit" etc.etc.

I agree with this approach. It should be made very clear by whoever is conducting the ceremony.

There should also be an awareness campaign of posters and adverts that inform women from minority backgrounds or those who believe in the 'common law marriage' myth that they are very vulnerable if they don't pursue a legal marriage, and they need to be wary of any man who refuses to have one.

MarchDaffs Wed 19-Feb-20 21:29:44

I think that's a good idea. Actually banning religious only ceremonies would raise difficulties with freedom of religion, so an acceptable compromise would be having to tag a bit on.

Supersimkin2 Wed 19-Feb-20 23:03:07

It's identical to the common-law wife scenario, also used throughout the ages to con women into providing domestic services without payment, but better at deceiving women because there is a ceremony.

And today's relationship of choice, cohabitation - posters ask daily 'What Will I Get for Splitting' when they'll get 0 except bills and the children to bring up, house and feed.

I agree with the couple signing statements with content as @NonnyMouse1337 suggests. If only someone could make cohabitees sign one too.

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