Court of Appeal Decision that Islamic Faith Marriages Not Valid in English Law leaves 60% of Muslim Marriages in Jeopardy
In what has been regarded as a blow to thousands of Muslim women in the UK, the Court of Appeal has recently released a decision that an Islamic faith marriage, known as a nikah, does not fall within the scope of English matrimonial law.
The judgment overturned a previous High Court decision that parties who had undertaken a nikah, but later failed to follow this with a civil ceremony, would still have rights under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 following a breakdown of the parties’ relationship.
The case was later appealed by the Attorney General, whereby the Court of Appeal concluded that the previous decision “would gravely diminish the value of the system of registration of marriages upon which so much depends in a modern community”. The Court of Appeal went so far as to add that “It is not difficult for parties who want to be legally married to achieve that status.”
The facts of the case involved a couple, Nasreen Akhter and Mohammed Shabaz Khan, who had undergone a nikah marriage before 150 guests at a restaurant in London in 1998. It was Ms Akhter’s position that Mr Khan had repeatedly refused to enter into a civil marriage following their nikah, and that for the next 20 years they lived together as husband and wife, referring to each other as such.
When the parties’ relationship came to an end in 2018 and Ms Akhter petitioned Mr Khan for divorce, Mr Khan blocked her attempt on the basis that the couple had never been married under English law at all, and only under Islamic, or Sharia law.
Whilst the parties did come to an agreement as to the division of their matrimonial property following the original High Court ruling, the appealed judgement of the Court of Appeal gives a clear warning to the many thousands of Muslim women in the UK.
A survey in 2017 found that 61% of women in the UK who have had a traditional Muslim wedding ceremony have not followed through with a civil ceremony, thereby making their marriage legal under English law.
It is vital that a nikah is followed through with a civil ceremony, therefore solidifying the marriage under English law. Without such, parties who go on to separate will find that their options for dealing with their finances will be limited to Sharia courts only, where the law is heavily in favour of husbands.
If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in our article above, please don’t hesitate to contact the team at Maguire Family Law so we can look to assist you in any way possible.