LONDON – A high court judge has ruled Wednesday, August 1, that Islamic marriage falls within the scope of English matrimonial law, a ruling that will impact positively on thousands of Muslims in the UK.
The ruling had “given heart to many who otherwise suffer discrimination,” Hazel Wright, a family law specialist at Hunters Solicitors, told The Guardian.
The case was filed by Nasreen Akhter who wanted to divorce Mohammed Shabaz Khan, her husband of 20 years.
Akhter, a solicitor, petitioned for divorce, saying the nikah constituted a valid marriage.
Khan, a businessman, wanted to prevent Akhtar from bringing a case for a divorce settlement to court and said they were married only under Shari`ah or Islamic law.
Justice Williams, who heard the case in the family division of the high court in London, concluded that the marriage fell within the scope of the 1973 Matrimonial Causes Act.
He said the marriage was void under section 11 of the act because it was “entered into in disregard of certain requirements as to the formation of marriage. It is, therefore, a void marriage and the wife is entitled to a decree of nullity.”
Previous cases involving nikah marriages have concluded that they were legally non-existent.
Wright said it was vital for Akhter that the “English divorce court rule in her favor, that the marriage should be recognized as void and not a non-marriage. Otherwise, she would not have any rights to make any financial claims for herself.”
An independent review of Shari`ah councils recommended this year that Muslim couples should undergo a civil marriage as well as a religious ceremony to give women protection under the law.
A survey last November found that nearly all married Muslim women in the UK had had a nikah and almost two-thirds had not had a separate civil ceremony.
Aina Khan, a specialist in Islamic law, said last year: “My experience of 25 years as a lawyer specializing in Islamic marriage and divorce is that this is not only a major problem but a growing problem. My anecdotal evidence suggests that in the last five years the proportion of people under 40 having nikah-only marriages is as high as 80%.”