There is a growing number of young Muslims in the UK, especially those under 30 or in their early 30′s who are entering marriages that are not legally recognised in the UK. But “it’s very difficult to say how many people are affected because there are no statistics. It could be in the hundreds, if not thousands.” says Dr. Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, head of Britain’s Muslim Parliament.
For a Nikah wedding to be recognised in the UK, the marriage needs to have an accompanying civil ceremony. But many are just having a nikah marriage ceremony. The nikah ceremony, even though considered legal under sharia law, is not valid in the eyes of English law. The law generally considers these couples to be cohabitees. Therefore, they only have cohabitant rights, but these rights are very limited. This makes matters very complicated, expensive and challenging to walk away with a decision in either parties favour, and in most cases, it’s the Muslim woman who suffers as a consequence, especially when the relationship breaks down or if their spouse dies intestate (without leaving a will). If the spouse dies intestate, then under British Law, cohabiting couples do not have automatic rights of inheritance. A claim may be possible under the inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, but again, these rights are limited.
However, if your nikah ceremony took place overseas in a jurisdiction where the law recognises a nikah marriage ceremony as valid, then your marriage will be valid under the Law here in the UK according to Haista Gohr, head of the UK Muslim Women’s Network.
Some muslimahs only come to the realisation of this reality when asked to produce a UK marriage certificate. Such was the case of a student from Birmingham who learned her nikah was legally invalid when she enrolled at a university and was asked to produce a marriage certificate. ”It was then I realised I didn’t have one and it came as a big shock to me,” In an interview with the BBC, Shaheeda Khan whose name had been changed to protect her identity, said she had asked her husband to register their marriage, but he was against the idea. Then, a few months later, she came home and found that the locks to her front door had been changed and that she had been thrown out of her home:
“I took legal action but I got nothing. I’d paid the mortgage on the house but my husband held legal title to the property so I lost everything.
“It was as though the marriage had never happened. It was the worst time of my life.”
The problem, especially arises when there is a breakdown of the marriage, and in most cases, it’s the woman who ends up being treated unfairly because some of our men are not giving to the women what is rightfully theirs under Islamic Law and are not respecting the terms of their nikah marriage contract. And sad to say, in some cases, men are marrying several women only under a nikah marriage ceremony. Doing only a nikah allows them to have more than one wife under Islamic law without having to register the marriage in the UK, which means that each wife would have no spousal rights if the were a break down in the marriage. ”I know of cases where men have taken on several wives because they have just had the nikah with each partner, ” says Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui. Furthermore, some muslimahs have complained and are frustrated with religious leaders who have failed to grant them an Islamic divorce or have failed to try to help the couple resolve marital issues by offering support and advice. So, unfortunately, and quite sadly, Muslim women in such circumstances are forced to resort to the English courts to resolve many marital matters like issues of divorce, distribution of property and inheritance rights. But, again, many are not doing a nikah ceremony in addition to a civil ceremony!
There may also be emotional and financial investment, family feud or no help or support for a woman in such a situation. Such narratives are not isolated matters. British Muslim women like 28 year old student, Soraya from Birmingham, Aisha, Rhazia and Leila all have a story to tell of similar experiences.
I would personally advise any Muslim friend, male and female, but especially my female Muslim friends getting married or considering marriage here in the UK or any country where an Islamic marriage is not legally recognised to do both a nikah and a civil ceremony because firstly, it’s the law of the land to legally register your marriage and secondly, you are protecting yourself just in case your marriage goes sour and your spouse is unreasonable in his dealings with you hence forth. I do however, recognise that there are couples who have a really good understanding and have only done a nikah and have been married for many years – husbands are just in their dealings with their wives, but for others, their experience is not a happy one.