• David Hurn

Islamic Marriages Must Be Civilly Recognised By 2020

Concerned for the rights of Muslim women, The Council of Europe has decreed that all Islamic weddings must civilly declare their marriage before any Islamic religious wedding ceremony can take place.

Currently, Nikah only marriages, are not legally recognised under UK law, seriously limiting the power of Muslim women. Considerable levels of criticism have been lodged at ‘triple talaq’ divorces and sharia divorce councils for allowing Muslim men to easily obtain instant divorces and failing to consider the rights of women.

The 1949 marriage act ensures that all religious marriages are also legally considered civil marriages, which helps to protect all concerned for inheritance and divorce reasons as couples with civil marriages will go to family court to divide up the assets. Currently, this applies to both Christian and Jewish weddings in the UK but remains a law bypassed in the majority of Islamic wedding ceremonies.

A 2017 survey of 923 women across 14 British cities, by Channel 4, found that 61% of the married respondents had not gone through a separate civil ceremony, securing their legal rights, even though over 75% wanted this legal protection.

The Council of Europe, made up of 47 member states, used a Home Office report of 2018 which found that sharia councils, a council formed to solve the matrimonial problems of Muslims living in the UK, found widespread ‘discriminatory practices’.

This included inappropriate enquiries regarding personal relationships, forcing women to concede certain things in favour of their husband in order to obtain the divorce and receive limited rights concerning money and property once the divorce is granted.

The report also claimed that couples opting out of a civil marriage in addition to the religious ceremony is ‘high and increasing’.

The Council of Europe have set a deadline of June 2020 to amend the Marriage Act to fully enforce Islamic marriages to also register civilly.

A Home Office spokesperson commented: “Sharia law does not form any part of the law in England and Wales. Regardless of religious belief, we are all equal before the law. Where Sharia councils exist, they must abide by the law.

“Laws are in place to protect the rights of women and prevent discrimination, and we will work with the appropriate authorities to ensure these laws are being enforced fully and effectively.”

A Council of Europe spokesperson, said: “Although they are not considered part of the British legal system, Sharia councils attempt to provide a form of alternative dispute resolution.”

“Whereby members of the Muslim community, sometimes voluntarily, often under considerable social pressure, accept their religious jurisdiction mainly in marital and Islamic divorce issues, but also in matters relating to inheritance and Islamic commercial contracts.

“The assembly is concerned that the rulings of the Sharia councils clearly discriminate against women in divorce and inheritance cases.”

Will this legal obligation provide more power for Muslim women?

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