Islamic faith marriages are not valid under English law, the country’s Court of Appeal has ruled, in a move that could see many Muslim women denied rights when it comes to divorce.
The judgment delivered at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Friday overturned an earlier High Court ruling that Islamic marriage – known as a ‘nikah’ – adhered to the core tenets of English matrimonial law. These are now legally “non-marriages,” the appeal court’s decision confirmed.
The landmark ruling could have widespread consequences for Muslim couples and in particular for women, as it now means women who married under Islamic law have no redress in the English courts over division of matrimonial assets such as the family home when divorcing.
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A survey carried out in 2017 for Channel 4 documentary ‘The Truth About Muslim Marriage’, found that almost all married Muslim women in the UK had an Islamic marriage – with nearly two-thirds not having a separate civil ceremony.
Charles Hale QC, of the family law firm 4PB, was highly critical of the judgment, claiming that many Muslim women “have absolutely no rights at the end of what they believe to be their ‘marriage’. No rights to assets in the husband’s sole name, and no rights to maintenance.”
Responding to the court decision, Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters, a women’s rights organization which has campaigned on the issue of Islamic marriages, suggested the judgment could force Muslim women “to turn to Sharia ‘courts’ that already cause significant harm to women and children for remedies because they are now locked out of the civil justice system.”
However, human rights lawyer Shoaib M Khan suggested on social media that the Court of Appeal ruling may not have fundamentally developed the law, saying, “Isn’t this just trite law for decades now?”
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