Britain's Muslim Marriages Chaos
LONDON – Many Muslims who tie the knot in Britain do not register their nikah, Islamic marriage, with the authorities, creating a legal loophole that comes to surface in the case of divorce or death of one of the spouses.
"It's a rising trend for Muslim couples to have marriages that are not legally recognized," Aina Khan, a family lawyer, told the BBC on Wednesday, February 3.
"The problem is extremely widespread and it's an increasing time bomb because it's affecting mostly young Muslims, who are under 30 or in their early 30s."
Many couples enter into Islamic marriage without the civil ceremony needed for it to be recognized under British law.
Shaista Gohir, the head of the Muslim Women's Network, blames the problem partially on ignorance.
"If a couple has a nikah in a Muslim country then the marriage is recognized under UK law," she noted.
"But many do not realize that this is not the case if the nikah is conducted in this country."
Other couples decide to wait and "test out" the marriage before they register it with the authorities, fearing a very costly divorce process.
"It is a major problem in the community," agrees Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, the head of the Muslim Parliament.
"But it is very difficult to put an exact figure on the scale of this because there are no statistics. It could be in its hundreds if not thousands."
Britain is home to more than two million Muslims, mostly of Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi backgrounds.
Khan, the family lawyer, says that in such cases the individuals have no legal marital rights if the marriage ends or if a partner dies.
"My colleagues and I are having to deal with hundreds of cases where things have gone wrong because the wedding has not been registered," she asserted.
"Because the couples only have co-habitant rights, it is extremely expensive and complicated to use the law to get the individuals any justice once the marriage ends."
Dr Siddiqui says the lives of many Muslim women are being ruined because their marriages are not legally recognized.
"This allows Muslim men to control their wives because they can threaten to leave them and end the Islamic marriage by just saying the words 'divorce, divorce divorce' to her," he said.
Shaheeda Khan, who married her fiance in a traditional Islamic religious ceremony at her home in Birmingham before moving to London, is a case in point.
Some 13 months into the marriage, she realized that her nikah was not legally valid after a university asked for a marriage certificate before enrolling her.
"It was then I realized I didn't have one and it came as a big shock to me," she told the BBC.
Her husband refused to register the marriage with the authorities, but that was not the only problem.
A few months later, he simply changed the locks to the front door and left her in the street.
"I was homeless. I took legal action but I got nothing," said Shaheeda, whose name has been changed to protect her identity.
"I had been paying the mortgage on our home but the house was not in my name so I lost everything."
Dr Siddiqui urged mosques to register themselves to conduct civil marriages in order to protect women by having nikah and registry at the same time under one roof.
"The problem is that only a handful of mosques across the country are registering themselves," he explained.
"I don't know why this is the case because it is very simple to do - all they need to do is fill out a form.
"Religious leaders must take a bigger responsibility to protect many Muslim women who are unnecessarily suffering."
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