Report finds many Muslim women not aware of lack of marital rights

Muslim women married in religious ceremonies (Nikah) who have not officially married under English law have inadequate legal protection if their relationship break down.

A report entitled Equal and Free? 50 Muslim Women’s Experiences of Marriage in Britain Today, commissioned by Aurat, a UK charity based in West Midlands working with female victims of honour and cultural-based violence and abuse, reveals the plight of Muslim women who live in such ‘marriages’.

More than half of the women interviewed were unaware of their legal status and inadequate protection if they were to divorce. Many of the women assumed that because the Nikah ceremony was performed in the UK, it was a valid marriage under UK law. Forty-six of the fifty women interviewed said they were married, but only five of those were in marriages recognised by English law.

The report revealed the enormous family and community pressure they were under to remain married. Almost half said they would not receive support from their community or their family if they sought a divorce.

In Islamic law, a husband does not have to fulfil any conditions when seeking a divorce. He merely says ‘I divorce you’ three times, whereas a wife has to meet numerous conditions, including payment of steep fees. All the women said their husbands would not pay for a divorce within a mosque.

Baroness Cox, who wrote the foreword of the report, writes that one of the many challenges faced by Muslim women living in the UK is that their abuse and suffering is exacerbated by Sharia law principles, which were unjust towards women and girls.

The report highlights cases where Muslim husbands deliberately avoid backing their Nikah with a civil ceremony – because they secretly had other wives whom they had not told their latest bride about.

It also revealed that when relationships turned sour Muslim wives found themselves unable to turn to the courts to seek financial relief because the courts could not recognise their marriage. This often leaves them facing destitution and homelessness if they need to leave their husbands.

While many Muslim women, as highlighted by the report, have very limited financial rights on if they split from their husband, they may still have rights in property and for financial support for their children.

Grayfords can advise on the legal status of your marriage and what rights you have against a spouse if you separate.

If you are experiencing any of the issues highlighted in the report then you can contact Aurat’s helpline on 07944188230 between 10am and 2pm Monday to Friday.

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