A Relationship of Inequality: Court of Appeal rules that Islamic faith marriages are not valid
April 11, 2020
2 min read
What's going on here?
In the case of Akhter v Khan, the Court of Appeal ruled that Islamic faith marriages are not valid under English Law, overturning an earlier High Court decision.
What does this mean?
Mrs Ahkter petitioned for divorce against her husband, Mr Khan, in 2018. Mr Khan argued that the couple were not legally married under English law, only Sharia or Islamic law, therefore his wife was not entitled to a divorce. Mrs Ahkter argued that there had been a valid marriage, as the couple had been married in a ceremony before 150 guests, conducted by an imam. She stated that, in practice, they had conducted their relationship as a marriage and had always referred to each other as husband and wife. The couple had intended to have a civil ceremony, however, Mr Khan later refused to attend.
The High Court in 2018 previously ruled that the Islamic faith marriage, the nikah ceremony, fell within English marriage law. However, the Court of Appeal in February 2019 overruled this decision, stating that it is an invalid, non-legal ceremony. The marriage is only made valid by an additional civil ceremony.
The Court of Appeal reasoned that it was not difficult to become legally married if a couple wished to do so, and that recognising religious ceremonies as legal marriages would undermine the modern registration system. The state did not need to recognise religious marriages under human rights legislation.
What's the big picture effect?
Many have argued that this position is to ensure that all marriages are legally registered, with everyone’s rights being recognised under the same system, creating fairer outcomes. Others have expressed concerns that this decision deprives many people, in particular Muslim women, access to financial remedy provisions under matrimonial law. As a consequence, a partner will not have rights to the other’s assets or maintenance, having to resort to sharia “courts” in order to pursue an Islamic divorce. This leaves many vulnerable women exposed and forces them to remain in unhappy relationships to ensure financial security. In order to tackle this issue, many Islamic centres in the UK have made civil registration a compulsory requisite so that they may conduct the nikah ceremony.
It is hoped that this case will continue the discussion around this key issue, to ensure that everyone is entitled to the right of redress.
Report written by Elizabeth Massey
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