Government fails Muslim women over marriage rights

by - 5th August 2009

Woman in BurkaImams who perform unregistered marriages in mosques could be prosecuted, claims an English barrister and expert on religion and the law.

Neil Addison, who wrote the foreword to the recent Civitas report on Shariah Courts in Britain, is challenging the government over imams who perform Muslim marriages in unregistered mosques, or where a civil ceremony has not been performed first.

The plight of women who fall foul of unregistered nikah marriages was highlighted by the Muslim Institute in London on 8 August last year, at the launch of its new marriage contract for Muslims.

The contract, proposed among other things, allowing the wife to initiate divorce, keep her financial earnings, and have the marriage registered.

Cases have come to light where women have lost their children, homes and income without any redress from the state.

Neil AddisonNeil Addison, who practices in Merseyside and is a member of Lapido Media’s Advisory Board, says Muslims are unique among religions in Britain in not registering their mosques for civil marriages.

‘In Britain this issue of unregistered marriages is unique to Islam.  No Christian church will perform a religious marriage unless there is a registrar present or there has been a previous civil ceremony.

‘Synagogues, Sikh Gurdwaras and Hindu Temples register under the Act in order to provide couples with the full protection of the law.’

There are over 3000 mosques in Britain but only 120 are registered under the Marriage Act of 1949, and throughout Britain, imams are performing Muslim marriage ceremonies without insisting on the marriages also being registered under the Marriage Act. 

It leaves a man free to divorce his wife with impunity, according to the medieval system of talaq whereby he merely has to utter the words ‘I divorce you’ three times.  He can also return to reclaim his conjugal rights if he says he was drunk at the time.

Says Addison,

‘Performing such ceremonies in unregistered moques is, arguably, a criminal offence under section 75 of the Act.’

He wants government to adopt a more rigorous approach to marriage registration.

He is also advocating the tightening up of divorces, in line with provision for Jewish marriage, which require that a civil divorce will not be finalised until consent is given by both parties.

‘The Divorce (Religious Marriages) Act 2002 could easily be extended to Muslim Marriages’, says Addison.

‘For it to be effective though, all Muslim marriages must first be registered under the Marriage Act. 

‘Until that is done British Muslim women will be denied the rights they are entitled to as British citizens.’

Neil Addison is at www.religionlaw.co.uk
The Muslim Institute is at www.musliminstitute.com