In the media
New model Muslim marriage contract ‘revolutionary’ for UK women
‘Shariah Law by the back door’ says barrister
8 August 2008
Experts are divided about the impact of a proposed new Muslim marriage contract being launched today (Friday) in London with the backing of Ann Cryer MP, that would, claims one, give recognition to shariah law.
The new contract, drafted by the Muslim Institute, launching at the City Circle, would provide women with written proof of their marriage under Islamic law. It would also outlaw polygamy in the UK.
But discrimination barrier Neil Addison says it would mean shariah law by the back door.
‘With government members approving it, it gives pseudo-legitimacy to Islamic marriage and to shariah by the back door, without giving any real reason why this contract is necessary and what’s wrong with civil marriage.’
Up to now, Muslims, alone among all religious groups, do not register their religious buildings in order to perform marriages that conform to English law. The new contract encourages registration.
The nikah is not recognized by the British courts and shari’ah interpretation has up to now been discriminatory.
As a result, Muslim women who face talaq – Muslim divorce - have no financial redress and become outcast, suffering loss of honour, status and social and financial support.
Dr Ida Glaser, a Director of the Centre for Muslim Christian Studies, and an expert on women’s issues, told Lapido Media: ‘It can be an unbelievable nightmare, so what is proposed is absolutely revolutionary.
‘It’s advocating recognition of the woman’s role in marriage both in English and Islamic law. It’s a very, very egalitarian interpretation of Islamic law. It’s not outside of Islamic law, but it’s a much more modern interpretation of Islamic law and one to be greatly encouraged.’
MP Ann Cryer has also endorsed the contract, describing it as ‘an excellent piece of work’.
She said: ‘I feel confident in recommending its findings to women (and men) of the Muslim faith contemplating marriage. The advice contained will, I am sure, help thousands of young people.’
The contract (PDF Download) is the work of Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, Founder Director of the south London-based Muslim Institute, who since 1994 has been working to persuade leading Muslims in Britain including the Muslim Council of Britain and others to reform the written contract that forms the basis of the nikah.
He said: ‘Now they are realizing the need for this. I think partly they were living in their own ghettoes.
‘Many young people thought marriage through an imam was acceptable. Now if the marriage breaks down, it is only then that the woman realizes she has lost everything.’
The reforms in the contract include:
- removing the requirement for a ‘marriage guardian’ (wali) for the bride, who, as an adult, can make up her own mind about whom to marry.
- enabling the wife to initiate divorce and retain all her financial rights agreed in the marriage contract.
- forbidding polygamy whether formally or informally in the UK or abroad
- encouraging mosques to register to perform marriages
Dr Siddiqui said the contract would bring Muslim marriages in Britain into line with positive developments in Muslim family law ‘across the Muslim world.’ It did not however have the support of the salafist UK Islamic Shari’ah Council – or Muslims who are against shariah recognition of any kind.
Other British lawyers were sceptical about the contract. Discrimination lawyer, Neil Addison author of Religious Discrimination and Hatred Law described it as ‘an encouragement to illegality.’
‘Though I can see that the intention behind this contract is good, it continues the unfortunate trend of separating Muslims from the general community in Britain.
‘The Contract will still permit Imams to perform Muslim Marriage ceremonies when the couple are not married in accordance with British Law; indeed the existence of such a ‘model’ contract endorsed, as this is, by lawyers and MPs gives the seal of approval for the continuation of marriage ceremonies which have no legal legitimacy under British law.
‘It is in fact an encouragement to illegality.’
He said Jews, Catholics, Sikhs, Hindus and Quakers all carried out marriage ceremonies in accordance with British law either by insisting that the couple had a civil ceremony before the religious ceremony, or by registering for marriages and incorporating the legal requirements for marriage into the religious ceremony.
‘Muslim organisations are the only religious group encouraging their members to ignore the British law of marriage, and that is harmful to Muslims because it deprives them of their legal rights under British law.
He added there was nothing in civil marriage that was contrary to Islam.