Channel 4 survey: Two thirds of Muslim marriages not legally recognised

Picture by Bhavna Barratt

A Channel 4 survey has revealed that almost two thirds of Muslim couples in Britain are not in legally recognised marriages, as they have not had a civil ceremony alongside their Nikah religious ceremony.

The survey of 1,000 women across Britain reveals that while 78 per cent of those questioned wanted their marriage to be legally valid under British law, nearly two thirds (61%) only had a Nikah marriage. And two thirds of those who did not have a civil marriage ceremony said that they did not plan to have one in the future.

But more than a quarter (28%) of those women with only a Nikah marriage didn’t realise that it didn’t give them the same rights and protections as a legally recognised marriage. And just one in eight of the women questioned said that their Imam had advised them on what is required to be married in the eyes of British law.

The survey also explored attitudes towards polygamy, finding that the vast majority of women questioned did not wish to be in a polygamous relationship, and more than a third of those who were in such a relationship had not agreed to it.

Eighty nine per cent of respondents said they did not want to be in a polygamous relationship. Just over one in ten of those questioned were in a polygamous relationship, and more than a third of those (37%) had not agreed to it.

Myriam Francois will present the Channel 4 documentary

The survey was done for the documentary, The Truth about Muslim Marriage, which will be broadcast on Channel 4 at 10pm tonight. It was carried out by 20 Muslim female community researchers between December 2016 and September 2017, using a mix of face to face and phone interviews. Data were tabulated by ICM analysed from the responses of 923 participants from 14 cities across Britain – Glasgow, Newcastle, Preston, Bradford, Stockport, Manchester, Stoke on Trent, Leicester, Birmingham, Oxford, Cardiff, London, Bristol, Gloucester and Cambridge.

Without the rights and protection provided by a legally recognised marriage, women are unable, in the event of a divorce, to go to the Family Court where the Judge would consider dividing their assets 50/50 depending on the needs of the couple and their children.

Instead, if they cannot agree between themselves, couples who are not in a legally recognised marriage have to apply to the civil court for assets to be divided fairly, which can be time-consuming and costly.

Aina Khan, a family lawyer and specialist in Islamic law, tells the programme that the law particularly disadvantages Muslims because most don’t get married in a registered place of worship, which is one of the criteria for a marriage to be legally recognised. In fact the majority of Muslims prefer to get married either at home or in a rented hotel or hall.

She says the problem is growing and that the government is failing to do anything to address it, as they say data is needed on the extent and numbers of women affected. She is lobbying for the current marriage law to make it compulsory for all faiths to register their religious marriages.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, marriage laws have been updated so they are much simpler. There, an authorised celebrant – which includes Imams – can perform the ceremony anywhere and the marriage is legally recognised.

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