The Truth About Muslim Marriage: A fuss over nothing

Myriam Francois presented the Channel 4 documentary

Roshan Muhammed Salih argues that Tuesday night’s Channel 4 documentary, “The Truth About Muslim Marriage”, was another mainstream media attack on an aspect of Islam.

Another day, another aspect of Islam under public scrutiny. This time it was Islamic marriage – the underlying message being that Nikah is exploitative and weighted in favour of the man. So when a marriage runs into difficulty the woman is left high and dry with no rights.

Therefore, a change in the law is necessary so that Muslim women are protected by British law, which of course is “superior” to Islamic law and grants her more rights etc.

Except it’s a bogus argument, and a complete non-issue.

What’s the big deal?

I really don’t see what the big deal is. As long as both parties know that an Islamic marriage isn’t the same as a civil marriage, what’s the problem? Everyone knows what they’re getting into and if they enter into it freely then that’s their choice.

And frankly, I’m highly sceptical about the programme’s research which claimed a significant minority of Muslim women don’t know that a Nikah isn’t legally recognised. Perhaps foreign women who are new to this country don’t, but British-born Muslim women? Really?

Picture by Bhavna Barratt

Even if this were true the problem can be easily solved by an information campaign or an imam explaining the issue. No change in the law is necessary.

The truth is, that for a variety of reasons, both Muslim men and women may actually prefer an Islamic marriage which isn’t recognised by British law. Just as many non-Muslims prefer to cohabit rather than tie the knot.

Muslims may want to do this because it suits their financial situation or because they are living in a polygamous relationship. So if both parties agree why can’t this option be kept on the table? I thought this was supposed to be a free country where we can live our lives how we choose to without interference from the secular state as long as it’s within the law.

Middle class Muslims

I also don’t believe the documentary spoke for all Muslim women. Rather, I think it spoke for certain liberal, middle class Muslim women who’ve had failed marriages and who aren’t happy with their settlement.

These women always get a platform to disseminate their views (which often tend to coincide with those of the Establishment) while working class Muslim women (the vast majority in Britain) get overlooked.

Why can’t the media leave us alone? We’re actually quite boring

Let’s face it, the film was an attack on the concept of Islamic marriage itself. As if British marriage is more “superior” to Nikah. I’m not a scholar but I do know that Islamic law grants both men and women rights upon divorce and God’s judgement is good enough for most devout Muslims.

That said, I do realise that many Muslim men and women will flout Islamic law if they are not compelled to follow it. But this is a two-way process and don’t forget that men can lose out badly when divorce happens too, especially when it comes to access to children.

The documentary also rather undermined its own argument when campaigners for a change in the law petitioned the renowned Islamophobe Baroness Cox in Parliament. To be honest, that was the nail in the coffin for whatever sympathy they may have had from me.

Free choice

So in a nutshell this was a documentary about a non-issue. I don’t think the presenter had any malice in her but I do think that it was only commissioned because it was about another aspect of Islam that the wider non-Muslim audience would find controversial. And of course it fed into the wider narrative that Muslim men are exploiting women.

I also must say that it was a rather tedious piece of filmmaking. Half an hour would have got the message across, but one hour really dragged.

Anyway, I say let people decide for themselves if they want an Islamic and/or a civil marriage. An information campaign may well be necessary so that we can all make an informed decision, but a change in the law definitely isn’t.

Finally, a message to the mainstream media – stop making documentaries about Muslims! Are we really that interesting? Most of us lead very dull lives, just like everyone else. So why all the focus? Just leave us alone. Please.

You can follow Roshan on Twitter @RMSalih

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