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UK appeal court rules Islamic marriages 'invalid' in Britain

The new decision reverses a ruling from 2018 which recognised Islamic marriages [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 February, 2020

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Rights campaigners have raised concerns after a UK court ruled that Islamic marriages are not valid under British law, leaving divorcing couples with no legal protections.
A UK court has on Friday reversed a ruling from two years ago which had allowed a Muslim couple who were wedded through an Islamic ceremony to legally divorce.

The 2018 High Court judgement found the Islamic "nikah" ceremony to be within English marriage law.

The latest decision by the UK Court of Appeal, however, has ruled that the ceremony was "invalid", removing legal protections afforded to divorcing couples.

Mohammed Shabaz Khan married Nasreen Akhter in an Islamic ceremony at a London restaurant in 1998 in the presence of around 150 guests. The ceremony was conducted by an imam.

When the couple separated in 2016, Mr Khan attempted to block his wife's divorce petition on the basis that they had never been legally married.

Judges ruling this week said that the couple's intention to carry out a civil ceremony after the nikah marriage showed that the couple were aware that the Islamic ceremony was insufficient under UK law.

"The parties were not marrying under the provisions of English law," the appeal judges said.

The decision has raised concerns that Muslim women will be increasingly forced to rely upon ad hoc Sharia courts in cases of divorce and family matters.

"Today's judgment will force Muslim and other women to turn to Sharia 'courts' that already cause significant harm to women and children for remedies because they are now locked out of the civil justice system," Pragna Patel, director at non-profit organisation Southall Black Sisters, said.

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