A British court has recognised sharia law for the first time in a landmark decision, as a judge ruled that a wife can claim her husband’s assets in their divorce.
The decision came after Nasreen Akhter requested the split from her husband Mohammed Shabaz Khan.
Married in 1998 in an Islamic faith marriage, Mr Khan wanted to block Mrs Akhter’s divorce on the grounds that they were not legally married under English law, stating they were married under sharia law only.
The High Court, more specifically Mr Justice Williams, decided that the marriage was “entered into in disregard of certain requirements as to the formation of the marriage”. The court ruled that their union had similar expectations to that of a British marriage contract.
The decision means that similar cases will have significant implications for women who marry under sharia law, but not UK law, and could give them the right to divorce their husbands and split the assets related to the union, whilst securing a divorce more easily.
A report commissioned earlier this year by Theresa May showed that many women in Islamic marriages do not realise they have no legal protection under the UK law unless they have a second civil ceremony alongside nikah.
Women often have to appeal to sharia councils, which are largely made up of men, if they wish to be released from their union – some also have to make concessions.
Hazel Wright, a partner in the family law team at Hunters Solicitors said: “The law on cohabitation in this country is out of date and unsatisfactory.
“Now those who would have been outside the scope of the law to help them can seek compensation in the courts if their spouse has deliberately refused to have a civil ceremony after a religious ceremony.
“Ms Akhtar and Mr Khan both knew that their sharia marriage was not a legally registered marriage. It became vital for Ms Akhtar that the English divorce court rule in her favour, that the marriage should be recognised as void, and not a non-marriage.
“Otherwise she would not have any rights to make any financial claims for herself.
“The ruling that this marriage was just like a marriage for the couple, their families and friends, and indeed it satisfied the UAE authorities, and so was a valid but void marriage has given heart to many who otherwise suffer discrimination.”