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Registration of marriage and civil ceremony

There are so far no reliable statistics on what proportion of Muslims who get married in Britain have both a civil marriage (e.g., in a registry) and a nikah, or just a civil marriage, or just a nikah.

However, it is clear that many thousands of couples, for one reason or another (and often for all the wrong reasons), are only in what is locally known as a “nikah” – a marriage that is not accompanied by a civil marriage and is therefore not recognised by the law in Britain.

It is equally clear that this lack of proper legal status often results in problems for the couple and suffering, especially for the woman, in the event that there are difficulties in the marriage.

We prefer not to call a nikah a ‘religious marriage’ because there is nothing ‘Islamic’ about a situation in which suffering and injustice is increased. Indeed, Islam recommends that all important matters be written and recorded.

A Muslim marriage that takes place abroad is not the same as a nikah in Britain. Generally speaking, if a marriage is legally valid in the foreign country in which it took place, then it is valid under the law here. Most Muslim family laws in other countries require some form of registration of marriage, and unregistered marriages are less popular today. This is because people recognise that with changes in society and given the injustices that can happen because of an unregistered marriage, it is better to register the marriage.

Muslims in Canada, who are also a minority and mostly from migrant backgrounds like the community in Britain, almost always do both a civil marriage and a nikah. They are surprised to learn that many Muslims in Britain only do a nikah. The Canadian Council of Muslim Women has also developed a model marriage contract for Muslims in Canada.

Civil Marriages

For more information about civil marriages (at a registry office or a licenced venue), see Wedding Guide UK.

Cohabitation – living together without a Civil Marriage

Under British law, couples who are only in a nikah (ie they have not also done a civil marriage) are generally considered to be co-habiting. They do not have the same rights as couples in a civil marriage, or a marriage that is properly recognised under the law (for example a recognised foreign marriage).

This page from the British government’s information portal provides good information about the lack of full rights for spouses who cohabit.

Cohabitation - living together

There are over four million couples living together in England and Wales in cohabitation. Although cohabitants are now given legal protection in several areas, they and their families have significantly fewer rights and responsibilities than people who are married or who have formed a civil partnership.

Most people think that, after they've been living with their partner for a couple of years, they become 'common law husband and wife' with the same rights as married couples. This is not the case. In fact, couples who live together have hardly any of the same rights as married couples or civil partners.

There is no such thing as ‘common law marriage’.

If you are living together as a couple, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your partner. There are also ways to minimise the legal and financial problems which may arise if, as can happen, you decide to separate, or if one of you dies.

You can find out about the current rights of cohabiting couples from Advicenow – an independent website offering information on rights and legal issues. Their ‘Living Together’ campaign is intended to make both opposite and same-sex cohabitants more aware of their legal status. The campaign also provides advice on how to protect yourself and your family, should you wish to do so.

If you would like more information about the differences in the legal position of married and unmarried couples, the ‘Married or Not’ section of the One Plus One website provides an overview.

Directgov: Marriage, cohabitation and civil partnerships

Muslim Parliament: Getting married – Some Guidelines

Registration of Mosques

Side by side with efforts to popularise the new contract within the Muslim community, the Muslim Institute is also campaigning to encourage more mosques to become places registered for the solemnisation of marriage under the 1948 Marriage Act. This is to ensure more mosques are able to conduct marriages recognised under English and Welsh or Scottish law. This will enable more Muslims married in Britain to access British courts regarding marital issues, and further protect the rights of the spouses.

Muslim Parliament proposes registration of Mosques and Marriages

The first ever community initiative to discuss the issue of Islamic marriages and the role of the Mosque within the community was launched in Bury, Greater Manchester. The seminar was opened by Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, Leader of the Muslim Parliament, who emphasised the need for the family and mosques to be strengthened if the Muslim community was to move forward. Currently the practices of forced marriages, domestic violence, drugs and crime were rampant within the community, and only by strengthening these two institutions can we overcome these problems.

Dr Siddiqui said we need to initiate an awareness campaign to empower young people so that they could not be forced into marriages that they did not consent to and parents to recognise that around 70% of forced marriages result in divorce. In such an event it is left to the parents to pick up the pieces. Thus an understanding between parents and children is paramount to ensure young people marry out of choice and are involved in the process. Read more…