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 the split.
The decision came about after Nasreen Akhter wanted a divorce from her husband Mohammed Shabaz Khan. The couple were wed in an Islamic faith marriage in 1998.
Mr Khan wanted to block Mrs Akhter’s divorce on the basis that they are ‘not legally married’ under English law and says they are married ‘under Sharia law only’.
The High Court ruling on Wednesday said their union should be valid and recognised because their vows had similar expectations of a British marriage contract.
This means women married in an Islamic faith ceremony will have an easier time securing a divorce in the UK, paving the way for them to claim half their husband’s assets.
The judge had heard that the couple, who have a Pakistani background, had taken part in a ‘nikah’ ceremony at a restaurant in Southall, west London, nearly 20 years ago and lived in Pinner, Middlesex.
Nikah ceremonies do fall under UK matrimonial law although before the landmark decision, the courts did not legally recognise it as a valid marriage.
The judge heard evidence from Mrs Akhter, a solicitor and Mr Khan, who was involved in a property business and worked in Dubai.
Mrs Akhter said the nikah ceremony was conducted by an Imam before about 150 guests.
She said Mr Khan had become her ‘husband’ and he had considered her his ‘wife’.
‘From my limited understanding of Islam at the time it did comply with all the requirements,’ she said.
‘I saw him as my husband. There was no question in my mind at all.’
She added: ‘He always introduced me as his wife’.
Barrister Paula Rhone-Adrien, who led Mr Khan’s legal team, said issues being considered went to the heart of the understanding of the law of marriage and divorce in British society.
She said the judge’s ruling was likely to be ‘considered in full’ by Muslims.
Prime Minister Theresa May had asked for a review when she was Home Secretary. She wanted to explore whether Sharia law was being applied in a way that was incompatible with domestic legislation.
A panel of experts, which included an academic and lawyers, said Muslim couples should be required to undergo civil marriages in addition to Muslim ceremonies to bring Islamic marriage legally into line with Christian and Jewish marriage.