In the media
New Sharia law marriage contract gives Muslim women rights
Muslim women are to be guaranteed equal rights in marriage under a new wedding contract negotiated by leading Islamic organisations and clerics in Britain.
8 Aug 2008
Hailed as the biggest change in Sharia law in Britain for 100 years, a married Muslim couple will now have equal rights. A husband will have to waive his right to polygamy, allowed under Islamic law, in the new contract which has been described as "revolutionary".
Currently Muslims in Britain have an Islamic ceremony called a nikah (a non register office marriage) which, although it is guaranteed under Sharia law, is not legally binding and does not provide a woman with written proof of the marriage and of the terms and conditions agreed between the spouses.
Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, Director of the Muslim Institute and one of the authors of the contract, told The Daily Telegraph: "The document is a challenge to various sharia councils who don't believe in gender equality but the world has changed and Islamic law has to be renegotiated."
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was criticised earlier this year when he called for greater recognition of Sharia in British civil legislature, a view that was echoed recently by the Lord Chief Justice Phillips.
Ann Cryer, a Labour MP who has campaigned for the rights of Muslim women, welcomed today's change, saying: "This document has been carefully researched over a four year period and I feel confident in recommending its findings to women (and men) of the Muslim Faith contemplating Marriage."
In cases of divorces, the absence of such proof, has meant that many Muslim women have been denied financial rights.
The new Muslim marriage contract does not require a 'marriage guardian' (wali) for the bride, and also makes delegation of the right of divorce to the wife (talaq-i-tafweeed) automatic.
This right does not affect the husband's right of talaq but enables the wife to initiate divorce and retain all her financial rights agreed in the marriage contract. These provisions reflect a recognition of changes in the Muslim world, including women's greater public roles, educational achievements and financial autonomy.
Drawn up by the Muslim Institute, the contract has taken four years to negotiate and create. It is supported by leading Muslim organisations including the Imams & Mosques Council (UK), Muslim Council of Britain, The Muslim Law (Shariah) Council UK, Utrujj Foundation, and The Muslim Parliament of Great Britain.
According to its authors, the new contract "brings Muslim marriages in Britain into line with positive developments in Muslim family law across the Muslim world".
Dr Siddiqui said "A lot of people come to us and the Islamic Shari 'ah Council for advice and we realised that Islamic marriage had lots of problems.
"Many Muslims in this country have a 'village' background, with Muslims from Sylhet in Bangladesh or in Pakistan where the local Imam performs a nikah, without proper registration or properly recording that such a ceremony has taken place.
"But in Britain, more marriages are breaking down and young people have said that we need to update things."
Dr Siddique outlined several cases where the cleric was a friend of the husband and there were no witnesses present.
"In many cases, Muslim men have put a woman on 'trial' to see 'if a marriage works out' and will not agree to have a civil ceremony" he said.
"One woman told me that she came home one day to find the locks had changed and there was a note saying ' your stuff is at my sisters house'.
"This contract is revolutionary and will lead the way in addressing problems that exist under sharia law. Although it is only the tip of the iceberg, it is a revolutionary step, nothing like this has happened in 100 years. The adoption of this model will change everything and force people to talk about the issues."
Religious leaders and community groups have also said the document will be useful in securing rights for Muslim women.
Dr Usama Hasan, director of The City Circle, an organisation for British Muslim professionals, said: "Too many fathers have abused their right of wilayah (guardianship) over their daughters and too many husbands have abused their right of initiating divorce for us to continue with law rooted in patriarchal societies. It is high time that Muslim women enjoy the same rights and freedoms under Islamic law as they do under present legal systems in the UK."