In the media
British women who paid dearly for not registering their marriages
By Claire Gilderson
15 August 2008
These stories were told by Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, Director of the Muslim Institute at the launch of the new model Muslim marriage contract. Names have been omitted or disguised in order to protect identities.
Soraya, 28, is from Birmingham and studying pharmacy
“The first time his family asked for my hand in marriage was during my exams. I wasn’t ready for that commitment during such a stressful time, so they agreed to come back. Like me he was educated, brought up in Britain and practiced law. He sounded liberal and I thought we had something in common. So I said yes. I had no idea what I was letting myself in for.
Following a short engagement, we had a traditional Islamic wedding. The Muslim priest came to my house and married us and then I was taken to the groom’s home to complete the ceremony. We both signed a Muslim marriage certificate. That’s how people ‘tie the knot’ Islamically. My parents assumed at some point we would legally register the marriage in order for it to be recognised by British law. That never happened. When I got married, I expected to be with my husband for the rest of my life. I expected a normal relationship between a husband and a wife.
The trouble started when I wanted to pursue my pharmacy career which I’ve always dreamed of. Prior to the marriage, my parents discussed this with his parents and he was made fully aware of my intention to study. He agreed, but once we were married and I started applying to universities, he wasn’t happy. Instead of enrolling, I decided to defer for a year to give him time to think about it. He didn’t change his mind, so I applied for my degree without his permission. During enrollment, I stated my marital status as ‘married’. As standard procedure of proof of identity, the university requested a British civil marriage certificate. I didn’t have one.
Emotional and financial investment
I asked my husband to provide me with a civil marriage certificate but he told me we didn’t need one. He said although our Muslim marriage was ‘common-law’, it was legally recognised. Unconvinced, I did some research and realised we had to register the marriage at a registry office in order for it to be legal. The certificate given to me by the Muslim priest was invalid in the eyes of the law. Had I not enrolled at university, I would have been none the wiser. I asked him to officially register our marriage, but he refused.
My dad had invested over £7,000 in our marriage in terms of the ceremony and gifts. He paid for my gold and gave us household appliances. He also gave us money to refurbish the house because it was in a terrible state. My husband boasted he’d bought us a nice place in London, but it was absolutely disgusting. It was dirty, totally bare and infested with mice. It was an empty shell - a complete tip. The day after we got married, he went to work and left me all alone. I cleaned the entire house and painted it. I decorated it and furnished it with my dad’s money plus my wages from shop work which was tiding me over until I went to university. He didn’t help me whatsoever and told me I was lucky to have a house at all.
Initially he paid the mortgage and most of the bills. I always paid for the food. When I started my shop work he expected me to pay half the mortgage even though his salary was over £40,000 and I was on £6 per hour. I simply couldn’t afford it. Although we were supposedly married, he lived like he was still single. We hardly saw each other because he was ‘on duty’ most nights. He also suggested I look after his mother in Birmingham while he lived in London during the week, so we would only see each other at weekends. I said no. He forbade me to go to university and the fighting continued. His behaviour became threatening. He turned violent and put his hands around my neck. Once he even tried to push me down the stairs.
Neither of our parents knew what was happening, but I couldn’t take it anymore. Eventually I told them that he refused to register the marriage and how he’d completely changed. It was as if he had a split personality. At first they didn’t believe me and my mum encouraged me to make the marriage work. It didn’t take her long to realise I was going through hell. I only wanted him to meet me half way, but he never compromised. I asked myself if I could take this for the rest of my life and have his children.
We had a big family meeting in Birmingham. My dad lost his temper and my husband got up and left the house. He’d returned to London with his family and I stayed in Birmingham with mine. After giving him a couple of days to cool down, I went back to London, put my key in the lock, but couldn’t get into the house. How can a husband lock his wife out of their home? I told the police my husband had changed the locks. They said it was a civil matter and that I had to sort it out myself. I felt so helpless. I had no choice but to leave all my belongings behind and go back to Birmingham.
I pleaded with my husband to sort things out and asked him whether we had a future. He was still adamant that I shouldn’t go to university, but I wasn’t prepared to give that up. I no longer trusted him and couldn’t imagine having a family with him. I knew we had no future whatsoever. It was over. The police accompanied me to my home and my husband looked on while I collected my things. He arranged for a total stranger to drop off the remainder of my belongings.
My dad hired a solicitor which cost £5,000. Even though my solicitor was threatened by my husband’s family, the case still reached the courts. The judge threw it out because my marriage wasn’t recognized by British law and I therefore wasn’t entitled to anything. I went to the Shari’ah Council and they couldn’t help me either. My mum sought help at several mosques, but there wasn’t anything anybody could do. I still haven’t been compensated for what I’ve lost and it’s unlikely I ever will be. I had no idea my marriage would end like this. As a legal practitioner, he knew exactly what he was doing and led me to believe that our marriage was legal. I didn’t have a leg to stand on.
After the marriage ended I was quite depressed. It hasn’t been easy for my family either. I’ve lost a lot of time and money and I could’ve qualified as a pharmacist sooner. The worst thing was being deceived from day one, entering into a marriage which I thought was legal. After everything I’d invested in the relationship - emotionally and financially, I thought I’d be entitled to something, but he didn’t even care. He was happy to see me walk away with nothing.
Although I’ve picked myself up and moved on, I’ll never forget it. It will always be at the back of my mind. It’s been a struggle, but my family has supported me throughout. I’ve had to show the Muslim community I don’t need him and that I’m strong enough to come through this. I will qualify as a pharmacist next year.”
GS: ‘One day I received a call from a revert (former non-Muslim). She said, “My husband has disappeared, abandoned me. I want help to have a divorce.”
GS: ‘Was your marriage through a nikah or a civil ceremony?
“Nikah”, she said.
GS: ‘Do you have the certificate?
“No. My husband had it and he has gone away.”
GS: ‘Who was the qadi?
“A friend of my husband.”
GS: ‘Do you remember who the witnesses were?
“They were all friends of my husband.”
GS: ‘There was no way we could help her.’
‘A very intelligent woman telephoned asking for help.
‘She said, ‘I was married through an Islamic ceremony. I knew it was not recognized. My husband and family insisted: “Let us first marry in the eyes of Allah. Perhaps later on we can have a civil ceremony as well.”
‘After the marriage she reminded him of his promise. He said “We are only married a couple of months ago. Let’s see if it works out then we will.” So after that, she knew she was on trial.
‘Because of her constant insistence on a civil ceremony, things became tense and one day, when she came home, the locks had been changed and there was a note from her husband to say, “It’s all over. Your things are with my sister.”
‘There are loads of women suffering like that.’
‘There was a very highly qualified woman who went to deliver a talk in the Islamic Academy, where a young trainee solicitor approached her and showed an interest.
‘He started visiting and proposed to marry her after a few weeks. He also insisted that the lady should introduce him to the family - and everybody like him.
‘She was not sure that he was the right man for her.
‘When she met his family she realized that his family was looking for a domestic daughter-in-law.
‘One evening he dropped in, saying, “I have come to persuade you to accept my proposal.”
‘Then he jumped on her and raped her.
‘Now there was a crisis. In the situation she forgot the first thing she should do was contact the police. She forgot to have the morning after pill.
‘Because of the shame, the consequences of pregnancy overwhelmed her and she agreed to marry him because she thought that that was the best way. Subsequent to that rape, he said “I really love you.” She believed him and this whole idea of civil ceremony was forgotten at that time.
‘The parents asked the local imam to come and perform the nikah
‘Just before the birth of their second child the husband said to her, I am going to have another wife.
‘This was very shattering.
‘He managed to convince her, “I am going bankrupt.”
‘He convinced her, “I need your money, let me have this property in my name. The next house will be in your name if I go bankrupt.”
‘She put everything in the kitty for the house. When he left this woman for another, the matter went to court.
‘But this man, because he was a solicitor, his plea was that “All along our relationship was very casual.
‘”I only accepted to go through the nikah when she became pregnant and that is the reason for not having a civil ceremony. We were not sure we were having a permanent relationship.
So this girl lost the house and was left on the streets with two children.
‘The husband sold the house and bought a bigger one for himself and the second wife.’