Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Muslim Marriages (Again)

I cannot remember which politician it was who said that when you reach the point when you are sick to the back teeth of repeating something that is when people start listening. I am certainly sick and tired of discussing the subject of unregistered Muslim marriages (Nikah's) so hopefully some people will begin to listen.

The subject was raised recently on the August 23 entry of the Spirit21.co.uk Blog run by Shelina Zahra Janmohamed who I have met at a City Circle meeting. I like Shelina's Blog which makes some fascinating and thought provoking comments on the nature of true religious belief but I had to disagree with her recent Blog concerning Muslim Marriage which was reproduced in The Times faithOnline Blog. Basically Shelina was talking about the problems faced by British Muslim wives who go through a Nikah ceremony but whose marriage is not registered under
The Marriage Act 1949 , they are, in the eyes of the law, mere co-habitants and do not enjoy the legal protections enjoyed by wives whose marriage is registered under the Marriage Act.

Shelinas solution to the problem is to suggest that the law should be changed so as to give legal recognition to the Nikah but I strongly disagree, there is absolutely no problem with the law as it stands the only problem is that Imans and Mosques are ignoring the provisions of the Marriage Act and, arguably, committing a criminal offence for which they could be sentenced to 5 years imprisonment (s75 of the Act makes it a criminal offence to perform a marriage ceremony for a marriage that is not registered under the Act)

The Marriage Act, as it stands, recognises 3 basic types of Marriage ceremony
(i) A purely secular Marriage before a Registrar in a Registry office
(ii) A purely Secular Marriage before a Registrar in "Approved premises" eg Hotels, stately Homes etc
(iii) A Religious Marriage ceremony in a registered place of worship where a Registrar is present

Regarding option (iii) there is a slight exemption in the case of the Church of England because the CofE is the established Church Anglican Priests are also Registrars by virtue of their office. That particular status however is unique to Anglican Priests which means that Catholic priests, Jewish Rabbis, Sikh Granthis etc all have to arrange for a Registrar to be present in order for their religious marriages to be registered and that legal obligation doesn't seem to be causing them any problems. In practice most registrars at Religious Marriages are volunteer members of the Congregation who have been approved and trained by the local Superintendent Registrar, for example my Mum, after she retired, became a Registrar at her local Church and she, like thousands of other volunteers in Churches throughout the country, was responsible for attending Marriages in the Church, getting the certificates signed by the Happy Couple, and then sending the appropriate documentation off to her local Registration office. Any Mosque can similarly register itself under The Marriage Act 1949 and arrange for a member of its congregation to act as Registrar at any Nikah ceremony but only 120 Mosques have registered under the Act and, as Shelina confirms in her Blog, the majority of Muslim Marriges in Britain are not being registered under the Act.

So I repeat the questions I have asked Shelina, I have asked in this Blog, I have indeed asked Imans and to which I have not yet had an answer
"Why is it that only Islam seems to have a problem with the Marriage Act ?",
"Why is it that Imans and Mosques are continuing to perform Nikah ceremonies which are not registered under the Marriage Act"
"Why are the the MCB and MINAB not making it a requirement that their members operate in accordance with the law ?"

Having asked questions I will then answer the question that I am asked, "Why do I think this issue is important, and why do I continue to speak and write about it ?" The reason is twofold, firstly if Muslim marriages are not being registered under the law then Muslim wives, in particular, are being deprived of their natural rights as British citizens, they are entering into a relationship which they think is a lawful marriage and it is not.

More pertinently the idea that the law is treating Muslim Marriages unfairly is simply not true and it is the sort of untruth which encourages feelings of victimisation and alienation from society which are the breeding ground of radicalism and terrorism.
If you read the comments section in the Times faithOnline Blog there were many who believed Shelinas suggestion that Muslims were being treated unfairly and so a controversy has been created where none should exist. Discrimination in the law is a bad thing and if the law was treating Muslims unfairly then it would need to be changed but where the law is fair and is treating religions properly and with respect then that fact needs to be stated loudly and clearly, Religions have enough real problems in modern society without creating imaginary problems where none exist.

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