UK judge rules in a divorce case – English law applies to an Islamic marriage

In a landmark ruling, the UK High Court has recognized Sharia Law in the UK allowing a woman the right to bring her divorce case to court and claim her share of the assets of her marriage.

The judge ruled that the estranged couple’s Islamic faith marriage, or ‘Nikah’ ceremony, can come under the purview of British matrimonial law despite it not being legally recognized as such in the UK.

The ruling means that Nasreen Akhtar and businessman Mohammed Shabaz Khan did have a valid marriage and Mrs Akhtar is free to sue her husband for divorce.

The judge said the union should be recognised because the couple, who married in the Nikah ceremony in 1998, lived as man and wife, introduced each other as such and had expectations similar to a British marriage contract.

The case will have significant implications for women who marry under sharia law but not UK law and could give them the right to divorce their husbands and split the assets related to the union, as well as securing a divorce more easily.

Mr Khan had repeatedly sought to block Mrs Akhtar’s application for divorce in the UK court, claiming that they were never legally married.  

But Mr Justice Williams decided that the marriage was “entered into in disregard of certain requirements as to the formation of marriage”.

He said the marriage was therefore “void” and that Mrs Akhtar is entitled to a decree of nullity.  If he had ruled it was a non-marriage she would not have been able to make a case in the British divorce court.

The judge heard that the British Pakistani couple, had lived in London, Birmingham and Dubai.

They had taken part in a nikah ceremony at a restaurant in Southall, west London, nearly 20 years ago.

Mrs Akhtar said the ceremony was conducted by an imam before about 150 guests.

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