The legal loophole of religious-only marriages is trapping victims of grooming and forced relationships



Doing away with the practice would provide us with an alternative means of curbing abuse and exploitation, placing the onus on those who ‘marry’ couples despite being aware of the risks facing women

Nazmin Akthar

Dr Suhaib Hasan, Maulana Abu Sayeed and Mufti Barabatullah of the Sharia Council of Britain preside over marital cases at their east London headquarters on February 14, 2008 ( AFP/Getty )

Last week saw the launch of Muslim Women’s Network UK (MWN)’s latest hard-hitting research, Muslim Women’s Experiences of the Criminal Justice System. The report shines a light on the struggles faced by female Muslim victims of abuse when trying to obtain justice.
Issues range from poor standards of investigation, disempowering flaws in victims’ right to review, incorrect information being given, a lack of understanding of the links between revenge porn and honour-based violence, and, if all that wasn’t enough, there is even an element of victim-blaming (apparently, the natural consequence of texting an ex-partner to leave you alone is for him to punch your car).

Amidst all this, however, there is an issue that goes beyond the realm of the criminal justice system and extends into the world of family law; that of religious-only marriages.

Fiza* started a relationship with Tariq*, who soon became controlling and emotionally abusive. With the couple both being Muslim, he began pressurising her to marry him and misusing faith to guilt-trip her. It seems Tariq had decided all of a sudden that “dating” was now a sin, something that apparently he hadn’t thought of when they started their relationship. Fiza did not want to get married but felt she had no choice. She was taken to a house where an Islamic ceremony took place in the presence of an Imam and two men acting as witnesses. Fiza eventually ended the relationship; she did not accept she was married and certainly did not want to continue with the marriage even if she was. Tariq, however, demanded she return to him, and started a campaign of harassment.


2 replies

  1. The topic is not so simple. But, yes, of course, steps need to be taken to stop any abuse and exploitation and forced marriages and all that.

    There may be a case when ‘religious only’ ceremonies will be necessary, such as in polygamous unions not recognized by Western laws (yet). But also in these cases the bride and the couple as a whole need to be informed exactly what they are getting into. The groom needs to provide whatever is possible in security and for instance balancing the fact that wife Nr. 1 may get a government pension and wife Nr. 2 will not.


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