Is Islamic Marriage Valid in the UK?

Feb 24, 2020   ·   6 minute read
Is Islamic Marriage Valid in the UK?

A divorce court ruling on a Sharia law marriage has called into question the validity of Sharia law marriages conducted in the UK.  You may question why that is important to you as, after all, if you celebrated an Islamic marriage ceremony, witnessed by all your friends and family that is what counts as you are married in the eyes of God.

Whilst our Manchester divorce solicitors would not disagree with the significance of the marriage ceremony to you, in the English family court you may not be legally married. Your status as a husband or wife or as a cohabitee could make the difference between whether you get half the family wealth or nothing if you separate.

The case of Mr Khan and Mrs Akhtar

The legal status of Islamic marriage in the UK is in the news headlines again because of the long running case of Mr Khan and Mrs Akhtar. In the high court Mrs Akhtar sought a divorce from her husband, Mr Khan. He opposed the divorce petition on the basis that they weren’t legally married. Although you would have thought it obvious that they were married because the couple had participated in a Nikah ceremony in a London restaurant conducted by an Imam with about 150 guests, Mr Khan said the marriage  wasn’t legal as whilst it might be a legal marriage under Sharia law it did not meet the requirements of English marriage  law.


The first judge ruled that the marriage was a marriage but classed it as a void marriage. This decision allowed Mrs Akhtar to start financial proceedings as the wife of Mr Khan, something that she could not have done if the high court had ruled that the couple were not legally married. Although the court ruled that the marriage was still a marriage (even though it was void) back in 2018 it has taken until February 2020 for the court of appeal to hear the case and conclude that the couple were not legally married under English law.


Interestingly the appeal wasn’t brought by Mr Khan but by the Attorney General who is joined as a party to court proceedings where the validity of a marriage is called into question. The court of appeal ruling is making Manchester divorce solicitors ask where the decision leaves Mr Khan, Mrs Akhtar and their four children and, just as importantly all those other husband and wife’s who have celebrated a Nikah marriage  ceremony recognised in Sharia and Islamic law but not under UK marriage  law.


Is an Islamic marriage valid in the UK?

The court of appeal held that the marriage of Mr Khan and Mrs Akhter was invalid (rather than void) and therefore the Islamic marriage isn’t a legally recognised marriage, notwithstanding the 150 guests who attended to witness the marriage ceremony.


The court of appeal ruled that the Sharia law wedding wasn’t a valid marriage because the ceremony took place at a venue that isn’t registered as a wedding venue and therefore no registrar was therefore present to conduct the ceremony. Back in 2018, the high court took a different approach and ruled there was a valid marriage recognised in both Sharia law and under English case law because although the couple hadn’t complied with English marriage law requirements they both held themselves out as a married couple. The court of appeal said that this wasn’t enough as they both knew that they needed to participate in a registered civil marriage ceremony to comply with English marriage law.

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Does it matter if your Islamic marriage isn’t recognised in the UK?

You may question whether it matters if your Islamic marriage isn’t recognised in the UK family law as a valid marriage because, from your perspective, it is your marriage under Sharia law that is the important ceremony to you and your family. However, if you separate and you try to start divorce proceedings you may find yourself in the same position as Mrs Akhtar; told that there is no need for English divorce proceedings because you are not legally married under English law. That means, that for the purposes of your financial settlement, in English family law you will be treated as a cohabitee or unmarried partner.


If your marriage is legally recognised then within divorce and financial proceedings a husband or wife can bring financial claims for a share of:

  • The family home
  • Any other property you own – this property includes houses or commercial property owned in your joint names or in your sole name
  • Your business – your spouse does not need to hold shares in your company or to have worked in the business to be able to make a financial claim against business assets
  • Your pension – your spouse can claim a share in your pension even if your pension was set up prior to your marriage
  • Your savings and investments – your husband or wife can claim a share of your savings and investments even if they are owned in your sole name
  • Your income – a claim can be made for the payment of ongoing spousal maintenance.


By contrast, if you are an unmarried partner or cohabitee you won’t be able to claim:

  • A share of your partner’s pension
  • Spousal maintenance
  • Any other assets unless you can prove that you are an owner of that property or that you were promised a share in the property.


If you have children with your partner you can try to claim housing provision and child support for your children but Manchester divorce solicitors say it is a lot harder to bring a financial claim if you are a cohabitee rather than a husband or wife whose legal status in recognised in English law.


What should I do if I have an Islamic marriage?

If you have an Islamic marriage and you are concerned that your marriage won’t be legally recognised in English law it is best to take legal advice from a Manchester divorce solicitor. A discussion about your legal relationship status does not commit you to making any decisions and is completely confidential.


Islamic marriages and prenuptial agreements

If your husband or wife does not want to participate in a legally recognised marriage ceremony because they appreciate the extent of the financial claims that can be made by a husband or wife on separation (in contrast to an unmarried partner) then one option may be to look at signing a prenuptial agreement to record a fair financial settlement should you separate at a later date. It is vital that you take expert legal advice before committing to sign a prenuptial agreement.  


If you are concerned about the status of your Islamic marriage then whether or not you are contemplating a separation or starting civil divorce proceedings you should take legal advice on your situation and options. The specialist divorce law team at Manchester divorce solicitors at Evolve Family Law in Whitefield can help you.

Call our Whitefield divorce solicitors or complete our online enquiry form.