Muslim women are to be guaranteed equal rights in marriage under a new wedding contract negotiated by leading Islamic organisations and clerics in Britain.
New Sharia law marriage contract gives Muslim women rights
Hailed as the biggest change in Sharia law in Britain for 100 years, a married Muslim couple will now have equal rights. A husband will have to waive his right to polygamy, allowed under Islamic law, in the new contract which has been described as “revolutionary”.
Currently Muslims in Britain have an Islamic ceremony called a nikah (a non register office marriage) which, although it is guaranteed under Sharia law, is not legally binding and does not provide a woman with written proof of the marriage and of the terms and conditions agreed between the spouses.
Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, Director of the Muslim Institute and one of the authors of the contract, told The Daily Telegraph: “The document is a challenge to various sharia councils who don’t believe in gender equality but the world has changed and Islamic law has to be renegotiated.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was criticised earlier this year when he called for greater recognition of Sharia in British civil legislature, a view that was echoed recently by the Lord Chief Justice Phillips.
Ann Cryer, a Labour MP who has campaigned for the rights of Muslim women, welcomed today’s change, saying: “This document has been carefully researched over a four year period and I feel confident in recommending its findings to women (and men) of the Muslim Faith contemplating Marriage.”
In cases of divorces, the absence of such proof, has meant that many Muslim women have been denied financial rights.
The new Muslim marriage contract does not require a ‘marriage guardian’ (wali) for the bride, and also makes delegation of the right of divorce to the wife (talaq-i-tafweeed) automatic.
This right does not affect the husband’s right of talaq but enables the wife to initiate divorce and retain all her financial rights agreed in the marriage contract. These provisions reflect a recognition of changes in the Muslim world, including women’s greater public roles, educational achievements and financial autonomy.
Drawn up by the Muslim Institute, the contract has taken four years to negotiate and create. It is supported by leading Muslim organisations including the Imams & Mosques Council (UK), Muslim Council of Britain, The Muslim Law (Shariah) Council UK, Utrujj Foundation, and The Muslim Parliament of Great Britain.
According to its authors, the new contract “brings Muslim marriages in Britain into line with positive developments in Muslim family law across the Muslim world”.
Dr Siddiqui said “A lot of people come to us and the Islamic Shari ‘ah Council for advice and we realised that Islamic marriage had lots of problems.
“Many Muslims in this country have a ‘village’ background, with Muslims from Sylhet in Bangladesh or in Pakistan where the local Imam performs a nikah, without proper registration or properly recording that such a ceremony has taken place.
“But in Britain, more marriages are breaking down and young people have said that we need to update things.”
The new ‘Muslim Marriage Contract’ is a sign that many Muslims in the UK realize that the civilized world has no room for the frequently barbaric and inhumane aspects of Sharia (Islamic law).
On her blog at The Telegraph, Urmee Khan — who reported the above story — says, “Contrary to what militant secularists say, it is actually possible to modify ancient religious rulings to adapt to a modern setting.” Khan wonders whether the new marriage law is a step in the direction of an evolving Europen form of Islam:
Is this the beginning of a new European Islam?
The contract itself is very specific. The husband has to agree not to:
• abuse his wife/child(ren) verbally, emotionally, physically, or sexually
• be absent from the marital home for more than 60 days unless by agreement
• withhold money towards his wife/family
• transmit disease
• interfere with the wife’s property
In return, the wife agrees to abide by all of that as well – except for the provision not to withhold money from the household.
There are also some special conditions – for example, the rule that the husband’s duty is to procure independent accommodation separate from his family home, and that the husband delegates his power of divorce to his wife.
Within sharia law, these changes are an enormous step. Just ask any Islamic feminist who continually challenge traditional interpretations of the Quran.
For example Surah 2 Verse 228 of the Quran can be translated as: “And woman shall have rights similar to rights them, according to what is equitable. But men have a degree of advantage over them.”
The most important thing is that we have a modification to sharia law which reflects the reality of a modern and European population. Contrary to what militant secularists say, it is actually possible to modify ancient religious rulings to adapt to a modern setting. As Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, Director of the Muslim Institute and one of the authors of the contract, said: “This contract is revolutionary and will lead the way in addressing problems that exist under sharia law. Although it is only the tip of the iceberg, it is a revolutionary step, nothing like this has happened in 100 years. The adoption of this model will change everything and force people to talk about the issues.”
The controversial academic Tariq Ramadan has made calls for European Muslims to evolve nothing less than its own form of Islam “We need to separate Islamic principles from their cultures of origin and anchor them in the cultural reality of Western Europe.” With 15 million Muslims on the Continent, Ramadan believes it’s time to abandon the dichotomy in Muslim thought that has defined Islam in opposition to the West. “I can incorporate everything that’s not opposed to my religion into my identity,” he says, “and that’s a revolution.”
Perhaps this development is a move towards an independent European Islam.