Britain’s first female sharia law judge has issued a brazen warning that flies in the face of UK law, stating that the “government cannot ask Muslims not to have more than one wife”.
The news comes on the back of a report by the Times newspaper which claims that Britain is experiencing a “surge” in Sharia marriages, as young British Muslims adopt a more hardline religious stance than their parents.
“As many as 100,000 couples are living in such marriages, which are not valid under UK law, experts said. Ministers have raised fears that women can be left without the right to a fair share of assets if the relationship ends, while others are forced to return to abusive “husbands”.”
A leading Islamic family lawyer warned that the increase in Sharia ceremonies among the 2.7 million-strong Muslim population in Britain was also behind a growth in “secret polygamy”.
“Probably a quarter of all couples I see involve polygamy issues,” Aina Khan told The Times. “There has been a huge rise in recent years because people can have a secret nikah [Islamic marriage] and no one will know about it.”
The growth in a parallel marriage system that bypassed the register office was being driven by Muslims aged below 30, who were becoming more religious, she said. Other factors include finding a way around the expectation of no sex before marriage and a fear of British family courts, which presume that assets should be split equally.
Muslim Arbitration Tribunals, colloquially known as Sharia courts, have existed in the United Kingdom since 1996, when the Arbitration Act began to allow for different religious laws to be applied in cases such as divorce.
While the tribunals are supposed to work within UK law, recent reports suggest that young Muslims are not registering their marriages with the government under UK civil law, instead simply using nikha ceremonies, which can lead to men having a number of wives, and none of the legal responsibility towards them usually afforded to spouses under the 1949 Marriage Act.
Now, Amra Bone, who is the UK’s first female Sharia council judge, has said that “the government cannot — ask Muslims not to have more than one wife. People have a right to decide for themselves,” implying that British Muslims are free to operate outside UK law, as a rule unto themselves and the Sharia courts they feel are legitimate.
Muslim women who enter into marriage in Islamic ceremonies are often duped into thinking that the marriage under Islamic law is enough to protect them under UK law. As such, they receive none of the usual protections under UK law, such as assets being divided in cases of divorce.