By Umbreen Ali
7 March 2016
A ground-breaking report and guide has highlighted the difficulties many British Muslim women face when seeking a divorce.
The study also highlighted the issue of polygamy Muslim women are having to deal with.
‘Information and Guidance on Muslim Marriage and Divorce in Britain’, published by the Muslim Women’s Network UK (MWNUK), a national charity, shares case studies of women who have felt beleaguered when trying to apply for an Islamic divorce in the UK.
MWNUK receives enquiries regularly from Muslim women complaining about the difficulties they experience when trying to obtain a divorce.
MWNUK reveal Muslim women they have spoken to face multiple barriers when they are trying to leave an unhappy marriage.
Pressure from family and community to remain within abusive marriages and to suffer in silence is common because of the perceived stigma of divorce and it being regarded as shameful.
Others do not understand the legal status of their marriage and therefore their rights pertaining to divorce.
The report features the experiences of women and men tackling a range of subjects.
Names have been changed to protect identities.
Ameera wanted a divorce because her husband had married again.
He was also regularly watching porn and then raping her.
He had also given Ameera sexually transmitted infections.
When she contacted the Shariah Council for a divorce, they pressured Ameera into mediation, which she did not want.
When she visited him, he asked Ameera very personal questions about her sex life.
Despite her testimony of rape, he told Ameera that polygamy was allowed and said, ‘Be patient, you have lasted 22 years, why do you want a divorce now?’
This was the extent of her mediation.
Ameera went to another Shariah Council and obtained her divorce.
In another case brought to the attention of MWNUK, Summayah, a convert to Islam was taken to a bookshop by her husband-to-be where an Islamic marriage was performed.
He did not pay the mahr (marriage gift) and they did not have a civil marriage.
Soon after the marriage, Summayah’s husband started going on websites to meet other women.
She approached the imam who had performed the marriage ceremony at the bookshop, who advised her to try and make the marriage work.
Her husband eventually divorced her via text.
MWNUK reveal solicitors who have significant numbers of Muslim female clients have contacted them.
They have informed MWNUK that Muslim women often receive conflicting and bad advice from their families and other community members, which makes them apprehensive to take advantage of civil law to secure their financial rights.
The research says by the time these women get legal advice, it can be too late because the husband has disposed of assets that they are legally entitled to.
Ayesha had been married for just over a year to her husband.
Since being married she had discovered that her husband, who was already abusive towards her, had been taking drugs and had drained her of her financial resources.
Her family visited a peer (spiritual healer) and Ayesha was told that she must continuously read Quran, do namaz (pray), and do other prayers for 50 days continuously.
She was told her husband will change but if she stops praying, he will revert back to his bad behaviour.
Widad was 23 years old when her marriage broke down. After her husband abandoned her she went to see the imam at her local mosque for help in obtaining her divorce.
However, he started to tell Widad how pretty she was and started to make inappropriate comments. She was given the impression that he wanted sexual favours in return for granting a divorce.
Although some women have positive experiences when seeking an Islamic divorce, many others are discriminated against.
Women are often blamed for the marriage breakdown and are made to feel guilty for wanting a divorce.
They can be pressured into mediation, which is usually through family members or imams/scholars at the religious institution and not through qualified and accredited mediators.
Nighat married her cousin and moved in with her in-laws.
After their third child was born, Nighat’s husband married a second wife.
Her husband and her in-laws regularly subjected Nighat to domestic violence.
She eventually moved out with her children and obtained her civil divorce.
However, when Nighat approached one Shariah Council to get her Islamic divorce, she was told that she had to produce two male witnesses who could verify that her marriage had broken down.
They were required to give written statements.
Nighat was also pressurised into having mediation through the family and the imam, which she did not want.
Eventually she approached another Shariah Council in a different city.
It took into account that Nighat had been subjected to abuse and had obtained a civil divorce.
It therefore accepted that the marriage had broken down and granted her Islamic divorce speedily without pressure of mediation or male witnesses.
Pressure to marry a cousin is not uncommon, as is revealed by Amjad.
He reluctantly agreed to marry his cousin in Pakistan after coercion from his family.
However, soon after Amjad’s first marriage, he conducted an Islamic marriage with his girlfriend and moved in with her.
Amjad has been married to both of his wives for 10 years and lives mostly with his second wife with whom he has children.
His first wife lives with his parents.
The first wife is being prevented from leaving the marriage and seeking a divorce due to the shame it would cause the family and is expected to remain in the marriage and look after his parents.
Amjad’s second wife is unable to have a civil marriage with him to ensure her marriage is legally valid because Amjad is still legally married to his first wife.
MWNUK develop resources and train women so they are better aware of their rights.
They have a separate website for their national helpline www.mwnhelpline.co.uk that provides advice and support on a range of issues some of which include domestic violence, forced marriage, sexual abuse and discrimination.
Nagina who cannot read or write English, came to the UK on a spousal visa. After being married for several years and having children, her husband made her sign documents which she later discovered were divorce documents.
Nagina and her children have not received any financial support from the husband.
In another case of manipulation, Shamim discovered that she was not legally married when she and her husband went through a divorce 20 years after their nikah took place.
Her husband sold the house leaving her and her two children homeless.
She was also unable to claim the assets they had built up together as they were all in his name.
Shamim was distraught as she had worked all of her married life.
From the research conducted, MWNUK have put forward recommendations, which include good practice for Shariah Councils when handling divorce cases and legislative solutions to prevent discrimination against women in matters of marriage and divorce.
Aaliyah says that it was MWNUK’s intervention that helped her to get her divorce.
“My husband walked out on me with no explanation.
“I had no choice but to ensure I was divorced according to Islam.
“I contacted a Shariah Council and filled in all the necessary paperwork.
“They wrote to my husband and he said he would only agree to the divorce if I returned all the dowry gifts he gave me worth £2,5000.
“The truth is I was given nothing.
“When I went in to see the scholar at the Shariah Council I was told that he had not read my case notes and that he had only read those of my husband, which included a ludicrous statement saying that I would regularly put too much salt in my husband’s food.
“The scholar urged me to give in to the demands even though I told them it was all lies.
“It felt like a form of blackmail, that I had to pay a ransom to be set free.
“It was after further complications that I contacted Cassandra Balchin of Muslim Women’s Network UK, who put me in touch with a scholar who wrote a letter to my ex-husband telling him that the Islamic divorce was in place.
“I had it in writing that I was free to marry again. This was two years after the whole process started!”
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