Aina Khan and Baroness Warsi kick started the Muslim Marriages Project on the 9th January 2014. The project is aimed at tackling the many legal and societal issues caused by unregistered Muslim marriages; for example, when the Nikah ceremony is not registered under English civil law.
A Round Table meeting was held at the Foreign Office on 9th January 2014. In attendance were a large panel of opinion makers and influential public figures in the Muslim community. The meeting was addressed by Baroness PC and Aina Khan, Head of the Islamic Department at Duncan Lewis Solicitors. Some of those who attended were Lord Tariq Ahmad of the Ministry of Justice, Stephen Hockman QC, and leading Imams and women’s groups.
Baroness Warsi highlighted that to treat the issue, "two routes need to be taken into consideration (1) the legal route which may require legislation to require registration of Muslim marriages to protect vulnerable women and children and (2) in the short term, the community’s role – how to raise awareness of the issue and resolutions can be spread in Muslim communities and to encourage Imams to register their Mosques".
Baroness Warsi had asked Aina Khan to draw up proposals for action over the next 6 months, building on the work she had done as a member of the Ministry of Justice’s Muslim Marriage Working Group (MMWG) and as a practicing solicitor who handles such cases daily.
Aina Khan has produced a number of resources to help raise awareness of the issue and to fuel the success of the campaign:-
1. A survey questionnaire to collect data and evaluate the extent of the issue and the main causes and gathering of case studies
2. A basic Prenuptial Agreement will be drafted that protects assets on divorce – this can become part of the Nikah contract
3. A succession road shows in the UK’s most predominant Muslim communities during the next 6 months
4. A flowchart for Imams setting out the simple steps to registering marriages These resources will allow Aina to “learn of the experiences of the local community and to explain how to address the issue of unregistered marriages.”
5. A 2 page simple Islamic narrative is being drafted, to be downloaded and given out at Mosques and other places frequented by Muslims. This has been given the support of key Islamic scholars; emphasizing that "Islam was the first religion to introduce the concept of marriage as a contract, with clear terms to protect the interests of both parties and the children – secret marriages or those that exploit or hurt one party are not acceptable in Islam".
Aina Khan stated:
“The problem (of unregistered Muslim marriages) is a major trend - it is growing rapidly, especially amongst the under 30s. In my experience of clients, 80% of Muslim marriages are not registered and this percentage is growing. The legal consequences are that Muslim women can be thrown out of their homes overnight, losing their dignity, their wedding jewellery and belongings and so often large investments of income and savings. The husbands are refusing to pay their ‘Mehr’ (the Islamic financial settlement given upon marriage by the husband). These women cannot often afford to recover their rights under Trusts law so they have to give up their claims.
I am looking at ‘No win No Fee’ arrangements and other funding options to bring civil law claims. I am seeking case studies and urge people to contact me without delay and to complete the survey that is posted on the Duncan Lewis website. Complete confidentiality is guaranteed.”
Lord Ahmad stated:
“There is clearly a need to inform the Imams about the legal resources available to these women.”
Baroness Warsi made it clear in the meeting that an awareness campaign cannot be carried out “under the radar”. She expressed her full commitment and that the Government will support the Muslim community in addressing this issue, stressing that the campaign will be community led.
Aina Khan thanked the leading figures in both Muslim and non-Muslim communities who have pledged their support and looks forward to issuing clear findings during the next 6 months.