Updated 7 December 2016
The accommodation of arbitration systems to govern private and family matters had led, arguably, to the greatest human rights violations of minority women in the UK.
Personal testimonies below aim to highlight the inequities of Sharia and parallel legal systems in Britain.
They were submitted with to the Home Affairs Select Committee on Sharia as evidence.
For more information on the testimonies, please contact Pragna Patel (Southall Black Sisters), Gita Sahgal (Centre for Secular Space) or Gina Khan and Maryam Namazie (One Law for All). Contact details below.
MR R TAHIR
1. I’m in my 20s; a British Asian man who realised in my later teens that my mother was a victim of domestic violence and polygamy.
2. I was young when they divorced. My sister tells me she would cover my ears so that I wouldn’t hear their arguments. She had witnessed domestic violence. I have little memory, except for a time I remember my mum seemed sad, lost and forgot to feed us. She was crying and struggled to look after us. Otherwise my mum is loving caring, everything a mother should be except for this memory I carry, watching her stare into space, not eat and cuddle us in bed after dad left.
3. I realised he was an absent dad soon after and stopped caring for him, because I didn’t want to be hurt. I still don’t. What kind of father does that? He refused us any help and because mum was not in a legal marriage he abused her with money, took the car off her. I remember losing our home. For years money was short and he wouldn’t support us. He never took us on holidays but seemed to jet off every year. That’s hard to forgive. I know he has other properties and lives the life but he never stopped once to think how he treated us. I never met family or grandparents. I don’t want to think about a Muslim family that has rejected me and ignored my existence.
4. I understand it was because my dad married my mum against the will of his family, regardless of it being a love marriage he married someone else using Muslim marriage laws (sharia). I know now he physically & financially abused my mum. I’m very protective now; he still has polygamous marriages even though he has a wife and other children.
5. He has the nerve to put down my white friends or English girlfriend as ‘goreh’ & tells me I mustn’t follow their way of life; the hypocrisy is astounding!! The man even forgets my birthdays and I’m his first born; he continues having Muslim marriages with lone mothers but never paid child support or had any time for me after divorce.
6. Of course it really hurts, never having a dad around or any male role model has left me feeling inadequate about myself but I have my mum and she’s all that matters. I know what kind of man I don’t want to be. Mum kept me away from his influence and now my choice is too keep the distance. My mum also kept me away from cultural practices that go on in his family such as forced cousin marriages and not allowing daughters any freedom.
7. I think about these men with several wives like my father and don’t understand how or why religion or families allow it. My step mother suffers depression, yet he continues to harm his other family using religion.
8. I was raised by a lone working mother and she’s all I have ever known. She raised me to be who I am, I don’t follow my dad’s religious beliefs I don’t know what to believe because I find these practices cause nothing heartache. Mum says just follow your heart and respect the law. How can you say you are Muslim and then walk away from your kids and marry more women, have more kids you don’t want responsibility for?
9. I don’t understand any of these practices, forced marriages or honour killings. It surprises me. The re’s only one British law my mother has always made me respect and value. As a man it’s hard for me to understand why you would do that to the mother of your children and keep her trapped. Some would call me a coconut but I see myself as a normal British born Asian. I don’t even understand the concept of honour, even though my dad has gone on about it but it just makes me laugh. What honour are they talking about?
10. I will never forget the hardships we endured, my mum had no rights because she wasn’t in a legal marriage and he abused her using his religion and culture. He’s not even remotely religious. A womaniser who still tries to disrespect my mum and blame her for everything. I don’t have much to do with him. Mum said forgive him but I don’t know why she thinks I should make room for him in my life. He abandoned me as a child.
11. We are a strong loving family. I wouldn’t let a man like my dad near my mum or sister. A real Muslim man wouldn’t marry other women using religion and have children & then want no responsibility. Leaving the state to pick up the bill. The Best decision my mum made was to leave him. She devoted her life to us. She’s so strong, she lives in the shadow of no man now.
12. I absolutely have no respect for Pakistani Muslim men who have multiple women and abandon their children and still say ‘we are Muslim; we are men; it’s our religion…?’ as if that entitles them to do as they want. My dad’s friends are all the same. I struggle to understand their attitude. It’s no wonder my mum kept me away from them all. I may have accepted it.
13. From time to time you hear stories of one of dad’s friends taking on a 2nd wife. That’s just not right.
I am proud of the fact she raised me to reject my dad’s tribal mind-set and respect for family way of life and women.
14. Therefore, I wanted to give my testimony. These men shouldn’t be allowed to use religion or sharia or whatever God given right, to use and abuse Pakistani women like my mother.
15. I worry that my sister will meet a Pakistani Muslim guy who could believe in this same tribal beliefs considering she is religious and may marry a Muslim & be victim to the same pattern of abuse. There’s nothing stopping Muslim men from having these religious marriages. There’s still nothing stopping my dad.
16. I don’t know the name of his latest 2nd wife – he is a womanizer abusing religion. I feel ashamed to be honest. I wouldn’t let my sister accept a 2nd wife, that’s crazy. I would bring her back home for good and tell her to divorce him. This is crazy; I have never told my close friends that my dad had two wives. It’s the 21st century I can’t believe this still happens. I wouldn’t have believed it had I not witnessed it and learnt the truth as an adult.
17. Sometimes I hope my sister marries a someone from another religion or culture, because so many British Pakistani Muslim lads believe in these practices, not just my father. Shouldn’t it be a crime to marry 2 or 4 wives in Britain? I hope only to have one wife whom I will legally marry. Same law should apply to every man and woman in this country.
MR IMRAN KHAN, BIRMINGHAM (Real Name)
I am a happily married Pakistani husband, father and grandfather who have resided in Birmingham since 1970s.
We are a normal traditional family who respect the rule and laws of our country.
Both my sons married into extended family and are happily married.
However, years ago our family peace was shattered when we all discovered the oldest son had taken on another wife and a child.
She was an English lady who had converted to Islam; she wore the full black veil and burka. This is something women in my family have never worn as promoted by the Islam and Sharia that has spread in our communities.
The was no question about it and we all stood united with our daughter in law. A kind loving wife mother and daughter in law who didn’t deserve this. She was totally heartbroken.
What my son was doing was against the values of our family regardless of whether people believe it’s permissible.
I would never do that to my wife, and didn’t expect my son to take on a practice I thought was banned in this country.
He even demanded she live in the same house with him and his co wife. Regardless of our objection she did move in with them but it seems very shortly the other wife could not handle their relationship and insisted he leave the other wife.
We removed her out of this toxic and sad situation and firmly stood with her, giving the ultimatum to our son to make a choice.
I was born in Pakistan and my firm belief is if you want another wife or woman then divorce your wife and move on. I will not accept this practice regardless of it being part of Sharia law.
Yes, it happens in families especially in Pakistan but usually if a woman cannot have children, according to Sharia this is permissible only with the permission of the wife, he cannot randomly go around having these Islamic marriages but it seems they can in England.
One day his co wife knocked on our door demanding we give her the Islamic rights she was entitled to under Sharia; she had been converted into an Islam alien to many Pakistanis. For a start we are not in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.
We remained firm but the pain and tears I witnessed I will not forget.
Me and my wife threw him out but took our daughter in law in.
She did not deserve this and we were not going to support his decision. We insisted he divorce her and move on.
Our grown grandchildren were in distress; they began to learn about
the other co ‘wife’.
My daughter in law being a kind hearted and resilient woman even accepted his child to visit but eventually that was stopped when his co wife realised we will not accept these undocumented nikahs. As far as I am concerned, it’s haram or used to cover adultery.
After much emotional and distressing few years, our son eventually divorced his co wife (no idea which method he used) and reconciliated with his wife and family.
As a united family we are against these sharia practices and fully understand we must live according to the laws of the land.
I wish to protect my beautiful daughters and granddaughters from this practice. I can’t stop Imams or maulvis preaching this to our men but I can ask the government to stop this practice of nikah upon nikah and no protection for legal wives. This is injustice and it is wrong.
Every member of my family is against any sharia court or council, Imam or cleric who preach this practice.
Me and my wife are very religious but we will not accept the abuse of our daughters in the name of a practice that is banned in this country. I knew that 45 years ago when I came to this country.
I am shocked at this new generation who think they live in the villages of Pakistan. In fact, it doesn’t even happen there as often as I hear it happens here.
If you don’t love your wife, divorce her and move on; men have no right to insist wives accept this rubbish; polygamy nearly destroyed my whole family.
This practice also impacted our youngest daughter; her husband also had a Muslim marriage and has two children when she was a mother of young children.
After years of torment her husband finally Islamically divorced this co wife; our daughter nearly divorced him. Thankfully he decided to remain with his family.
The sad thing is the children of such marriages are the victims.
Children and women suffer the most and as a father, a grandfather I want my daughters protected. Yet the government has done nothing and if we report to police they say no law has been broken.
So what can we do except give our story and hope that someone will stop the nikahs upon nikahs. How can I protect our daughters when no one seems to realise the impact this has? Polygamy is not the same as having an affair; it is being used only for people to justify their sins. I do not want this to happen to any other woman in my family.
MS NADIA SADIQ
My name is Nadia Sadiq, I’m British Born Pakistani woman and a Muslim. I decided to give my testimony after realising that more needs to be done to protect vulnerable Muslim women when they use Sharia courts for a divorce. I found my own experience to be discriminating and want to warn others.
I am not a victim, I just wanted out of a dead marriage with a disrespectful man. That’s my right.
I am an independent career woman and fully understand my rights in Britain, so I assumed, as much as I understand my rights as a Muslim woman. However regardless of a Decree Nisi, it was important for me to produce a Muslim divorce document too, believing that HE would accuse me of still being married to him to relatives in Pakistan just to malign me.
The reason being that Muslims within family or extended family and even mosques will ignore a British divorce now and still under ‘Sharia’ consider me to be his wife. I believed that too.
The only option was to use a local Sharia court in Birmingham Green Lane mosque, in order to obtain this. I realised it was a Wahabbi sect but I didn’t know where else to go.
The Sharia judge ignored the ‘British divorce’ and focused on arbitration; I didn’t want any meeting ,clearly stating this and he said the procedure was compulsory. He insisted that I have a meeting with the ex-husband. I absolutely refused.
Regardless of this when I turned up for a scheduled meeting with the Judge, he had already, without consulting me, invited my ex-husband. I was furious that the estranged vindictive ex-husband had used this meeting to malign and manipulate the situation by accusing me of being an aggressive, angry and disobedient woman.
I was furious, as this was not the truth; he had tried this tactic with my family and caused me a lot of grief and family conflict. He had so far refused to give me a Muslim divorce which could have been done through family with a few witnesses. I really believed I needed this in addition to a decree nisi.
There was nothing this Sharia judge could say or do in order for me to change my mind. I was seething at the way I was being treated just for being a woman. After I stood up for myself and asserted my position they backed off.
I was granted a Muslim divorce which I had to pay approx. £300 for.
However, I was furious that I was subjected to such behaviour. My opinion, choices, needs and right to freedom were scrutinised in attempts to make me look like a ‘bad woman’ seeking divorce.
A friend who wanted a divorce because of an alcoholic husband, was also seeking a Muslim divorce not just a civil divorce like me. She went to the same sharia court in Green lane mosque and was subjected to the same treatment; the estranged husband was invited to a meeting ignoring her reasons.
She was suffering from depression so I was concerned for her. I advised her to remain resilient and stand up for herself and not allow anyone to intimidate her.
She was on low income and still had to pay the same fee as me when the khulla was issued.
I do worry that if they can put me through something like that, how are women with no support or knowledge of their rights, those who are victims of domestic violence or in other vulnerable situations, able to protect themselves against such dominating figures in this community?
Sharia courts didn’t exist when I was growing up and now are a concern to me. No way was I going to let them interfere in the affairs of my child or property. I’m aware of my British rights.
I had already fought my own case against him over child custody to safeguard our child in a British court of Law, I assumed I knew the law; now I feel conned. Why didn’t we know about this?
It wasn’t until I spoke to a spokesperson of One Law for All that I realised a decree absolute was the only legal evidence I needed; it is recognised under international law and by Pakistan. This shocked me.
I didn’t know this but after talking to my elderly mother I learnt Pakistani parents and women believed the British Civil divorce was sufficient and recognised as an end of a faith marriage before these Sharia courts existed.
Sharia courts shouldn’t exist really; something has gone drastically wrong which means the only choice we have as Muslim women is to go to a Sharia court and pay another fee to gain our freedom.
I have always been aware of malvis, they serve a purpose but only to advise, not spread their own codes of law. Our family have never had the need to use their services – the fundamentalists who do not believe in promoting the rights of Muslim women, or view us equal human beings.
They believe in Sharia being the divine law, so do I believe in Sharia in matters of many things but we are being manipulated. They expect all Muslims to follow blindly and never question. I didn’t question but I question their services and purpose now.
The men never pay or share costs just because a woman instigates a ‘khulla’. I had to cover costs for legal and Muslim divorce which is very unfair. I’m not a lawyer but there needs to be a solution to this, and more clarifications for Muslim citizens. There is huge confusion compared to decades ago.
I am told that the decree nisi is all I need and I can’t see why not but clerics won’t accept this legal documents, and mainstream Muslim communities have started to believe that is the case too.
I am hoping this can change because I am also aware of how the practice of taking on second wives is spreading and I find it all strange that such practices are allowed. These practices have impacted many families and women around me. It doesn’t make sense.
I can’t understand as a liberal law abiding citizen how this has happened in our community.
The state needs to step up and protect Muslim women, ensure we are treated accordingly as full citizens and with full protection of the law, like any other married woman in this country.
I am a practising believer in Islam but I am disgusted at this service. Sharia judges and Islamists have shaken my trust in them. I think women who may be suffering depression shouldn’t be subjected to use these services and then pay huge amounts of money. I would like my money back, when I think about it. I feel like a fool.
If I was asked to give a testimony for the Sharia review in front of two Imams, my answer is No. I don’t see how they can help the situation anymore or be trusted with our lives.
I put my faith in the British government to do something, perhaps enforce the laws we already have.
Video Testimony: MS A
Video Testimony: MS S
Video Testimony: MS ALIYAH
MS HABIBA JAN
I am a British Born Pakistani Muslim woman in my early forties. I became a women’s right activist after my own life experiences had impacted me deeply.
I founded the Aurat Foundation I am author of a report. I did research on the status of British Muslim women in regards to the practice of Polygamy and other discrimination they face, which has been put into evidence by the National Secular Society.
I was a victim of the Islamic practice of polygamy, as it impacted my life because my mother was a victim of polygamy. This is my personal testimony.
My father was a British citizen who was a driving instructor; he made friends with mum’s family, settled here in the UK and subsequently went to Pakistan Karachi in the early 70s to marry my mother.
She came here 7 months later pregnant with her first child on a spousal visa and lived in nice suburban area in Birmingham.
After the birth of my older sister I was born but I was told my father rejected me because he didn’t want another daughter. He made it clear he didn’t want another daughter.
I was told as an adult by my uncle that my dad had thrown my mum out with me in her arms and I was only a new born baby. My uncle said he went to pick her up whilst we were stranded in the rain. She had nowhere to go and called on the support of her aunt and family.
The family had also discovered that he had another wife which was not acceptable to her or them. My uncles and our family do not believe in this practice and know it leaves women without lawful rights and protection.
After the family challenged him and would not accept another ‘wife’, he abandoned us and subsequently absconded to Holland. I am told by my aunt that she watched my mum being sectioned. She had suffered a mental breakdown.
I was told he never gave her a divorce and according to the advice of a Mullah she remarried again after 7 years of raising us alone.
At first she had a nikah but my uncles wouldn’t sit in the Islamic marriage. They only had a registered marriage after pressure from family, so she was a legally recognised wife.
But once again she was abused, as a victim of polygamy and domestic violence. My stepfather did not tell her about his long time mistress and by the time she had her first son, he informed her that he was also bringing over his first cousin wife from his village and their sons on a visa. We have no idea how he did this, as my mother was legally married.
She was just helpless; she believed that if she divorced him with 3 children, the community will believe she is a dishonourable woman and I would hear him say who would want her with two divorces behind her with three children.
She ended up stuck in the most deplorable situation where she had to accept his wife who arrived with teenage children and they all had to live in the same house. Me and my sister had to adjust to this sad family set up.
I witnessed domestic violence – physical and emotional abuse – as a child that I cannot put into words. My mother was battered and broken. He had isolated her from the rest of her family. She suffered serious mental health problems & so her health suffered too.
On my 11th birthday party, my mother died of a fatal asthma attack. She was surrounded by this man’s wife and mistress; such was her tragedy.
A week before he had battered her & her blood had spattered on a wallpaper in the living room. I remember it clearly because when her coffin was brought to the house and family gathered, I noticed he had ripped the wall paper off.
Me and my sister were taken in by her maternal family & after the years of trauma we found stability and love.
But when we were young teenagers, our father arrived from Holland pleading to take us there with him. After a lot of reluctance, my maternal family gave us the choice.
He was now divorced and living on his own so we chose to go with him and moved to Holland excited about a new life and our dad back in our lives.
Within a year he remarried and we seemed to be a burden to his new wife.
We made silly mistakes and at the young age of 15, I was taken out of school and with my sister, to Kashmir which was his homeland.
I was soon forced into a marriage with his nephew who was twice my age, regardless of my objections.
I was coerced into being a good Muslim wife and to perform my duties from my wedding night onwards.
I was only 15 years old. I lived in a village for a year, I did the cooking and cleaning, where there were little facilities; it was a hard lonely life amongst strangers I didn’t know. I was enslaved. I was pregnant by the time I came back to Holland.
I know now it was a forced underage marriage but Sharia allows the marriage of young girls in puberty, so no one cared about us in Kashmir.
At the embassy in Holland, I lied to the investigator and said I was happy with my marriage as my father was with me; soon after my husband arrived.
After the birth of my second daughter, I knew I was having a breakdown; he tried to control me in every way. I wasn’t allowed out to work or to see friends. I was caged. I stayed in the house for days and months, that’s was my life.
One day I picked up my daughters and caught a flight back to Britain and never looked back. I was supported by my maternal family again.
I wanted a Muslim divorce; I knew men like my father don’t divorce women and keep them trapped. I just needed a piece of paper to free me.
Someone told me about a Sharia Judge in London who issued Islamic divorces so I went to see him. His name was Anjem Choudary the well-known notorious Jihadi extremist who promotes Sharia and wants to replace it as the law of the land. I didn’t know that at the time.
I recall that he tried to preach to me; it was patronising. I had to travel up to London twice to see him for ‘counselling or meeting’. He kept wasting my time, insisting I come to these counselling sessions even though I told him it was a forced under age marriage.
I was a vulnerable mother with two young babies and escaped a mentally abusive coercive marriage but he still insisted I sit in counselling meeting with him alone.
Quite soon my grandmother got involved, contacted my ex-husband to sit down with the family and give me a written Islamic divorce, with two witnesses. My grandmother understood the laws of this country and supported me. She was a feminist who insisted he divorce me; without her I would have been alone.
Family can support and it costs nothing; all you need is witnesses and he drew up a paper and signed it. Child arrangements were sorted. This is how we did it in Muslim families. All you need are two witnesses, not a cleric or Imam or officially stamped letter.
Now as a women’s right activist, I am alarmed that I had been sitting with a Jihadi extremist who wants Sharia law to take over this country, a misogynist. He is a dangerous man; how many more like him are running these mosques or sharia courts that women who are escaping forced marriages and domestic violence from, have to use?
However, I discovered through my research that there are many Imams who may come across as moderate clerics but have been at the centre of allowing these polygamous marriages, leaving Muslim women with no rights. Sharia seems to be similar across the board.
Muslim nikahs and divorces are not safeguarding women’s rights and have to be stopped and no one is doing anything.
Muslim women in these situations often suffer mental health issues, heartbreak and die as broken women in a country that should never have allowed these practices.
The state has ignored the abuse that goes on in our communities. I do blame these Imams/clerics and the state for turning a blind eye to a practice that destroys the lives of legally married Muslim women and those just in Islamic marriages. No one is protected from this practice. It is widespread.
I am worried about the future of Muslim women if Sharia courts are going to be run by Extremists or Islamists who believe in these practices, women will be at risk.
Me and my sister were deprived of our rightful inheritance too in Pakistan. Sharia was applied; daughters only get a third.
That’s all Sharia means to me. I don’t see how these people say it protects us when it doesn’t against us from under age marriages or polygamy, domestic violence or equal rights to inheritance.
I am not in support of Sharia courts, another alternative needs to be found to safeguard the rights, dignity and lives of Muslim women from Misogynist, males dominated Sharia organisations.
As someone in a counselling role I would never refer a Muslim woman to Arbitration and Sharia court for family counselling. I feel I would put them at risk.
The practice that ruined the lives of many women like my mother needs to be stopped but we are being told it’s in Sharia and there’s nothing we can do about it.
MS SHAGUFTA (Pseudonym)
This is a record of my experience of supporting my daughter in her dealings with Sharia Courts in London and the price I have paid for doing so.
1. My name is Shagufta (not my real name). I was born in 1947 in Lahore to parents who had made the journey from the Punjab in India along with millions of others during this year of Partition. I am a practising Muslim. My faith is central to who I am.
2. I came to the UK in 1965 with my late husband. He had been living in the UK since 1956. The UK was a huge culture shock. I am from a middle class Pakistani family and had lived a very comfortable life in my parents’ home. After moving to the UK and settling in the north of England I worked in the family business for many years and eventually had my own business running a cookery school, establishing a halal food company and supporting my husband with his business interests. I had six daughters and a son. We had a good life and were a part of our local community but also the local South Asian community. We mixed with people of all faiths and backgrounds.
3. After my husband died in 1987 I took the step of moving to London with my children. The racism we were facing was increasing due to the economic difficulties in the north of England and people’s concerns about immigrants. My eldest daughter was married and my younger daughters were studying. I wanted my children to have the best chances of getting to university, getting good jobs and making lives for themselves.
4. Life in London was difficult as we had had to start all over again after my husband died but I was determined to make a good life for us all. I made new friends, found work and was starting to rebuild my life. My children were at school and university. The older children also had part-time jobs. I was beginning to see a future.
5. My eldest daughter, Lubna (not her real name), has submitted a testimony setting out the many difficulties she faced with her ex-husband. Lubna moved to London in 1994 after the breakdown in her marriage. After the courts granted her a civil divorce I hoped that would be the end of our involvement with my ex son-in-law. Sadly this was not to be the case.
6. My ex son in law visited the local mosque where we were living and he made an announcement to the assembled prayer gathering that I was ‘a loose woman’ and was pimping my daughters so that I could live off their earnings. He asked the mosque elders to help him get his children and his wife back to save their morals. A delegation from the mosque (based in East London) visited my home to put my son in law’s allegations to me and to convince me that the best thing would be to make my daughter return to her husband. I was very shocked at the visit. There were 5 men at the door and I only recognised one of them – a husband of my friend and former neighbour. They came into the house and told me what my son in law had said about me. They told me I should force my daughter to return to her husband. I told them she was divorced but they said the English divorce meant nothing and was not valid in Islam. I was so deeply hurt and angry by the vile allegations and by the attitude of these men in my home. One of my daughters and my son, who was only 14 years old at the time, were present when the men were speaking. I did not know what they were going to say and they did not think it might be best not to say such things in front of young children. My daughter lost her temper and asked the men to leave. I sat there in shock.
7. Within a short time a very close family friend of ours, an Imam at a mosque in east London, visited my home. He was a regular visitor and had taught my grandchildren to read the Qu’ran. On this visit he too related the allegations against me levelled by my ex son in law. I cannot put into words how devastated I was and remain at what was being said about me and my children. I knew as a widow without a male to protect me I was an easy target. The imam told us the divorce obtained in the English courts was not recognised and that Lubna would have to seek a khula from a Sharia court. I vehemently disagreed and cited the cases of several Muslim women I had known since coming to the UK in the 1960s who had been divorced in the English courts without any need for a religious divorce. These women had since remarried too. When I said this the imam said perhaps the mosques were failing in their duty at the time and that these women would go to hell as they were committing zina and producing haram children. Despite my protests he insisted that the right thing was to get a khula certificate. I reluctantly agreed and said I would speak to Lubna.
8. The whole process in the Sharia court at Regents mosque was shocking. Lubna was dismissed every time she spoke, I was treated very disrespectfully every time I tried to intervene. They were not interested in anything we had to say not even the real risks that my ex son in law posed to his children let alone to my daughter. He had beaten my grandson a few years earlier and split his head open. He still has scars on his face from this.
9. The hearing at the Sharia Court was incredibly difficult. My daughter and I were repeatedly told to be silent. None of the information from the civil proceedings (affidavit, non-molestation orders etc) was admissible in the Sharia Court. The Judges spoke to my ex son in law who was present for some time. When he stated that he did not want to grant khula but wanted a reconciliation ‘for the sake of the children’ I remember the Judges saying that Lubna should comply. I was horrified at this. How could they even think it was safe for my daughter and grandchildren to return to such a man? I think it was clear to the judges on the court panel that as my daughter and I were protesting so much that a further hearing date should be set. Maybe they thought we would be forced to accept a reconciliation in the time prior to the next hearing.
10. The next hearing took place 4 weeks after the first. I accompanied Lubna to the Sharia Courts and the Imam came too. At the hearing there were 4 Judges – they did not introduce themselves, the Imam (speaking for my daughter and I) and my exson in law. Lubna was told to reconcile and that a khula would not be granted. We were also told that my ex son in law had custodial rights over my grandchildren and that they would only remain with Lubna as long as my ex son in law agreed. We were told that if Lubna pursued a khula, against the advice of the Judges, then it would be down to the discretion of the Sharia Courts to grant the khula. I think what they meant to say was a khula would not be granted in any circumstance.
11. I do not have words to convey my anger at what was being done in this supposed court. I tried to speak but was forcefully silenced by the judges. I left the Sharia Court determined to find a way to protect my daughter and her children. All I could do was to reassure Lubna whilst I tried to find a way forward.
12. After the Sharia court hearing the Imam visited me again. He tried to tell me that I should persuade Lubna to return to her husband as it was clear a khula was not going to be forthcoming. We had quite a difficult conversation. This man, an Imam, who had been such a good friend in difficult times, whom I respected like a brother refused to see the dangers Lubna was facing.
13. Lubna has made clear in her testimony what happened to her after the Sharia court hearing. I cannot even bring myself to say the words. I ask you how you would feel to see your daughter suffer in such a way. I cannot even think about it now. It breaks my heart – all that she had to go through. What is worse is it all could have been prevented.
14. Immediately after the Sharia court hearing I contacted my family in Pakistan. They were absolutely horrified to hear about the fact there were Sharia courts in England and our experience. One of my cousins is a lawyer in Pakistan and a human rights advocate. He suggested we start gathering evidence from scholars in Pakistan and India too about the validity of the divorce granted in the English courts. I wrote a letter setting out the whole situation – the divorce and its basis in the English courts and the Sharia court debacle. My family sent written advice from several scholars in Pakistan (Lahore, Karachi and Multan) and from India (Ahmedabad and Lucknow). In each letter we were told that there was absolutely no need for a khula as the civil divorce was sufficient as a formal, recognised termination of the marriage. We were also told that if Lubna were to remarry in Pakistan then a copy of the divorce from the English courts would need to be produced to confirm her first marriage had been terminated.
15. However, with regard to my grandchildren, the letters did confirm that Lubna only had guardianship of the children under Sharia principles but that as she had custody of the children under English civil law that the decision of the English courts should be accepted as they had based their decision on the best interests of the children and with full knowledge of the marriage and what had led to its termination.
16. I sent copies of the letters to my ex son in law and his father. His father contacted me and gave his word that this would be an end to the matter. Lubna’s ex father in law was a very religious man, learned and well respected in the community. He was part of a mosque committee in the north west of England. At no point did he ever accept the need for a Sharia court issued divorce certificate.
17. For a short time I was relieved that we had succeeded in ending the process with various courts and hearings and that Lubna could move on with her life. Our friendship with the Imam ended as I could not forgive him his role in all of this.
18. I do not understand where these Sharia courts have come from. I come from the generation of immigrants to this country that was able to be part of British society and to be Muslim without the need for separate legal systems. It was my generation that kept our faith, prayed in each other’s homes until we could build mosques, taught our children about their faith without the need for all the things we see now. Modesty was in our eyes and hearts. We lived Islam without the need for all the things that we see going on now. I do not recognise this Islam or how it is being portrayed.
19. When I lived in the north of England I had a very close friend known to everyone as Mrs Aslam who divorced her husband in the 1974. We were all living in the north of England at the time. Mr Aslam was a violent alcoholic. At the time very few ofus had any family living close by soften turned to each other for help. Mrs Aslam asked my late husband and one of his friends for help on many occasions and eventually when she wanted to divorce him. My late husband and other men in the community at the time helped find a solicitor to get the divorce and settle the financial affairs. The women in the community rallied round to help with childcare and as a support in the years after the divorce. A divorce was obtained from the English courts and that was accepted by everyone. No one ever suggested the need for a khula or religious divorce certificate. Of course there were some in the community who felt marriage was for life no matter what but they kept quiet in public and did not stop those of us helping Mrs Aslam from what we were doing. Things are so different now.
20. Lubna has had to live with a sustained campaign of harassment and abuse from my ex son in law. She has never stopped him seeing the children but this has come at a price for us all as this has been a constant source of fear and worry for us all.
21. After the Sharia court proceedings ended I supposed that my life would continue as it had done before. I would continue working, being a part of the local community where I live and my children would move forward building their lives. Nothing could have prepared me for what lay ahead.
22. The ostracism began with people who had once been friends starting to avoid me. At first I tried to ignore it but then asked my friend Guljabeen if she knew what was going on. Guljabeen told me that the incident at the mosque (where I was accused of pimping my daughters) had become common knowledge in the area where we lived. The Imam at the mosque (not our family friend) had told the men at the mosque to keep their women away from me as I was a woman of ‘bad character’. He said this was evident from what my ex son in law had said but even more so because I had challenged the validity and the jurisdiction of the Sharia courts.
23. Friends and neighbours stopped speaking to me and my children were no longer welcome in the homes of their Muslim friends. I used to sing the naats and nasheeds at prayer gatherings and was well known for doing this. All invitations to do this ceased. I have recently been told that this is now haram as women should not be singing even religious verses.
24. When I did see friends in the street I would still try and greet them with salaam to show I would not be cowed. Some would reply and still do but most would walk away muttering under their breath. I have been told that I am a bad mother, that I have failed my children and will be punished in the hereafter. My closest friend from childhood, who lives in the area, has stopped visiting me and says it because of my support for my daughters when I should have made them behave better.
25. Lubna divorced her first husband and ten years later married again to a non-Muslim. Three of my other daughters have married non-Muslims and left Islam. I have suffered almost total ostracism for supporting them in their choices. My only wish has been for my daughters to be safe and happy. I taught them about their faith – how to pray, fast, be good and decent human beings – I did my duty as a mother. As for their choices in regard to their own religious practice – they are adults and must make their own choices about what is right and wrong. Just as I have done with regard to my own religious practice. Only Allah can judge us in the end.
26. My son has also suffered greatly as a consequence of my actions and the decisions of his sisters. He would go to Friday prayers at mosque and be ostracised by many of the elders as soon as they realised he was my son. Is this the way to treat anyone? On several occasions he has been asked why his mother and sisters do not wear hijab. We all dress modestly. I wear a dupatta on my head when I am out and have done since my husband’s death almost 30 years ago. What does it matter to these people what we are doing?
27. I used to have many friends and a social life but the past twenty years have been ones of pain and loneliness. I have 2 Muslim friends who have stayed in touch with me – Guljabeen and Mahnaz – this has not always been easy for them. Guljabeen’s son who has become extreme in his practice once forbade her from visiting my house because my son was there and is a non-mahram. This is ridiculous he is a child and she is an old woman. This is a disgusting way of thinking. When Guljabeen told me and my son this we were staggered. My son went and spoke to Guljabeen’s son. I’m not sure what my son said but thankfully Guljabeen has been able to carry on visiting me. I do not go to her house.
28. Thankfully my neighbours – Pakistani Christians, Zoroastrians and Turkish Muslims have been wonderful to me and are not threatened or upset by this woman of ‘bad character’.
29. My family in the UK have been very critical of me and my children and swing between cutting us all off completely and sending me various religious texts, lectures etc in an attempt to bring us to their way of thinking. Oddly, my family in Pakistan have been very supportive of me and my children and have welcomed them into their homes and hearts despite what these British Muslims have done.
30. I decided not to leave the area where we live and start all over again where no one knows about Lubna’s divorce or my daughters’ marriages. Why should I? I am old now and tired of all of this. I wanted to share these experiences with you so that you can begin to understand how the community judges and controls women like me who support our children but also who challenge the men who set themselves up as our leaders. Even in London a big city with millions of people it is very hard to move away from this control.
31. I have tried to keep living despite the ostracism and loneliness but it gets harder each year. I am no longer working and am in failing health. Guljabeen still visits but Mahnaz is dying. I miss having more friends and I miss singing the naats and nasheeds more than I can say. I would like to meet more friends but it is so hard. I told my nurse about this and she said she would refer me to the Musli women’s group for older women. The group did not want me to join them. I am a Punjabi and Lubna thought this might be a way to meet non-Muslim but other Punjabi women. Lubna spoke to a neighbour who helps run the Punjabi women’s group. She is a Sikh woman. She said she would have to speak to the other women. A few weeks later I was told the Punjabi group is for Sikh women and they do not want Muslims as part of it. Partition lives on in the UK it seems.
32. I have resigned myself to being alone. When I am well enough I visit my family in Pakistan but here in the UK there is very little left for me. My children have their lives and are busy. I do not want to burden them with my troubles. I have paid a high price for supporting my children but I did what I thought was best. I pray that the Muslims and Asians in this country find the spirit of mutual love, respect and support we had for each other when I first came here 50 years ago. My time is coming to an end but I am so sad for the generations to come if we continue on this path of this new Islam.
MS ALIYA TAJ (Pseudonym)
1. I was born in Britain and consider myself a modern thinking British Muslim woman and mother.
2. When I was 19 yrs. old I quite happily went to Pakistan to marry someone in Lahore who was educated, in a good job and seemed like a man of the world. My mother wasn’t keen on cousin marriages. Although he was from our extended family, we weren’t blood related and I had met him on a previous visit and we were engaged.
3. My wedding was a huge affair in Lahore. I remained there until my first child fell seriously ill. I then returned to Britain and applied for a spouse visa.
4. I remained married for nearly 20 years and separated for the last 5. My reasons for divorcing him was because he looked beneath manual work and remained unemployed, whilst I worked, studied and raised a family. I discovered he was a gambler and drank far too much. He was older than me and seemed to be living his youth all over again, preferring to be with friends than the family or provide adequately. I endured a lot of hardship.
5. Eventually I asked for a divorce and suffered depression for years because of this unhappy situation and raised the children with great financial difficulties.
6. A friend told me to go to Green lane mosque which is a Wahhabi mosque. She also warned me to be firm and confident as the Imams do force you to have meetings with the husband or attempt to reconcile.
7. I didn’t think about it at the time but was aware that it had been exposed as a place where extremism was being taught by Imams years ago. It was the only place I could go to because it was closer.
8. I have never gone to a mosque other than for a funeral. I had never felt the need for a sharia council or Islamic divorce court. I did know more and more women were choosing this route because Muslim men have the power and authority of divorce over a woman. I know of many who were trapped for years in Islamic marriages.
9. I applied to their Sharia court and was asked to pay a fee which I struggled to find out of my budget and they started the proceedings.
10. Their first attempt was to attempt to reconcile us and he did turn up to dispute the Islamic divorce. I decided he could say what he wanted, we were not living together and I did not need to be in this farce of a marriage. The Islamic divorce was granted.
11. Since speaking to One Law for All, I realised I was still married legally under British law.
12. I assumed that an Islamic divorce was the end of the matter. In hindsight many British Pakistani women are doing the same thing. How and why we are not giving our British laws or rights any importance is confusing. We almost live in different world yet I was born here, I should have known this and saved myself from sitting in front a Mullah for a service I didn’t need and have to pay twice for.
MS HAMEEDA (Pseudonym)
This is a record of my experience with a Sharia Court operating in a borough of East London.
1. My name is Hameeda (not real name) and I am 70 years old. I am a mother and grandmother. I came to the UK in 1970 to live with my husband who had been here for 6 years. We ran a clothing business in London for 40 years. I have 4 children – 2 sons and 2 daughters. They are all married. My younger son, his wife and children live in my house with me. They moved in 2 years ago.
2. My sons have been becoming increasingly religious. I had never worried about this before and thought it was just part of them getting closer to their faith and to Allah. But they have been getting more and more controlling of me, their father and their sisters. My daughters and daughters in law all wear hijab now because my sons have said they must. I do not wear it and I know it upsets them. They have taken my television and radio away from me. It was my only comfort. They say it is haram (forbidden) to have them in our homes. Watching my drama serials and listening to the radio were my only pleasures in this difficult life.
3. In February 2016 my husband Hafeez died after many years of ill health. His final year was very difficult for me as he had Alzheimer’s and this was painful to watch. I provided all of his care at home, washing him, feeding him, giving his medication. I did everything. He was taken into hospital in January but died 4 weeks later.
4. When my husband died, I was in a state of shock and confusion. I did not realize how different my life was to become. I was already dealing with the rules imposed by my sons. When their father died my sons went to speak to the Imam at the local mosque about the funeral and what needed to be done. The Imam said they must speak to the judges at the Sharia Court. We are now living by the rules these judges have set.
5. I am 70 years old and yet the Sharia Court has stated that I had to remain in Iddat (seclusion) for 40 days after my husband’s passing. I do not understand this rule. Iddat is for women who might be pregnant. I am an old woman. My husband was ill for many years. Do these judges think there is any possibility that I could be pregnant? Are they stupid?
6. The Sharia Court judge said I was to stay within the walls of my house for 40 days. I was not allowed to answer the telephone, the front door or even to go into the garden during this time because a man may see me! I felt like I was in prison. I was told to pray or look after my grandchildren. What could I do but do as the Sharia judge said. My sons believe they are right.
7. After 40 days were completed I began to go out again but I am only allowed to go to the shops with my sons or my grandchildren. I am also allowed to visit one friend. She is a widow too so there are no men in her house. It is from my friend’s house that I am making this statement. I want people to know what is happening.
8. My husband has been dead for almost 4 months. I am now coming under a lot of pressure from my sons to sell my house and give the money to them. They have been speaking to this Sharia judge again. He told them that in English law I may own the house I live in but this is not the right way in Islam. He said that my husband’s property should have been given to my sons so that they could look after me and manage everything. Since the day the judge said this, both my sons keep putting lots of pressure on me to sell the house and hand over all the money to them. I cry every day because I do not know what is going to happen to me. Where will I go? The judge said I should live with one of my sons in their house. I want to be in my home.
9. I worked as a machinist for many years – day and night – to build a home for my family. The house is paid off. It is in my name now. What about my daughters? The Sharia judge said that the girls are only entitled to a third but as I am still alive they will have to wait until I die before they get their share.
10. I do not want to sell my house and give up the home I have worked so hard to make. I am now being forced to listen to lecture after lecture from my sons about my religion and what it says about what happens to the family’s wealth after the husband dies. They have said they will bring the Sharia judge to our home or make me go to the court to hear for myself how I am committing a sin by not doing what is said in our religion. I have never heard of any cases like this before – not in Pakistan and not in UK. What is this new Islam that can threaten to take the roof from the head of an old woman like me?
11. I am afraid – very afraid of what will happen next. My sons and daughters in law have been putting so much pressure on me. I am now made to stay in my room all the time when I am home. I have to eat alone and no one speaks to me because I will not agree. I can only take a little more of this. I pray Allah takes me so that this will end. I know this is wrong but what else can I do?
12. It is Ramzaan (holy month of fasting) and I can’t even listen to the prayers on the radio or break my fast with the prayers on the television. I am a prisoner in my own home. I do not feel safe. I am so tired of all of this. Please help me and women like me. Stop the judges destroying our lives.
MS LUBNA (Pseudonym)
This is a record of my experience with several Sharia Courts operating in the UK.
1. My name is Lubna (not my real name) and I am of Pakistani/Indian heritage born in Britain. My parents arranged my marriage in 1985. My husband is the son of a close childhood friend of my father. I have two children from this marriage. My ex-husband and some of his family were violent and abusive towards me during my marriage.
2. In January 1994 my husband left me living with his family in Manchester to travel overseas to make a new life. I was never told if the children and I would be part of this life. I was left to care for my elderly parents in law and my children. I worked as a cleaner and as a machinist to try and make ends meet. Financially things were becoming increasingly difficult; my mother in law asked me to leave and find somewhere else to live and my daughter became very ill. I tried to get help from my husband to resolve the situation but he wasn’t interested. Things deteriorated and I discovered my husband was also involved with another woman. Not the first time this had happened.
3. I spoke to my family and they begged me to leave for the sake of the children. My family had been trying to get me to leave the marriage for several years since they had discovered I was being abused by my husband. I had been too afraid to leave. I am not sure what was different this time but I did leave eventually and left Manchester for London.
4. My family lived in London and I knew I would have their support in building a new life. My father had passed away several years earlier but my mother and siblings were so supportive and were determined to help me and my children build a new life. I found a place to stay, the children started school and I went to college and then university. I went to a solicitor to start civil divorce proceedings as soon as I had moved to London in spring 1994. As my husband was living in the US, it was a difficult process. He eventually returned to UK to contest the divorce. The civil process was not easy but I had the protection of my whereabouts being kept confidential for a time, an injunction to ensure my safety and was represented in court by a wonderful legal team who understood the dynamics of domestic violence and its impact upon me and my children.
5. In January 1995 I was granted a decree nisi and was waiting for the decree absolute. It was during this time that my ex husband had discovered where I was living and started to make contact with my extended family and close friends in the UK and overseas. He visited the area where I was living and attended the local mosque where he made an announcement to the assembled prayer gathering that I was ‘a loose woman’ who was being pimped by my widowed mother and yet he was ‘still willing to take me back for the sake of our children’. A delegation from the mosque (based in East London) visited my mother’s house to convince her to return me to my husband.
6. A few weeks later my ex-husband was at the mosque when he bumped into a very close family friend who is also an Imam and much respected Islamic scholar. The Imam in question is an Indian Gujrati Muslim. He had known me and my family for more than 10 years and also taught my children to read the Qu’ran. It was at the meeting between this Imam and my ex-husband that the issue of Sharia Courts and the need for a Sharia compliant divorce was first raised. Up until this point my ex-husband’s focus had been on some sort of reconciliation. The Imam advised my ex-husband that our civil divorce was not recognised or binding ‘in the eyes of Allah’ and that my ex-husband and I should appear before a Sharia Court to discuss our marital difficulties and determine a way forward. The Imam agreed to make all the necessary arrangements for this process including speaking to me and my family about the need for a Sharia compliant divorce.
7. The Imam came and spoke to my mother and I about his meeting with my ex-husband and the Sharia process. I argued that I did not feel it was necessary as the marriage was over; we had not lived together for more than a year and a decree nisi had been served. I was told that my civil divorce was not sufficient and that I needed a certificate of khula if I was determined to end the relationship. The Imam knew all about the violence and abuse I had suffered during my marriage and had witnessed some of the incidents. He had always been very supportive of my leaving the marriage so I was not concerned that the khula process would be anything more than a reconfirmation that my marriage was over. It was for this reason that I agreed to go through the Sharia process.
8. Two months later, accompanied by my mother and the Imam, I attended the Sharia Court at Regents Mosque. By this time I had received a decree absolute completing the civil court divorce process. I was asked to pay £75 as an initial payment to register my request for khula. I was also asked to complete forms confirming my identity – but through my paternal line. My father had passed away in 1987 and my brother was only 14 years of age at this time, so the Imam agreed to act as my guardian. I was not allowed to represent myself or to speak for myself. In addition to needing a guardian to act on my behalf I was deeply upset by the information requested on the forms. I had to disclose my address (my violent ex-husband had not known this prior to attendance at the Sharia Court) and disclose the last time I had had sexual relations with my ex-husband. I challenged both of these things and was told by the Judges (this is how they were described to me) and by the Imam that this would help determine the date at which the marriage could be deemed to have entered into a period of separation.
9. The hearing at the Sharia Court was incredibly difficult. My mother and I were repeatedly told to be silent. None of the information from the civil proceedings (affidavit, non-molestation orders, etc) was admissible in the Sharia Court. The Judges spoke to my ex-husband who was present for some time. When he stated that he did not want to grant khula but wanted a reconciliation ‘for the sake of the children’ I remember the Judges saying that I should comply. I tried to tell the Judges about the violence and abuse I had suffered throughout the marriage and on several previous attempts at reconciliation and false promises of an end to the abuse. I was advised to be quiet. My mother was also silenced.
10. The Judges spent some time discussing our case and we were asked to attend again in a few weeks. I do not recall if further payments were made.
11. The next hearing took place 4 weeks after the first. I went to the Sharia Courts accompanied by my mother and the Imam. I was fully prepared to fight my corner and ensure that the Judges heard about my experiences violence and abuse at the hands of my ex-husband.
12. At the hearing there were 4 Judges – they did not introduce themselves, the Imam (speaking for me) and my ex-husband. I was told to reconcile and that as my ex-husband wanted this, a khula divorce would not be granted. I was told that my ex-husband had custodial rights over my children and that they would only remain with me as long as my ex-husband agreed. I was told that if I pursued a khula, against the advice of the Judges, then it would be down to the discretion of the Sharia Court to grant the khula. Only after this time could I remarry. I was also told that if I remarried, my children would have to be returned to their legal guardian – their father. I was stunned and unable to speak. My mother challenged the Judges but was told to be quiet and that the best course of action would be to encourage me to return to my husband.
13. During the entire proceedings my ex-husband was treated with respect. Every time he spoke he was greeted with smiles and comments of support. There was no equality before this Court.
14. I left the Sharia Court in tears. My mother told me not to worry. The Imam kept telling me to abide by the Judge’s ruling as they knew what was best.
15. After the hearing, my ex-husband began a sustained campaign of harassment and stalking. During this time he kidnapped my children and threatened to keep them if I did not allow him to come and live with me in my new home. He threatened to kill my mother and siblings if I involved the police. It was only with the help of my late father in law that the children were returned to me.
16. Several weeks after the children were returned to me, my ex-husband began calling at all hours of the day and night (he had my address and contact details from the Sharia Court papers). I refused to let him in. I did contact the police and applied for a new non-molestation order. However, the harassment did not stop. Very late one night my ex-husband broke in and violently raped me. I did not report this to the police as I was too scared. After the rape he wrote to my mother and the Imam and told them I had slept with him and that we were now together again. My mother came to my house as soon as she received the letter and was shocked to see the injuries resulting from the violence I suffered that night. She desperately wanted me to report this to the police but I could not. I was too afraid.
17. I am not sure how long after the events above and the hearing that my mother decided to get some further advice from Islamic scholars in Pakistan and India. She had lost all faith in the Imam who had once been our family friend and support and was desperate to make my ex-husband see that the marriage was over. My mother made several calls to family contacts in Pakistan and India and asked them to seek advice on the matter of an Islamic divorce for me. My family sent written advice from several scholars in Pakistan (Lahore, Karachi and Multan) and from India (Ahmedabad and Lucknow). In each letter we were told that there was absolutely no need for a khula as the civil divorce was sufficient as a formal, recognised termination of the marriage. The letters did confirm that I only had guardianship of the children under Sharia principles but that as I had custody of the children under English civil law that the decision of the English courts should be accepted as they had based their decision on the best interests of the children and with full knowledge of the marriage and what had led to its termination.
18. My mother sent copies of the letters to my ex-husband and his father. My ex father in law contacted my mother and gave his word that my ex-husband would be made to accept this advice and to leave me alone.
19. My ex-husband did accept that our marriage was ended but it did not stop him harassing me for several more years.
20. I remain deeply angry and upset at having been coerced into entering into a religious process that I neither asked for nor wanted. The consequences of the Imam’s actions led to my suffering ongoing violence and abuse from my ex-husband for many years. As a result of the rape, I became pregnant and had to undergo a termination. I also suffered horrific internal injuries that required surgery. Thankfully my children did not witness the rape but did suffer ongoing fear and abuse from the kidnapping and ongoing campaign of harassment by their father.
21. I have not shared my experience of the Sharia Courts and what ensued with anyone before but I wanted to include it in submissions to the Sharia Review so that other women will be saved from being forced and coerced into proceedings that allows abusive men to continue to exert their control and threats over their wives and children.
MS REEMAH MURDAY (Real Name)
1. My name is Reemah Murday, born and bred in Mauritius. I am now 37 years old. I married a British national at the age of 21. We got married as Christians as we were both Christian at the time.
2. I became a British citizen through marriage. We lived in England for 7 years. I trained as a nurse through the NHS. We have two daughters aged 14 and 5 respectively.
3. In 2008 My former husband got a job offer with quite an interesting expatriate package in Bahrain. I was still training as a nurse then in the UK. He left and started work there and I joined him in 2009. We started our life over there.
4. Being married for 15 years was getting a bit hard for both of us. I felt that he was disconnected all of the time. We talked but he became more and more withdrawn. I advised him to seek medical help or to see a therapist but he would not as I thought he might be suffering from depression.
5. In 2013 I discovered that he was doing a lot of things behind my back…he bought 5 boats and 6 cars. He failed to pay bills on time which was an ongoing situation. Schooling was not being paid, electricity was cut off even though it was the company that was paying for it.
6. I challenged him and told him that I could not be with a man who was financially and emotionally unreliable. He was away at the time on a business meeting. When he came back after 5 days, he told me that he could not do it anymore. He could not see me or speak to me. He did not love me anymore and he wanted to be single; he said our second daughter who is now 5 was a mistake and said I had to leave. I sat quietly and listened to him and watched him cry. Then I agreed.
7. On that night, he left our bedroom and slept from that day in the guestroom. My plan of action was to take my children and leave for the UK where I could divorce and continue my nursing career.
8. However, I stayed with him for another year as we tried to work things out but I was too hurt. On 3 March 2015 I told him I was leaving. He begged me to stay because of the children especially for the good schooling my older daughter went to and also because of my job as a school nurse.
9. I agreed to stay for another 5 years in Bahrain until our older daughter graduated from high school. I would then leave with the girls to the UK so she could attend university. He offered to pay my rent as I could not stay in his house anymore. We shared the children on a weekly basis. It was very amicable between us. The girls were happy. We decided we would come to the UK to divorce when it was convenient for both of us.
10. We also agreed that we would move on with our lives and that we could see other people if we wanted to. He was accumulating girlfriends and had 4 in total, which was fine with me; I had one person in my life. The fourth person he dated, however, was a Saudi woman and everything changed after that.
11. He stopped paying my rent. In November 2015 I was served with divorce papers. I tried to talk to him but he wouldn’t speak to me. I went to court and they told me that he had converted to Islam and was married. He wished to divorce me and would get custody of our girls because I was an “unfit” mother having committed adultery… I was in Bahrain which means that it was a Sharia court.
12. I saw a lawyer but with the little money I had, I had to go to court representing myself. I lost everything. The police called on me, I faced death threats and threats of imprisonment etc. I was very very very scared.
13. I was ignorant of Sharia law. Trust me I know a lot about all this now. I could not see my children. His Saudi wife would call me “sharmota” or prostitute every time she saw me. Everything was taken from me and I was treated as the lowest person on earth. The Sharia court placed a travel ban on my children.
14. I decided to quit my job in Bahrain and come back to the UK to fight this. We have our home in the UK. When I arrived, though, his brother was living in the house and would not leave saying he was a tenant. This was despite the fact that I own half of the house and had not given permission for him to be in my house.
15. The fact of the matter is that a man is living in my house while I am in at a Bed and Breakfast. I never saved any money because I covered food and family expenses like clothes for the children and their activities. I did not get a lot in return. My husband was paying for the houses. But I never relied on him to buy things; our expenses was always shared.
16. All the lawyers I’ve seen so far have said my situation is complicated that it could be a case study at universities. I want it to be a case study for sure. I want justice. I’ve read a lot about Sharia law and what this is surely not Sharia.
17. I don’t know if I’m divorced here in Britain. I have not spoken to my children since March 2016. I did not get married under Sharia. Is there justice somewhere?
DR SAVIN BAPIR-TARDY DPsych
1. I am Kurdish speaking Counselling Psychologist at the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO).
2. IKWRO is a registered London-based, national charity (1104550) founded in 2002 which is run by and represents women and girls from Middle Eastern, North African and Afghan communities at risk of “honour” based violence, forced marriage, child marriage, FGM, spouse abandonment and domestic violence. IKWRO supports women and girls through advice, advocacy, making effective referrals, training and one-to-one and group professionals counselling. The Advice team speaks seven community languages as well as English and counselling is provided in Arabic, Kurdish, Farsi and English. In May 2016 IKWRO opened the first specialist refuge for Middle Eastern and North African women who are at risk of all forms of “honour” based violence. IKWRO also trains and provides advice to professionals and campaigns for improvements in law and policy.
3. Last year IKWRO received calls from 2500 women, girls and professionals and assisted 800 women through intensive one-to-one casework.
4. I have been working with IKWRO as a Counselling Psychologist since 2010. During this period I have provided one-to-one and group counselling to hundreds of women in Kurdish and English. All of the women that I work with have experienced and/ or are at risk of “honour” based violence and/ or domestic violence. The majority of women that I work with identify as Muslim.
5. Through my work at IKWRO I have numerous experiences of working with women, whose ability to progress to safety and to recover from trauma of abuse has been hampered by the interference of religious arbitration in their family matters. The impacts have been both psychological and practical and have prevented women from accessing crucial services and protections. This has resulted in the safety of these women and their children being put at risk.
6. A number of the women I work with are leaving their relationships with their husbands and often their family members. These women find it difficult to communicate their needs and navigate services due to loss of trust, which has resulted from the abuse that they have experienced and are therefore extremely vulnerable. In my experience this vulnerability is often used by religious arbitrators to coerce them into doing things that benefit the reputation of the community and family, rather than the safety of the children or the woman.
7. One Kurdish woman I worked with had severe depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She was very religious. Whilst I was working with her, there was an ongoing mainstream court case for marital rape. At the same time, she and her husband were also attending a Sharia court. She is a victim of female genital mutilation (FGM). She explained that she did not feel anything positive during sexual intercourse. Her husband accused her of withholding sex. The Sharia court told her that her husband’s physical and verbal abuse was the result of her not fulfilling her wifely duties sexually. She expressed to me that she blamed herself. The Sharia court ordered that ‘custody’ of all five of her sons should be given to her husband, their father and that their one daughter should remain with her, their mother. She did not fully engage in counselling or advocacy support because she was not ready to challenge what she was being told by the religious arbitrators and the community. She completely believed in their authority and power. The parallel ‘legal’ system of the Sharia court amounted to a barrier to her accessing justice and protection that she was entitled to under UK law.
8. Another client that I worked with wanted to divorce her husband. He was coming and going from her life and had entered into polygamy, marrying another woman in the Middle East. My client felt unable to move on with her own life until she could divorce her husband. However, her husband was refusing the divorce and she was being pressurised by the family and community to remain within the marriage. Further pressure came from religious arbitrators who told her that leaving her husband was ‘haram’ (forbidden) and advised her, with complete disregard for UK law on child maintenance, that if she left her husband he would have no financial responsibility for her children. This is another example of how Sharia arbitrators are a barrier to the rights that all women have under UK law.
9. A further client that I worked with was subjected to financial and psychological abuse by her husband. She had a child with him. She wanted to divorce him but was worried that she and her child would be left without financial entitlement because she was told by religious arbitrators that if she initiated the divorce, she would lose her dowry, which consisted of money and gold. She was not informed by the religious arbitrator to seek advice on her financial rights under UK family law. Therefore the religious arbitrators were effectively acting as a barrier to her understanding or accessing her rights under UK law.
10. Sharia courts use the power of women’s faith to gain psychological hold over them through guilt. This guilt is used to make any woman who challenges the orders of the religious arbitrators feel as if they are the perpetrator and are responsible for destroying the families’ reputation.
11. It is for this reason that it is very difficult to get testimony from affected women because often they truly believe in the authority of the religious arbitrators and that they are responsible for any loss of reputation to the family and community.
MS JABEEN (Pseudonym)
1. I am 35 years old and a mother of four.
2. I attended Park View School in the 1990s. I wanted to study further and had no intention of having an arranged marriage. However, my father was adamant I would only marry in the family and I was forced into a marriage aged 18 in Pakistan.
3. I went to Pakistan and pleaded with my parents that I didn’t want to get married. I was put under immense pressure and had no allies; everyone seemed afraid to stand up for me. This happened to many girls in my generation who left school, even with top grades we were married off early as to avoid disgracing family name and honour. I remember a girl in my year who was taken out of school and forced into a marriage, not to be allowed out or have any education. The school did nothing. I didn’t think it would happen to me a few years later.
4. Eventually I felt I had no choice. I was emotionally blackmailed because it was about saving face and family name and honour. No one cared about my feelings or life. I didn’t consummate the marriage; that’s one power I did have over my body.
5. I rebelled when I came back and did what I could to sabotage his spousal visa but he did come over and I was adamant that I wasn’t going to live with him. It was all about their “izzat” and family name and helping some poor relative gain a visa into Britain. I was used as a passport.
6. I was like a prisoner, not allowed out, treated unfairly as if I had committed a huge crime but I stuck to my decision.
7. I love my family and I didn’t want to lose them but no one would help me get a Muslim divorce. For years I suffered because my dad insisted that I should at least allow him to stay and support his visa, as I had threatened to send him back.
8. It was on the back of this promise, I agreed to just get a Muslim divorce. He married someone else in order to ensure his citizenship. I never forgot the trapped feeling and the horror of being forced into this situation by my own parents. Although all is forgiven now I would never do it to my own daughter. My father has apologised to me as my life didn’t get any better when I re-married and I think he feels guilty.
9. I went on to have another marriage by choice, only for my second husband to commit polygamy. I never thought it would happen to me. He also had children with his second wife. I am told as a Muslim woman, men can do this and I must accept the co wife and children.
10. In my opinion, the Muslim “Nikah” is being treated as a joke. Married men for their own lust or for impregnating a women during an affair are having religious marriages – not to provide for these women but as cover for their sins.
11. When I threw him out one day, my mother brought up the past to say I would have been better off with the husband they had forced on me…but he could have still done the same. People ask why I don’t leave. I stay because of the children and because my mother has said she will break ties with me if I divorce him. That hurt me; she is more concerned about family image and honour than my life and marriage betrayal.
12. How can imams just perform these marriages without checking if the man isn’t already married? Day and in out women have similar stories. It is wrong that these marriages are accepted by family and community which leaves me battling the issue alone. I won’t accept this situation and have warned him that I want a divorce.
13. What worries me is that this is becoming common and I see the lives of many Pakistani women ruined. Men are forcing legal wives to accept co wives and I see nothing but depression and sadness. I am trying hard to protect my kids against the truth but they will find out.
14. I don’t want my sons following his footsteps. It’s wrong to cheat a wife and her children using religion. Muslim women are just as much to blame. Some actively seek out married men and live the life of a mistress. In my family, we won’t accept second marriages. The men in my family do not follow this practice, but their daughters – my generation is dealing with something the government has no idea about. Basically there is little advice or support.
15. Sharia councils will just tell him to treat both wives equally and fairly. That’s impossible.
I am not sure what I will do yet. I have felt humiliated and embarrassed. I feel even more betrayed because he Islamicly married her behind my back while our children are still young. This is nothing but abuse of family life.
MS SHAZIA HOBBS (REAL NAME)
1. As a young child I didn’t see anything wrong with having two mums and a dad. To me it was normal and was all that I knew. My father kept both women in the same house along with his children to both of them.
2. As I got older I started to realise that it was not as normal as I thought it was. Nobody else had two mums, nobody that I knew anyway. My mum was a Catholic and my father and stepmother were Muslims. I like to think maybe my upbringing would have been different if my mum had also been a Muslim but really I doubt it would have been any different.
3. My father rarely argued with his Pakistani wife and I never saw him being violent towards her. It was a different story with my mum and I witnessed many arguments and just as many physical fights between my parents. This was frightening and confusing, as I could not understand why he never argued or fought with my stepmother.
4. My mum went out to work while my stepmother stayed at home and looked after the children. Really she looked after her own children and did her best to ignore the children to the white woman. I knew even as a young child that she did not like me. I knew this because she would swear at me, calling me a “harami” – bastard. She refused to teach me Urdu or the Quran, telling me that I would grow up to be shameless so what was the point of wasting her time. She openly treated her own children differently, showering them with love and praise, knowing that nobody would say anything to her.
5. My mum was too busy working and when she was at home my stepmother would tell her that I had not listened to her or had not carried out the chores I was meant to be doing, like ironing or cleaning. Eager to please my stepmother, my mum would get me into trouble and no matter what I said she never believed me over my stepmother. Years later my mum would still not believe me when I told her how my stepmother had treated me, telling me I was making it up and it was all lies.
6. My mum and stepmother lived together for nearly 40 years and in time learnt to get along and became good friends. They had no choice but to get along, living under the same roof and sharing a man.
7. As a teenager I would pray that my mum would leave my father and the crazy family set up; I wanted to be part of a normal family. My mum had no intentions of ever leaving though, happy in her polygamous relationship, happy to be sharing her man with another woman. I understood why my stepmother put up with it as she was Muslim and men are allowed four wives after all. It would be years later that I understood why mum put up with it: love and security and the fear of leaving with her five children and being alone.
8. Growing up in a polygamous household is something no child should have to go through. There is no way any man can treat both wives equally, no matter what he might think. I witnessed this for myself, the way my father respected my stepmother and the way he lashed out at my mum.
9. In total there were 12 children in my home and it was impossible for my father to give all the children the attention and love that is needed. I grew up feeling unloved and neglected by both my parents, especially my father, which affected me later in life.
MS FARHAT KHAN (REAL NAME)
1. I am a 35-year-old Pakistani born woman who came over to England as a young bride in the 1990s. I live with my in-laws who also happen to be my maternal aunt and uncle. They have been good to me and I am a devoted housewife with children.
2. I became aware that my husband was involved with an English girl locally in Birmingham who had converted to Islam and wore a full veil. We as Muslim Pakistanis do not wear hijabs or veils, so it was a shock to me. I found out they were married secretly and had a child.
3. I was devastated; I wanted to die. I went into deep depression but because my in-laws were on my side and supportive, they asked him to leave the home, making it clear they will not accept this “zulam” (cruelty) against me. Because I am the oldest daughter in law and have always been a good daughter in law they respected me.
4. He moved into a rented home with her and told me to live with him. I did but my mother in law would not allow the children into this situation to live with us. I did my best but it was not working out. I treated her child with the same care but she was jealous and found the situation as unacceptable as me.
5. Being from Pakistan, I was aware of this practice and knew women couldn’t do anything but I didn’t know it could happen here in England. I married my cousin according to the law and thought I was secure.
6. In the end she left; they had an Islamic divorce and he sometimes sees his child. Last I heard she had got married again.
7. My oldest daughter was disgusted with her dad; the youngest became disturbed. We have always had a happy home and strong family but the suffering for the whole family went on for years.
8. I don’t want to see this happening to my daughter. In my family rarely has anyone taken a co wife. In Birmingham there are many women this is happening to and we don’t know where to turn. As women we hear the stories and feel sad for women who are victims but otherwise no one seems to care.
9. How could any of us turn to the mulvi or clerics when they are the ones allowing these marriages? Luckily for me, my in laws supported me and would not accept his second Islamic marriage. We are together now as a whole family but I do feel sorry for his daughter.
MS RHEA ALI (Pseudonym)
1. My name is Rhea Ali. I’m in my twenties. I am a British born woman to British born Pakistani parents. They divorced when I was ten. I was traumatised and it left me very angry towards not just my father but men like him who take on second wives, ruin their lives and in the process damage our lives as children of polygamous fathers. The older I get the more it seems to be happening. I am angry that this is even allowed.
2. I began to wonder why my dad only came home every other day. I was confused as a child but never talked about it. It was something I just knew that he had another wife and family.
I wasn’t allowed to visit dad’s family or extended family. I remember being thrown out of a family event with my dad as a 7 yr. old because his wife went ballistic when she realised he had brought me along. I never liked her, she seemed to detest my presence even when I visited her home.
3. My childhood memories of their marriage was a lot of anger, crying, shouting until I saw my dad beat my mum one night. They divorced not long after. Everything was destroyed. He turned his back, wouldn’t turn up to see us or give us any money.
4. I was aware of another, a third woman in my dad’s life too. He often took me there. I remember seeing his clothes and shoes and wondering why they were at her house.
5. It was only as a grown woman, I was able to understand their story, that my dad had loved and married my mum but was forced to marry within the family too. They wouldn’t accept my mother or me.
6. He was someone who then had other affairs and I heard even after he divorced my mother he had a Muslim marriage with a lone mother.
7. He’s still my dad and I love him, but I watched how he ruined my mother’s life through domestic violence and abuse even though she had tolerated his family’s deskins. She stayed with him until he turned violent towards her.
8. She re married legally later saying she would never make the mistakes of her youth; she told me she feels ashamed to be associated with such a man.
9. My dad is from the Pakistani Mirpuri/Kashmiri community and many of his married friends have done the same thing. They have had Muslim marriages, have children and then when it goes pear shape, women are left holding the baby.
10. I worry it could happen to me because it seems to be a practice becoming normal to especially religious women who believe Sharia allows men to take on other wives.
This so wrong. As a child of polygamous marriage I know that I was not given any rights, rejected and treated as an ‘outsider’. It is not normal, its dysfunctional. They use religion.
11. My mum tried hard to give us a normal happy childhood but eventually could not accept the domestic violence. Dad isn’t religious but used religion for personal selfish reasons. It seems to be about lust, not love and commitment. Something needs to done about Sharia councils or mosques that allow and perform these marriages.
12. Me and my mother have no rights; he gave her nothing after years of marriage.
I have lost respect for my father and his friends, middle age and young Muslim men are exploiting this practice of polygamy, knowing they can walk out when they want and have no responsibility. I still hate my dad for abusing this practice in the name of religion. None of it should be allowed. It’s crazy they get away with it as legally married men.
MS GINA KHAN (REAL NAME)
1. I am not an academic, just a woman and mother from Birmingham born into a Pakistani family whose mother and cousin-sister were victims of polygamy. The situation is so unjust and unfair to British Muslim women that I feel I won’t be able to protect my own daughter or granddaughter from it. Her Muslim husband will still have the option to take on a second wife behind her back and pursue a married life with both, have children and be accepted by the Islamic or Muslim community.
2. Polygamy is a practice sanctioned by mosques and Imams who perform these “nikahs” for a couple for hundred pounds without registering the ‘marriage’. They care more about ‘family honour’ forcing a woman to oblige and sacrifice herself in a loveless arranged marriage, telling her to accept a second wife – all because it’s allowed in Sharia.
3. This gives a Muslim ‘mistress’ the right to have children and be identified, accepted as a wife who has ‘rights’ without informing the state. If this is not a parallel system, then what is?
4. My mother was 16 when she was forced to quit her education and marry my father who was much older. What my grandmother didn’t know was that my father already had a wife and 4 children living in his ancestral homeland. That was the first heartbreak she endured. He was able to do it again in Pakistan and had an Islamic marriage with a single woman when my mother herself had already had 3 children.
5. When my mother came to Britain, my father divorced the third wife and didn’t acknowledge his first wife by convincing my mum he had divorced her, even though he hadn’t for twenty odd years.
6. My mother was empowered in Britain; she was educated and pushed for her independence working with my dad in their retail businesses. She also knew there was a law against polygamy and that my dad would not be able to take on anymore wives and he never did.
7. With the rise of Islamism and extremism, we are seeing more and more acceptance of polygamous marriages, including by educated British-born Muslim women who say: ‘It’s better than having an affair and allowing him to be sinful’.
8. I have come across many Pakistani women born in this country whose husbands have taken on another wife. She wages a losing battle when she is told it is acceptable according to Sharia. In my experience, the practice of polygamy has devastated the lives of many first wives, often legally married women according to British Law.
9. As a child, I witnessed the sad story of a cousin-sister who had come over as a bride from Pakistan, only to been deserted by her British husband in the early 70s. She wanted a divorce when she found out he was already married after the birth of two daughters. He absconded to Holland with his first wife, giving her no rights or financial support. He never divorced her. She was able to remarry 7 years later only when it was she was given permission because under Sharia, he was considered an “absent husband”.
10. I have also met Pakistani women who have been given verbal divorces by their husbands – he has said “talaq” three times and ended their relationship leaving the women destitute.
11. I faced this difficulty too when seeking a Muslim divorce. There has always been those older Pakistan Muslim men who divorce their long term wives to find a second younger wife in Pakistan. Many manage to get a spousal visa, even when he has not had an Islamic divorce with his first wife. These are deceptive husbands where civil divorces were granted but the victim, the first wife remained locked in an Islamic marriage.
12. The abuse and injustice has been ongoing for over 40 years, ignored by the state though it is a human rights issue in my opinion. Often influenced by Pakistani Islamists who object to the freedoms and rights of Pakistani women and girls, many British Imams share the same interpretation of Sharia where under-aged marriages, polygamy and domestic violence are concerned. I have seen many examples of Sharia councils getting involved in personal and family matters, for example, one Muslim girl had to sign away her rights to any share of her husband’s properties if she wanted a “Khula” divorce. This was initiated by the Sharia ‘judge’ who colluded with the husband.
13. In my own research, I have also discovered many mosques and Imams up and down the country that believe a girl who has reached puberty could get married under Sharia. Because British law protects children under 16, many dare not take the risk though that’s not to say it hasn’t happened. To circumvent the law, many suggest taking a young girl to Pakistan where it is permitted. Of course, Muslim school girls are being empowered to say no to forced marriages and it’s a criminal offence. That’s not to say it isn’t still happening but mind sets are being challenged and changed by women rights activists.
14. To not recognise that this parallel law is devastating lives of those whom are silent is similar to the mistakes made when forced marriages were considered arranged marriages – before victims of this vile practice spoke out. Muslim women do not always get justice from Sharia councils, which often advise them to stay married because of family “honour” or due to perceptions that injustices are ‘destiny and ‘God Willing’. The collateral emotional trauma, abuse and damage to children is also being ignored by both the Muslim community and British state.
15. Forced marriages, under age marriages, polygamy, domestic violence matters are solely based on the interpretation which is common IN Pakistan. Many have told me they do not know where to go and who to ask for justice.
MS SAEEDA AMIN (Real Name)
1. I am now 45 yrs. old; I came to England in 2000 on a spouse visa. I was a teacher in Pakistan, living with my family. The neighbour introduced him to my family; he told the family he was divorced with 3 children who live with their mother.
2. It was only when I arrived in Birmingham that I discovered he had also married someone else who had his son but she divorced him and moved out of town.
3. At first I lived with my mother in law who was verbally abusive. I was very depressed until the council gave us a home. We were married for ten years and had three children.
4. I was educated and have always been a working woman. I worked hard to provide as he fell ill with diabetes. He decided he wanted to go and stay in Pakistan for a few months. I bought his ticket; gave him money. At first everything was fine. I regularly called him, then discovered he wasn’t around much. Upon enquiring, he admitted he had married again.
5. I was devastated. I told my family in Pakistan who were angry; they found his registered Islamic marriage and sent me a copy but there was nothing they could do.
6. I tried for two years to save; my marriage. At least ensure that he couldn’t bring a wife over. I even went to an office in Alum Rock Birmingham called AK centre where Councillor ANSAR Khan sits but was told by his office there was nothing that could be done. He hadn’t committed a crime in England of ‘Bigamy’.
7. I had a breakdown and was clinically depressed for months until I pulled myself together and applied for an Islamic divorce at the local Sharia council. There was no difficulty applying for that. However, we are still going through the process of civil divorce.
8. This man had married his first wife, a cousin who came over on a spousal visa. I came over on a spousal visa and now he wants to bring another Pakistani woman from a poor family. It makes no sense that he can get married in Pakistan while still being married to me. I didn’t know this could happen to Pakistani woman and to be told he broke no law either by having an Islamic marriage in Pakistan, although I have proof. I see his first wife and her daughters; we had become friends and I supported her when my step daughter got married, he had betrayed them too. This is now his fourth marriage, don’t know how he will support her, probably on his benefits.
9. There are many stories I hear because I run a business that I built alone. Every woman has the same issue – their husbands having ‘nikhas’ without permission, behind their back. I think it’s wrong that Muslim men can get ‘married’ several times, the problem is with the Mulvis and mosques who do these ceremonies without any consideration for a legally married wife and mother.
10. It’s very common and I wish to break my silence and ask the government to do something because all I see in my community is a mess, it’s disgusting how this is being abused. No woman with any self-respect could live with a man who commits polygamy. I moved on. When he returned he brought the police with him, telling them I might attack him and he wanted the car which I paid for. My English was limited then; the police couldn’t do anything to support the fact he was in the wrong. But now I am stronger.
11. Who is going to help women who are going through this; no one knows where to go to get the right support when these men take on other wives, especially those who can’t speak English. But would it make a difference if they did. There is nowhere to go for justice. I am told I should report him to the home office. How do I go about doing that and who’s going to give me justice now, if the local councillor or MP had no answers or advice for me, tell me I can’t do anything, what’s left?
12. I am happy for my real name to be used. I did nothing wrong. I didn’t get justice either. It is disgusting how the nikanama is abused. And it needs to be stopped.
MS SHAISTA ALI
1. I am the only daughter of a polygamous marriage. I never met my real mother she died when I was a baby I was raised by one of my dad’s ‘wives’; a lovely English woman who never had any children of her own. She was the nearest person I had to a mother.
2. I never had any freedom, or allowed further education or choice and straight after leaving school I had arranged marriage with my husband who also happens to be a cousin.
3. I became aware that my marriage was not a civil marriage later in life when I had marriage problems. I don’t know why my father or brothers never thought it was important to protect me. I now know I will struggle for justice and all he has to do is give me a Muslim divorce and it’s over.
4. However my husband did something similar, he gave me a triple talaq and we separated. Family won’t accept it, some do some don’t, some say it was in anger. I am beyond caring but it shouldn’t be so easy for a man to just verbally divorce a wife and there’s no protection.
5. I am a practising Muslim woman and mother of daughters. I look around and witness the same stories.
My own mother was a victim of polygamy and all I know is she had a very sad life. Sharia codes do impact us.
6. I have no idea where my marriage is but currently I have separated. I have studied and I am working, taking one day at a time. Not sure if I have a marriage anymore but he owes me more than just a verbal triple divorce after 15 years of my life.
7. I believe these practices are unfair and unjust. We should be protected by the government because men in mosques are not going to change anything or preach anything pro women.
MS SHABANAH FAZAL
1. Since the age of 11, when my family moved to Huddersfield in 1973 to live in a largely Muslim community, I lived mostly under the rule of a very strict mother. Although she had sent me to mosque for a few years before that to read the Koran, this stopped after puberty (as it did in those days) and she knew I resisted her very strict Islam at every turn, preferring to stay in my room to read and study. By the end of my teenage years my parents had written me off as useless with housework, knowledge of Punjabi and Pakistani traditions, and a near religious illiterate.
2. My mother had already arranged the marriages of my older brother and sister with cousins from Pakistan, so I knew I would face the same –and in my case, she hoped marriage would teach me to become a dutiful Muslim. In 1978/9 I was duly offered a choice of two cousins from Pakistan and agreed to marry the one who was six years older than myself, as my sister had been married off to his older brother, so I thought that was the safer option.
3. I was married in September 1981 with a simple home ceremony – a nikah in my bedroom – and my fiancé would have had the same ceremony in another room of the house. I did not see my husband until after that ceremony, when I was taken downstairs for photos with him. A couple of days later we were married in a civil ceremony at the local register office. Communication was a bit difficult as he was settling in as a new immigrant but he was patient and gave me time to get to know him. Although things were fine at that stage, we both knew deep down from the start we were from two different worlds and that the marriage would not last, but suppressed the thought and tried to make it work.
4. My first and only daughter was born two years later in 1983. My husband was very supportive of my decision to return to study for a degree and then start a career in teaching. I really enjoyed my new life at work and became extremely busy with it over the years, but we inevitably grew apart due to deep cultural differences; he wanted a traditional Muslim housewife and I still wanted full freedom to live my life exactly as I wanted. He spent more and more time away from home and neither of us knew much about how the other was spending their days. Around 1991, he began to talk about divorce and remarrying, and told me one day he had found a woman he had a great deal in common with that he wanted to marry. It was stressful – not least because I did not know how I would tell my eight year old daughter, but I agreed we should part. However, he came home one day at the start of 1992 and told me he had already married this other woman before we had even formally separated. I was shocked and actually very hurt despite wanting the divorce myself.
5. After that, matters spiralled downwards very fast: he was now rarely at home but insisted that I should initiate divorce proceedings myself, and worse, pay for the divorce too, probably knowing that after his brutal action I would want to separate myself from him as soon as possible. He was right, and to save myself more stress, I gave in after some argument and agreed to that too. Instead, I decided to give myself time to focus on how I would tell my daughter. Unfortunately, I realised I had delayed too long, when I allowed him to take her to visit his friends in London one weekend (his story) and she returned extremely upset, telling me “Daddy took me to meet a woman and he said ‘This is your new mother.’” That was too much so I stopped talking to him, and moved into my daughter’s bedroom. In the next couple of months, I discovered how little I knew about him as I received more and more letters about unpaid bills, mortgage payments etc, and the final straw was discovering a hand gun and ammunition in a bag in his wardrobe. I took photos as a precaution, and without telling him I had seen them, threw him out that evening, as I was terrified of what he might do with the gun. My husband only returned once after that to the home to collect clothes and belongings, and after a few months of complete separation, in August 1992 we were divorced officially through solicitors. There was only one more visit to my house, when a family conference was arranged to get him to agree that I would keep our home and child, and he would live somewhere else with the new wife.
6. He kept to his word and relations after that have been distant but amicable, with my daughter visiting and staying over regularly until she left home for university.
7. At no stage do I remember my husband declaring an Islamic talaq to me even once, never mind three times, but almost certainly will have told his brother, friends and the new wife of course that this is what he had done. No doubt he thought I would not have a clue that this was required for an Islamic divorce, or that if I did, I would not tell anyone he had not done it, as I was happy to see the back of him. Since he was rarely at home and there was nothing between us by then, he presumably thought I would not care and he was right, provided he did not come near me or my daughter ever again. But most of all, he clearly did not feel the need to bother wasting words on me as he knew that Islamic law allowed him to marry up to four wives at the same time.
8. Looking back it is odd that my parents never asked me if he had pronounced talaq to me, so they must also have assumed he did – or again, that I was too clueless to have known what it was if he had done so. What I am aware of was that this was never a big issue then for any of us: I was not a practising Muslim so it was irrelevant to me to whether or not he gave me an Islamic talaq, and my parents clearly did not care whether he had actually done it because they knew I had very few dealings with Muslims in our community, so could tell them whatever they wanted.
For more information, please contact:
Southall Black Sisters
020 8571 9595
Centre for Secular Space
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