FEATURE :: Roundtable on Islamic Family Law in the UK: Akhter v. Khan (July 2018)

Six scholars and practitioners of Islamic family law and related subjects weigh in on the recent high-profile case of Islamic divorce in the UK, Akhter v. Khan issued by the High Court of Justice of England and Wales. 

At the tail end of last month, a UK court decided a case of family law that has reverberated in legal-academic and media circles alike: what is the status of Islamic law in UK courts? Should state courts recognize Islamic marriages that have not been registered? Does religious law stand in the place of state law? Mr. Justice William touched on these questions in Akhter v. Khan (July 2018), his decision issued from the High Court of Justice of England and Wales. We provide a summary of the lengthy case in the SHARIAsource Case Brief — outlining the facts and presenting excerpts from the original case, which may be found here. We then rounded up six scholars of Islamic family law and related areas to weigh in and debate the implications of the case. Here are their views.

Re-opening the Debate on the Law of Marriage as a Whole
By Ralph GrilloEmeritus Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Sussex
grillo“The case (among others) reinforces my view that the law of marriage as a whole needs to be looked at, not least with regard to relationships which may be of many years duration but which have not been blessed by ceremony or legal registration.”

Islamic Marriage and English Divorce – a new Decision from the English High Court
BRalf MichaelsProfessor of Law, Duke Law School
085812c_michaels0009“The decision represents a huge step towards the protection of women whose Islamic marriages are not registered. It makes it harder for men to escape their obligations under civil law. At the same time, the decision is not unproblematic.”

Engaging with the Terms of the Marriage Act of 1949
By Rebecca Probert, Professor of Law, University of Exeter Law School
probert“The key problem with the decision in Akhter v Khan and the Attorney General – as with much of the commentary and many of the cases on non-marriage – is the failure to engage with the actual terms of the Marriage Act of 1949.”

UK Courts recognize the Islamic law equivalent of a “semblance of marriage”
By Intisar A. RabbProfessor of Law, Harvard Law School
rabb“The court determined that their marriage was void rather than non-existent—making their union something akin to what classical Islamic law would label a ‘defective marriage’ or ‘semblance of marriage.’ Yet, the judgment leaves open the question whether and how this case extends to other religious or private marriage arrangements in the UK, particularly in situations where two parties inadvertently fail to comply with UK family law requirements.”

The Move Toward Cohabitation: Islamic Marriage in England and Wales
By Hadeer SolimanAttorney, and Vishal VoraResearch Fellow, Max Planck Institute
soliman“Given the issues facing Muslims, marriage registration, and the potential financial fall-out, it appears that reforming the law of cohabitation may help to bring a sense of clarity in such cases.”

The Need for an Efficient Mechanism to Marry
By Vishal Vora, Research Fellow, Max Planck Institute
vora“For the maturing British-born South Asian population, there must exist an efficient mechanism to marry in a way that is meaningful to them and recognized by the state, in one step and certainly without the need of going to Court.”