The Nikah ceremony - Have you really tied the knot?

21st June 2021 Family Law

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the day to day lives of everyone across the globe. We are now all too familiar with the weekly date nights in Tesco sporting our favourite face mask and settling in for the 157th quiet night in of the year! Evidently, the pandemic has not only compromised many of the minor aspects of everyday life, but it has also disrupted major milestone life events, such as getting married!

Wedding ceremonies play a significant role in every faith and culture and, for some, they are a massive event. Many Muslim couples who come from culturally diverse backgrounds are often known for hosting grand weddings with an endless guest list (in Islam it is considered a blessing to feed people, so we take the phrase ‘the more the merrier’ very seriously!). Of course, many couples have now had to put a halt to their wedding plans in light of the Covid-19 outbreak, caught between what feels like an endless loop of planning and postponing in light of the ever changing regulations. In order to combat these restrictions, many Muslim couples have opted to hold a more intimate gathering during lockdown in order to carry out their Nikah ceremony. 

What is the Nikah ceremony?

The Nikah is the Islamic marriage ceremony, whereby the Muslim couple legitimise their marriage in the eyes of God by signing the marriage contract in the presence of an imam and at least 2 witnesses. This element of a Muslim marriage is often carried out as part of the wider wedding celebrations, but can also be carried out separately beforehand.

Legal basis of the Nikah ceremony

Having an intimate Nikah ceremony during lockdown has meant that many Muslim couples may neglect having a civil ceremony until they are able to host a traditional wedding reception after lockdown. Unbeknown to some, whilst the Nikah ceremony facilitates a legal marriage between the couple under Islamic law, the couple are not yet considered married under English law. 
The case of Akhter v Khan and another 2020 established that Islamic marriages are considered a ‘non-qualifying’ ceremony which falls outside the scope of the Marriage Act 1949. This becomes problematic when a Muslim couple who have not carried out the civil formalities of marriage registration want to file for divorce and issue financial proceedings, as the law will not consider their marriage to be valid.

It is worth noting that whilst the Nikah ceremony does not give rise to a legal marriage in England, this may not necessarily be the case when it has taken place in a country that recognises it as a legal marriage, such as Pakistan. In these circumstances, the Nikah ceremony may be legally recognised by English law, however, a marriage in England must adhere to legal formalities. 

Where do we go from here?

Now that we understand the legal merit of a Nikah ceremony, what does this mean? It is a Muslims couple’s prerogative as to whether or not they decide to legalise their marriage by having a civil registration. Many may decide that a religious marriage satisfies their needs and may not feel inclined to register their marriage. As such, they will be treated as though they are co-habitants by law and will not be entitled to the legal privileges of a spouse, such as having an automatic right of inheritance and benefitting from certain tax breaks. For those who do wish to legalise their marriage, we advise that they get in touch with their local registry office at their earliest convenience to ensure that they have legally tied the knot! 

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Aishah Patwary is a Trainee Solicitor located in Manchesterin our Trainee Solicitors department

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