Yesterdays documentary Divorce – Shariah Style on c4 went through details of the work the Shariah council are doing in the UK, for which they are in demand by an ever increasingly aware Muslim population. The majority of their work and aired on the doc focused on divorce, financial and marital issues.

For purposes of the title divorce was discussed and some of the clients of the Shariah council presented to have their issues resolved or for advice. Most of the client base for purposes of divorce were women who were seeking khula, some who had been separated for a number of years from their estranged partners but who were unwilling to divorce their wives. What sort of a person would want to stay married to someone who doesn’t want to have anything to do with you?

One of the men in the documentary was a 20 something East Londoner. His story went something like this: 

Imran and Nasira – a polygamous arrangement

Six years ago Imran, 27, went to Pakistan where his parents arranged for him to marry his cousin, Nasira, who joined him in London a year later. Far from her family and unable to speak English, and now with three young children, Nasira is completely dependent on Imran. ‘I came here thinking that he’d treat me well, wouldn’t hurt me … But he keeps hurting me on purpose so that I leave him, run away.’

Despite the palpable misery of both partners, Imran’s parents oppose divorce, saying that it would bring dishonour on them. Instead, they sanction Imran taking a second wife in Pakistan since, under Pakistan’s laws, a man may have up to four wives. Under British law, though, no one can have more than one spouse at a time, so Imran could not bring his second wife to live in Britain. Nasira is horrified that he has married a second wife and, after a massive row, Imran issues her an Islamic divorce and she moves away to Bradford. Under pressure from his family, though, he’s hoping the Sharia Council will declare his divorce invalid, and help him take her back

he insisted his parents co-erced him into marrying his cousin, even though he wasn’t interested and maintained he still did not love her or want to stay married to her. He still managed to have 3 kids with her in the space oftheir 5 year marriage so obviously wasn’t all that repelled! The cause of his problem was his parents. He couldn’t divorce her because it’d bring them and their family into disrepute, although they thought if him taking another wife made him happy then that is ok, but he can’t leave his 1st wife – he should keep them both! These kinds of attitudes aren’t imported from “home countries” or “foreign cultures” by 1st generation immigrants, they become indigenous and self-perpetuating when implemented and carried on by 2nd, 3rd or even 4th generation immigrants.

I thought it was a shame some of the women like Irum had been seeking khula for over 3 years. Her story is found below

Irum’s story

A Muslim woman has the right to ask the council to dissolve her marriage if her husband treats her with physical or mental cruelty (among many other grounds). If these grounds are established, the husband must give her compensation. Under Muslim laws, a woman also has the right to ask the council to dissolve her marriage even if she has no grounds, but then provided she compensates her husband. This latter is called ‘khula’.

Irum, 26, is living in a women’s refuge. She is separated from her husband, who is on remand awaiting trial on a matter unrelated to the marriage. Irum is applying to the Sharia Council for her divorce because her husband has refused to divorce her.

‘It was basically a conventional arranged marriage whereby his family approached my parents,’ says Irum. ‘We courted for six months, got on really well – love of my life so to speak – and we were married six months later.’ Things started to go wrong within a couple of months but, says Irum, ‘My marriage is a Muslim marriage and those vows are sacred and therefore it’s more important for me to go to the Sharia Council to get my Islamic divorce, more so than the civil.’ Although Irum sees the vows as ‘sacred’, in fact, unlike Christian marriage, Muslim marriage is a contract, not a sacrament.

According to the way the British Sharia Council applies Muslim laws, as a woman, she has to prove her husband’s unreasonable behaviour. So before the council will consider her case, Irum has to prove that her civil divorce is underway and that there are reasonable grounds for divorce – and the council also insists on getting her husband’s views. He writes to say he’s a changed man and wants another chance. Sheikh Hassan asks Irum: ‘Don’t you think that a person … can repent to Allah and can change?’ Irum replies: ‘I do. and that’s probably why I gave him as many opportunities as I had … but he has written dozens of letters like that to me. You know I tried to kill myself.’ Nevertheless, The council rules that she must wait until after her husband’s trial and have further discussions before they will grant a divorce, which Irum refers to as a ‘khula’.

The meaning and procedure for khula varies between different Muslim countries. Some say it requires the husband’s permission and others not. In classical Muslim jurisprudence, it is a divorce initiated by the wife without needing to establish any grounds and is based on a story about a woman who asked the Prophet’s ruling on the problem that she simply found her husband repulsive and wanted to end her marriage. The Prophet dissolved the marriage but ordered her to return to him the orchard he’d given her as a marriage gift

She eventually found respite but after such a long wait. She had her civil marriage annulled (I think?) but sought an Islamic annulment due to her faith. Why that took so long I am not completely sure. Surely it doesn’t take 4 years to obtain khula? What is the average waiting time? Is it similar in timescale to an annulment of a civil marriage?

There was a slight bias in the programme, but I’ll let you all state what that was. For those who watched the doc, what did you think of it?