Imam of North London Central Mosque —UK
In Islamic Shari`ah, the concepts of marriage and divorce are quite deep"But that is upsetting!" This has become the almost daily comment I get when I turn someone down, saying that I cannot do a marriage for him or her. A young man who was around 35 years old knocked the door of my office. He was speaking Arabic. He asked if I am the imam. When I replied in the affirmative, he quickly told me that he has got a serious problem that requires an urgent solution and he needs to have five minutes with me.
He started by telling me that he has fallen into an affair with a lady and committed adultery with her. He was asking me if I can conduct a marriage for him to solve his problem, and I said that he has to be married at the civil center before I can conduct his Islamic marriage. As he said he cannot do so, I apologized that I cannot do the Islamic marriage then. I further tried to find out the reasons that prevented him from taking this step. As is normal, his reasons were that he was staying illegally in the UK.
This was just one example of almost a daily situation where I am visited by young men and women who are willing to be married according to the Islamic way but not in the civil court. Being illegal residents, some of them cannot take the step of civil marriage, while others who are legally staying in the country are still not willing to take up the civil marriage because they are not ready for that step. Sometimes, it seems to them burdening to take such a step while they want to live with their respective spouses as husbands and wives, without the least embarrassment or thought of what is haram (Arabic for: prohibited by Allah).
This is one of the problem's aspects. I have to turn all these people down and tell them that I cannot conduct their marriages unless they are married at the registrar first. If I do not do that, I will be subject to punishment by the law for doing something that requires a certain process in an improper way.
Another difficulty is normally faced in case of divorce, where one spouse or both are willing to end their marriage. The ideal procedure is for them to go to the civil court, yet there are more deeper problems that need consultation with an imam or someone of religious authority for maintaining the marriage for the sake of both parties and the welfare of the children.
Yet, because at the end of the day it is not in the hands of the imam to pass a judgment that can be of legal nature upon the husband and the wife, many of these consultations end up in futileness.
Religious Consultation vs. Law
It is admissible that magistrates and councils of consultation are acceptable on both individual and official levels, yet their verdicts have no legal status — that is, they are not on equal footing with the civil court's verdicts. In Islamic Shari`ah, the concepts of marriage and divorce are quite deep; many considerations are taken into account when consultation is needed. Time and the background of an imam are normally very significant in understanding the cultural background of both spouses and knowing what to care about.
Consultation serves the purposes of the whole family's welfare rather than the individual's. Yet, it happens a lot that one of the parties involved is not willing to cooperate. A spouse may tend to misuse the loophole represented by the lack of any legal value of the imam's consultation or verdict. He or she then simply escapes and tries to play with the law somewhere else. This is simply what creates a dilemma.
If Shari`ah was in place in these spheres, what would happen? I suppose the duality undergone nowadays by these parties would disappear, and at least a one-shot process would be effective and productive for everyone.
The purpose of this article is not to offer a solution; rather, it aims at highlighting an alternative course of action that can be effective. The applicability of this course of action needs extensive research, and its mechanism is not something that can be decided in one single session or article because of the multiplicity of Islamic juristic opinions in the issues of marriage and divorce.
However, the call by the archbishop of Canterbury for adopting parts of Islamic Shari`ah in some spheres of life in the Muslim community is considered an awakening call that can open the eyes of Muslim scholars to proposing a draft of an Islamic guide for Islamic judges or imams. It can also motivate the Muslim scholars to write extensively on how this part of Shari`ah can serve the Muslims who need family counseling when there is a need for an effective Shari`ah-compliant, yet legally valid, verdict.
Most of the dissatisfaction of young men and women who are willing to do an Islamic marriage but not a civil one can be avoided, and relief will be given, first and foremost, to the imams and religious leaders.
Legally Qualified Imams
One part remains, though. The imams and religious leaders will need to be trained on some parts of the British law of family status to be able to effectively engage in such issues and become equipped with all necessary procedures. I think this will open the door for active and productive engagement of one important and highly needed segment of the Muslim community; namely, the imams in the British society. This will also definitely be a good sign and encouraging step of true integration in to the British society — integration with integrity.
As it is one of the responsibilities of the people to obey the law and give it all due respect, it is one of the responsibilities of the government to work for the full welfare of its people to keep them loyal and committed all the time. Community coherence does not mean melting people in one pot and pouring them all into one mold; rather, it means celebrating their diversity in a sphere of healthy respect, constructive dialogue, and acceptance.