- Muslim women are finding out that they were never married to their husbands
- The wedding ceremony involves customs that many believes officiates it
- Rukhsana Noor and Habiba Jaan both lost their homes because of this
- The women didn't get civil marriages so had no marital rights
- New campaign seeks to change law so Muslim marriages have to be registered
Getting married should be one of the happiest times in a woman's life, but for some Muslim brides the fairytale can suddenly come to a shocking end.
Rukhsana Noor and Habiba Jaan both found themselves homeless and hundreds of thousands of pounds in debt after learning that their Sharia marriages were not recognised under UK law.
Both women's stories are told in a new Channel 4 documentary, The Truth About Muslim Marriage, which exposes the plight of women who discover they have no legal rights after their 'marriage' falls apart.
Habiba, a mother of four, found out that she was never legally married to her husband because they'd never registered the marriage. When she begged him for a civil ceremony she discovered that he was actually legally married to someone else.
She had taken out a loan to lend him money and when she couldn't force him to repay it, her home was repossessed and she suffered a mental breakdown.
Rukhsana wasn't allowed to take her husband to a family court to divide their assets and had to spend £100,000 taking him to civil court because they too were never legally married.
She called the situation 'heartbreaking', and felt stupid for not knowing she'd never had an official marriage.
In a Muslim marriage ceremony the couple are kept in separate rooms while they sign a marriage contract. Many believe this contract to be legally binding, but it is not actually recognised under UK law.
Campaigners are currently trying to change the law so that all Muslim weddings have to be registered. According to the latest statistics, 80 per cent of Muslim marriages are not considered legal.
Habiba, who appears in The Truth About Muslim Marriage, had four children with her husband before learning they had never legally been husband and wife.
She pleaded with her husband to get a civil ceremony but he always resisted, and she began hearing rumours that he had another wife.
While polygamous marriages are accepted by Islam, many Muslims do not choose them and Habiba was horrified to discover that the reason her husband didn't want to marry her was because he did in fact have a legal wife.
She decided to leave him but it was difficult as she had borrowed money from him and was forced to pay it back herself, unable to take him to family court.
Habiba had to sell off her assets to repay the debts and ended up losing her home with children to support.
She said: 'I was actually homeless, my house was repossessed. I had a mental breakdown and it was a very difficult time. I was left at a stage where I didn't even have 10p to buy milk for my son.'
Rukhsana had a comfortable life as an IT consultant before she realised the truth about her marriage.
She began feeling unhappy in the relationship and eventually decided to leave and sought a divorce, until she realised there couldn't be a divorce - because there was never a marriage.
She believed the marriage contract she signed on her wedding day was binding, and didn't have a civil ceremony.
Rukhsana said: 'There would only be an Islamic divorce because we were not legally married, so we're seen as cohabitees. It's not a divorce settlement, you're fighting for your share of the property.
'That's when I had a wake up call. Silly me, went to university, [had] been brought up in the UK, and I believed it.'
Rukhsana had to go to a civil court to prove she had made financial contributions to the home they'd bought together, which was worth almost £400,000. Had the couple been legally married they could have gone to a family court, where a judge would have attempt to divided their assets in a 50/50 split.
She has spent five years and £100,000 fighting for her home, which is now derelict because they didn't get the chance to move in.
'It's heartbreaking. It really is heartbreaking,' Rukshana said.
The Muslim marriage survey
Channel 4 surveyed 900 Muslim women who were married in the UK. The broadcaster asked about their married life and whether they had been legally married.
- 60 per cent didn't have a civil marriage ceremony
- Over a quarter didn't know their marriage wasn't legal
- Two thirds of them did know, but two thirds of that group didn't want a civil ceremony
- Less than a third got married in a Mosque
- 89 per cent wanted to be in monogamous marriages
- 80 per cent of young Muslim marriages have not been registered
- 90 per cent of Mosques do not register marriages
- Women like Rukhsana and Habiba appear in a new documentary presented by Myriam François, who also had a ceremonial marriage.The film surveyed 900 Muslim women on their marriages and found that a quarter of them didn't know their marriages weren't legal.Family lawyer Aina Khan has started the Register Our Marriage campaign which is asking the government to amend the Marriage Act to include Muslim weddings.She said: 'I regard it as heartbreaking to hear that these stories are not only happening under our noses but growing as we do nothing. We've been caught sleep walking into a disaster and nobody has done anything about it.'The government is aware there is a problem but they've asked for data, there is no data. I'm hoping very much that when we are able to show the government our statistics people will have sympathy.'