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Two thirds of Muslims who married in Britain are not legally wed as their ceremonies are not recognised in law, a survey has found.
Couples who have had the traditional religious wedding ceremony of the nikah but not a civil ceremony at a register officer have no legal protections under statute.
A tenth of those surveyed are in polygamous relationships, although about a third of those had not agreed to it. Many were also unaware that they did not have the same rights and protections afforded to couples who are legally married.
The figures are highlighted in The Truth about Muslim Marriage, a documentary to be broadcast tonight on Channel 4.
Without the rights and protections of a legally recognised marriage, Muslim women cannot seek any kind of award or maintenance in the family court if their relationship breaks down. Instead they would have to try to make a claim in the civil courts for a share of the assets, which is time consuming and costly.
As many as 200,000 couples are thought to be living in unregistered marriages in Britain, which has a Muslim population of about 2.7 million.
The survey of 923 women in 14 British cities reveals that while 78 per cent wanted their marriages to be legally valid, 61 per cent only had a nikah marriage, meaning that their union was not legally recognised.
However, two-thirds of those who had not had a civil marriage ceremony had no plans to have one in the future so as to give their union legal status.
Some 28 per cent of those women with only a nikah marriage were unaware that it did not give them the same rights and protections as a legally recognised marriage.
The survey suggests that imams could be play a greater role in informing couples of the legal difference between a nikah and a civil ceremony.
Aina Khan, a family lawyer and specialist in Islamic law at the national law firm Duncan Lewis, told the programme that although many faiths were affected, the law put Muslims at a particular disadvantage because most did not get married in a registered place of worship, which is one of the criteria for a marriage to be legally recognised.
The majority of Muslims preferred to get married at home or in a rented hotel or hall, she said, adding that the problem was growing and the government was failing to do anything to address it.