Divorce Judge Tackles Islamic Sectarianism

In a case which underlined the increasingly international flavour of the family courts, the division between two sects of Islam made itself felt as an Ahmahdi husband denied that his marriage to a Sunni Muslim was valid under Pakistani law.

The former couple, who both lived in England, went through an Ahmahdi ‘Nikah’ marriage ceremony at the bride’s home in Lahore, Pakistan, in 2005. The wedding lasted three days; the husband paid a dowry for his new wife and the marriage contract was registered at the local Ahmahdi mosque.

However, after his wife petitioned for divorce and made financial claims against him, the husband insisted that he had always been a bachelor under Pakistani law. Although there are three million Ahmahdis in Pakistan, they are officially categorised as ‘non-Muslims’. They face criminal prosecution if they profess the Islamic faith and cannot even call their places of worship mosques.

A world-renowned expert in South Asian law testified that it was doubtful whether a marriage between an Ahmadhi and a Sunni Muslim would be recognised in Pakistan. However, in rejecting the husband’s arguments, the High Court noted that, under English law, there is a ‘strong presumption’ that a marriage is legally binding.

The former couple had lived together for years as man and wife – having two children together – and the husband had not challenged the validity of the marriage until after they separated. All the local formalities had been complied with and the husband’s payment of a dowry was a ‘mark of his respect for the marriage contract’.

The judge concluded, “This marriage has always been treated as a valid marriage in the eyes of the parties, their families and their communities…The wife is entitled to a declaration that the marriage celebrated in Lahore was, at its inception, a valid marriage.” The decision opened the way for the wife to divorce her husband and seek maintenance and other financial provision in an English family court.