Direct engagement over religious marriages
Recently I was honoured to be asked to take the role of independent chair and skilled facilitator for an exciting new initiative from the Ministry of Justice.
In response to the issue of religious marriages not being legally recognised, the Secretary of State for Justice, Jack Straw, supported face-to-face meetings to discuss these issues directly with Imams, given their influence in the community and role in officiating over religious marriages.
Having a religious marriage that is not recognised under civil law, often means people can encounter difficulties with division of assets should the marriage break down, and with inheritance and pension issues if a partner dies. It can mean that couples cannot receive married couples’ benefits and can lead to problems when applying for passports or to institutions such as universities. Feedback from Islamic groups was that people wishing to get married would benefit from more mosques being registered as buildings where marriages can take place.
Thirty seven Imams attended the event, including others with influence in the wider community. The discussion was honest and open, with many difficulties aired and ways forward developed. By the end, many Imams present had decided to register as registrars so as to be able to perform civil marriages as well as religious ones.
The seminar was considered by those attending to be a valuable and worthwhile exercise, hopefully the first of many. For me, it was a powerful reminder that nothing succeeds in communication like face-to-face engagement, where you are able to listen to people and respond to them in the moment. In this way, new solutions to what seem like difficult problems can often be found.
I’d also like to pass on the news that the North African food at the Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre in West London is absolutely delicious – and the chef is available for private parties!