English law trumps Sharia, rules Appeal Court Judge

A Muslim community leader has been ordered to pay maintenance to his ex-wife even though he believes he owes her nothing under Islamic rules.

Lord Justice Ward said Dr Zaid Al-Saffar must abide by “the rules in this country” and ordered him to support her financially.

The ruling comes amid increasing concern about the creeping influence of Sharia in Britain, and the emergence of a parallel legal system.


In traditional Islamic societies there is often no expectation that husbands will pay their ex-wives maintenance.

Lord Justice Ward said Dr Al-Saffar had been opposed to paying because “he felt the payments were illegitimate or illegal according to Islamic culture”.

Dr Al-Saffar married Hanan Al-Saffar in 2000, and they had two children before splitting in 2008.


Following the split Dr Al-Saffar assumed he had no obligation to support his former wife, and that her family would support her in keeping with Islamic practice.

A county court judge ordered Dr Al-Saffar to pay her £60,000 but he stopped after making just four payments. His ex-wife took the matter to court and won an order directing that he pay her arrears in a lump sum and resume monthly payments.

This ruling was upheld by Lord Justice Ward who said: “The rule in this country is that you share and the starting point is equal division. You came out of the marriage without having made your wife any substantial capital payment.”


The ruling will serve as a warning to Muslims who believe their marriages are ordered according to Sharia law and agree to be bound by Islamic courts.

It is not known how many Muslim couples take their family disputes to Islamic Sharia tribunals, but critics warn that they often discriminate against women.

A Bill, tabled by Lady Cox, aimed at tackling the problem of Sharia courts in England and Wales was introduced to the House of Lords last year.


Under the Bill, it will become a crime punishable by up to five years in prison to falsely claim legal jurisdiction over criminal or family law.

The Bill also makes clear that laws against sex discrimination apply to arbitration tribunals, firmly outlawing the Sharia practice of treating a woman’s testimony as worth half that of a man’s.

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