The United Kingdom is on taking a first step toward a parallel legal system for Muslims, and garnering applause for it.   

Both the Guardian and the Telegraph have recently lauded a new Muslim marriage contract drawn up by a group of British Muslim organizations as a breakthrough in Muslim women’s rights in the UK. Urmee Khan of the Telegraph announced with unabashed aplomb: “Hailed as the biggest change in Sharia law in Britain for 100 years, a married Muslim couple will now have equal rights.” And the Guardian’s Samia Rahman claimed that “A new Islamic marriage contract sets aside cultural practices, giving women the rights they are due under sharia law”.
But if this new marriage contract was required to give Muslim women equal rights, how can these rights have already been enshrined in the shari’a? There are two important claims to distinguish here: that the shari’a gives women equal rights in marriage and divorce matters, and that this new contract is consistent with the shari’a in giving women these rights. But how valid are these bold assertions?
For Khan, equal rights include a requirement that the man drops his right to polygamy, since in Islamic law a man can have up to four wives. But, strictly speaking, the Muslim man is not dropping his right under Islamic law to have four wives. He is just acknowledging that under British law polygamy is not allowed. The marriage contract states:
The husband is not to enter into formal or informal nikah (Muslim marriage) contract in the UK or abroad with another woman, as it is unlawful under the laws of England and Wales as well as the Scottish legal system (emphasis added).
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