Dr Zaid Al-Saffar is a consultant rheumatologist at Scarborough Hospital in North Yorkshire and head of the Islamic Society in his town. He is having trouble coming to terms with the British family law concept of "sharing" the wealth with one's former spouse in the event of divorce. Under Sharia law, he doesn't have to pay his wife anything, but British law told him to pay his ex-wife, academic Hanan Al-Saffar, maintenance of sixty thousand pounds.
They married in the Islamic tradition of Mahr, where the groom gives his bride a gift and because of this, his wife signed away her half of the family home. So even though the doctor owns the house outright, he still thinks there is no need to pay her maintenance because according to Islam, his wife's family is supposed to take on the responsibility of looking after her. Therefore, he says the payments are illegitimate and family law in the UK is biased against Muslim people.
He made the payments for four months and stopped when he heard his wife had come into an inheritance from her father. He decided to lodge an appeal and represented himself. He told the judge his ex wife was very rich and didn't need the money.
It was left to Lord Justice Ward to put him right. He said "The husband has kept the whole of the capital in the marital home and his wife has not received any of it. Under those circumstances, the order for spousal maintenance was a perfectly proper and fair order to make." He pointed out that his wife's inheritance did not reduce his obligation to make a proper contribution. "The rule in this country is that you share and the starting point is equal division." He urged him not to become "consumed by bitterness" and dismissed his case.
Muslim couples usually take their family disputes to sharia tribunals run by the local mosques and there are around 85 operating in Britain today. But women may be disadvantaged if they agree to Islamic rules and that is why the divorce agreement must be rubber-stamped by a British court, to ensure that neither party is disadvantaged.
Once the agreement is submitted in writing to the family court, there is no need for the couple to attend court, and the great majority are approved without incident.