How Muslim war widows are redefining marriage

A University of Birmingham research project is looking at how Iraqi and Syrian war-widows who have sought refuge in the UK and Germany are redefining the concept of being married.

Reconsidering Muslim marriage practices in Europe: the case of Iraqi and Syrian war-widows is led by Dr Yafa Shanneik and is funded by the British Academy. It is investigating to what extent the countries’ legal systems recognise these new marriage forms and how they are perceived by the broader community.

Next Monday and Tuesday (16 and 17 April 2018) will see the project’s first conference entitled: Europe’s New Migrants: Marriage Practices and PoliciesIt is being held in Birmingham and will bring together scholars from various European countries who specialise in law, religious/Islamic studies, anthropology, sociology, as well as policy makers and practitioners.

The spread, speed and scale of refugees and migrants coming into Europe since the second Gulf War have challenged and impacted existing European legal systems. Muslim marriage practices performed by these newcomers have posed various legal, religious and social challenges. 

Legally: Some of these practices lack formalised documentations either because they have not been officially registered or because documents have been lost during the displacement process. One area next week’s conference and the project is focusing on is how receiving countries’ legal systems view Muslim marriages, contracted before and after displacement, including the extent that the systems secure women’s rights within these marriages or their breakdown.

Religiously: Some of these marriages are unconventional, such as between a Muslim women and a non-Muslim man. The conference and project will examine various forms and new types of marriages, how they are contracted and what role they play in defining religious boundaries.

Socially: These trans- and intra-religious Muslim marriage forms impact on social relations and define them anew. Dr Shanneik and conference delegates will examine how marriage practices are a means by which the women negotiate their ‘politics of belonging’ and integration into the new host societies. 

Dr Shanneik says, ‘In 2014 the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict placed marriage practices at the centre of the UK’s international development efforts. This project will look at how some of the most vulnerable people in our societies are redefining marriage, and what social, cultural and legal impacts these changes are bringing about. 

‘Next week’s conference will be an opportunity to initiate the project, engage with stakeholders and discuss the complex nature of Muslim marriage practices and their constant evolution alongside political and sectarian tensions and cultural developments, and look at how we can enhance public and academic understanding of the issues and debates surrounding these marriage practices among our new European migrants.’