A MUSLIM leader who ignored a divorce judge’s order to pay his ex-wife £60,000 maintenance has been told by the Appeal Court that he cannot rely on Muslim tradition to absolve him of his financial responsibilities.

In a test case clash of Muslim and UK matrimonial law, Lord Justice Ward ruled that a belief that maintenance payments to spouses are ‘illegitimate or illegal according to Islamic culture’ is no defence to orders made in English divorce courts. Dr Zaid Al-Saffar, a consultant rheumatologist at Scarborough Hospital and the head of the town’s Islamic society, married academic Hanan Al-Saffar in April 2000. They had two children before splitting in 2008.

The couple’s row over finances came before District Judge Alan Jones at the County Court, Blackburn, where Mrs Al-Saffar, who is in her 30s, now lives, in May 2008.

In traditional Muslim societies there is often no expectation that ex-husbands pay maintenance to ex-wives. Judge Jones however refused to accept this view and ordered Dr Al-Saffar to pay £60,000 in maintenance for her contribution to the marriage.

The doctor only made four payments however, leading to his wife obtaining an order from District Judge Alan Booth in February, directing him to pay the arrears of over £40,000 in a lump sum and resume monthly payments.

Dr Al-Saffar challenged that at London’s Appeal Court, telling Lord Justice Ward he stopped paying four months after the County Court order when he had heard his wife had inherited £250,000 from her father.

But Lord Justice Ward dismissed his appeal, upholding judge Booth’s finding that the doctor was ‘determined not to pay’ as he ‘felt the payments illegitimate or illegal’ under Islamic culture.

Representing himself, the doctor told the court: “I’m hard working. I pay my taxes and look after my community. I have nothing but respect for the court’s order, but I only stopped paying because all her family were telling me she’s got millions. She doesn't need it.”