The process of divorce is misunderstood and severely misused. Islam is a religion that has divinely revealed rules and regulations about the institution of marriage and all issues pertaining to it, including divorce. The holy Quran has a whole Chapter titled “at Talaq” or ‘The Divorce’, dealing with the rules and regulations governing treatment of women and divorce.
Marriage is considered a contract between two consenting individuals. In Islam, they are enjoined to live peacefully with each other, strengthening the basic building block of society, which is their family. However if such a harmonious relationship is not possible, then divorce can be considered a last resort after several steps have been taken to ensure that all possible options for the marriage to continue have been exhausted. The Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon Him) has been reported as saying that among the things that Allah has permitted to Muslims, He hates divorce the most. This means that while permitted with valid reasons, Allah abhors divorce. Not surprisingly, Satan loves divorce most of all the evil and corrupt actions perpetrated by his human and jinn (beings created from smokeless fire, invisible to humans) followers. This is because divorce destroys the foundation of society, harms vulnerable children and perpetuates social ill and inequity- creating the foundations of the evil Satan thrives on.
The Quran’s stipulations about divorce are very strict. Men, who are given the financial responsibility of women, are charged with their welfare. Women are regarded as partners of men in all worldly and spiritual matters but are given a higher status than men with regard to children and their upbringing. When a husband dislikes a certain characteristic in his wife, he is instructed in the Quran (Chapter 4 Verse 19) to be patient, and that he is sure to find many beneficial characteristics in her. If there are disagreements, mediation and conciliation are stressed.
If however divorce is inevitable, there are several rules which need to be followed even before the word ‘divorce’ can be articulated.
- A man cannot pronounce the word “Talaq” (Arabic for divorce) while a woman is menstruating. After the menstrual cycle, divorce can be pronounced before any intercourse has taken place. Adhering to such regulations means divorce cannot be taken lightly or given in the heat of the moment.
- Once a man has voiced his intention to divorce his wife, she needs to stay in the same household for three months or three menstrual cycles:
And those who no longer expect menstruation among your women – if you doubt, then their period is three months, and [also for] those who have not menstruated. And for those who are pregnant, their term is until they give birth. And whoever fears Allah – He will make for him of his matter ease.(The Holy Quran Chapter 65 Verse 4)
O Prophet, when you [Muslims] divorce women, divorce them for [the commencement of] their waiting period and keep count of the waiting period, and fear Allah , your Lord. Do not turn them out of their [husbands’] houses, nor should they [themselves] leave [during that period] unless they are committing a clear immorality. And those are the limits [set by] Allah . And whoever transgresses the limits of Allah has certainly wronged himself. You know not; perhaps Allah will bring about after that a [different] matter.
And when they have [nearly] fulfilled their term, either retain them according to acceptable terms or part with them according to acceptable terms. And bring to witness two just men from among you and establish the testimony for [the acceptance of] Allah . That is instructed to whoever should believe in Allah and the Last day. And whoever fears Allah – He will make for him a way out (The Holy Quran Chapter 65 Verses 1-2).
Staying in the same house provides ample opportunity for the spouses to reconcile:
Lodge them [in a section] of where you dwell out of your means and do not harm them in order to oppress them. And if they should be pregnant, then spend on them until they give birth. And if they breastfeed for you, then give them their payment and confer among yourselves in the acceptable way; but if you are in discord, then there may breastfeed for the father another woman.(The Holy Quran Chapter 65 Verse 6).
- Reconciliation is especially important for the welfare of children, who without both parents suffer psychologically, socially and financially- a fact which is borne out in our contemporary society.
- When there is reconciliation after the first divorce, there is no need for a new marriage contract or for the husband to pay the wife ‘mehr’, the sum of money paid to a bride at the time of marriage. In the second and third divorce if there is reconciliation, a new marriage contract and payment of mehr is required.
- Once divorce has been pronounced and the spouses reconcile, the man has two more pronouncements of divorce left to use in his lifetime or during the marriage with that particular wife. Once all three divorce chances have been used, there can be no reconciliation between the spouses. The only way to reconcile is if the woman were to marry and that husband were to die or divorce her.
The last rule has been distorted to suit the needs of men who have been hasty to divorce their wives using all three divorce pronouncements at once. The cultural practice of ‘halala’ is being used to circumvent the condition of a woman’s marriage to another man. In this situation, the former husband arranges a ritualistic marriage of his former wife, and its consummation with another man, who then divorces her so she may marry the first husband. Such practices are derogatory and have no basis in Islam. The very concept erodes the sanctity of marriage.
Likewise, the practice of Muslim men issuing divorce notices over the telephone, internet and by post, as has been widely reported recently in India, is a cultural product of the misuse of religion by a patriarchal system. The required steps of mediation, attempt to conciliate, cohabitation after the intention to divorce, and the financial maintenance of women, are religiously guarded sanctions which are not dependent on the whims and fancies of individuals. Muslim women should not have to protest against such oppressive social practices, or for the right of men to divorce them so easily to be annulled. This is because neither is inherently in Islam in any case.