“Divorce was widespread in pre-Islamic Arabia, but it was not exclusively a man’s prerogative. In certain communities, according to Kitab al-Aghani, a wife could easily divorce her husband. Islam ended this practice, but maintained the practice of divorce as falling almost entirely within the category of men’s rights. Islam recognizes two major kinds of divorce. One is al-talaq al-raj’i (revocable) … the second is al-talaq al-ba’in… In many Arab countries the husband can easily divorce his wife, whereas it is impossible for a wife to divorce her husband against his will, except by consent of a court of law in extreme cases of neglect, maltreatment, nonsupport, indefinite absence of the husband, or impotence. The husband has the right to order his wife back to the home, known as beit al-ta’ah (the house of obedience). The wife is supposed to obey her husband or she is considered nashiz (disobedient); refusal to obey (nishouz) may constitute justification for the husband to stop payment of support. A husband may also divorce his wife without paying the deferred portion of her mahr, which occurs when he refuses to divorce her unless she forfeits her right to it. This is called moukhala’a …”
Even with such rules that do not allow a woman to give divorce but rather ask for it have not helped women to stay clean from blame. “In the Middle East, whether or not it is her own decision, a woman is often blamed for a divorce, given that divorce is always thought to be the “fault” of one of the marital partners. The corollary to this is that women are always expected to protect their family’s stability and harmony, even if they find themselves in a miserable marriage… It is common for an Egyptian woman to endure an unhappy marriage for the children’s sake in order to maintain the family environment”, and this is not true for only Egyptian women. Many Muslim women (like even non-Muslim women elsewhere) go through unhappy and often abusive marriages for the sake of their children.
In every Muslim culture, women who are wives and mothers are “self-sacrificing figures, always ready to tolerate their husbands’ mistakes, which can amount to infidelity at times.” Even then for many Muslim women, an abusive marriage is a better gamble than living a lonely life. There is an Egyptian saying, “The company of any man is better than being alone.” ‘Muslim cultures’ (as opposed to Islam) rear the female child to believe that the status of an “unattached female” is worthless. The deeply patriarchal societies which Arab societies generally are, give utmost importance to motherhood and so young women are socialized to understand that women must get married and bear children. In South Asian Muslim communities, there is little or no concept of “al-talaq al-raj’i” and so women are divorced in a matter of minutes by men who use divorce as a powerful blackmailing weapon to keep their women under strict control.
“While kindness is sometimes offered to divorced women, well-intentioned gestures cannot undo the deeply-rooted societal beliefs regarding the role of a married woman, and the culpability of female divorcees… In addition, being single again and, supposedly, in search of a partner, a female divorcee is often seen as a threat to her friends’ marriages; wives see her as a potential temptation for their husbands. Conversely, husbands might regard her as a bad example for their wives.” Consequently, a divorced man easily finds himself a virgin to marry, but a divorced woman is hardly ever so lucky. The price a woman has to pay for an abusive first marriage is to settle down with a married, divorced, or an old man. This too happens only when a woman is sure that her children from first marriage will not be taken away from her.
Currently, the divorce rate in the UAE has touched 46 %, the highest in the GCC countries. This is higher than UK’s rate of divorce (42.6%) and close to the USA’s (54.8%). The divorce rate in Qatar is 38 %; 35 % in Kuwait and 34 % in Bahrain. In Egypt, a divorce is granted every six minutes with an average of 240 divorces per day according to a census released by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics. A study conducted in 2003 at the Prince Salman Social Centre in Riyadh has revealed that divorce rates in GCC countries are rapidly increasing. Official statistics from various Islamic countries showed that the divorce rate is increasing annually and that it was higher in the Arab countries, ranging between 30 to 35 %, the Kuwaiti news agency states. According to Saudi media, about half of marriages in the country end in divorce.
There may be several factors associated with the steep rise in the divorce rates in Muslim communities. One factor is the marked change in the women’s status. “The fact that women today have education and, more importantly, employment – which leads to their financial independence – makes them more willing to accept divorce rather than live an unhappy life… Layla Ahmed (real name withheld on request), a 27-year-old Saudi woman, is a recent divorcee. From her perspective, “the high rate of divorce has to do with choosing wrong partners and the fact that most youth are irresponsible,” she argues, adding that “divorce can also be the result of parents spoiling their kids.””
Quran has several verses on how a woman must be treated kindly in case of divorce; how she must be supported and parted with kindness. We have definitely moved away from the initial Islamic vision of marriage and divorce. We have moved away from Prophetic practice and teaching.
- What do you think should be done to minimise the negative effects of divorce on Muslim women?
- What can be done to ensure that Muslim women are not abused by their husbands through unIslamic forms of divorce?