High divorce rate in Arab countries

“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 …”

(Marriage and divorce patterns in “The Arab World”)

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?
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24 thoughts on “High divorce rate in Arab countries

  1. Mezba says:

    It might be interesting to note that laws in the book support women in most third world countries even Muslim ones such as Bangladesh. A close friend is divorced in Bangladesh and he has to pay child support and other responsibilities in Bangladesh, and is at the mercy of his ex-wife when it comes to visiting his child and spending time with her. The city folks (who are educated) fully use (and abuse) those laws while the poor women are handicapped by a) lack of knowledge of laws and b) lack of gumption to use those laws and go to court and c) family pressure.

    • Metis says:

      That is news. I know that laws in Egypt, Pakistan and even for Indian Muslims are not very friendly. I think a lot can be achieved if a woman knows what all she can put in the contract.

  2. Interesting post! I think making women more aware that they can put certain protective clauses in their marriage contract is one way of minimizing the negative effects of divorce.
    With such high rates, I think slowly society will get used to the idea. However, the fact that women suffer after getting a divorce whereas men often do not shows that societies still have a way to go in terms of gender justice.

    • Metis says:

      That is a great solution, I think. Being able to put conditions in the contract would make things very easy for women.

      Your point that society may get used to high rates of divorce is very valid. And what next? Why UAE, for instance, has a higher divorce rate than Britain is also because less people are getting married in Britain and are now preferring to live together so there are new laws being put in place for live-in couples. Would Arab countries ever be ready for that? So it is better that something is done about divorce.

    • paulina says:

      I think that women have to be empowered by women, i mean as long as we keep fighting or gossiping about each other for the sake of a male, we are opposing to our own genre, women from all over the world (not only from muslim countries) should know that they´re not alone, that they´ll have the support and understanding of other women. Every should held real organizations that support women who are being abused in every way, to help them to take care of they children propperly while they are working, and with they self confidence.

  3. Lat k says:

    Divorce rates are increasing here too.I do not have the statics at the moment.Research found that the Malay divorced women managed to remarry within 2 years and a certain percentage of them divorced again.The attitude that women need men and can’t live alone seems to drive Malay divorced women to seek men again and again.And also early marriages is a factor for rising divorce rate among the community.The Muslim marriageable age has increased to 16/18 years now.

    As long as the causes of increasing divorce rates continue to persist,then not much change can be expected.Men’s right to divorce can be looked into, like putting conditions so as to make it more difficult for unnecessary divorce cases to take place.Perhaps the court can play a more active role?

    From your article,I get the idea that divorce isn’t seen so much of a taboo there.Since they can divorce,they do it.So if they want a marriage to stay and succeed in our era,then marriage views should change.In the Indian Tamil community,there’s a saying,a husband is a husband no matter if he is a stone or grass 🙂 So women of the past hanged on to their abusive,wasted and loser husbands till their death.But it’s no longer the case at least in most cases.Society’s outlook has changed.Perhaps the UAE has to change it’s outlook of marriage, whatever it is they promote it for,it must also be beyond the reproductive and family issues. Perhaps a lack of love and not able to choose their own partner could also lead to high divorce rates.

    • Metis says:

      There are two main reasons for divorce in Gulf:
      1) Women asking for very high dowry
      2) Women having become educated and employable

      They don’t want polygamy, earn more than men and are often better educated than them. It is really difficult for them to live with lesser educated men who earn less and want to marry more.

      Why is divorce high in Malaysia though?

      • Lat says:

        Malaysia? Who’s talking about Malaysia? lol!

        Mainly marriages turn ugly after economy problems,drugs,adultery, etc.The same reasons some as developed countries go thru’.Also the community is less conservative than the Indian community.So finding love is not that difficult for young people and for divorcees. The govt has also set up marriage counselling courses for couples who register for marriage.Don’t know how far it’ll work but it’s a start.

  4. mariam says:

    two years ago a luxury hotell in Tehran decided to celebrate tenth year of its opening ,they called all couples who had a ceremony there,they found out more than 60% of couples have divorced, management canceled the ceremony.

    my own cousin apealed for divorce 2 years ago cause her husband was a lazy man who didnot want to work,in his idea when his parents support them there is no need to work!!!. he didnt appear in court and was very interested to make the process too long,my cousin started to make a small tablou carpet (from silk),sold it 500$, then hired a lawyer.the lawyer get her divorce in less than one month,lawyers know exactly where is the bugs in laws.
    most important problem in Iran is money for hiring good lawyers.I think muslim feminist in Iran should focuss on fundrising for women who have not enough money for hiring lawyers.
    this article is interesting:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/07/world/middleeast/07divorce.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss&pagewanted=all

    • Metis says:

      Wow, 60%?! That is very high!

      I liked your cousin’s story. She is a tough woman and worthy of admiration. So proud of her!

      Thanks for the link. I’ll read the article soon.

  5. susanne430 says:

    Mariam, that is an interesting article especially this from it:

    But something more is at work than simple economics, many experts say. “Women have found the courage to break with tradition and say no to the past,” said Azardokht Mofidi, a psychiatrist and the author of several books on psychoanalysis. “They are no longer prepared to put up with hardships in marriage, and their expectations have risen to include equality in relationships.”

    I enjoyed the post. It seems as if divorce is fast losing its status as something shameful.

    • Metis says:

      If a woman can earn a living, she won’t find it hard to dump her husband. This is what’s happening. But there are still women who suffer and something must be done for them.

  6. unsettledsoul says:

    I agree with the comments above. I think divorce rates rise when women have more freedom in a society. They do not have to remain stuck in a bad marriage and are able to express their free will.

  7. Sumera says:

    I think one of the other reasons alongside those already stated is that people dont try with their marriages as much as they used to – some are so willing to divorce their wives over something so miniscule you wonder whether instead of a brain they have a peanut in their skull!

    • Metis says:

      Sumera, I get the feeling that men have always been like that. We know from the Bible that Jewish men used to divorce their wives for the slightest reason. We know how many times Imam Hussain divorced his wives. That is really pretty serious.

      • Lat says:

        I’ve also read hadiths that women during the prophet’s time were also used to being divorced,that they had 3 or 4 husbands in their lifetime.It didn’t seemed like an issue then.

        What about children in the divorced family then and now? Do you think its different or the same? Or did the Quran changed it to a man’s job? like the breastfeeding verse.

        • Metis says:

          Sorry Lat, I didn’t understand this, “Or did the Quran changed it to a man’s job? like the breastfeeding verse.”

          Children should be priority and at least in the modern world we place a lot of importance on how children will take parental divorce and how it will affect them. We need some more solid evolution there but we are getting somewhere. In past societies, the focus was more on the quantity of children than quality. This is certainly true of other primates as well where the focus is always more on the physical strength of the progeny rather than mental strength. Now we are moving more towards how we can produce the smartest children and what can we avoid that will ensure they will grow mentally healthy.

          So I think there has been little concern for the child’s *mental wellbeing* in pre-modern religions. This is why we find child marriages so shocking because we not only look at the consequences of possible pregnancy on the health of a girl child but also on how polygamy and intercourse will affect her psychology. To a pre-modern society all this didn’t matter. There is focus on taking *care* of orphans and women (who are treated like weaker members of the society) but that *care* almost always translates as material care and not psychological.

  8. unsettledsoul says:

    Divorce rates in the US are HIGH, but I liken it to the fact that most people should never have gotten married in the first place. Immature people, those who got married because she got pregnant, abused and abusive people who thought marriage would change things, etc etc..

    I seriously do not find a high divorce rate odd or surprising. And I agree with Sumera about people not understanding or realizing that marriage is WORK, and compromise, and friendship, and responsibility.

    Some women never plan past their marriage ceremony.

  9. I believe the issue of divorce in Nigeria, particularly Northern Nigeria is a very interesting phenomenon. I don’t know about statistics and can only go by word of mouth. Women who are divorced have more rights Islamically (as they are more independent), and even though it may be difficult for Muslim women to seek divorce it seems this is reduced here especially when the woman comes from an influential family and knows her father’s word can surpass her husband’s. Also sometimes women just take the first step by packing their stuff and moving out of their husband’s house.

    In Nigeria, divorce is generally regarded as a problem but I have reason to believe that the rates of divorce are higher among Muslim women. I’d heard of how widespread divorce was in the North while growing up and recently I became friends with a man from Northern Nigeria who loves talking about his culture. According to him, some women choose to get married then divorce so they can have those rights. An example he gave was if a woman fell in love with a man her family would not let her marry due to whatever reason, she would go ahead and marry another man then divorce him. And using her status as a divorced woman would not wait for her family’s permission before marrying the man she was in love with from the very beginning.

    I don’t know how much of this is based on Islam or on culture but it is fascinating. I believe in Nigerian society generally, there is more stigma attached to a single woman in her late 20s and beyond than to a woman being divorced (especially if she has a child). All the divorced women I know (mum’s friends) kept their children. Then again there are so many factors at play here including class, I don’t think the story would be the same in situations were the woman was from a poor family.

    • Metis says:

      That is a very interesting comment, ECC! Thanks for that info.

      That is exactly what women in the Gulf do too! They marry whomever their parents bring, make his life hell, get a divorce and marry the man of their initial choice. A divorced woman doesn’t need permission from her father so it is easier. Some even refuse sex so they are ultimately divorced by their bored husbands.

      Another new reason for divorce I found out just yesterday is that two lesbians plot and marry the same man becoming co-wives. They insist on living in the same house and if/when the husband finds out that his two wives are lesbian, he divorces them together. This has become a very popular strategy, but is also dangerous since the husband sometimes gets violent.

  10. sf says:

    The laws are set up to protect the divorced woman and her children in Islam but who makes sure they (men) follow it?? They easily get married again (men) and fail to take care of their responsiblities (kids from a previous relationship).

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