Saturday, October 10, 2015

Requiem of a Marriage (Part 1): Struggling with Divorce

Divorce is a hard word to say – sometimes it’s difficult to even say the word aloud due to the stigma associated to it, and it’s even worse for those who are either going through it or considering it.

For women in particular, seeking divorce can be a nearly impossible task… both emotionally as well as in terms of getting the Islamic and legal divorce pronounced. Choosing to get a divorce is, in and of itself, overwhelming and a painful decision to make.

Many people are quick to remind Muslim women of the hadith: "If a woman asks her husband for a divorce, for no reason, then the smell of paradise is forbidden for her." (Tirmidhi) However, for most women, the word ‘divorce’ evokes depression, guilt, and fear. Not only are there serious social consequences to being divorced – whether the woman was the one who asked for it or otherwise – but there are other numerous challenges that divorced Muslim women face, such as finances, living arrangements, single parenting, and more.

Why Would a Woman Seek divorce?

With this in mind, why would a Muslim woman seek divorce in the first place? Unfortunately, too many Muslims make the assumption that women are so ‘emotional’ and ‘irrational’ that they will demand divorce at any given opportunity.

Reality, however, is quite different. Few women want to end their marriages and cause themselves and their children a world of pain; few women want to be left picking up their pieces of their lives. Most women in unhappy marriages struggle to keep those marriages going even when they themselves feel as though there is no joy or benefit left whatsoever.

It is important to remember that the right to divorce is something actually granted to women in Islam; the procedure of woman-initiated divorce is referred to as khul’ (divorce initiated by the wife). There are several narrations that refer to this, with the most well-known and explicit hadith being the following:

The wife of Thabit bin Qays came to the Prophet (PBUH) and said, "O Allah's Messenger! I do not blame Thabit for defects in his character or his religion, but I, being a Muslim, dislike to behave in un-Islamic manner (if I remain with him)." On that Allah's Messenger (PBUH) said (to her), "Will you give back the garden which your husband has given you (as Mahr\dowry)?" She said, "Yes." Then the Prophet (PBUH) said to Thabit, "O Thabit! Accept your garden, and divorce her once."[1] (Bukhari)

This incident was a clear-cut case of where a Muslim woman sought a divorce from her husband and was given it by the Messenger of Allah himself – in direct contradiction to the culturally enforced belief that women are not allowed to ask for divorce at all, or that it is haram for them to do so.

Considering the first hadith warning women against seeking divorce for ‘no reason,’ what does constitute a legitimate reason for women to seek divorce? Almost all scholars agree that being deprived of her rights – whether they be financial, sexual, or otherwise – are legitimate reasons for a woman to ask for a divorce, as is abuse. If a woman’s husband takes on a second (or third, or fourth) wife and she feels that she cannot accept it, that too is a permissible reason for khul’ (divorce initiated by the wife).

However, what about cases where there is no deprivation of Islamic rights, no conflict related to polygamy, and no abuse? What about if a couple is simply incompatible; if their personalities clash and they aren’t able to live with each other in peace?

A divorce is better than a toxic marriage

The hadith of Thabit ibn Qays’s wife once again becomes a point of reference. She explicitly mentioned that she had no problem with Thabit’s character or even his religiosity; rather, she found herself unable to live with him because of incompatibility. This was considered to be an absolutely rational and legitimate reason to seek divorce in the eyes of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Another famous case of incompatibility leading to divorce is that of Zaid ibn Harith – the adopted son of the prophet himself – and Zaynab bint Jahsh, the prophet’s cousin.
Their marriage was a tumultuous one, and it is recorded that both Zaid and Zaynab went to the messenger of Allah repeatedly seeking an end to their marriage. Their personalities clashed without abatement, and eventually, they did indeed resolve their issues… through divorce.

It is sadly very common to find women who are struggling in their marriages and who are deeply unhappy due to issues related to compatibility, and yet feel trapped and as though they have no escape.

Many times, they are told that they are simply being ‘ungrateful’ and warned that if they ask for a divorce, they will be denied Jannah itself. Yet what many people selectively overlook is that the marriage bond in Islam is supposed to be one of emotional safety and security; the Qur’an explicitly describes a relationship of mawaddah and rahmah – love as well as mercy and compassion.

{And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy.} (Qur’an 30:21)

A toxic relationship is stripped of these qualities and harms both parties, rendering the Islamic purpose of marriage to be moot.
Matters become even more complicated when there are children involved. A woman who chooses to leave a marriage can very well risk custody of her children or access to them entirely, let alone the regular emotional turbulence of divorce.

Islamic legal rulings aside, however, one must recognize that toxic marriages can sometimes be even more harmful to young children than to have happily divorced parents.

A married couple who lives in bitterness are showing their children that marriage is not a source of comfort and love, but a type of torment.[2] Watching fighting parents who have no escape from each other is infinitely more painful than having parents who are separated from each other but on their way to healing emotionally and moving on positively with their lives. Thus, leaving a harmful marriage could in fact be a blessing for these children.[3]
 Divorce is not necessarily as evil a thing as many of us envision it to be. Certainly, it would not have been made permissible by Allah if it was a truly terrible thing.

Nonetheless, we must recognize the difference between cultural attitudes and the Islamic teachings regarding divorce. We need to understand that even the Companions of the prophet (PBUH) had unhappy marriages and sought a legitimate way to leave those relationships in favor of a happier future, and there is nothing wrong in Muslim men and women also seeking a halaal resolution to their unresolvable marital issues.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi, This may be a little off topic but could you write something about how to deal with sexual urges as an unmarried (and virgin) muslima. I'd love to hear your opinion on that. Jazakalah

Anonymous said...

assalaam alaykum.

after the divorce, does islaam allow joint custody of the children or do they go to the father/mother alone? how should divorced parents interact with each other? should they avoid speaking at all, especially if either or both of them remarry? i'm really confused as to how a single mother/father should continue on a positive relationship with their former spouse, as per shari'ah. doesn't it become a very awkward position for the children?

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