Who is Right?
Divorce and Islam’s Approach to Women
Mufti Muhammad Qasim Attari
From the time of Sayyidunā Ādam عَـلَيْـهِ الـسَّـلَام till today, marriage has held a pivotal role in human life. We cannot discuss marriage without also talking about divorce, as difficulties may arise in a relationship on occasion, which lead to obstacles in spending life with one another. Ultimately, this results in separation. Different religions and traditions have their methods for ending a marriage and separating the spouses. The Islamic method is moderate and offers a fair approach to the man and woman and their children. If people fail to follow the Islamic method in letter and spirit, leading to unfavorable outcomes, it is they, not Islam, that is responsible. The fact of the matter is if the Islamic method is correctly followed, it is impossible to find a better way.
The first guideline for marital life is for both husband and wife to consider each other a critical part of each other’s lives, a source of contentment for one another, adornment for each other’s virtues, and veils for each other’s shortcomings. Allah Almighty has said:
وَ مِنۡ اٰیٰتِہٖۤ اَنۡ خَلَقَ لَکُمۡ مِّنۡ اَنۡفُسِکُمۡ اَزۡوَاجًا لِّتَسۡکُنُوۡۤا اِلَیۡہَا وَ جَعَلَ بَیۡنَکُمۡ مَّوَدَّۃً وَّ رَحۡمَۃً ؕ اِنَّ فِیۡ ذٰلِکَ لَاٰیٰتٍ لِّقَوۡمٍ یَّتَفَکَّرُوۡنَ (۲۱)
“And amongst His signs is that He created spouses for you from yourselves for you to gain comfort in them and placed love and mercy between yourselves; indeed, in this are signs for the people who ponder.”
Secondly, sometimes the wife or children may inadvertently do something which the husband sees as damaging for him. Although it may appear to be a form of enmity, the wife and children are not really his enemies. If something like this happens, the husband should adopt a forgiving approach. Allah Almighty said:
یٰۤاَیُّہَا الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡۤا اِنَّ مِنۡ اَزۡوَاجِکُمۡ وَ اَوۡلَادِکُمۡ عَدُوًّا لَّکُمۡ فَاحۡذَرُوۡہُمۡ ۚ وَ اِنۡ تَعۡفُوۡا وَ تَصۡفَحُوۡا وَ تَغۡفِرُوۡا فَاِنَّ اللّٰہَ غَفُوۡرٌ رَّحِیۡمٌ(۱۴)
“O believers! Some of your wives and children are your enemies (because they stop you from migration); therefore, be wary of them; and if you pardon and overlook and forgive (their errors), so indeed Allah is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.”
The third guideline of marital life is that if a disagreement arises between the couple, they should sit down and talk to each other, not at each other, to find a solution and not make their lives a spectacle for others. Allah Almighty said:
وَ الّٰتِیۡ تَخَافُوۡنَ نُشُوۡزَہُنَّ فَعِظُوۡہُنَّ وَ اہۡجُرُوۡہُنَّ فِی الۡمَضَاجِعِ وَ اضۡرِبُوۡہُنَّ ۚ فَاِنۡ اَطَعۡنَکُمۡ فَلَا تَبۡغُوۡا عَلَیۡہِنَّ سَبِیۡلًا ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ کَانَ عَلِیًّا کَبِیۡرًا (۳۴)
“The women from whom you fear ill-conduct (i.e. rebellion towards their husbands which may cause a breakdown of the marriage); so, (first) admonish them, and (then) sleep apart from them, and (lastly) hit them (lightly, e.g. with a handkerchief, or with a soft twig, etc. on non-delicate areas no more than thrice, only if it is beneficial to save the marriage). Then, if they obey you, so do not seek to do injustice to them. Indeed, Allah is Ever Exalted, Most Great.”
“Hitting” does not refer to physical assault but an admonitory warning. If there is a chance that such a warning may escalate into assault, then it is not permitted either.
The fourth guideline of marital life is that if the husband and wife cannot deal with a matter between themselves, the relatives of the married couple should work together to find a solution. Allah Almighty said:
وَ اِنۡ خِفۡتُمۡ شِقَاقَ بَیۡنِہِمَا فَابۡعَثُوۡا حَکَمًا مِّنۡ اَہۡلِہٖ وَ حَکَمًا مِّنۡ اَہۡلِہَا ۚ اِنۡ یُّرِیۡدَاۤ اِصۡلَاحًا یُّوَفِّقِ اللّٰہُ بَیۡنَہُمَا ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ کَانَ عَلِیۡمًا خَبِیۡرًا(۳۵)
“If you fear a dispute between husband and wife, send a mediator from the man's family and a mediator from the woman's family; if these two desire to bring about reconciliation, so Allah will cause unity between them; indeed, Allah is All-Knowing, Well Aware.”
If all of these steps cannot save the marriage, then what next? In pre-Islamic Arabia, it was common for the man to issue one divorce to his wife, and when her sitting period (ʿidda) neared its end, he would revoke the divorce before issuing a new divorce. He would perpetually continue this pattern of divorcing and revoking, preventing the woman from ever being free to remarry and subjecting her to ongoing mental torment. An incident like this occurred in the Prophetic era, when a woman appeared in the court of the final Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم and explained how her husband had threatened to revoke the divorce and then divorce her again, repeating this cycle perpetually so that she is effectively imprisoned for the rest of her life. The following verse was revealed in response:
اَلطَّلَاقُ مَرَّتٰنِ۪ فَاِمۡسَاکٌۢ بِمَعۡرُوۡفٍ اَوۡ تَسۡرِیۡحٌۢ بِاِحۡسَانٍ ؕ
تِلۡکَ حُدُوۡدُ اللّٰہِ فَلَا تَعۡتَدُوۡہَا ۚ وَ مَنۡ یَّتَعَدَّ حُدُوۡدَ اللّٰہِ فَاُولٰٓئِکَ ہُمُ الظّٰلِمُوۡنَ (۲۲۹)
“This (revocable) divorce is up to two times; (women) must then be taken back on good terms or released with kindness.
These are the limits of Allah; do not exceed them; and those who transgress the limits of Allah, so only those people are unjust.”
Thus, Allah Almighty proscribed the practice of endless divorces and retractions, liberating women and protecting their rights. He revealed that a man would have the authority to revoke only two divorces, but as soon as he issues the third, then he would be unable to revoke the divorce or have any influence on the woman. The limit of three divorces ended the practice of constant oppression against women, in that when the third divorce is given, the woman will be forbidden for her husband forever. This woman has her own life; after the sitting period, she can remain unmarried for the duration of her life or if she wants, she may marry another man and commence her new life. If this new husband dies or he also divorces her, and she then wants to remarry the first husband, she can now do so if she chooses.
Recognize that this entire matter is reliant upon the consent of the woman and her will. A divorced woman cannot be forced to marry another husband, nor is there any compulsion to get divorce from the second husband, neither is she obliged to marry the first husband again. In all three cases, the will of the woman is looked at and her wishes are respected.
I am explaining all of this because some people make religious issues into a mockery, especially those who are the enemies of Islam and stand against it. They twist the beauty of what Allah Almighty made a means of ending oppression and present it as an oppressive law. Conversely what I have stated to you is the real context of this divorce issue; there is no cruelty involved, only the preservation and upholding of women’s rights. This can only be understood by the wise, not those who oppose Islam. (Continued..)
 [Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 21, Surah Al-Rum, verse 21)
 [Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 28, Surah Al-Taghabun, verse 14)
 [Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 5, Surah Al-Nisa, verse 34)
 [Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 5, Surah Al-Nisa, verse 35)
 al-Bahr al-Muhit, Surah Al-Baqarah, Ayat 229, vol. 2, p. 202
 [Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 2, Surah Al-Baqarah, verse 229)