Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Divorce (confusion) according to the Qur’an

Or how it is easy to divorce in Islam. Fat, Fear or Futility suffices...

"Divorce is two times, then retain with kindness or gracious release." (Qur’an, 2:229)

This sums up the Islamic laws concerning divorce and reconciliation. Here,
the Qur’an is clear that the couple is given an opportunity to reconcile twice before the third, and final divorce. Both the first and second divorce are effective unless and until the couple sues for a reconciliation

However, the Qur’an is more ambiguous than Muslims would have us believe. Let us first quote the immediate context:

And the divorced women should keep themselves in waiting for three courses; and it is not lawful for them that they should conceal what Allah has created in their wombs, if they believe in Allah and the last day; and their husbands have a better right to take them back in the meanwhile if they wish for reconciliation; and they have rights similar to those against them in a just manner, and the men are a degree above them, and Allah is Mighty, Wise. Divorce may be (pronounced) twice, then keep (them) in good fellowship or let (them) go with kindness; and it is not lawful for you to take any part of what you have given them, unless both fear that they cannot keep within the limits of Allah; then if you fear that they cannot keep within the limits of Allah, there is no blame on them for what she gives up to become free thereby. These are the limits of Allah, so do not exceed them and whoever exceeds the limits of Allah these it is that are the unjust. So if he divorces her she shall not be lawful to him afterwards until she marries another husband; then if he divorces her there is no blame on them both if they return to each other (by marriage), if they think that they can keep within the limits of Allah, and these are the limits of Allah which He makes clear for a people who know. Surah 2:228-230 Shakir

The formulation "may be (pronounced) twice" indicates a problem. What does
twice mean? Does it talk about two pronouncements of divorce (and then a third)? Do all of these pronouncements refer to the same divorce; that is, is it only one divorce that is discussed here? The explicit wording of the Qur’an in these verses is ambiguous.

what does divorce mean? In English usage, a divorce is a legal dissolution of a marriage after the couple has already separated physically and do not live together anymore. In the Islamic meaning it seems to be only an announcement of the intention of divorce, but the couple still lives together. So, that is not really a divorce yet, but a THREAT of divorce.

But importantly, and significantly, there is nothing
explicit in these texts which state that the third pronouncement is the one which initiates the actual, irrevocable divorce. The reader should be aware that the word in parenthesis found in Surah 2:229, i.e. (pronounced), which we quoted above, is not part of the original Arabic text. The reference simply says divorce may be twice:

A divorce is only permissible twice: after that, the parties should either hold together on equitable terms… Yussuf Ali.
Divorce can happen twice, and [each time] wives either be kept on in an acceptable manner or released in a good way… M.A.S. Abdel Haleem
Divorce is twice; then honourable retention or setting free kindly… Arberry
The divorce is twice, after that, either you retain her on reasonable terms or release her with kindness… Hilali-Khan
A marital relation can only be resumed after the first and second divorce, otherwise it must be continued with fairness or terminated with kindness… Muhammad Sarwar

What this means is that the citation is saying that a man can enact an actual divorce twice, which therefore means in light of 2:230 that he can then only return to his mate if she has remarried and slept with her other husband. In other words, Surah
2:229-230, when read together, state that a man has been given the right to divorce the same woman only twice, no more than that, and each time can then return to her only after she has married someone else and slept with him. The man cannot then divorce her a third time and return to her once again.

Furthermore, the plain reading of these texts introduce the
dilemma of the man not being able to remarry his wife until she has married someone else. So if after the first divorce the woman refuses to go through the humiliating process of marrying another man and having to be intimate with him, then the man can never take her back!

Muslims argue from this position there must be three pronouncements of divorce before the irrevocable divorce actually takes place. They essentially read back into Surah 2:229-230. They assume that these traditions uniformly agree that divorce is final only after the third pronouncement.

Not so, since
there are narrations which speak of a single pronouncement of divorce counting as three and therefore final:

Yahya related to me from Malik that he had heard that
Ali ibn Abi Talib used to say that if a man said to his wife, "You are haram for me," it counted as three pronouncements of divorce.

Malik said, "That is the best of what I have heard on the subject." (Malik’s Muwatta, Book 29, Number 29.1.6) 

Yahya related to me from Malik from Nafi that Abdullah ibn Umar said that statements like "I cut myself off from you", or, "You are abandoned", were considered as three pronouncements of divorce.

Malik added, "That is the best of what I have heard about the matter." (Malik’s Muwatta, Book 29, Number 29.1.7) 

Yahya related to me from Malik that he heard Ibn Shihab say that if a man said to his wife, "You are free of me, and I am free of you, " it counted as three pronouncements of divorce as if it were an 'irrevocable' divorce.

The following manual on the
Shafi’ school of Islamic jurisprudence states:

If the husband says, "You are divorced," and thereby intends a two- or threefold pronouncement, then whatever number he intends is effected, this rule holding for all words that effect divorce, whether plain or allusive. (O: The proof that a single pronouncement can validly effect a threefold divorce is the hadith classified as rigorously authenticated (sahih) by Ibn Hibban that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), when Rukana divorced his wife and then said, "I did not intend it except as one time," made him swear an oath to that effect, and then returned her to him. If a single pronouncement could not effect a threefold divorce, there would not have been any point in the Prophet’s making him swear the oath (Allah bless him and give him peace).) (Naqib al-Misri, Reliance of the Traveler: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law In Arabic English Text, Commentary And Appendices, edited and translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller [Amana Publications, Beltsville Maryland, revised edition 1994], section n3.5, "Words That Effect Divorce," p. 560)

To put it simply,
Muslims have understood that the Qur’an in Surah 2:229-230 is stating that there must be three pronouncements of divorce before the actual divorce takes place, but not because this is the plain meaning of the verses. Rather, he received this understanding from the hadith literature or Muslim scholars. But these same sources also teach that there are certain expressions that one can utter which count as three pronouncements, thereby initiating an actual irrevocable divorce. Hence, if a person out of anger mistakenly utters words which count as three divorce pronouncements then, according to Surah 2:230, that person cannot return to his wife until she has married someone else, had sex with him, and either been divorced by that second spouse or widowed!

Muhammad's example demonstrates that Surah 4:130, which many Muslims quote to illustrate the "unparalleled justice" in Islam and which supposedly surpasses the "unclarity" of the Bible, is anything but just.
Muhammad wanted to divorce one of his wives simply because she was overweight and old.

Next, the Qura’nic divorce procedure in Surah 2:228-230, which is touted as being merciful and clear, is actually unmerciful and unclear. These verses do not explicitly order a third pronouncement, so this implies that a couple may "divorce" twice without actually divorcing in the normal sense of that word. The couple lives in a kind of limbo. And since the husband is superior to his wife and therefore has the final authority in the Muslim household, this limbo tortures the wife more often than the husband. How is this merciful and clear?

Thus, the central thesis is affirmed: the Qur’an requires a second marriage to another man and the divorce of this second marriage before the original couple is allowed to reunite.

Strangely, but not surprisingly, that is the only clear aspect in Surah 2:228-230.

Does the Qur’an clarify reasons for divorce?

In the first place,
the Qur’an doesn’t really stipulate what are the valid reasons for divorce.

Here are basically all the references where the word
divorce is mentioned:

Surah 2:226-232; 2:236-237; 2:240-241; 33:49; 65:1

You can check, but
not a single reference stipulates the grounds for divorce, but only speak of what to do when a divorce is about to take place or has already occurred. The closest one gets to a reason is Surah 4:34-35:

Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded.
As for those from whom ye FEAR rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, AND SCOURGE THEM. Surah: 4:34-35 (Pickthall)

man can discipline and subsequently divorce his wife if he fears rebellion on her part. But even this text poses problems since the grounds on which a person can chastise and beat his wife is simply based on the suspicion or fear of rebellion, not on the wife actually being rebellious! In other words, on the mere whim and fancy of the husband!

Please see these articles for more information on Qur’an-supported domestic violence in the Muslim household:

Does Muhammad’s example solidify the reasons for divorce?

It is best to use Muhammad as an example. Isn’t he the best of the best, the model for all humankind—to lead us into the new millennium?

The Qur’an certainly presents Muhammad as a model for others to emulate:

Ye have indeed in the Apostle of God a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for any one whose hope is in God and the Final Day, and who engages much in the Praise of God. Surah. 33:21 Yusuf Ali

And thou (standest) on an exalted standard of character. S. 68:4 Y. Ali

Ibn Kathir comments: (
And verily, you are on an exalted (standard of) character.) "It has been mentioned to us that Sa`d bin Hisham asked `A'ishah about the character of the Messenger of Allah , so she replied: `Have you not read the Qur'an' Sa`d said: `Of course.' Then she said: `Verily, the character of the Messenger of Allah was the Qur'an.'" `Abdur-Razzaq recorded similar to this and Imam Muslim recorded it in his Sahih on the authority of Qatadah in its full length. This means that he would act according to the commands and the prohibition in the Qur'an. His nature and character were patterned according to the Qur'an, and he abandoned his natural disposition (i.e., the carnal nature). So whatever the Qur'an commanded, he did it, and whatever it forbade, he avoided it., ...
 (I have only been sent to perfect righteous behaviour.) Ahmad was alone in recording this Hadith... (Source)

Did We not exalt thy fame? Surah 94:4 Arberry

Yusuf Ali says regarding this verse:
6190. The Prophet’s virtues, the magnanimity of his character, and his love for mankind were fully recognised even in his lifetime, and his name stands higher among the heroic leaders of mankind." (Ali, The Holy Qur’an: Translation and Commentary, p. 1755)

However, we will learn four revealing and
unpleasant truths about Muhammad and divorce.

he threatens to divorce a wife simply because she disclosed a secret

And when the prophet secretly communicated a piece of information to one of his wives -- but when she informed (others) of it, and Allah made him to know it, he made known part of it and avoided part; so when he informed her of it, she said: Who informed you of this? He said: The Knowing, the one Aware, informed me. If you both turn to Allah, then indeed your hearts are already inclined (to this); and if you back up each other against him, then surely Allah it is Who is his Guardian, and Jibreel and - the believers that do good, and the angels after that are the aiders. Maybe, his Lord, if he divorce you, will give him in your place wives better than you, submissive, faithful, obedient, penitent, adorers, fasters, widows and virgins. Surah 66:1-5 Shakir

According to Muslim sources
Muhammad was upset over the fact that Hafsah had disclosed specific details to Aisha that she was told to hide. Several sources indicate that these details had to do with Hafsah catching Muhammad sleeping with his Coptic slave-girl named Mary on the day that was specifically designated for Hafsah. Muhammad swore never to touch Mary again if Hafsah promised not to tell anyone what happened.

Disclosing a secret that one has been entrusted with is truly a betrayal of confidence and a serious issue. This case, however, is of a different nature. Hafsa simply did not support Muhammad in the cover-up of the shameful thing he had done. It was Muhammad who had broken his word, i.e. that this would be Hafsa’s day. He had betrayed her by sleeping with another woman on her day. When Hafsah did not cooperate in hiding his shameful behaviour, Muhammad became angry and took an oath to separate himself from his wives for a month.

Sayyid Abu ‘Ala-Maududi notes:
Period of Revelation: In connection with the incident of tahrim referred to in this Surah, the traditions of the Hadith mention two ladies who were among the wives of the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) at that time Hadrat Safiyyah and Hadrat Mariyah Qibtiyyah. The former (i. e. Hadrat Safiyyah) was taken to wife by the Holy Prophet after the conquest of Khaiber, and Khaiber was conquered, as has been unanimously reported, in A. H. 7. The other lady, Hadrat Mariyah, had been presented to the Holy Prophet by Muqawqis, the ruler of Egypt, in A. H. 7 and she had borne him his son, Ibrahim, in Dhil-Hijjah, A. H. 8.These historical events almost precisely determine that this Surah was sent down some time during A.H. 7 or A. H 8. (Source)

Islamic scholar E.M. Wherry in his
A Comprehensive Commentary on the Qur’an stated:

THE title of this chapter is taken from the statement of the first verse. According to Sale, who writes on the authority of Baidhawi, Jalaluddin, and Yahya, the occasion of this chapter was as follows: "Muhammad having lain with a slave of his, named Mary, of Coptic extract (who had been sent him as a present by al Muqauqas, governor of Egypt), on the day which was due to Ayesha or to Hafsa, and, as some say, on Hafsa’s own bed, while she was absent; and this coming to Hafsa’s knowledge, she took it extremely ill, and reproached her husband so sharply, that, to pacify her, he promised, with an oath, never to touch the maid again; and to free him from the obligation of this promise was the design of the chapter." (Source)

The late Muslim biographer, Muhammad Husayn Haykal, wrote that:
One day Hafsah went to her father's house complaining about this situation. While the Prophet was in her room, Mariyah came to him and stayed with him some time. Upon Hafsah's return she found the Prophet and Mariyah in her quarters and, as she waited for them to come out, her jealousy broke all bounds. When, finally, Mariyah left the quarters and Hafsah entered, she said to the Prophet: "I have seen who was here. By God, that was an insult to me. You would not have dared to do that if I amounted to anything at all in your eyes". At the moment Muhammad realized that such deep-lying jealousy might even move Hafsah to broadcast what she had seen among the other wives. In an attempt to please her, Muhammad promised that he would not go unto Mariyah if she would only refrain from broadcasting what she had seen. Hafsah promised to comply. However, she could not keep her promise as jealousy continued to affect her disposition. Hence, she intimated the secret to `A'ishah, who in turn reported it to the Prophet. He took it as evidence of Hafsah's failure to keep her promise. Perhaps the affair did not stop with Hafsah and `A'ishah but spread to the other wives. Perhaps, too, all of them had noticed the high esteem in which Mariyah was held and sympathized with `A'ishah and Hafsah's opposition to the Prophet. There is nothing unusual in the whole story, such gossip and petty jealousies being commonplace between man and his many wives. A man's affection belongs where he puts it within his household, and the controversy which the daughters of Abu Bakr and 'Umar had woven around the Prophet's affection for Mariyah was utterly groundless. Previously we had seen that some disaffection had risen between the Prophet and his wives on various occasions because of the pocket money he allocated to them, or because of the honey Zaynab used to serve. Therefore, they had all the more reason to feel slighted and no little alienated when they discovered their husband's inclination toward 'A'ishah or his esteem for Mariyah. (Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, tran. Isma'il Raji al-Faruqi [American Trust Publications, USA 1976; Malaysian edition by Islamic Book Trust], pp. 435-437; online edition)

The hadith provides some additional background information. For more on this issue regarding Hafsah and Mary please consult the following Link)

Another version is that Aisha decided to play a prank on Muhammad so as to prevent him from spending so much time with his other wives. On this, please see Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 63, Number 192),

and Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 78, Number 682)

Whatever version of the story one chooses to accept, this point is clear. This Qura’nic text permitted
Muhammad to divorce his wives solely because they had disclosed a secret! Muhammad basically sets the example for men to divorce their women on such trivial matters as failing to keep a secret. Putting it simply, Muhammad’s example gives Muslims the right to divorce their wives "for any whim or fancy."

Second, we mentioned earlier in the paper that Muhammad nearly divorced a woman named Sauda merely because she was old and overweight. Here again is what Ibn Kathir says:

means, coming to peaceful terms, even when it involves forfeiting some rights, is better than parting. Abu Dawud At-Tayalisi recorded that Ibn ‘Abbas said, "Sawdah FEARED that the Messenger of Allah might divorce her and she said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! DO NOT DIVORCE ME; I give my day to ‘A’ishah.’ And he did, and later on Allah sent down, … Ibn ‘Abbas said, "Whatever (legal agreement) the spouses mutually agree to is allowed." At-Tirmidhi recorded it and said, "Hasan Gharib"'. In the Two Sahihs, it is recorded that ‘A’ishah said that when Sawdah bint Zam’ah BECAME OLD, she forfeited her day to `A’ishah, and the Prophet used to spend Sawdah’s night with ‘A’ishah. There is a similar narration also collected by Al-Bukhari. Al-Bukhari also recorded that ‘A’ishah commented; … , that it refers to, "A man who is married to AND OLD WOMAN, AND HE DOES NOT DESIRE HER and wants to divorce her. So she says, ‘I forfeit my right on you.’ So this Ayah was revealed." (Source). For more on this please read the following Link.

Again, if a Muslim is to follow Muhammad’s pattern then that means
he can dump his wife solely because he feels that she is too old and not attractive anymore.

Third, Muhammad commanded a number of his followers to divorce several of their wives:

Narrated Abdullah ibn Umar: Ghaylan ibn Salamah ath-Thaqafi accepted Islam and that he had ten wives in the pre-Islamic period who accepted Islam along with him; so the Prophet (peace be upon him) told him to keep four and separate from the rest of them. Ahmad, Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah transmitted it. (Al-Tirmidhi, Number 945; taken from the Alim CD-ROM Version)

Narrated Al-Harith ibn Qays al-Asadi: I embraced Islam while I had eight wives. So I mentioned it to the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him). The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: Select four of them. (Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 12, Number 2233)

Apart from the glaring
hypocrisy that Muhammad keeps all his wives when the restriction to four wives for a Muslim is given in the Qur’an (Muhammad has nine wives at the time of his death), it is interesting to note that he does not say, "Keep the first four and divorce those whom you married later". No, his instruction is that these men should pick those four wives they like most and then get rid of the others.

Fourth, Muhammad forced a man to divorce his wife whom he loved dearly, solely because his father hated her!

Narrated Abdullah ibn Umar: A woman was my wife AND I LOVED HER, but Umar hated her. He said to me: Divorce her, but I refused. Umar then went to the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) and mentioned that to him. The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: Divorce her. (Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 41, Number 5119)

So we discover, then, that the Qur’an is
vague on the reasons for divorce, except for the husband merely fearing highhandedness from the wife, quite apart from whether she actually is highhanded. We also discover that Muhammad’s example on divorce is volatile, whimsical and unstable.

To see this tragedy in real-life, go to
this question and answer at a traditional Muslim fatwa website. Apparently, a Muslim husband pronounced divorce three times, the divorce is final, and now he regrets his decision made in haste and anger. The Muslim cleric or scholar at that site knows Islam, because the cleric or scholar says that they are allowed to reconcile only if she follows the bizarre Qura’nic steps of her marrying someone else, consummating that marriage, and then his divorcing her.

But on a larger scale, how can anyone claim with a straight face that Islam should lead all of humanity into the new millennium, on the issue of divorce generally, or on any issue?
What right does Muhammad have, the alleged model for all of humankind, to teach us about marriage and divorce, since his own (multi) married life was less than exemplary?
His unstable marriages and divorces and near-divorces for whimsical reasons do not present a picture of "unparalleled justice."

Source material:



  1. Assalamu Aliakum,
    one of my friends had a fight with her husband and then she came to her parents house 1 year ago.they wanted to be reconciled but because of some misunderstanding created by her parents in law her husband did not come to take her back.after 5 months she got a notice from the court for the reconciliation meeting as her husband submitted divorce papers in the court.but the date of the meeting was already expired.she tried to contact with him but failed.after that she did not get other 2 notices.after 90 days she got a letter from the court that the divorce is she was not present there,court had to take the decision one sided.the fact is that she did not get the notices.then how could she go there?is it a valid divorce.according to islam does the divorce depend on the whim of the husband?quan told about some procedure.if the husband follow those procedures,will the divorce valid?

  2. Divorce, love and marriage is only a civil contract in Islam, differently for example in Catholicism where you swear before God to be with your wife/husband in bad and good times till death. That's the big difference. Islam is a leagalistic religion, of the worse kind