• Aslam Abdullah

Marriage and Divorce: A Quranic Perspective

All world religions consider coming together a man and a woman to form a family the essential religious rite. A family is the foundation of a society and a center of nurturing the future generation in a safe and healthy environment. It is the nucleus of human civilization.

The Quran uses the word nikah for this union of a man and a woman. It means getting absorbed in each other the way rainwater soaks in earth. Hence the Quran describes husband and wife each other's Zauj (equal partner). It means that both are essential for each other in a family union as each complements the other so that without the one, the other cannot consider himself or herself complete. Obviously, in the absence of compatibility, the family life will not be balanced and healthy.

The Quran describes nikah as a solid contract between two adults. Thus a marriage solemnized before adulthood is not considered a nikah in the Quranic explanation. The Quran declares the age of marriage as a mark of maturity. "And test the orphans [under your supervision] until they reach a marriageable age."- 4:6

The Quran gives absolute free choice to both men and women to select their life partners. On the one hand, it tells men, "then marry from among women such as are lawful or desirous to you" (4:3), while on the other, it tells women that men cannot hold them against their will, "O you who have attained to faith! It is not lawful for you to [try to] become heirs to your wives [by holding onto them] against their will" - 4:19

Thus the Quran promotes the idea of a balanced, compatible, contractual marriage to ensure equality, dignity, and responsibility. Such a union's objective is clearly defined when in chapter four and verse 24, it says that the marriage is a union of like-minded people to promote dignified relations.

The Quran also promotes the idea of monogamy. It does not give men free license to marry more than one wife—the Quran talks of marrying the second time only when the first wife is no longer there. "But if you desire to give up a wife and to take another in her stead" (4:20). In other words, marrying the second time can take place only when the first wife is not there.

How can we reconcile this Quranic directive with another verse that occurs in the same chapter and allows men to marry more than one?

"And if you have reason to fear that you might not act equitably towards orphans, then marry from among [other] women such as are lawful to you - [even] two, or three, or four. BIf you have reason to fear that you might not be able to treat them with equal fairness, then [only] one - or [from among] those you rightfully possess. It will make it more likely that you will not deviate from the right course. - 4:3

A verse earlier, the Quran says:

"Hence, render unto the orphans their possessions, and do not substitute bad things [of your own] for the good things [that belong to them], and do not consume their possessions together with your own: this, verily, is a great crime." - 4:2

In other words, marrying two, three, or four women is conditional. It is not a general permission. The then prevailing situation necessitated this provision or amendment. It was allowed only to ensure the protection of orphans and widows provided absolute justice is essential in relationship as the Quran made it clear "but if you have reason to fear that you might not be able to treat them with equal fairness, then [only] one." (4:3)

In other words, monogamy is the general rule.

Sometimes, some people argue that if the wife is barren or in terminal illness, a second wife in the first wife's presence is fine. It is not the intention of the Quran as it says, "He gives both male and female [to whomever He wills], and causes to be barren whomever He wills: for, verily, He is all-knowing, infinite in His power." - 42:50

In other words, to be barren is not fault, and it does not permit a man to a man to have a second wife. It is cruel to have a second wife in the presence of the first ailing wife.

Thus, the Quran is evident for a monogamous marriage.


Divorce

Marriage (nikah) is a contract for a peaceful, balanced and dignified relationship. The Quran recognizes the possibility of separation between a husband and a wife. It accepts the premise that marital relations may become imbalanced, leading to irreconcilable differences. For this, the Quran uses the term Talaq (divorce).

Thus, the Quran gives minute details of the process of separation or divorce and does not leave it to the arbitrary decision of one partner. The Quran first advises a husband and wife to reconcile their differences independently. If the two fail to do so, then describes an elaborate process to seek a mutually agreed solution.

It says: "And if you have reason to fear that a breach might occur between a [married] couple, appoint an arbiter from among his people and an arbiter from among her people; if they both want to set things aright, God may bring about their reconciliation. Behold, God is indeed all-knowing, aware. - 4:35

In other words, a referee from both sides would help to resolve the differences. Suppose the arbitration council fails to support the husband and wife reconcile their differences. It can recommend the divorce, or if given the authority to decide, pronounce and execute the divorce.

The decision to divorce is not an individual decision, not a prerogative of men to pronounce the word Talaq three times to end the relationship.

What would happen afterward? Both husband and wife are free to marry again. However, there is a condition in this provision for wife. She would wait for three months, and if she is pregnant, she will wait until the delivery. During this time, the husband is responsible for all her expenses. A man can marry without waiting, but if he wants to reconcile with his wife, then he can renew the marriage contract once again during this period.

Thus the Quran says: "And during this period their husbands are fully entitled to take them back, if they desire reconciliation; but, following justice, the rights of the wives [concerning their husbands] are equal to the [husbands'] rights about them, although men have precedence over them [in this respect] And God is almighty, wise. - 2:228

The expression that "men have precedence over them [in this respect]" is an additional opportunity given to them to honor the contract. It is an additional responsibility.

After the first Talaq reconciliation, if the relationship becomes sour and irreconcilable, then the second Talaq can be executed. They follow the process used during the first Talaq. The can separate or reconcile their difference to renew their marriage with the help of their representatives.

However, if the Talaq is sought and decreed the third time, then it would be irrevocable. A woman is entitled to marry after this third Talaq. Only when her second husband dies or divorces her can her previous husband remarry her again.

These are the simple rules of marriage and divorce. The Quran does not allow its followers to decide things arbitrarily. The general assumption that pronouncing the word "talaq" three times by husband amounts to a divorce is not a Quranic decree or right. It is against the spirit of the contractual relationship and basic norms to maintain a healthy family.

The practice of pronouncing the word "talaq" three times by husband contradicts what the Quran says.

We must realize that the Quranic rules governing the marriage and divorce got mixed with values and customs that were still strong in patriarchal societies, arbitrarily decided based on human beings' opinions. These rules have nothing to do with the divine guidelines. Thus, it is imperative to develop an honest and accurate understanding of the Quran and discard interpolation that has occurred over the centuries.

Giving husbands the absolute right to verbally terminate the family by simply saying, "I divorce you three times in one sitting or in three separate sittings" is nothing but a reassertion of the old patriarchal system. It violates the spirit and letter of the contractual relationship. It puts women in a state of total dependence on her husband. It makes her feel that her survival as a wife depends on the will of her husband. It is nothing but glorified slavery. It is illogical, unjust, and contrary to the divine wisdom. This custom ruined the lives of millions of women. They suffered silently at the altar of what is called the religion. This custom needs to be analyzed in the light of the Quran and amended and changed because it violates divine justice.

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© Aslam Abdullah