Divorce (talaaq) in Islam “is a permissible thing most detested by God”, as stated in a popularised hadith1 This invariably sums up the permissibility of divorce and its legal basis in the Noble Qur’an, the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad(P) and the Muslim consensus. The Qur’anic verse on the matter is as follows:
“Divorce is two times, then retain with kindness or gracious release.” (Qur’an, 2:229)
This clear and definite Qur’anic statement, however, was not understood by an infantile and belligerent missionary who makes the most absurd claims, blatant twisting of facts and unjust comments about Islam’s divorce and reconciliation laws. He claims as follows:
- It may be rare that a divorced couple would like to reconcile and remarry each other, but this does happen. The Quran has a strange marriage law for the divorced couple in this situation, after they have worked out their differences. It says that a divorced couple may remarry each other if and only if the wife first marries another man, have sexual intercourse with each other, and then this second man divorces her.
Our purpose in this article is to explain the divorce and reconciliation laws in Islam, hence exposing this missionary lie once and for all. Since the missionary had taken the time to attack the Noble Qur’an, we will repay the missionary in a tit-for-tat exchange — complete with interest — when it comes to the Bible.
That the Bible is confusing when it comes to the topic of divorce and remarriage is no big secret. In the Old Testament, a marriage can simply be “dissolved” at will, whereas in the New Testament, Jesus(P) is reported to have issued an injunction against divorce in the first place!
After the Reformation period, however, Christians generally have abandoned their divorce laws contained in the Old and New Testament, preferring instead to rely on the secular laws formulated by their “common sense” and seek the arbitration of the courts.
Divorce according to the Qur’an and Sunnah
In Islam, the reason why a marriage can be terminated is to avoid unnecessary pain to either party, be it the husband or the wife, if a better solution cannot be found. Although a divorce is allowed in Qur’an, 4:130 whenever a friendly understanding cannot be reached between a husband and his wife, there is a further suggestion indicated via the Qur’an in an attempt to reconcile the marriage before the decision for a divorce is obtained:
“If ye fear a breach between them twain, appoint (two) arbiters, one from his family, and the other from hers, if they wish for peace, God will cause their reconciliation. For God hath full knowledge, and is acquainted with all things.” (Qur’an, 4:35 )
This verse shows that divorce is the very final solution. As far as possible, a marriage institution is to be maintained, and the couple should try every possible way to try to reconcile the marriage in order to avoid a divorce.
“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.2
On the third, and final, divorce, the same couple are not allowed to remarry unless the wife marries another husband. It is only effective after the third divorce, or if the husband pronounced the divorce thrice after realising the consequences of his actions, i.e. that there will be no opportunities for a reconciliation3.
In practice, a Muslim would usually pronounce the first or second talaaq, the third pronouncement being quite rare and used only in extreme cases. It is offensive to make a pronouncement of divorce when there is no need, to make three pronouncements being even more offensive.4
On another missionary accusation, namely that:
In Islamic law, a woman has a very hard time divorcing her husband against his will, while a husband can easily divorce his wife against her will. She will not be asked.
the missionary has pronounced another lie and deception, following in the footsteps of the madman apostle from Tarsus. It is simply a false claim to state that a wife in Islam is unable to divorce her husband if she wanted to do so.
For a further understanding on how this missionary has lied through his teeth, see Women and Divorce From The Islamic Perspective. The various forms of how a woman may seek a divorce is discussed in this paper.
Divorce according to the Old and New Testament
According to the missionary, the Bible allows divorce to take place “…only for sexual unfaithfulness. No man should divorce his wife for trivial reasons.”
This was not how it was understood by the Jews and Christians as it was practiced in the past. In the Old Testament, a man could unilaterally dismiss his wife without any literal pronouncement. Hence, Abraham dismissed Hagar by a sheer act of will, seeing her off with what her shoulder could carry by way of bread and water (Genesis 22:14). It was only long after the time of Jacob that limitations began to be imposed upon divorce which had, until that time, been a male prerogative. Thus, the Deuteronomic law (24:1) demanded a “bill of divorcement” to be given by the husband. The law still permitted divorce at a husband’s whim and fancy (“that she finds no favour in his eyes” 24:1), nevertheless, making it harder than it had been.5
Following the Exile, divorce was again very common but the ethical progress towards making divorce was more disapproved (and so less common). However, a bill of divorcement continued to be necessary, but was made much more easier to draw up and apply, hence prompting widespread abuse. Divorce required a statement that the husband has found some “uncleanness” in his wife. This gave Ezra-Nehemiah the opportunity to reinstate the practive of wife and child repudiation exemplified in the Biblical account by Abraham. “Uncleanness” was interpreted to enable the exclusivist, “ethnically cleansed” community they wanted.6
It is in fact this vage wording of the Deuteronomic law which gave rise to rabbinic controversies well adapted to Ezra’s racist pogrom. By the time of Jesus, there were already two trends in the rabbinic tradition; one, following from the inspiration of the prophets, tended to interpret “uncleanness” in the sense of adultery or incapacitating infirmity; the other, following Ezra, allowed any reason and interpreted “uncleanness” as an opportunity to find a more attractive woman.7 We may note that Joseph considered putting Mary away, “privily” (Matthew 1:19)
Due to this widespread abuse of divorce, Jesus(P) made various pronouncements against it. In fact, Jesus(P) did not contribute to the legal debate about divorce; he rejected the debate and repudiated the law itself. In the Sermon on the Mount, he is reported to have said: “It hath been said, whosoever shall put away his wife, le him give her a writing of divorcement. But I say unto you, that whosoever puts away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” (Matthew 5: 31-32). The inevitable argument with the Pharisees is also reported in Matthew 19:3-12, where Jesus(P) boldly answered them (19:4-5), invariably concluding by repudiating divorce as contrary to God’s will, as an undoing of the bond He had instituted (19:6).
It is clear that if Christians are still obeying their New Testament or claim that they are following Jesus(P), they should not be talking about reconciliation after divorce, much less the proceedings of a divorce itself! Certainly, there are no two ways about it. It is either the Christians repudiate divorce in a marriage completely (as per the Jesus injunction) except on basis of adultery, or that they allow a divorce to take place but without any basis in the Bible apart from their own “common sense” civil laws in a secular system.
To illustrate the above marriage-divorce-remarriage pattern we have made clear above, we will use the following keywords in order to make it clear that the accusations of the missionary is without any legal basis:
The Bible [New Testament]: Marriage…. (M), no divorce allowed, except in cases of adultery and “uncleanness”
The Bible [Modern-Day Practice]: Marriage-Divorce-Remarriage (M-D-R), ad infinitium
The Quran: Marriage-Divorce-Remarriage-Divorce-Remarriage-Divorce-Marriage (New) (M-D-R-D-R-D-MN)
Clearly, Islam promotes and protects the sanctity of marriage, particularly of the first marriage, by allowing a remarriage of the original couple, not once but twice, only finalising an absolute divorce in the third. Opportunities for reconciliation are given during the `iddah period of the divorced wife and prior to the third and final divorce.
From the facts we have provided, it is clear that this ignorant and fatuous missionary certainly does not know what he is arguing about. It is clear that in Islam, divorce comes in three stages: once, twice and then three times. Reconciliation between the same husband and wife is possible if the divorce was pronounced only once or twice, but on the third time, the divorce is final and the system prevents a mockery of the divorce laws by further remarriages. Hence lies the the essential difference between the Qur’an and the Bible.
The missionary claims that “It may be rare that a divorced couple would like to reconcile and remarry each other, but this does happen.”. In Islam’s case, however, it is very rare that a couple who were divorced for a third time would actually want to reconcile together. However couples who were divorced only once or twice are given ample opportunities for a reconciliation. Hence the missionary claim that “the Bible allows reconciliation and remarriage after a divorce without requiring or demanding an intervening second marriage and divorce” is thus simply a missionary propaganda with no real legal basis.
Furthermore, in Christianity there is no opportunity for a divorce, modern-day Christian practice notwithstanding. The Old Testament allows for indiscriminate reasons for divorce, without any further deliberation. In the New Testament, one cannot proceed to a divorce unless he accuses his wife of adultery.The modern-day Christian way for divorce and reconciliation is no better, as an infinite series of divorce and reconciliation can be held without any check-and-balance. Such strange laws have no place in modern society today.
It is clear that there is unparalleled justice in Islam when it comes to divorce and reconciliation. Islam, despite discouraging the act of divorce, gives an opportunity for a divorce, a reconciliation of the couple and prevents a further abuse of the system after a third divorce by disallowing a remarriage of the same couple. Who was the missionary trying to fool when he claims that Islam does not allow reconciliation of a divorced couple? Or that the Bible “promotes and protects the sanctity of marriage”, when historical evidence and modern-day practice is to the contrary?
And only God knows best.
- See Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri (transl. Nuh Ha Mim Keller), The Reliance of the Traveler: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, Amana Publications, 1997, p. 556. Although the status of this hadith is itself mursal and cannot be soundly attributed to the Prophet, its meaning is sound as commented upon by Ibn ‘Uthaymeen, Liqa at al-bab il-Maftooh, no. 55, question no. 3 [↩]
- On this matter, see Muwatta Imam Malik (translated by Mohammed Rahimuddin), Kitab Bhavan, 2003, pp. 246-247. Malik gave several authentic hadith on the issue which supports this. [↩]
- See Al-Shafi’i’s Risala: Treatise on the Foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence (translated by Majid Khadduri), pp. 150-151 [↩]
- Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, ibid., n2.0, p. 558 [↩]
- Isma’il Al-Faruqi, Christian Ethics: A Historical and Systematic Analysis of its Dominant Ideas, A.S. Noordeen, 1999, pp. 66-67 [↩]
- Isma’il R. al-Faruqi, ibid., pp. 66-67 [↩]
- The minutiae of the debate can be followed in I. Epstein, The Babylonian Talmud, 1936, vol 7, in particular pp. 436ff. See also Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 1930 edn, vol 4, p. 597. Philo too speaks of divorce available “under any pretense whatever”, 1855 edn., vol. 3 p. 312 [↩]