A day in the life of a Sharia Scholar: Divorce in hate

Part 3 of the ‘Day in the life of a Sharia Scholar’ series by Ustadah Khola Hasan.

  • Please note that all names and many details of clients have been changed.

It is said that “Marry in haste, Repent at leisure.” The same can be true of divorce. Women who apply for an Islamic divorce are often in a rush and wish us to hurry the pace, like that of a steam train rushing headlong along the tracks. They will sometimes get quite abusive because they find our process to be a bit on the slow side and complain that we are taking the side of their husbands. Some ladies have even threatened to expose us to their MPs, or women’s networks, or even the police. It is very strange behaviour indeed, given they are applying for an Islamic service so we would expect to see some Islamic Adab in return. We explain that if a man begins a Talaq procedure, he too has to wait 3 months before the divorce can be final.

Take for example Maha. She came with her young son into the office and described 6 years of marital hell. Her husband was emotionally and verbally abusive, gave her minimum money, did not help with raising their son, and had a number of affairs during the marriage. She was angry, not just at her husband but at my office staff as well. Your procedure is long and cumbersome, she complained repeatedly. I need to be free from this monster as I hate to have my name associated with his. I promised her that so long as she wished for it, our office would indeed help end this acrimonious and abusive marriage. But we have a procedure that is in line with Islamic teachings and needs to take its’ course. For example, Surah An-Nisa makes it clear that communication, mediation and even separation must be sought before a marriage ends. Many women respond with the story of the wife of Thabit bin Qays, whose marriage was ended by the blessed Prophet simply because the wife requested the divorce. They fail to realise that the wife agreed to return the farm given to her at the time of marriage, that the husband consented to the divorce, and that the blessed Prophet knew the couple. How else would he have known that she was given a farm at the time of marriage as a wedding gift? This suggests that the Prophet knew about their problems and may even have offered mediation in the past. Islam treats marriage as a contract certainly, but as a sacred contract that is affirmed in the presence of the words of the Almighty. It cannot be ended on a whim or a prayer.

I tried to explain this to Maha but she was not impressed. She became more and more agitated during the rest of the procedure, complaining that she was being forced to remain in an abusive marriage. The staff had ascertained that Maha was not living with her husband for her own safety, so this allegation was clearly not true, and everyone took a huge sigh of relief the day her divorce was announced by the panel of Islamic scholars.

Three months after the divorce was pronounced, Maha called the office and explained that she and her ex-husband wished to reconcile and wanted a scholar from the ISC to conduct their new marriage. This was a bit of a surprise as the allegations she had made against him had been quite shocking. Our policy is that couples who wish to re-marry after an acrimonious divorce must attend some sessions of marital counselling and must produce evidence of having done so. Otherwise, there is a strong possibility they will re-marry and then continue in the same cycle of arguments and problems. Maha was not too impressed.

 I wish to re-marry my husband because I love him (!!!) and you want us to attend counselling? Away with you.

She went off to another Mosque and the couple were married soon afterwards. But this was not the end of the saga. A month later, Maha was back in the office, crying and angry. My husband is a monster, he has not changed, he is just as abusive as he was in the past, and I do not wish to be married to him. Please free me of this man.

Some sharia councils or mosques have pandered to the critics and made their divorce procedures superfast, a bit like broadband. Take Asim, for example.  He received a rude letter through the post informing him that his wife had applied for an Islamic divorce and that he had two weeks to respond. He was in shock, perhaps a bit dithery, and was trying to think of a response when a divorce certificate fell through his letter box and on the door mat. And that was that. His marriage was over, within the space of two weeks. Not surprisingly, his wife had paid quite a substantial price to buy this fast-track procedure. He called us to ask if this divorce was legal Islamically. No, was our response. There had been no communication, no mediation, no time given for his response, and no empathy for his feelings of total despair. The divorce was a farce but the women’s network who had facilitated this divorce was happy.

Islamic law is not a joke and cannot be taken lightly. Scholars who dissolve marriages are in a position of trust, of Amanah. Making money or pleasing feminists cannot be their objective. They are providing a valuable service to unhappy and vulnerable people, and so must remain mindful of the Almighty God at every step that they take.

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