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Are Islamic Divorce Rules Unfair to Women?

12 July, 2017
Q Salaam. Is it true that it's easier for men to get a divorce than women according to Islamic law? Is it more difficult for a woman, from an Islamic perspective, to get divorced?


Asalamu Alaikum,

Thank you for contacting About Islam with your question.

Dr. Shabir Ally, from Let the Quran Speak, addresses this question in the video below:


Aisha Khaja:

What are some of the general rulings/process around divorce?

Dr. Shabir Ally:

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First, I would like to say that the matter of divorce and Islamic law is a very complicated one. We have many different schools of Islamic Jurisprudence to deal with here.

And because we don’t have a systematic outline of the procedures for divorce in the Quran itself—or in any particular hadith clearly and authentically attributed to the Prophet (peace be upon him)—scholars have had to piece together verses of the Quran and reports about incidents of the life of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and his companions, and try to come up with a comprehensive understanding of what are the procedures for divorce.

When does it take effect? When not? And so on.

And that has led to multiple opinions on various stages regarding this and—just to give you an impression of that— we have a book here entitled “Muslim Law of Divorce” by K.N. Ahmad. And you can see it’s a hefty volume. 1100 pages.

Leaving the complications aside, let’s look at what becomes controversial.

Now, for Muslim women, why does it fit with our series here in which we’re saying, “Okay. We need to go back and look at certain issues we have to apply ijtihad and look at the spirit of Islam, and come up with a sort of paradigm shift that deals with the new realities that we’re confronting.

We can’t just simply dish out the same old rulings as before because they do not fit with our modern context.

So, one of the issues that is very clear is that in classical Islamic rulings, the divorce was exclusively the right of the man. And the women had very little say, you know. She just is told that she’s divorced and then–lo and behold!–she is suddenly divorced.

So, she finds herself helpless in that situation.

Aisha Khaja:

And I’ve heard this is applied like… I’ve heard of stories where this is applicable today, as well. So is it true that only men have this exclusive right? And I’ll just add: I’ve also heard, basically, all men have to do is say the word “divorced” three times and that’s it. They’re divorced.

Dr. Shabir Ally:

And the triple divorce becomes especially problematic because there’s a verse in the Quran it says, “The divorce is twice.”

Now, this is understood now to mean like if he divorces her a third time […] then she’s not permissible for him anymore until she marries another husband. […] Then if he divorces her—that means this second husband…

Aisha Khaja:

So, she can’t divorce him, he has to divorce her?

Dr. Shabir Ally:

Yes, then she becomes lawful for the previous husband. Now there is no harm if the two of them should reconcile.

And what this implies sometimes… there’s the idea of a revocable divorce and an irrevocable one. If a man utters “divorce”—saying to his wife, “I divorce you”—now, that’s once. If he does it twice and that’s fine so far. Maybe not fine, but it’s still revocable; he can still take his wife back. But if he divorces her the third time, this is like the “three strikes you’re out”, it’s over and done with. It’s final unless she marries somebody else and then somebody else divorces her.

[…] It seems a little bit odd. Why this kind of replicated procedure?

So, the rationale is not given in the Quran itself, but some scholars applying their thinking have surmised that what the Quran has in mind here is that…let’s say a woman is in a difficult relationship, but she’s keeping it together- either for the sake of the kids or out of embarrassment or whatever- she does not want to let go of this relationship. Or she just simply loves her husband.

We know that there is such a thing as a battered woman syndrome. Even though the woman is abused, she still stays in a relationship. So if a man is going to divorce his wife, you know, take her back, then divorce, then take her back again… he could do it like, you know, umpteen times. and the woman may remain with him.

So the Quran—by stipulating this “three-strikes-you’re-out”—means that the woman now finally has to leave that relationship because it’s not good for her. And the man who’s been divorcing her, again and again, three times… this is enough.

And the hope is that she will, by marrying somebody else, find happiness in a new relationship. […]

Aisha Khaja:

So my question is […] if we say Islam is a religion that empowers women, why this situation? And why do women not have the same right?

Dr. Shabir Ally:

Yes. So this is a very important question, and a lot of this has to do with traditional norms— the way things were done in societies in the past, not only in Muslim societies but more generally…

Continue watching to learn more…

I hope this helps answer your question. You can also check out more from Let the Quran Speak at the link here.

Please keep in touch.

Walaikum Asalam.

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Why Women Aren’t Asked If They Accept Divorce or Not?


Can Muslim Men Divorce As Often As They Want?


Requiem of a Marriage: Struggling with Divorce


Can the Wife Terminate the Marriage?