Triple Divorce: Did Umar Oppose the Prophet?

29 February, 2020
Q As-Salamu `alaykum. Concerning triple divorce, I read that Umar ibn Al-Kattab opposed and contradicted the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). How could Umar offer ijtihad and contradict the Prophet's teachings and cause division among Muslims? Umar regarded triple divorce as three (separate) divorces, whereas the Prophet himself regarded it as one divorce. Please, comment on the above in the light of the following two narrations: 1. Once the Prophet was informed about a man who had pronounced three divorces at one time. He got up in anger, saying: "Is sport being made of the Book of Allah while I am (yet) among you?" (An-Nasa'i) 2. Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the (pronouncement) of three divorces during the lifetime of Allah's Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) and that of Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) and two years of the caliphate of Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) was treated as once. But Umar ibn Al-Khattab said: "Verily the people have begun to hasten in the matter in which they are required to observe respite. So, if we had imposed this upon them (that is, regard the divorce pronounced three times in succession as irrevocable divorce), it would have deterred them from doing so)!"


Wa `alaykum As-Salamu wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. 

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.

In this fatwa:

Umar ibn Al-Kattab never violated the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. As for the issue of triple divorce, there are many other proofs that indicate that the Prophet regarded triple divorce as three divorces.

In responding to your question, the eminent Muslim scholar Sheikh `Abdel Khaliq Hasan Ash-Shareef, states:

As for the issue of triple divorce and Umar ibn Al-Kattab’s ijtihad (personal reasoning) on it, consider the following points:

1- According to the hadith you referred to, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) became angry when he was told that a man had pronounced three divorces at one time. Did you ask yourself why the Prophet got angry at that action? The man who divorced his wife three times at once violated the teachings of the Quranic verse: “Divorce must be pronounced twice and then (a woman) must be retained in honor or released in kindness.” (Al-Baqarah 2:229)

This Quranic verse guides Muslims that divorce should be two separate times, and then if the spouses cannot live together, the last divorce could be pronounced. Therefore, the person who pronounced three divorces at once violated the guidance of this Quranic verse.

2- There are other proofs that maintain that the Prophet regarded the triple divorce as three divorces.

In his Zad Al-Ma`ad, Ibn Al-Qayyim states about 22 proofs to that effect. Also, this is the opinion of many of the Prophet’s Companions, the majority of the successors, and the imams of the four schools of fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence).

3- The Prophet ordered us to follow the guidance of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, saying, “Follow my Sunnah, and that of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs after me.”

4- What Umar ibn Al-Khattab did was meant to preserve the community and protect it. He, as the Caliph of the Believers, had the authority to do that. There is a golden maxim in fiqh that says that the command of the imam puts an end to ikhtilaf (disagreement among scholars). In Arabic this is “amr al-imam yarfa` al-khilaf.” Sometimes, the Muslim community would be in need of resolving the ikhtilaf over a given issue; otherwise dissension and disorder may creep into the society. The main responsibility to resolve ikhtilaf falls on the shoulders of the community leaders and those in charge of the people affairs.

Almighty Allah knows best.

Editor’s note: This fatwa is from Ask the Scholar’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.