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Why is Divorce on the Rise among US Muslims?

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:

“The most hateful permissible thing (al-Halal) in the sight of Allah is divorce.” (Abu Dawud)

Yet “A recent study conducted by Dr. Ilyas Ba-Yunus, a sociology professor at State University of New York, found an alarming increase in divorce rate among Muslims in North America reaching 31%.” (The Muslim Tribune)

Why is divorce on the rise among US Muslims?

Why are more and more families breaking down this precious bond of love and mercy?

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Aly Lela, Imam at the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit (IAGD) Rochester Hills, Michigan, believes that:

“There are bunch of reasons that lead to such [a] sad result, some are external, related to the American society and culture, such as materialism, individualism, loose gender relation and pornography, etc.), and others are internal related to the Muslim diverse understanding (or rather misunderstanding) of the family structure and values as a result of confusing religious teaching with cultural legacy, such as the heavy and unnecessary involvement of the parents in their children’s marital life, lack of understanding the high objectives of marriage and prior knowledge of what it means to be a committed and responsible husband or wife (premarital counseling is very important) domestic violence and verbal and emotional abuse, big cultural differences, having high unrealistic expectations, and finally lack of spirituality where people focus on the legal aspect of marriage with a dry and materialistic approach.”

Understanding the True Purpose of Marriage

God says in the Quran (interpretation):

{And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves that you may dwell in tranquility with them and He has put love and mercy between your hearts: Verily in that are signs for those who reflect.}(Ar-Rum 30: 21)

The marital bond in Islam is so harmoniously described by God, that if we were to implement it correctly we would have a very successful marital life that would reap its fruits in improving our worship, bringing us closer to God.

Unfortunately, this is often not the case nowadays. Many Muslims just get married as a cultural practice choosing a partner “randomly” not caring about their religiosity and its significance in building an Islamic home, the love and mercy are at times replaced by abuse, etc.

Many Muslims enter marriage without understanding its true purpose, as Imam Taha Hassane at the Islamic Center of San Diego (ICSD) San Diego, California pinpoints:

“I believe the increasing rate of divorce within the Muslim community is due to [a] lack of understanding the purpose of marriage and its significance.”

Challenging Modern Lifestyles

If we look at marriages just a couple of decades ago, things appeared much less complicated.

Couples seemed to be more down to earth in their matrimonial expectations, they exerted more effort to resolve any marital issue and spouses didn’t need to work so much outside the home. It seems that these new challenges, amongst others, have added pressure to families in modern day American society, at times leading to the breakup of those families.

Materialism taking over Spirituality

The materialistic lifestyle in the US could be economically challenging for some couples or even get them into debt. US Muslim families are too affected by the bombarding messages of having to own this and that to be “happy”. If the family starts to break down financially, this is detrimental to the relationship and could end in a divorce.

Adopting a more spiritual Islamic approach of happiness would help those families understand that the more materialistic things they have, will not necessarily make them happier.

Pornography and Illicit Relationships

It is heartbreaking indeed to find that not only unmarried Muslim men, but moreover married ones, are addicted to pornography. When the wife finds out she is devastated and she loses her respect to her husband and cannot stand living with him anymore. Illicit relationships have a similar affect, but these are not only confined to men nowadays; alarmingly even US Muslim women are getting involved.

Un-fulfillment in the marriage and the recurring sensual themes in sitcoms, movies, etc. have contributed to this problem. More room for discussion of intimate problems must take place between the spouses and they must fear God and stop un-Islamic mingling with the opposite sex in addition to watching sensual stuff.

Domestic Violence and Emotional and Verbal Abuse

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:

“The most perfect of the believers is the best of you in character, and the best of you are those among you who are best to their wives.” (At Tirmidhi)

Why are so many Muslim men putting this hadith behind their backs and treating or even beating their wives mercilessly?

Domestic violence and emotional and verbal abuse are becoming serious problems that require attention. How can a woman feel safe or happy in such a home?

How can we scold her if she seeks divorce?

Imams at mosques must shed light and bring more awareness to this issue so it is addressed to boys from a very young age, and men must put their cultural heritage behind their backs and remember that they are not implementing an Islamic behavior in abusing their wives whether physically or mentally.


Incompatibility between spouses often occurs when US born Muslims settle down with someone from their home countries or someone “fresh off the boat”. The latter often may not know the culture well, speaks poor English and may not appeal as much to the former. It is usually more compatible that they marry domestically, as they may be prone to more clashes which could lead to a divorce.

Inquisitiveness of Parents and In-Laws

Inquisitiveness of parents and in-laws into their married offspring’s lives does more harm than good. Spouses need their space and if any involvement is necessary it should be that of advice; not molding their lives into their own. Unfortunately, some marriages have ended because of this phenomenon.

Consequences of Increasing Divorce Rates

The breakup of a family takes its toll on all its members, but foremost on the kids (if there was any offspring involved in such a divorce).

Kids often mistakenly blame themselves for their parents’ divorce and may suffer psychologically as a result. They may feel anxious, abandoned and envious of other kids for having stable homes and feel miserable that they cannot live with their parents in one place. This problem intensifies too if their parents re-marry and moreover if there are stepsiblings involved.

In her report, “Understanding Trends in American Muslim Divorce and Marriage: A Discussion Guide for Families and Communities”, Dr. Julie Macfarlane states:

“The negative social consequences of divorce that many women dread are often short-lived as family and friends adjust to the idea that the marriage is over. Some women experienced more extended and intense social shunning. In a few cases, they chose to relocate with their children to escape community judgment. Men acknowledged that they experienced some, but far less, negative social judgment than their former wives.”


Pre-Marital Counseling

Both Imam Aly Lela and Taha Hassane agree on the importance of pre-marital counseling: “Pre-marital counseling is very important” Lela points out. Imam Hassane emphasizes: “Requiring a pre-marriage counseling prior to perform the nikah contract will decrease the divorce rate.”

It seems that many couples enter their marriages without enough knowledge about what they are to expect. They also need to discuss issues that may be of concern in order to try to find possible solutions beforehand.

Pre-nuptial Agreements

Pre-nuptial agreements are also an essential part of pre-marital preparations: “Imam Kavakci (of the Islamic Association of North Texas) gives all couples who plan to wed at his mosque a pre-nuptial agreement. They can then notarize it and put conditions in it accordingly, making expectations, rights, rules and responsibilities clear from the start of marriage. This clarity helps avoid many conflicts that crop up after the wedding. It also has legal weight. “In courts, it is applicable,” he said. He added that he has explained the document to judges when they have needed clarification in applying it locally.” (Divorce among American Muslims)

A Final Word

It would be wrong to claim that there will not be incidents when a divorce is necessary, but let us not make it the norm. An awakening of the Ummah needs to be made to limit divorce.

We need to increase our religiosity in order to fear God in our actions and maintain our marriages. Let us start by implementing Prophet Muhammad’s hadiths on marriage to help decrease the rates of divorce:

“When a man whom you are pleased with his religion and character comes to you to make an offer of betrothal, you should let him marry. If you do not let him then indeed there will be fitnah and a huge calamity on this earth.” (Al-Bukhari)

“A woman may be married for four reasons: her wealth, her lineage, her beauty or her religious commitment. Choose the one who is religiously committed, may your hands be rubbed with dust (i.e., may you prosper)!” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim) 

Works Cited:

Macfarlane, Julie, “Understanding Trends in American Muslim Divorce and Marriage: A Discussion Guide for Families and Communities”, January 2012. Last access, 03/06/2016

Siddiqui, Samana, “Divorce among American Muslims: Challenges & Solutions”, 2013. Last access, 03/06/2016 

Youssuf, Maha, “The Muslim Tribune, Alarming Divorce Rates Among Muslims: Online Service Makes it Worse”. 07/15/2011. Last access, 03/06/2016

About Suzana Nabil Saad, MA
Suzana Nabil Saad is the former Ask About Islam Editor. She has many years of experience in dawah work.She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English from the Faculty of Languages, Ain Shams University, Egypt. She obtained her Master’s Degree of Arts in English Literature from Gothenburg University, Sweden.She currently resides in Texas, USA with her husband, and three kids. When she is not editing or writing, she enjoys reading, ideally followed by nature excursions.