AS RELIGION IS considered a code of life, believers try to find the solution to their problems in human life from their religious scriptures. Divorce is one kind of problem for which religious people take resort to their religious laws and rules. In our world, about half of the total population follows either Islam or Christianity. So it is important to examine how the Bible and the Quran view and make guidelines to handle this vital issue and to overcome its difficulties.
The rules and regulations of divorce are a thorny matter among Christians based on their Biblical law, but Muslims feel settled and at peace on knowing how to handle this issue in the light of Quranic law. Thus, we turn to the scriptures of the two religions to examine what each teaches on divorce and to see how well these laws are fitted to the needs of life for religious people belonging to half of the world’s individuals.
Issue of Divorce: Rigidity vs. Equity
There are two parts to the Bible. The first is the Old Testament and the other is the New Testament. As a source of law for Christians, the latter one holds more weight than does the former one. There are rigid and strict rules on divorce in the New Testament. It declares divorce to be generally forbidden. Only in the case of adultery can divorce be issued.
Jesus, upon whose teaching Christianity is said to be based, was very strict in pronouncing upon the life of a married couple in that he allowed divorce only in the case of adultery. Accordingly he labels the persons who are divorcees, as divorced, and the one who marries either of them, as becoming an adulterer or sinner. Jesus is reported to have said:
But now I tell you: if a man divorces his wife, even though she has not been unfaithful, then he is guilty of making her commit adultery if she marries again; and the man who marries her commits adultery also. (Matthew 5:32)
Other versions of the same pronouncement are recorded in Matthew 19:9, Mark 10:11-12, and Luke 16:18.
Not only a husband, but a wife likewise is not permitted to issue a divorce decree to her husband; if she does and marries another man, she will become an adulterer (Mark 10:12). Besides this ordinance, Jesus also reminds his people that from the beginning of the world divorce had been forbidden according to God’s original plan, but it is later relaxed by Moses due to the hardheartedness of the Israelite people (Matthew 19:4-8, Mark 10:5-9). We look more carefully at these sayings of Jesus in Part 3.
During the time of the Old Testament, divorce was generally permitted for man. It is stated:
If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce… (Deuteronomy 24:1)
But it doesn’t allow a woman to give a paper of divorce to her husband.
The Biblical prophet Malachi also spoke out against divorce:
I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel. “I hate it when one of you does such a cruel thing to his wife. Make sure that you do not break your promise to be faithful to your wife. (Malachi 2:14-16)
By contrast, the Quran fully recognizes divorce as a possible resolution to problems in the life of a couple. It permits divorce through a step-by-step process of constructive guidance. Still, divorce is put as a last option when a couple has failed to reconcile their difficulties in living together. It proscribes adultery as a punishable act and that the adulterer must get a sentence and consequently divorce shall occur. Aside from the case of adultery, there are other situations and unavoidable circumstances that can be considered grounds for divorce. Such grounds do not judge the divorced husband and wife as adulterers, as in the case of the above Biblical pronouncements.
Although the Quran permits divorce as a last option, it sets out a fixed period of time and warns the couple who are on the path to divorce to rethink this issue and its effects. Staying together may bring good things for them. It warns both the man and the woman in this situation not to be irrational and unreasonable:
And live with them in kindness. For if you dislike them – perhaps you dislike a thing and Allah makes therein much good. [Sûrat Al-Nisâ’ 4:19]
The Qur’anic system of divorce instructs us in the manner through which a couple may retreat from their intention to end their marriage. Moreover, it orders husbands to be reliable and helpful in favor of the divorced wife. The woman, like the man, also has the right to divorce her spouse; this is known as “khulʿ.”
How Better to Divorce: Direct Action vs. Step by Step
Although the Bible contains a vast volume of documents, it has very few lines on the issue of divorce. In other words, it does not focus and elaborate, in a useful way, on how one is to perform a divorce in case it is to take place. The Old Testament shows us that when a husband wanted to give a divorce to his wife, he wrote a notice and that ended their combined life. Here is the format we find documented:
…he writes her a certificate of divorce and gives it to her and sends her from his house. (Deuteronomy 24:1)
The New Testament is similarly silent on the method of authorizing a divorce in a case of adultery. It leaves open the possibility that when a person is guilty of adultery, immediately he or she will be no more a legitimate spouse and must separate from their marriage arrangement.
The Quran, however, always discourages a couple from heading to divorce. Accordingly, it puts in place a comprehensive set of guidelines which gives many opportunities for being diverted from the intention of divorce. The steps are:
1. When the arrogance of a wife has introduced the path of separation for a couple, then the husband shall be wise and tolerant so as to correct and rectify the attitude and behavior of his wife. He should seek all possible ways to solve the problem that has arisen in her, preferring for them to remain together. The Quran teaches:
But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. [Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, 4:34]
Here it is to be mentioned that by the word “strike them” is meant in such a way that is amendable and rectifiable, that shall be not “painful” (Jamiʿ Al-Tirmidhi, ḥadîth no. 3087) or “harmful” (Jamiʿ Al-Tirmidhi, ḥadîth no. 1163).
If such actions can remedy the arisen problem, the husband shall seek no further means. The Quran then enjoins:
But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. [Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, 4:34]
- When a couple feels that there is a great problem concerning their combined life or that the situation is close to a divorce between them, then they shall not quickly opt for a climax. First they will inform their respective relatives about their problem and ask them to help resolve it. Thereupon the relatives will do their best to fix the problem. As the Quran mandates:
And if you fear dissension between the two, send an arbitrator from his people and an arbitrator from her people. If they both desire reconciliation, Allah will cause it between them. [Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, 4:35]
It also warns, even in this matter, that Allah knows well what they are doing or thinking:
Indeed, Allah is ever knowing and acquainted [with all things]. [Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, 4:35]
To be continued, inshâ’Allah…