Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 229- 231 Talks of Divorce Laws

It’s nice to see healthy divorce laws in a religion, just as it was nice last week to discuss healthy sexual laws within a religion. I would reiterate that living in a post-Puritanical culture means that divorce was only legal because people had “irreconcilable differences” within the past 50 years. And for such high divorce rates, we’re not talking about a country that handles marriage particularly well – nor its dissolution. In Catholicism, it’s still not kosher, so to speak, to get divorced, and I think it’s important that the Quran has such a healthy attitude towards the whole affair.

When it says in 230 that “you are not allowed to take away the least of what you have given your wives” does it simply mean that you can’t take away everything and leave – you have to leave her with a means of supporting herself (i.e. alimony, in a sense)?

What are these limits set by God that are spoken of? Are they how many times you can divorce and get back together (two acceptable, three not). Interesting that a marriage can be legal again between a man and a woman once that woman has married another man. That is a lot of back and forth. How common is this situation? It seems like one that would be far less common in the early years of Islam (though the very existence of this verse contradicts that, I think) and far more useful in modern Islamic societies today (I don’t pass a cultural value with the word modern – I simply mean that the mobility of today’s life, the lack of more local tribal affiliations, the comparative plethora of options make divorce and husband-hopping a more plausible situation).

Thoughts about these verses and their historical context and modern application would be most appreciated. All other comments welcome as well!

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The Cow 229-231

230. Divorce is (revocable) two times (after pronouncement), after which (there are two ways open for husbands), either (to) keep (the wives) honorably, or part with them in a decent way. You are not allowed to take away the least of what you have given your wives, unless both of you fear that you would not be able to keep within the limits set by God. If you fear you cannot maintain the bounds fixed by God, there will be no blame on either if the woman redeems herself. Do not exceed the limits of God, for those who exceed the bounds set by God are transgressors. 231. If a man divorces her again (a third time), she becomes unlawful for him (and he cannot remarry her) until she has married another man. Then if he divorces her there is no harm if the two unite again if they think they will keep within the bounds set by God and made clear for those who understand. 232. When you have divorced your wives, and they have reached the end of the period of waiting, then keep them honorably (by revoking the divorce), or let them go with honor, and do not detain them with the intent of harassing lest you should transgress. He who does so will wrong himself. Do not mock the decrees of God, and remember the favors God has bestowed on you, and revealed to you the Book and the Law to warn you of the consequences of doing wrong. Have fear of God, and remember, God is cognizant of everything.

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13 Responses

  1. Divorce may have been prevalent before the 7th century(pre-Islamic)–Some scholars feel that there were high rates of divorce after the 7th century as well (upto the Ottoman times)—I don’t know the accuracy of this info. However, surah 65 (at-talaq) is titled “Divorce”.
    Marriage is a contract between the bride and groom (In Judaism also?). The expectations for the relationship are spelled out and at this time–conditions for divorce may also be worked out. According to the understanding of many early jurists, All contracts, Marital, commercial, or treaties between nations are “covenants” also–that is they are not just between (human) parties but also with God.Therefore to honor contracts is very important.

    All properties/assets owned by women are retained and controlled by women regardless of their marital status.(s4-v32) At the time of marriage the bride recieves a marital gift which becomes her property/asset.(s4-v4) The property referred to in verse 230 is likely about this.
    Before I explain further—there are 4 schools of sharia –they have different approaches(methodologies) at formulating law. Apart from this,
    Today’s family law practices have been influenced
    by Greco-Roman concepts of gender relations. So it
    might be best for us, to stick to what the Quran says-rather than what is practiced?.
    Before the divorce is finalized, there is a period
    of seperation where efforts at reconciliation
    through arbitration are made.(S4-v35)(3 months–but if the wife is pregnant then until birth.–S65-v1-3)
    Divorce can be finalized after this period of seperation and at this time mutually acceptable (financial) arangements can be made–the Divorce is witnessed by two witnesses (S65-v2).Women have the right to
    alimony (S2-v241) and they may stay in their
    residences, if they so choose, until remarriage.
    Fathers are responsible for the financial maintenance of their children.

    Dr Aziza Al-hibri (an American muslim laywer) has done research on this subject—those interested can find her articles/research at karamah.org

  2. I haven’t had much time to comment on this subject; however, I will say that the topic of divorce in Islam is extensive and takes up one chapter of my marriage counseling textbook. (Singapore requires couples to undergo a pre-marriage counseling course before being allowed to marry here, which is why I have the book. 😉 )

    One thing I will say, though, is that the word used for divorce in Arabic, at-Talaq, also applies for when people separate but do not finalize their divorce. Thus if a couple separate but ultimately reconcile without a formal, legal divorce, that still counts as one talaq. So the concept is a little broader in Islam.

  3. JD—marriage counseling book sounds like a great idea.!
    It is interesting to see the concept of “Unity within diversity” in Islam—In that although the core values of Islam are the same globally, it nevertheless has the tolerance and flexibility to accomodate those traditional/cultural/social (and legal) practices not in conflict with its basic principles. One can see this in Asia. What do you think of the label “western Islam”? Do you think it exists or will exist?

  4. Does “Western Islam” exist or could it exist in the future, insha’allah? I would certainly hope not! Islam doesn’t need any innovations of that sort, especially if it’s along the lines of the disaster that was “progressive Islam.” Islam, as it was created and continues to be practiced, serves the needs of Muslims worldwide best without any need for bida. I know that for some people, the temptation to meddle with Islam by attaching other man-made doctrines is strong, but a desire to create a westernized version of Islam is not only wrong, it’s irrelevant. One of the benefits from my travels is that I’ve had the chance to meet Muslims from all over the world (at least two dozen countries so far, and not just from Asia or the US, but a lot of African and European Muslims too). And the one thing that has impressed me the most is just how consistent their understanding of Islam is. Most of the differences I’ve come across in other Muslims is purely cosmetic: changes in dress, foods, and so on. But Islam as they practice it is almost universally the same, regardless of where they’re from. So I’ve no desire to see “Western Islam” (or any other modified form of Islam) created. Plain vanilla Islam, pure and simple, is the only Islam I’ll support.

  5. That was nicely put. The concept of “Ummah” or brotherhood is strong and reinforced by the Hajj. Yet, Islam is not a monolith either–there is diversity. The Quran also advises us not to “make schisms”. I agree with the advice—but still I find the label “Western Islam” more uncomfortable than “Asian Islam” or “Turkish Islam”. Mentally, there is no problem associating the word “Islam” with Asia, or Turkey or Saudi…etc but try putting the word “British” in front of “Islam” and ….well….it does not seem comfortable. I find this unfortunate. Maybe I may have somehow bought into the rhetoric of “clash of civilization”/incompatibiltiy of Islam and the west/or west is bad–without realizing it? Considering that Islam has integrated and become part of the fabric of Asia—there should not be any problems with seeing the same happening in the West.? (Ofcourse I am only talking about abstract words/labels.–as you said, in actuality there is only “Islam”) It will be interesting to see how things develop in the future.

  6. […] Plain Vanilla Islam Kay at Think Kay! Think! recently asked me at Jay Solomon’s blog, The Zen of South Park what I thought of the label “Western Islam,” and whether it exists or will exist. This is my reply to her:Does “Western Islam” exist or could it exist in the future, insha’allah? I would certainly hope not! Islam doesn’t need any innovations of that sort, especially if it’s along the lines of the disaster that was “progressive Islam.” Islam, as it was created and continues to be practiced, serves the needs of Muslims worldwide best without any need for bida. I know that for some people, the temptation to meddle with Islam by attaching other man-made doctrines is strong, but a desire to create a westernized version of Islam is not only wrong, it’s irrelevant. One of the benefits from my travels is that I’ve had the chance to meet Muslims from all over the world (at least two dozen countries so far, and not just from Asia or the US, but a lot of African and European Muslims too). And the one thing that has impressed me the most is just how consistent their understanding of Islam is. Most of the differences I’ve come across in other Muslims is purely cosmetic: changes in dress, foods, and so on. But Islam as they practice it is almost universally the same, regardless of where they’re from. So I’ve no desire to see “Western Islam” (or any other modified form of Islam) created. Plain vanilla Islam, pure and simple, is the only Islam I’ll support. Posted by JDsg at 2/26/2009 01:24:00 AM Labels: Islam, Muslims, Pro-regressive Muslims […]

  7. cross posting …
    So let me see, so simple plain vanilla islam would be sunni salafi islam ? or maybe it would be malki ? oh no is ismaili islam ? well maybe its ithna3ashari (the twelfth sect) shiite islam? do you pray with a rock from karbala2 infront of you ? or do u pray 3 times a day or 5 ? OR maybe its like nation of islam islam, that could be labeled western islam.
    Some how its amazing how misleading such vanilla statements could be…
    Fact of the matter Islam like any other religion differs greatly depending by which sect you belong to and the intermingling of culture into the religion so how its practiced in Indonesia differs a great deal from the way its practiced in Iran.
    just reading a bit about how the nation of islam does things in america would earn it the label of western islam. not because it has “western” ideals but because it made it fit into the social fabric and way of life of people over there and made it easier for them to accept islam.

  8. I’m responding to Bambam’s comment here as well as on my own blog, in part because the last few paragraphs are new to the discussion.

    Bambam clarified himself on my blog when he wrote, “I was commenting on how vaired islamic belief and practice is across the board…”

    There is some variance in belief and practice in Islam, but I believe that most of that variance is insignificant. For example, talking about differences between the different madhahib (schools of thought) is, IMO, insignificant, especially within the four Sunni madhahib. Malikis, for example, are known to put their arms along their sides while standing in prayer while the other three madhahib cross their arms in front of their chests. This is a purely cosmetic difference; both ways are considered acceptable in Islam. Likewise, Shia pray with either stone or clay from Karbala (where the Imam Husayn bin Ali was assassinated); however, once again, I consider this to be a cosmetic difference. The Islam the Shia practice is considered to be just as halal as that practiced by the Sunni (see the Amman Message).

    I will agree that more doctrinal issues are a cause for concern. People who may argue that three prayers per day is all that’s required would not be following orthodox beliefs. And then there are groups like the Ahmadiyya and the Nation of Islam, whose beliefs put them outside the boundaries of Islam (no matter how vociferous some of them may argue).

    But overall, most differences are minor; likewise, “…the intermingling of culture into the religion…” as Bambam wrote. As I wrote earlier, cultural differences such as food, dress, and so on, are purely cosmetic. Yes, the way my wife and her family dress and the foods they eat, as Malay Muslims, differs considerably from how one might find Muslims in the Middle East or Europe or Africa dressing or eating. One would expect this: climates vary, food availability differs. But that doesn’t change their Islam.

    As I wrote earlier; I’ve met Muslims from about two dozen countries so far. I’ve been to masajid in the US, Switzerland, and three countries in Asia to date. The Islam that these other Muslims follow, despite our individual and cultural differences, is still the same Islam that I follow. That’s the “plain vanilla Islam” I’ve been discussing. People may eat plain vanilla ice cream in different ways (such as in floats or sundaes or cones), but it doesn’t change mean that the ice cream has changed. Arguing that groups like the Ahmadiyya or the NOI is equivalent to vanilla ice cream is erroneous; those groups are more like ice milk or sherbets: similar but not the genuine article.

  9. Thanks for posting your reply over here as well. I’ve kept silent throughout this conversation because I really don’t think that I have anything constructive to offer, but I am thoroughly enjoying listening (or reading) and appreciate you making sure it gets up here too. But what’s masajid?

  10. Masajid is the plural of masjid (mosque).

  11. I can agree with JD that differences are “cosmetic” but it might be a case of “the glass half empty or half full” sort of thing.

    Jay–some background of the discussion—When Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) was invited to Medina/Yathrib, much of the community converted voluntarily to Islam. Though Islam did spread through territorial expansion (India) it also spread through trade–spice route, silk route–etc. When whole communities that were exposed to the teaching of Islam and converted,—they retained many of the “Folk” customs/culture/tradition that did not conflict with Islam. In the case of the “west” today–the situation is different in that the “Islam” that is in –say–Britain–has muslims from many parts of the world who retain many of the customs of “folk Islam” of their origins. Which wasn’t really much of a problem until 9/11 and the subsequent microscopic focus placed on muslims. So now there is some talk of a “western” Islam–one that supposedly allows Islam to integrate into the west and co-exist…….but what does “western Islam” mean? JD/bambam brought up the NOI—I understand they are aligning their ideas with mainstream Islam now ? However, in the beginning they did have some different ideas.(such as black supremacy?)—which might not make them an impressive example of “western Islam”.
    (at least from a muslim perspective)

    Right now “western Islam” is not a well defined term and probably too much tied into the “clash of civilization” rhetoric.

    JD–Thanks for posting that interesting perspective of Bambam. I must point out my blog is not think kay think.

  12. […] once more, incorporating some of my responses to BamBam’s comments from the other day (see here and here), but illustrating my points in a simple way that, insha’allah, will make everything more clear.For […]

  13. “Western Islam” will never exist in the future. Here is the reason why:

    Islam adopted Christian practices in all departments of life. The state, society, the individual, economics and morality were thus collectively under Christian influence during the early period of Muhammedanism.

    Thus in every department we meet with that particular type of Thus in every department we meet with that particular type of Christian theory which existed in the East during the seventh and eighth centuries.
    This Christian theory of life was subjected, as is well known, to many compromises in the West, and was materially modified by Teutonic influence and the revival of classicism.

    However, in Islam, this Christian theory underwent NOT a similar modification. Why? Because Muhammedan scholars were accustomed to propound their dicta as utterances given by Muhammed himself, and in this form Christian ideas also came into circulation among Muhammedans. When attempts were made to systematise these
    sayings, all were treated as alike authentic, and, as traditional, exerted their share of influence upon the formation of canon law. Sayings of Muhammed became part of canon law and therefore binding for all time!! Thus the process of development which was continued in Christendom, came to a standstill in Islam, thus questions of temporary importance to Christianity became PERMANENT elements in Muhammedan theology.

    Here began the development of Muhammedan jurisprudence or, more exactly, of the doctrine of duty, which includes every kind of human activity, duties to God and man, religion, civil law, the penal code, social morality and economics.

    All human acts are thus legally considered as obligatory or forbidden when corresponding with religious commands or prohibitions, as congenial or obnoxious to the law or as matters legally indifferent and therefore permissible. The arrangement of the work of daily life in correspondence with these religious points of view is the most important outcome of the Muhammedan doctrine of duties.

    It will thus be immediately obvious to what a vast extent Christian theory of the seventh and eighth centuries(!) still remains operative upon Muhammedan thought throughout the world.
    cf. C.H. Becker “Christianity and Islam” (1909).

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