Divorce is a traumatic event not just for the couple but more seriously for the children, extended families, and the community at large. The Qur'an talks about preventing separation between a husband and a wife by appointing Hakams from both sides. This is an example of mediation that is mutually acceptable.
How prevalent is divorce in the North American Shia community today?
Accurate statistics are not available to me. Some people claim that divorce rate among Muslims is around 31 percent, which would mean that one in every three marriages breaks up into divorce. This is probably the same as the general population in the US (33 percent). Shia Muslim marriages may be following the same trend, because people in general are affected by the same internal and external factors in couple relationships. Internal factors may be emotional, psychological, childhood history of violence, abuse and trauma, while external factors may be socio-economic issues, inter-racial relationships, as well as cultural factors.
Is there a difference in divorce rates for Shias of Arab, South Asian, Khoja, Iranian, and American backgrounds?
I can’t say.
Is there a difference in divorce rate for religious vs. non-religious families?
According to research, participation in joint religious activities, perceptions regarding the sanctification of marriage, including perceived sacred qualities of marriage and beliefs about the manifestation of God in marriage were found to be consistently associated with greater global marital adjustment, more perceived benefits from marriage, decreased marital conflict, more verbal collaboration, and less use of verbal aggression and stalemate to discuss disagreements for both wives and husbands. (Mahoney, et al. 1999; Marriage and the spiritual realm. Journal of Family Psychology, 13).
Why are divorce rates increasing among Shia families? Is this something limited to North American Shias, or is this something we are seeing in other parts of the West as well?
I do not have any statistics to back up this claim. It may be that the size of the community is growing and therefore the divorces are also increasing respectively. But I can see another rationale in the apparent increase in number of divorces: many Shia Muslims do not seek enough guidance on religious teachings about marriage, many or most of us do not learn the practical aspects of marriage in terms of its numerous challenges, absolute scarcity of counselors, psychologists and social workers in the Shia community, lack of awareness regarding mental health issues, cultural problems between parents and children, etc. These factors most surely affect relationships without exception.
What kind of effects does divorce have on a healthy society and community? What do the Qur'an and the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) say in this regard?
Divorce is a traumatic event not just for the couple but more seriously for the children, extended families, and the community at large. The Qur'an talks about preventing separation between a husband and a wife by appointing Hakams from both sides. This is an example of mediation that is mutually acceptable. Like many other Qur'anic instructions, this one also requires study and specialization for its proper application. Hakam must be someone who knows how to listen, understand, show empathy, carefully define the problem areas, help decrease negative interactions, collaboratively set short and long term goals, enable the couple to have more positive interactions. But are we doing what the Quran is telling us? Where is the mediation? How many people even care to seek mediation?
Certainly in many cases, divorce results from wrong decisions made about marriage. What points do you think people should keep in mind before getting married in order to prevent divorce in the future?
It seems clear that selection of a spouse is the most critical phase of this journey. Before marriage, a high level of religious devotion and regular practice of Salat is extremely important. Ibadat with concentration brings peace to the heart. Deep devotion to Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) and learning about their Sunnah makes a person more responsible, loving and compassionate. In addition to these, keeping pious company, meeting and talking to scholars, reading the Holy Qur’an and Hadith books a little everyday (or whenever possible) is really helpful because they make a person more mindful of Allah and repenting in times of difficulties. All these attributes are needed during married life as well.
Sample situation: "I am a 22-year-old girl, and I have lived my entire life in the United States. My parents arranged me to be married with a boy from Pakistan. Although he is well-educated, there are too many cultural differences that are very difficult to get past. We are considering a divorce." What advice would you give this couple?
Islam is transcultural (extending through all human cultures)! If they open their hearts to Islam, they can overcome these cultural differences. Islam unites, and everything else divides. In addition to that, I would help them understand each other's feelings and point of view better in order to become more empathic.
Any other thoughts, concerns or comments you might have in regard to this subject?
I would advice my young friends to go into religion and psychology to fill the gap in our communities.
Maulana Shamshad Haider is the resident scholar for the Islamic Center of MOMIN in Irving, Texas. Many of his speeches and lectures can be found online on YouTube and ShiaTV.
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