Divorce: Our “Plan B”

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Plan B?

Before deciding to even start the process of divorce though, a couple must examine why they have decided to choose that route. They need to examine and re-examine themselves and the situation as many times as possible. Why? Some may argue that if divorce is allowed in Islam, then when two people aren’t happy, why must we re-think and analyze, and get counseling? If it is an option, that means Islam allows it. But it is not that simple! Divorce is not encouraged, nor is it recommended in Islam.

Plan B?

Marriage is a beautiful institution. In Islam, marriage is respected and recommended. Unfortunately, in more recent times, along with marriage automatically comes the option of divorce.

If you ever happen to converse about the issue of divorce with some elders, they will all mention something along the lines of: “Divorce! We didn’t even dare mention the word, let alone think about it!” And it’s true. Now, divorce rates are at an all time high – no matter the age or how many years the marriage has lasted. Of course when it comes to serious cases, it is not looked down upon, but may even be encouraged – when it comes to reasons like serious physical abuse, there may be no other option.

Divorce has usually been looked upon as a serious last option a couple may take. In Islam, counseling is required before any sort of final decision to continue with the divorce is agreed upon. We are blessed to have access to many experienced Ulema and scholars at the touch of our fingertips through e-mail, phone, and even at our local centers if we want to get some advice or help. For those who prefer not to go to an Alim, you can be counseled by any third party you feel more comfortable talking to.

One comes to wonder what has changed so much in these past years that things have gone from a couple not daring to think about the word “divorce”, to divorce being the first option when a problem arises in marriage. I still remember a message thread once passed around among women aged 20 to 30, which discussed what to put in a marriage contract. I was taken aback by the stress and importance – and even the sense of urgency – associated with putting the right to divorce in the contract. Some women suggested that as being the first thing a woman should put in her contract. This is just my opinion of course, but as I was nearing the time of my marriage, I began to think about what kind of mindset such a contract was encouraging when going into a marriage. Instead of young women who were positive about marriage, we began discussing all the negative issues and possibilities of how “men can be animals” and how “men can turn at any minute”, and there was a lot of negativity being thrown around. This is not to say that those who have divorce as their first right in their contract are wrong, or that those who are divorced are bad – of course, everyone’s situation is different and insh’Allah all decisions were made after logically, rationally thinking them through.

Before deciding to even start the process of divorce though, a couple must examine why they have decided to choose that route. They need to examine and re-examine themselves and the situation as many times as possible. Why? Some may argue that if divorce is allowed in Islam, then when two people aren’t happy, why must we re-think and analyze, and get counseling? If it is an option, that means Islam allows it. But it is not that simple! Divorce is not encouraged, nor is it recommended in Islam.

“One of the things which angers God, the Almighty, is divorce.” (Wasa’il ash-Shi’a, v. 22, p.7)

Imam Ali (peace be upon him) said, “Anger begins with madness and ends with regret.” It is recommended that a couple try and resolve their issues on their own, because Allah has made us all capable of handling the difficulties He puts into our lives – otherwise it would not be fair for us to have to face unbearable trails, when He is Just. These days we see that divorce has become so rampant – that too, all over what we can all hopefully come to agree as being solvable, unavoidable, and/or “petty” issues. Some common cases we hear about:

The husband and wife come from different ethnic backgrounds. “She cannot cook the food I want.” “He cannot speak the language my family and I speak.” If these things are so important to you, and you know this is going to be a problem later on, then why wait to bring up the issue after reciting the holy Nikah?

“She won’t wear Hijab/won’t take it off,” or “He won’t grow a beard/shave it off.” Again, these are all issues that should have been thought of before the marriage. Use the time before marriage to discuss important issues and decisions such as these. The entire engagement period should not be spent on flowers and chocolate; rather, it should be spent clarifying important life choices very seriously and rationally.

“He/she has doubts about some beliefs that I am 100% sure about. Why can’t he/she just believe it? How many times do I have to remind him/her?” Nobody is as perfect as you think you may be. And therein lies the problem: you are not perfect either. We all are imperfect. A marriage is meant to be a project – you are working with a partner and striving for an A+. If one person is slacking, the partner just may have to pick up the slack with a happy face, with trust in their Lord, and with the determination to overcome obstacles – because no matter what, we all want that A+. It all depends on how hard we are willing to work. We are willing to do so for our studies and our jobs, so why not for our families?

Marriage is not an independent lifestyle; it is actually the extreme opposite. A person’s lifestyle may completely change, or it may barely change – but it will definitely change, like it or not. No two people have the exact same personality, the exact same habits, or the exact same views on issues and topics. To those who think otherwise: good luck.

When the word “marriage” is said, heard, or thought of, the word “compromise” should come to mind right off the bat. Actually, I would even entirely replace the word “marriage” with “compromise”. Imagine your life now completely revolving around how you and another person may feel about buying a certain electronic, or about how you and another person may feel about turning the air conditioner up or down – even about what kind of groceries to buy and where to buy them from! Every step and decision you take does not affect only you anymore; it affects you and also your partner. You must be willing and ready to deal with either having your way or having to sacrifice! (Aah, the dreaded “s” word!)

We also see that other divorces arise due to intrusive family involvement. Yes, it is true that Islam does not encourage family involvement in a couple’s life to the extent that it becomes problematic for the couple. An excerpt from Islamic Family Structure states: “It is unfortunate to say that whenever the issue of divorce comes up, the families start to gossip, make accusations, or express hatred, and many commit these sins. It may be that the woman is too difficult to live with because she does not attend to the needs of the family, or the man does not abide by the conditions which he has accepted at the time of the wedding, in which case the woman can ask for a divorce…”

In many cultures we see that there are joint-family systems, so how does a couple go about living in that kind of set-up? First off, these situations or conditions of living in a joint family have to be discussed prior to saying “I do” and buying a beautiful ring. Brothers and sisters, please do not throw curve balls at your future spouse – these issues are important and, yes, they can be the cause of a divorce. On the other hand though, when you have already been notified that you will be living with a family, try your best to make it exactly that: a family. Try to make it a home, a place where everyone eats together, spends time together, and maybe even watches a T.V. show together even though not everyone may like that show. To this day, I do not forget how my parents did not allow my siblings and I to close our bedroom doors – in fact, they did not like us being in our rooms by ourselves for a long period of time because it would cause separation. If we ever did isolate ourselves in our rooms, I still distinctly remember my father jokingly lecturing us later, “What do you think this is? A hotel? This is a home, sit together.” Because of this habit I have kept with me, with my new family I am able to adapt to the same rule in order to maintain togetherness and to stay away from the problems that isolation causes in a family.

It’s all about sacrifice in order to keep a happy home, marriage, and family. When there has not been a curve ball thrown, what is our excuse? If our answer to the frustration of having to deal with an annoying habit of an elder in the home is, “That is so annoying! Why do I have to take this? It is not my responsibility – I don’t have to take this!” Then don’t expect to be a happy camper. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in “I” that we forget a family is made up of a bunch of “I’s”, just like us.

Whatever the case may be, we have to begin taking advice from our elders on how they dealt with the issues of bad habits, intrusiveness, peace-keeping, putting on a happy face while frowning inside. We need to learn from them how, despite their difficulties, they still did not even think of “alone time”, or “divorce”, just because they couldn’t take it anymore.

Western society is a huge cause for this love of independence, especially when it comes to marriage. Marriage is advertised as if every couple who gets married automatically wins an island that they will live on alone, together, for the rest of their lives. Wrong! That’s not going to happen. Islam, on the other hand, encourages family togetherness and a communal life. (Hence the extra blessings in attending Majalis, Du’a sessions, and even congregational prayers – Allah places signs to reflect upon in everything we do!)

It is our job to make things work in a marriage and in a family, which are the foundational building blocks to healthier communities and nations, and more importantly, our Muslim Ummah. Divorce should not be our “Plan B”.

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