When you walked into your marriage, you thought it would bring you the greatest happiness you’ve ever experienced. But at some point after that glorious wedding ceremony, or family attended nikkah, you found yourself trapped in a hopeless reality. As you tried hard to make sense of this new relationship that looks nothing like the one you imagined, the one your friend has with her husband, the one you watched on TV or even the one your parents had, you realized there was something inherently wrong with your marriage and the way you felt about it. It doesn’t matter whether the problem was your spouse, you, or the two of you coming together; at the end of the day, you felt miserable and knew this is not how you wished to spend the rest of your life.
That tends to be the first phase of every divorce. Phase two is where the unhappily married person is bombarded with anti-divorce rhetoric in the form of religious reminders, family concerns about how divorce is taboo and so called friendly warnings that divorcees bear low marketability.
An overwhelming majority of imams preach that one of the reasons polygamy has been sanctioned is to prevent divorce, that divorce is the greatest permissible evil and the ultimate destructor of community cohesion. We have all heard the story about the young woman who left her husband over minor differences of opinion and then lived the rest of her life in regret because no better man than her ex-husband existed. Or the story of the middle-aged man who ended his stable marriage with a perfectly culturally appropriate woman and then ended up with a lady who made him sleep on the couch every other day.
Divorce really is an unfortunate event that divides families and separates once-upon-a-time loving couples. Those who preach against it are not completely delusional, nor are they fabricating anti-divorce rhetoric on baseless subjectivity. Carefully decorated homes are put up for sale during divorce, much coveted diamond rings are traded in for less than half value and love exuding photos are taken down to leave behind them blank, empty walls.
Nevertheless, unhappy as the protagonists of divorce-scare stories may be, they were not in a better place in their previous marriages, nor should they be chastised for not being “patient enough” or “trying hard enough” or any other scenarios storytellers like to erect.
The idea that couples on the brink of divorce are somehow unaware of this reality is a misconception. Nobody is more aware than those couples, yet their marriage is so utterly broken that they would rather face divorce.
“There is no evidence … for marriage [in the American Muslim community] being treated as an easily disposable commodity, shed at the first signs of trouble. None of the divorcés and divorcées … reached their decision easily, quickly, or lightly. They describe confusion, disappointment, anger, hurt, and fear for the future,” wrote Dr. Julie Macfarlane in her widely circulated report, Understanding Trends in American Muslim Divorce and Marriage.
It is time for our community, leaders, imams and attorneys to focus on creating a better future for divorced couples rather than painting a simplistic dichotomy of marriage and divorce where the former is exciting and the latter is threatening.
Divorce among Muslim Americans is becoming increasingly common despite strict religious and social opposition to it. Empirical data analysts suggest that the divorce rate among American Muslims is close to 50 percent, the national American rate. This is a drastic increase from the last study conducted about divorce, in the early 1990s, by the New York-based sociologist Ilyas Ba-Yunus. At the time of Ba-Yunus’s research, the continental Muslim divorce rate stood at 31.14 percent.
The data indicates realization among married couples that the alternative to divorce, staying in a failing relationship, is abhorrent, and awareness that divorce is, in fact, halal.
So, if you haven’t heard from anyone else, you’ll hear it from me. After you’ve “tried hard enough” or chosen not to try anymore, and weighed the pros and cons of your situation, go on and embark on your divorce journey, for in that journey you will find the last page to a great source of sorrow in your life. The divorce process can take a long time, perhaps a year, or two, or three, but it always comes to an end, and with it comes the beginning of a brighter future.