In what cases can a woman apply for a divorce?

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Family is a thing of utmost importance in a Muslim woman’s life. The Lord has sanctified the marital bonds, has placed the family relations at the very foundation of society. God has decreed for husband and wife to love each other and to have children, to live in peace and accord with each other. However, if for some reason this peace is disrupted, God has given to the Muslim man and the Muslim woman opportunity for divorce.

God urges us to exercise greatest care when contemplating the initiation of divorce. The Prophet said: “Of all the lawful acts the most detestable to Allah is divorce.” (Abu Dawood, 2178). This means that before finalizing the decision to divorce the Muslim man and the Muslim woman must take all the possible steps and seek every avenue leading to the resolution of the conflict. Once these avenues have all been explored to the full, each party may apply for the divorce.

When a Muslim woman asks to be divorced, she must have solid justification for that. “If any woman asks her husband for divorce without some strong reason, the odour of Paradise will be forbidden to her.” (Abu Dawood, 2226) The Lord has set bounds within which He may permit divorce: “if you fear that they will not keep within the limits of Allah, then there is no blame upon either of them concerning that by which she ransoms herself. These are the limits of Allah, so do not transgress them. And whoever transgresses the limits of Allah – it is those who are the wrongdoers.” (2:229) If the atmosphere in the family is tense, if the wife sees no perspectives in their further relations with her husband, if the fundamental goals for the creation of the family are being violated, namely, if the husband and the wife have no longer any sexual intercourse and no children are born, if the wife feels hatred for her husband – this is when Allah the Ever-Merciful allows her to ask to be divorced. In the case of such a plea, the husband has no right to thwart her or oppress her. While sanctioning the divorce at the wife’s initiative, the Lord continues to admonish her to think again and not to take hasty decisions. None of us is perfect. Maybe the wife can find a way to reverse her ill feelings toward her husband? “It is not lawful for you to inherit women by compulsion. And do not make difficulties for them in order to take [back] part of what you gave them unless they commit a clear immorality. And live with them in kindness. For if you dislike them – perhaps you dislike a thing and Allah makes therein much good.” (4:19)

The Prophet has made the following clear decree for when divorce at the wife’s initiative shall be justified: her reasons are grave and she is prepared to give back the marriage gift. “The wife of Thabit bin Qais came to the Prophet and said, “O Allah’s Messenger! I do not blame Thabit for defects in his character or his religion, but I, being a Muslim, dislike to behave in un-Islamic manner if I remain with him.” On that Allah’s Messenger said to her, “Will you give back the garden which your husband has given you as Mahr?” She said, “Yes.” Then the Prophet said to Thabit, “O Thabit! Accept your garden, and divorce her once.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, 5273)

What are these reasons then?

1. Lack of sexual intercourse between the husband and the wife.

2. Lack of children.

3. Violation by the husband of his duty to provide for the wife..

4. Harming of the wife by the husband (battery, drunkenness).

5. The husband’s mental illness.

6. The husband’s taking on a second wife without due agreement with the existing wife or the concealment of the second wife’s existence.

7. The husband’s absence for the duration of one year.

The bonds of marriage are sacred. But a Muslim woman has the right to apply for divorce if Allah’s Decrees are violated in the marriage and all other avenues for the resolution of the conflict are closed.

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