‘Talaq, Talaq, Talaq’. The thrice repetition of the Arabic word for divorce, has remained a dreaded situation, particularly for Muslim women of the sub continent. However, with both India and Pakistan agreeing to make this practice a punishable offence, these women may have found some relief.
Although several Muslim countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia had already banned instant or triple Talaq, nevertheless, in Pakistan and India particularly, the practice remained common.
Last month, India decided to make the practice of instant triple Talaq a punishable offence through an executive order after the draft law failed to pass in parliament in August.Under the proposed law, Muslim men who end their marriage using instant divorce, will now face a jail term of up to three years and a fine.
During the same time, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) in Pakistan also announced to support the declaration of ‘triple Talaq’ as a punishable offence. The council is yet to undergo consultations with various scholars to decide the appropriate punishment in such cases. It has also decided to prepare a consolidated form for divorce which will include the punitive measures for cases in which divorce is declared three times in one sitting. A draft for the consolidated form will be submitted for the federal government’s review. Terming ‘on-the-spot’ divorce a widespread social issue, it has also been decided that a nationwide effort will be launched by the council to consult with scholars and impress upon them the urgency of highlighting and promoting family values in Friday sermons.
Muslim men in the region have been shooting divorce sentences at their wives since decades or may be even centuries in extreme anger, distress or simply at a whim. Mostly, divorce in this manner would be administered orally, sometimes even on the phone. In an instant, a woman would lose her status as the wife of that man and would be forced to abandon her home, sometimes even her children. Her world would come crashing down and she would become dependent on the support of her dear ones, until her iddah, or waiting period, ended and she overcame the shock to take hold of her life.
Many cases have been reported that such divorces were administered due to misunderstandings or insinuations. But when the mistake would be realised, the divorce would already be complete and thus, all the former husband and wife could do was regret the decision.
The situation has often remained the centre of plots in many dramas and movies of both India and Pakistan, owing to the intense emotions involved and also as one of the deplorable practices in the region. In a major Bollywood blockbuster of the 80s, Nikah, debuting Pakistani actress Salma Agha, the practises of instant Talaq and also Halala, whereby a Muslim woman can remarry her first husband if her second husband also divorces her, have been severely criticised. In the climax of the movie, the heroine Salma Agha, berates both her former and second husband’s on attempting to treat her as their property – accepting and rejecting her at will, with no consideration towards her feelings or opinion.
This is exactly how women in this situation have felt. Especially if their marriages were arranged or worse, forced they already had no say in getting married. And when they have no say in their marriages getting dissolved either, they considered themselves no better than cattle or slaves, with the only purpose in their lives to follow instructions of those who govern them.
How this practice started is not known, but it has remained a constant source of threat to Muslim women in Pakistan and India. It has been prevalent mostly among the Muslims following the Hanafi Islamic school of law and is not universal among Muslims across the world, as many other Islamic schools of thought prefer the divorce process to be deferred, in many cases over a period of three months.
Before Islam, divorce among the Arabs was governed by unwritten customary law, which varied according to region and tribe, and its observance depended on the authority of the individuals and groups involved. In this system, women were particularly vulnerable.Men could even keep their wives in a state of ‘limbo’ by both rejecting them and taking them back at will.
After the advent of Islam, the Quranic rules of marriage and divorce provided a fixed set of norms for all Muslims, backed by divine authority and enforced by the community.The early Islamic reforms included “giving the wife a possibility to initiate divorce, abrogation of the husband’s claim to his wife’s property, condemnation of divorce without compelling reason, criminalising unfounded claims of infidelity made by the husband, and institution of financial responsibilities of the husband toward his divorced wife”.
According to Islamic jurisprudence, the initial declaration of Talaq is a revocable repudiation, Talaq Ra’jah, which does not terminate the marriage. The husband can revoke the repudiation at any time during the waiting period of three full menstrual cycles. This waiting period is intended to give the couple an opportunity for reconciliation, and also a means to ensure that the wife is not pregnant. The divorce becomes final when the waiting period expires. This is called a ‘minor’ divorce Al-Baynuna-al-Sughra and the couple can remarry. If the husband rejects his wife for the third time, it triggers a ‘major’ divorce Al-Baynunaal-Kubra, after which the couple cannot remarry without an intervening consummated marriage to another man.
Talaq types can be classified into Talaq al-Sunnah, which is thought to be in accordance with the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) teachings, and Talaq-al-Bid’ah, which are viewed as a bid’ah (innovation) deviations from it. Talaq al-Sunnah is further subdivided into Talaq-al-Ahsan and Talaq-al-Hasan. The AhsanTalaq involves a single revocable pronouncement of divorce and sexual abstinence during the waiting period. The Hasan divorce involves three pronouncements made during the wife’s state of ritual purity with menstrual periods intervening between them, and no intercourse having taken place during that time.
In contrast to Talaq-al-Sunnah, Talaq-al-Bid’ah does not observe the waiting period and irrevocably terminates the marriage. Talaqal-Bid’ah reflects pre-Islamic divorce customs rather than Quranic principles, and it is considered to be a particularly disapproved, though legally valid form of divorce in traditional Sunni jurisprudence. According to Islamic tradition, Muhammad (PBUH) denounced the practice of triple Talaq, and the second caliph Umar (RA) punished husbands who made use of it. Shiite jurisprudence also does not recognize Talaqal-Bid’ah.
It is difficult to understand that despite dislike for this practice of instant rejection in Islam, it has remained prevalent. This is a violation of ethics, as well as of human rights, whereas in Islam, both are of primary importance. Women in Islam, specially enjoy a privileged status where all their needs are ensured. At the same time, giving legal and religious cover to a practice which in an instant, changes the economic as well as social status of a woman and puts a big question mark on her future, is highly deplorable.
Treating this practice as an offence and making it punishable by law is a step in the right direction. However, only proper implementation of this law would result in strengthening a dignified status of women in our society.
The article is contributed by Shabana Mahfooz; A Broadcast Journalist and freelance writer. She writes on issues related to women, religion, society and current affairs.