A common practice before the introduction of Islam—and continuing afterward illegally despite severe restrictions by the Qur’an on the gratuities of men in pre-Islamic divorce—was for a man to perpetually divorce his wife, each time pretending to take her back and divorcing her again to coerce her either to surrender her dower for autonomy or inhibit her from remarrying to obtain the protection of another husband. The Qur’an renders this practice illegal, along with the practice of initiating a divorce on false charges so that a man may legally confiscate some of his wife’s property,
A divorce is only permissible twice:
after that, the parties should either
hold together on equitable terms,
or separate with kindness.
It is not lawful for you (men)
to take back any of your gifts (from your wives.) (Qur’an 2:229)
and ordains that after the third time, he may not divorce her again until she has been married to someone else,
And if he has divorced her [for the third time],
then she is not lawful to him afterward
until [after] she marries a husband other than him.
And if the latter husband divorces her [or dies],
there is no blame upon the woman
and her former husband for returning
to each other if they think that they
can keep [within] the limits of God. (Qur’an 2:230)
There is a misconception among Muslims—and consequentially among non-Muslims—that divorce in Islam is very easy and privileges the man. This is because Muslims blatantly ignore these verses. Were they taken into account and incorporated into the legal routine of Muslims, divorce for the husband would be the most difficult situation he has ever undergone as a believer. Divergent to the way in which divorce is commonly outlined and implemented, Muslim women have the right not only to extended provisions three months following the divorce but the right to their husbands’ kindness.
And women shall have rights
similar to the rights of men against them,
in kindness, according to what is equitable;
but men have a degree (of advantage) over them.
And God is Exalted in Power, Wise. (Qur’an 2:228)
This verse is actively contrary to the commonly held belief that men may divorce their wives at any time and for any reason, spontaneously and unilaterally; it contains also mention of the infamous “degree” that men have over women, referring of course to advantage, or privilege, without tolerating privilege—and, in fact, actively restricts this advantage by commanding that women must have the right to kindness and equity. The Qur’an therefore once more employs the female perspective to address men, who were privileged in pre-Islamic society with these powers, but does not intrude on the rights of women—and, in fact, expands them. Although the verses elucidating the process of divorce are addressed toward men (because of the unauthenticated privilege of men) women are not hindered from initiating divorce and for whatever reason they wish, unlike what is most commonly interpreted, since the Qur’an does not place constraints on divorces initiated by the wife. Instead it only holds men accountable for the license of divorce they have granted themselves and considers this in allocating rights to women—it does not support this license, nor does it deny a woman the power of repudiation. And in fact, in considering male privilege in its allocation of rights to women, the Qur’an additionally holds men responsible for a three-month waiting period following the divorce in which they must provide for their wives, in case the wife is pregnant, and to which a woman has right,
Divorced women shall wait
concerning themselves for three
monthly periods, and is not lawful
for them to hide what God hath created
in their wombs, if they have faith
in God and the Last Day.
And their husbands have
the better right to take them back
in that period, if they wish for reconciliation. (Qur’an 2:228)
also retaining the responsibility of reconciliation on the husband. If the woman does in fact give birth to a child, the Qur’an expects (but does not require) that she will breastfeed the child for two years and then obliges her ex-husband to maintain her “on a reasonable scale”:
Divorced women shall be maintained
on a reasonable scale.
This is a duty on the righteous. (Qur’an 2:241)
and also that she is not shamed for the child,
No mother shall be treated unfairly
on account of her child.
Nor father on account of his child. (Qur’an 2:233)
The Quranic approach toward divorce is radically advanced, even by contemporary standards. It states about the accommodations men must provide during a divorce,
Let the women live in the same style as you live,
according to your means:
and do not harm them in order to oppress them
And if they carry (life in their wombs),
then spend (your substance) on them
until they deliver their burden:
and if they suckle your (offspring),
give them their recompense:
and take mutual counsel together,
according to what is just and reasonable.
[…]Let a man of wealth spend from his wealth,
and he whose provision is restricted,
let him spend from what God has given him. (Qur’an 65:6—65:7)
Though male scholarship has claim that a woman who displeases her husband displeases God and wrongs her soul (collapsing God with the husband and committing the sin of shirk), the Qur’an makes a reverse implement (obviously without the shirk, as it is not about the wife but the justice toward women granted by God), addressing men and proclaiming that “any who transgresses the limits of God does wrong his very soul.” (65:1)
Decent behavior is especially commanded on the husband’s part at all intervals of the separation procedure, from when he may divorce his wife to how, and the way in which he must support and treat her, illegalizing (as mentioned at the beginning) the practice of perpetual divorce in order to confiscate the woman’s wealth or obstruct her from seeking protection,
When you divorce women, and they fulfill
the term of their waiting period,
either take them back
on equitable terms
or set them free
on equitable terms;
do not take them back to injure them
or to take undue advantage—
If anyone does that,
He wrongs his own soul.
Do not regard God’s signs as a jest. (Qur’an 2:231)
Punctuated in a warning. In fact the Qur’an adopts the female perspective so wholly that it takes into consideration in the process of its revelation the complaints of a particular woman who protests a manner by which her husband divorced her (58:1), going so far as to list penalties for men who pronounce a divorce in this manner, including freeing a slave and fasting for two months.
These are the requirements in an event of divorce; above all, the Qur’an encourages tolerance and the preservation of a marriage. Attempts of compromise and harmony should be made initially, and divorce will follow only if all else fails. Despite the fact that the culture of the Muslim community often blames women for divorce, the Qur’an once again holds men accountable,
If a woman fearth ill-treatment
from her husband, or desertion,
it is no sin for them twain if they make
terms of peace between themselves.
Peace is better.
But greed hath been made present
in the minds of men. (Qur’an 4:128)
Thus marital peace is recommended even in circumstances of great difficulty, but—as men commit acts of greed—divorce is permitted in order to separate a woman fearing ill-treatment from her husband.