Marriage, as prescribed by Allah, is the lawful union of a man and woman based on mutual consent. Ideally, the purpose of marriage is to foster a state of tranquillity, love and compassion.
But this is not always the case. Islam discourages divorce but, unlike some religions, does make provisions for divorce by either party. Allah provides general guidelines for the process with emphasis on both parties upholding the values of justice and kindness in formalising the end to their marriage (see Quran 2: 224-237 for general guidelines regarding divorce).
Allah encourages the husband and wife to appoint arbitrators as the first step to aid in reconciliation in the process of divorce. If the reconciliation step fails, both the man and woman are guaranteed the right to divorce as established in the Quran, but the difference lies in the procedure for each one.
When a divorce is initiated by the man, it is known as Talaaq. The pronouncement by the husband may be verbal or written, but once made, there is to be a waiting period of three months (‘Iddah) during which there can be no sexual relations, even though the two are living under the same roof.
The waiting period helps to prevent hasty terminations due to anger and allows both parties time to reconsider as well as to see if the wife is pregnant.
If the wife is pregnant, the waiting period is lengthened until she delivers. At any point during this time, the husband and wife are free to resume their conjugal relationship, thereby ending the divorce process. During this waiting period, the husband remains financially responsible for the support of his wife. Divorce initiated by the wife is known as Khul’ (if the husband is not at fault) and requires that the wife return her dowry to end the marriage because she is the ‘contract-breaker’. In the instance of Talaaq, where the husband is the ‘contract-breaker’, he must pay the dowry in full in cases where all or part of it was deferred, or allow the wife to keep all of it if she has already been given it in full.
There has been much distortion and propagation of misunderstanding about a woman’s rights related to marriage and divorce. Only with self-education and awareness of the Quranic text are men and women able to learn the truth that Allah has prescribed and understand the scholarly interpretations in order that the spirit of justice is realised. Allah Says: And when you divorce women and they fulfil their term [of their ‘Iddah], either keep them according to reasonable terms or release them according to reasonable terms, and do not keep them, intending harm, to transgress [against them]. And whoever does that has certainly wronged himself. And do not take the verses of Allah in jest. And remember the favour of Allah upon you and what has been revealed to you of the Book [i.e., the Quran] and wisdom [i.e., the Prophet’s Sunnah] by which He instructs you. And fear Allah and know that Allah is Knowing of all things. [Quran 2:231]