Islam considers marriage a very sacred and special bond. It brings families together and celebrates the union of two people who will hopefully provide one another with love, comfort and protection throughout their lives. Conversely, divorce often tears families apart and literally means to separate or remove completely. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has said that “among all the permitted acts, divorce is the most hateful to Allah (SWT)” ( Abu Dawood).
Each person’s experience of divorce is an individual one, but the ultimate decision to separate is likely to have been made after extreme and careful consideration. There may already have been an emotional and difficult period of separation during which both parties will have been encouraged to exhaust all reconciliatory avenues available and to do everything possible to save the marriage. Once it has been acknowledged that there is a genuine reason for a couple to take their separate paths and that divorce is sadly the only answer, coming to terms with the death of this marital relationship may take a great deal of time.
The realisation that a marriage has ended is also a confirmation of failure; a failure that one of life’s key personal relationships has been seismically shaken and ultimately broken down beyond repair. None of us know what lies ahead of us in life, but during this period the future may seem even more uncertain. This is certainly a time for offering support, not judgement or blame. Getting divorced is rarely a situation that people expect or plan to find themselves in and is recognised as being one of the most stressful and traumatic events that a person can go through. Divorce negatively impacts upon the self-worth and confidence of an individual, regardless of which spouse instigated the end of the marriage.
No solidarity, just blame
Muslim women going through this ordeal may get support from their families and friends but not all women are lucky enough to have this help. Safia* relates her experience:
“First I had been rejected by my husband, and now I was being rejected by my community. Initially, people called me, but only to find out what had happened, and I became a source of gossip. There was rarely any intention to actually help me out in anyway, and I had never felt so desperate in all my life. If anything, I felt as though some other women were enjoying my misfortune whilst I can now see that I was struggling every day. I felt as though I’d been found guilty of being wholly responsible for my divorce and yet barely anyone knew the true reasons for it. It was all too painful to talk about, and I’m not proud to admit it but I did consider suicide. Things are a lot better now, but I have not yet come to terms with the outcome of my life and I don’t know if I ever will”.
Amina* also talks about her divorce; “Assumptions were made about me, that I was at fault and that I deserved my misery. Someone that I had considered more family than friend totally shut me out of her life and further deeply compounded my feelings of worthlessness. I had two young children and I’m sure that I was judged even more harshly because of that. I had wanted my children to be a part of Muslim society and attend ‘Eid functions, for example, but some of the people who organised such events did not include me. I alternated between being very angry or very upset. I cried a lot. There was nothing I had wanted more in my life than to be happily married and to grow old with someone”.
Glimmers of support
Out of the gloom though, Amina says that there was something positive that came from her experience; she learned who her real friends were and made several new ones. “There were some people who actually came forward and made an effort to be kind to me. It came from unexpected places and I hadn’t anticipated it at all. It didn’t take much; shared cups of tea or a friendly smile, anything that doesn’t make you feel so alone”.
Certainly it is unfair to say that attitudes towards divorcees are all negative within Muslim women’s circles, as this is simply not true. However, there is clearly a greater need for unity amongst some women with regards to this subject. At times, divorced women have gone on to become isolated by others purely because of their divorced status, during a period when they are at their most vulnerable and may in fact be craving the support of other women.
An unwritten hierarchical rule is sometimes being inflicted upon divorcees and it is a great disappointment to see cultural attitudes and prejudices obstructing the promotion of Muslims ties, when clearly Islam does allow divorce.
We are advised to be compassionate in our lives. The following hadith beautifully exemplifies how the Muslim ummah are not only compassionate, but also unified in their suffering:
The Muslims are like one man, if his eyes complain, then the whole of him complains, and if his head complains, then the whole of him complains. (Muslim)
Our body is being used to describe the feelings of closeness and empathy that Muslims are urged to feel towards one another. One person’s pain is to be shared by another since they are from the same body and should feel the same pain. The smallest acts of kindness and acceptance appear to make a pivotal difference in allowing women to move forwards from their trauma and get through every difficult day. The scars of divorce do not heal easily, if ever at all, but genuine sisterhood offered at such a hopeless time can prevent the creation of yet another unnecessary wound.
Khurshid loves writing, particularly articles relating to ethical issues or transforming personal journeys. Her educational background is in Pharmaceutical Sciences and Medicinal Chemistry, and she has previously worked as Scientist, Broadcast Assistant and Researcher. She has recently started writing flash fiction and is currently studying with the Open University on a creative writing course.