Like many religions, Islam frowns upon divorce. However, it does provide a framework to make it happen. The process gives a husband and wife multiple opportunities to change their minds, and to include their families in the decision. When the differences prove insurmountable, they can part ways peacefully, but even then Islam seeks to make it as easy as possible for them to remarry.
The Stages of Divorce
The number three plays a large part in Islamic divorce. In its early days, a man could simply tell his wife that he divorces her three times, and then they were divorced. As time has passed, this process has grown and adapted, but kept the notion of there being three stages to divorce, and a maximum of three divorces allowed before a couple is prohibited from remarrying.
Stage 1: Attempting Independent Reconciliation
In the Quran, one controversial verse states that when a husband wishes to divorce his wife, he must do all he can to reconcile. In fact, he must take three steps. He must first admonish his wife, then refuse to share his bed with her, and finally, beat her. Obviously, a literal interpretation of this doctrine is no longer followed; instead, a husband and wife are simply urged to try and reconcile among themselves before involving anyone else.
Stage 2: Arbitration
If the issues between husband and wife prove intractable, the next step is to bring in two arbitrators, one from the husband's family and one from the wife's. The arbitrators' job is to inject a relatively independent viewpoint. Some sources say other community members who are not related can also take part.
Stage 3: The Waiting Period
Should the husband and wife still find themselves unable to reconcile, Islamic law has one last mechanism: the husband and wife must wait three months before the divorce is final. The hope is that the two parties will find a way to reconcile in this time. Traditionally, the purpose of this waiting period was to make sure that the woman is not pregnant, as it was not lawful for another Muslim man to marry a pregnant woman.
Stage 4: Divorce and Re-Marriage
The rule of threes applies even after the divorce is final. Once the three-month waiting period is over and the husband and wife go their separate ways, they are entitled to re-marry at any time after that. However, they are only allowed to marry three additional times. If the woman marries another man and divorces him before marrying her original husband for the third time, then the marriage is permitted.
Men and Women
Islam allows different levels of freedom for men and women when they divorce. Husbands are allowed to divorce whenever they wish, while the rights of wife to divorce depend upon her sect. Sometimes, the rules regarding the return of pre-marriage dowries are different for men and women, with women being allowed to keep marriage gifts and to give them back if they so wish.
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