The Muslim Way to Handle a Divorce (Part II) – Separate with Kindness

The Muslim Way to Handle a Divorce (Part II) – Separate with Kindness March 22, 2013

By Rabia Chaudry

Part II of a two-part series on why to get divorced, how to go about doing so and what the Quran and Sunnah have to say about divorce. Click here to read Part I.

Islam does not forbid divorce, but of all the permissible things, it is the most disliked by Allah (swt).  The destruction of a family has life-long consequences, and we are advised to seek out every means of reconciliation possible. But even then our faith gives us the freedom to leave an unhealthy situation.

There is much legality in an Islamic divorce that most people are vigilant to observe:  Is a civil divorce considered one talaaq or three? Do the three talaaqs have to be given at one time or at any time? If talaaq is given in anger, does it count? Does a khula count as a talaaq? There are hundreds of questions related to divorce — just check any reputable Islamic Q&A website. People are so particular to make sure they have fulfilled certain conditions, but often and usually completely ignore one very clear command in the Quran concerning divorce:

A divorce is only permissible twice: after that, the parties should either hold together on equitable terms, or separate with kindness.”  — Holy Quran 2:229

“Separate with kindness” are the three little words almost all people going through a divorce choose to ignore. You would hope that divorce between Muslims would be more civil due to this injunction than that of non-Muslims; the reality is that Muslims also get downright mean and dirty when they’re ready to end a marriage.

At a minimum, separating with kindness means fulfilling each other’s rights. Pay the mahr that is due, let each party have what is theirs, be sensitive to the financial situation a non-earning spouse may be in and fulfill your debt obligations and promises.  Money is one tool frequently used to hurt the other party, but if we have tawakkul, true faith, we know that our sustenance is written by Allah (swt) and no one can detract or add to it.

You will have your life ahead of you to rebuild and start over.  Leaving the person you once loved unable to pay bills, without a place to stay or without transportation, is about as unkind as you can get. Many of us would help a stranger in these circumstances; but separating spouses often want to see the other suffer. This is not just inhumane, it’s un-Islamic.

For the Sake of the Children

While it’s unkind for spouses to treat each other badly when separating, it’s reprehensible to use children as a way to hurt each other. I have seen dozens of Muslim couples use their children as pawns, threatening each other with withholding visitation, demanding unreasonable custody and support arrangements, blocking extended family from seeing the kids and poisoning their children against the other parent. On the other hand, I’ve seen parents of children just walk out of their children’s lives, deciding they would rather not be a part of that child’s life than have to pay child support or go through the trouble of visitation and arranging to live close by.

As adults, we can exercise our right to live with, or leave, a spouse.  But in doing so, we cannot destroy the rights of others.  Every parent has a right to their child, notwithstanding abuse, and every child has a right to both parents AND to the extended family of both parents. If you keep your child away from their other parent or that parent’s family — or you sour your child’s feelings against their other parent — you are keeping them from their rights.

If you walk out of your child’s life, you have taken away the many rights your child has over you — the right to your love, guidance, knowledge, protection, company, affection, emotional and financial support, access to your extended family and to your inheritance.  We don’t get off scott-free when we usurp the rights of others – it’s considered an injustice that we’ll be accountable for directly to that person on the Day of Judgment.

Truly Separating with Kindness

I know these things may seem harder to do than say. But I don’t just talk the talk. I’ve walked this talk. When I separated from my ex-husband a decade ago, our daughter was four years old. He — thinking that because I’m a lawyer, I will make his life miserable during and after the divorce — came at me full force.  He did everything in his power to keep my daughter from me and to leave me in the most difficult financial situation possible, even refusing to provide spousal support or my mahr.

I had to fight in court for eight months to get my daughter back, but once I did, I made sure to give her every opportunity to be with him and to spend time with her father’s family. It was not emotionally easy; I was extremely angry at all of them. But, I loved my daughter too much to keep her away from the cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents she loved.  I did my best to minimize her suffering; after all, she was the only innocent party in all of it.  Likewise, I placed my trust in Allah (swt), remembered my sustenance was written by Him and didn’t ask for any support or even my mahr.

It took time for him and his family to realize that I was not going play dirty despite the terrible things I had been put through (I’ll spare the details, but suffice it to say I could have lost my daughter permanently). I did my best to maintain civility with him and his family, not because I forgave them, but because I loved my daughter.

Years later, when I remarried and had my second daughter, the family of my ex-husband sent gifts for our new baby. And, my ex-husband sent the mahr he owed me for many years along with a letter of apology. When my grandmother passed away two years ago, my ex-mother-in-law hugged and consoled me. These things are unheard of in South Asian families, and I give credit to them as well for meeting me halfway.

The goodwill we managed to create by swallowing our anger and pride is our gift to my daughter, who deserves all the happiness she can get from two homes. It is the same gift all children of divorced parents deserve. If we choose better lives for ourselves, it’s our responsibility to make sure they suffer the least amount possible for it.

If you are going through a divorce, or have gone through one, I hope that you will keep the mantra “separate in kindness” close to your heart.  I know we cannot always forgive the source of our pain, but ultimately it is an act of kindness unto you to be kind to others.  As the Buddha said, “holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other to die.” If you could not live together in kindness, the least you can do is separate in kindness – this is not just a request from Allah (swt), it’s a command.

Rabia Chaudry is an attorney, president of the Safe Nation Collaborative, an Associate Fellow of the Truman National Security Project, and a columnist for the Muslim Channel at Patheos.

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