Surah Talaq: Compassion in Divorce

Introduction

The Catholic Church is still struggling with allowing divorce and it is still not allowed in the Vatican city and Philippines.  Islam, though discouraged divorce, but allowed it 14 centuries ago and laid down compassionate rules for it.

According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr and colleagues in the introduction to this surah:

The surah can be divided into two main sections. The first (vv. 1-7) provides details regarding the waiting period to be observed in cases of divorce, especially for women who are not menstruating, and the manner in which the husband is to provide for the wife, especially if she is pregnant or suckling. The second section (vv. 8-12) admonishes Muslims to observe these laws by providing reminders of previous peoples who failed to follow the laws revealed by God.

The verses 222-242 of Surah Baqarah also deal with divorce and other related gender issues.  To fully appreciate the wisdom and compassion of the Quranic teachings on this subject, one merely needs to search and review the word divorce in the Old and the New Testaments and read the short articles: Vatican Recognizing Divorce, 1400 Years after Islam Did and Divorce: Islam Versus Christianity.

As we look at each individual tree, or every specific teaching, let us not lose sight of the forest or the big picture.

When practical and profound boundaries are defined for both love and divorce in a marriage then it not only creates harmony and peace in the family, but, also in the larger society that is made of family units. This is what the holy Quran has given to the humanity.

In the seventh century Arabia the men were the bread winners in almost all the cases and child custody issues were described in that paradigm. If women become equal or greater bread winners in the 21st century, then those issues should be adjusted to the new economic realities.

These constraints are due to human limitations and not any deficiency in the knowledge of All-Knowing God, as becomes amply clear from the very last verse of this surah.

بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

65:1. Prophet, when any of you intend to divorce women, do so at a time when their prescribed waiting period can properly start, and calculate the period carefully: be mindful of God, your Lord. Do not drive them out of their homes, nor should they themselves leave, unless they commit a flagrant indecency. These are the limits set by God, whoever transgresses God’s limits wrongs his own soul, for you cannot know what new situations God may bring about.

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ إِذَا طَلَّقْتُمُ النِّسَاءَ فَطَلِّقُوهُنَّ لِعِدَّتِهِنَّ وَأَحْصُوا الْعِدَّةَ ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّـهَ رَبَّكُمْ ۖ لَا تُخْرِجُوهُنَّ مِن بُيُوتِهِنَّ وَلَا يَخْرُجْنَ إِلَّا أَن يَأْتِينَ بِفَاحِشَةٍ مُّبَيِّنَةٍ ۚ وَتِلْكَ حُدُودُ اللَّـهِ ۚ وَمَن يَتَعَدَّ حُدُودَ اللَّـهِ فَقَدْ ظَلَمَ نَفْسَهُ ۚ لَا تَدْرِي لَعَلَّ اللَّـهَ يُحْدِثُ بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ أَمْرًا

65:2. When they have completed their appointed term, either keep them honorably, or part with them honorably. Call two just witnesses from your people and establish testimony for the sake of God. Anyone who believes in God and the Last Day should pay attention: God will find a way out of difficulties for those who are mindful of Him,

 فَإِذَا بَلَغْنَ أَجَلَهُنَّ فَأَمْسِكُوهُنَّ بِمَعْرُوفٍ أَوْ فَارِقُوهُنَّ بِمَعْرُوفٍ وَأَشْهِدُوا ذَوَيْ عَدْلٍ مِّنكُمْ وَأَقِيمُوا الشَّهَادَةَ لِلَّـهِ ۚ ذَٰلِكُمْ يُوعَظُ بِهِ مَن كَانَ يُؤْمِنُ بِاللَّـهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ ۚ وَمَن يَتَّقِ اللَّـهَ يَجْعَل لَّهُ مَخْرَجًا

65:3. And will provide for them from an unexpected source; God is enough for those who put their trust in Him. God achieves His purpose and He has set a due measure for everything.

وَيَرْزُقْهُ مِنْ حَيْثُ لَا يَحْتَسِبُ ۚ وَمَن يَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّـهِ فَهُوَ حَسْبُهُ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ بَالِغُ أَمْرِهِ ۚ قَدْ جَعَلَ اللَّـهُ لِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدْرًا

65:4. If you are in doubt, the period of waiting will be three months for those women who have ceased menstruating and for those who have not yet had their monthly courses; the waiting period of those who are pregnant will be until they deliver their burden: God makes things easy by defining for those who are mindful of Him.

وَاللَّائِي يَئِسْنَ مِنَ الْمَحِيضِ مِن نِّسَائِكُمْ إِنِ ارْتَبْتُمْ فَعِدَّتُهُنَّ ثَلَاثَةُ أَشْهُرٍ وَاللَّائِي لَمْ يَحِضْنَ ۚ وَأُولَاتُ الْأَحْمَالِ أَجَلُهُنَّ أَن يَضَعْنَ حَمْلَهُنَّ ۚ وَمَن يَتَّقِ اللَّـهَ يَجْعَل لَّهُ مِنْ أَمْرِهِ يُسْرًا

65:5. This is God’s commandment, which He has sent down to you. God will remove the ills and increase the rewards of anyone who is mindful of Him.

ذَٰلِكَ أَمْرُ اللَّـهِ أَنزَلَهُ إِلَيْكُمْ ۚ وَمَن يَتَّقِ اللَّـهَ يُكَفِّرْ عَنْهُ سَيِّئَاتِهِ وَيُعْظِمْ لَهُ أَجْرًا

65:6. House the wives you are divorcing according to your means, wherever you dwell yourselves, and harass them not that you may make their lives difficult.

If they are pregnant, maintain them until they are delivered of their burdens; if they suckle your infants, give them their due recompense and settle the matters between yourselves equitably.  However, if you encounter difficulty from one another, then another woman may suckle the child for the father,

 أَسْكِنُوهُنَّ مِنْ حَيْثُ سَكَنتُم مِّن وُجْدِكُمْ وَلَا تُضَارُّوهُنَّ لِتُضَيِّقُوا عَلَيْهِنَّ ۚ وَإِن كُنَّ أُولَاتِ حَمْلٍ فَأَنفِقُوا عَلَيْهِنَّ حَتَّىٰ يَضَعْنَ حَمْلَهُنَّ ۚ فَإِنْ أَرْضَعْنَ لَكُمْ فَآتُوهُنَّ أُجُورَهُنَّ ۖ وَأْتَمِرُوا بَيْنَكُم بِمَعْرُوفٍ ۖ وَإِن تَعَاسَرْتُمْ فَسَتُرْضِعُ لَهُ أُخْرَىٰ

65:7. And let one who is in easy circumstances spend according to his means. But let him whose provision is restricted spend according to what God has given him: God does not burden any soul with more than He has given him. After hardship, God will bring ease.

 لِيُنفِقْ ذُو سَعَةٍ مِّن سَعَتِهِ ۖ وَمَن قُدِرَ عَلَيْهِ رِزْقُهُ فَلْيُنفِقْ مِمَّا آتَاهُ اللَّـهُ ۚ لَا يُكَلِّفُ اللَّـهُ نَفْسًا إِلَّا مَا آتَاهَا ۚ سَيَجْعَلُ اللَّـهُ بَعْدَ عُسْرٍ يُسْرًا

65:8. Many a town that insolently opposed the command of its Lord and His messengers, We have brought sternly to account: We punished them severely.

 وَكَأَيِّن مِّن قَرْيَةٍ عَتَتْ عَنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّهَا وَرُسُلِهِ فَحَاسَبْنَاهَا حِسَابًا شَدِيدًا وَعَذَّبْنَاهَا عَذَابًا نُّكْرًا

65:9. To make them taste the ill consequences of their conduct, the end result of their conduct was ruin.

 فَذَاقَتْ وَبَالَ أَمْرِهَا وَكَانَ عَاقِبَةُ أَمْرِهَا خُسْرًا

65:10. God has prepared a severe torment for them.  So, you who have understanding, you who believe, beware of God. He has sent you the Quran, a source of honor.

  أَعَدَّ اللَّـهُ لَهُمْ عَذَابًا شَدِيدًا ۖ فَاتَّقُوا اللَّـهَ يَا أُولِي الْأَلْبَابِ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا ۚ قَدْ أَنزَلَ اللَّـهُ إِلَيْكُمْ ذِكْرًا

65:11. And a messenger, reciting to you God’s revelations that make things clear, to bring those who believe and do righteous deeds out of darkness into light. God will admit those who believe in Him and do righteous deeds into Gardens graced with flowing streams, where they will remain for ever. He has indeed made excellent provisions for them.

 رَّسُولًا يَتْلُو عَلَيْكُمْ آيَاتِ اللَّـهِ مُبَيِّنَاتٍ لِّيُخْرِجَ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ مِنَ الظُّلُمَاتِ إِلَى النُّورِ ۚ وَمَن يُؤْمِن بِاللَّـهِ وَيَعْمَلْ صَالِحًا يُدْخِلْهُ جَنَّاتٍ تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا أَبَدًا ۖ قَدْ أَحْسَنَ اللَّـهُ لَهُ رِزْقًا

65:12. Allah is He, who created seven heavens and a similar number of earths. His command descends in their midst. So you should realize that He has power over all things and that His knowledge encompasses everything.

 اللَّـهُ الَّذِي خَلَقَ سَبْعَ سَمَاوَاتٍ وَمِنَ الْأَرْضِ مِثْلَهُنَّ يَتَنَزَّلُ الْأَمْرُ بَيْنَهُنَّ لِتَعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّـهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ وَأَنَّ اللَّـهَ قَدْ أَحَاطَ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عِلْمًا

Commentary

65:1

“Prophet, when any of you intend to divorce women, do so at a time when their prescribed waiting period can properly start, and calculate the period carefully: be mindful of God, your Lord. Do not drive them out of their homes, nor should they themselves leave, unless they commit a flagrant indecency. These are the limits set by God, whoever transgresses God’s limits wrongs his own soul, for you cannot know what new situations God may bring about.”

The verse is addressed to the prophet but is implied for every believer.  It provides for home and shelter for the divorcee and defines the process, which should not be driven by the heat of the angry moments but a deliberate, slow process, so better angels in our spirits can prevail and divorce becomes a rarity and only when absolutely necessary.

According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr and colleagues:

The waiting period refers to the three courses of menstruation discussed in 2:228. If, however, the marriage were not consummated, no waiting period would be enforced, as stipulated in 33:49: O you who believe! If you marry believing women and then divorce them before you have touched them, there shall be no waiting period for you to reckon against them. But provide for them and release them in a fair manner. In the present verse, for the waiting period can also be read to mean ‘during the waiting period,’ in which case it is understood to indicate that a man cannot divorce his wife while she is menstruating, but must wait until her  menstruation is finished.

65:2

“When they have completed their appointed term, either keep them honorably, or part with them honorably. Call two just witnesses from your people and establish testimony for the sake of God. Anyone who believes in God and the Last Day should pay attention: God will find a way out of difficulties for those who are mindful of Him.”

The Quranic verse inspires believers to be just and generous to each other as it creates hope in Allah’s Providence by stating: “God will find a way out of difficulties for those who are mindful of Him.” This not only means economic difficulties but also social and other difficulties. It also implies that marital difficulties may subside and lead to reconciliation during the process of waiting period suggested by the Divine command.

65:3

“And will provide for them from an unexpected source; God is enough for those who put their trust in Him. God achieves His purpose and He has set a due measure for everything.”

Allah’s Providence is often beyond our limited imagination and this verse serves for the audacity of hope, no matter what the circumstances.

65:4

“If you are in doubt, the period of waiting will be three months for those women who have ceased menstruating and for those who have not yet had their monthly courses; the waiting period of those who are pregnant will be until they deliver their burden: God makes things easy by defining for those who are mindful of Him.”

If we contrast the Quranic teachings with those of the Bible, we realize that it is the Quran that has set the standards for family values for humanity and boundaries for marriage and divorce.

For 2000 years the Catholic Church prohibited divorce based on some of the verses of the New Testament and in the last century or more has come around to what can be considered as an Islamic standard. Suggested reading: Vatican Recognizing Divorce, 1400 Years after Islam Did and Divorce: Islam Versus Christianity.

65:5

“This is God’s commandment, which He has sent down to you. God will remove the ills and increase the rewards of anyone who is mindful of Him.”

Following the eternal principles mentioned in the Quran leads to countless blessings and removal of many a hurdles and road blocks in our personal, social and spiritual development.

65:6

“House the wives you are divorcing according to your means, wherever you dwell yourselves, and harass them not that you may make their lives difficult.

If they are pregnant, maintain them until they are delivered of their burdens; if they suckle your infants, give them their due recompense and settle the matters between yourselves equitably.  However, if you encounter difficulty from one another, then another woman may suckle the child for the father.”

This is certainly a message of compassion and kindness towards women the husbands are going to divorce, especially if they are pregnant or suckling, a special consideration not only for the mothers but also the children.

However, what was a very compassionate message in the context of seventh century Arabia may seem a sexist message in favor of fathers in the 21st century in the Western countries, as the Quran is giving the child’s custody to the fathers.

In the seventh century Arabia the men were the bread winners in almost all the cases and child custody issues were described in that paradigm. If women become equal or greater bread winners in the 21st century, then those issues should be adjusted to the new economic realities.

Many Western countries have ratified United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention deals with the child-specific needs and rights. It requires that the “nations that ratify this convention are bound to it by international law”. Ratifying states must act in the best interests of the child. In all jurisdictions implementing the Convention requires compliance with child custody and guardianship laws as that every child has basic rights, including the right to life, to their own name and identity, to be raised by their parents within a family or cultural grouping, and to have a relationship with both parents, even if they are separated.

The details of custody differ from country to country or state to state in USA.  For example, in New York, children under the age of 18 must be supported by both parents to the extent that they are able to support the children under the provisions of the Child Support Standards Act.  The holy Quran for the seventh century Arabia laid the responsibility squarely on the fathers. But, we don’t have to read this literally in different circumstances.  The well being of the children is of fundamental focus and it cannot be divorced from the happiness of the parents. The Quran even describes the suckling needs of the infants and suggests a duration of 2 years (2:233) and goes as far as establishing maintenance and compensation for the nursing mother. As regards the sensibilities and emotions of the mothers and the fathers the Quran states: “No one should be burdened with more than they can bear: no mother shall be made to suffer harm on account of her child, nor any father on account of his.” (2:233)

65:7

“And let one who is in easy circumstances spend according to his means. But let him whose provision is restricted spend according to what God has given him: God does not burden any soul with more than He has given him. After hardship, God will bring ease.”

According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr and colleagues, in commentary of this verse:

Some interpret this verse to mean that the amount  paid by the husband to his former wife depends upon both her needs and his circumstances, while others maintain that the amount the wife must be paid is to be limited to her immediate needs (Q). This verse is also viewed as evidence for the position that the husband is solely responsible for providing provisions for the child whether the couple is married or divorced (Q). The last sentence indicates that if one finds it difficult to meet these obligations, God will ease one’s circumstances, either in this life by providing additional means or in the Hereafter by easing one’s way into the Garden for striving to observe the Command of God even when it was difficult. Regarding the relationship between hardship and ease, see 94:5-6c.

We agree with most of what has been said in the above quote, but we feel, in the present day circumstances, when both women and men are bread winners, at least in the West, both of them can enjoy the perks and the responsibilities arising from that blessing.

65:12

“Allah is He, who created seven heavens and a similar number of earths. His command descends in their midst. So you should realize that He has power over all things and that His knowledge encompasses everything.”

The Quran talks about multiple earths as the number seven in this context in the Quran is generally read as metaphorical and as a large number. For the Quran to talk about multiple earths in the context of seventh century Arabia is fantastic and miraculous to say the least and establishes along with so many other Quranic verses, talking about modern scientific facts: Cataloging 750 verses of the Holy Quran inspiring believers to study nature, that it is a revelation from the All Knowing God.

As we stand in awe of the eternal message of the Quran, which impresses us in the 21st century, we should not forget that sometimes certain verses are best understood, at least in their literal message in a more limited context: The Holy Quran and the Seventh Century Arabian Metaphors.

Here we would also like to present an excerpt form the chapter on extraterrestrial life,  from a book by Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth:

The vision of the universe that the Quran presents is poles apart from the one held by the philosophers and sages of all the past ages. At the time of the Quranic revelation, it was Greek astronomy which dominated the minds of men everywhere in the world and all civilizations seemed to have been influenced by the same. This domination continued uninterrupted until the time of Copernicus. It was universally believed that the heavens consisted of layer upon layer of some transparent plastic material, studded with bright heavenly bodies we know as stars. To be more specific, the following was the sum total of the entire knowledge of the people of that age:

  1. The earth was composed of a mass of dust, rock, water, air and minerals. It was a stationary mass, with a near flat surface neither rotating around itself nor revolving around any other heavenly body.
  2. The earth occupied a unique position in the cosmos, the like of which did not exist anywhere else in space. It remained fixed and stationary in its mooring while the Heavens perpetually revolved around it.

Evidently, this concept of the universe eliminated the possibility of the existence of life elsewhere. The only habitat for life the people of that age knew, was this earth—suspended as they thought it was in mid-space. Contrary to this, the Quran admits neither the uniqueness of the earth nor its being stationary. On the issue of the number of earths, it declares:

Allah is He Who created seven heavens, and of the earth the like thereof…1

It needs to be explained here that the figure ‘seven’ can be treated as a specific term of the Quran in this verse and many other similar ones. As such it would mean that the universe comprises many units of heavens, each divided into groups of seven (a perfect number), each having at least one earth to it which will be supported by the entire system of that heaven (galaxy).

The book is available online in PDF format: Revelation – Rationality – Knowledge and Truth.

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