Islamic law allows you to permanently sever your relationship with your spouse. This is not something I was able to easily admit, but I did this and it caused me a lot of pain and guilt.
The Quran and Sunnah states that if you utter divorce your wife three times (according to certain conditions and with waiting periods), she becomes haram (forbidden). She is no longer your wife.
And if he has divorced her [for the third time], then she is not lawful to him afterward until [after] she marries a husband other than him. And if the latter husband divorces her [or dies], there is no blame upon the woman and her former husband for returning to each other if they think that they can keep [within] the limits of Allah . These are the limits of Allah , which He makes clear to a people who know. (Quran 2:230)
In our 11 years as a Muslim couple, I said “divorce” to my wife and took her back over three times, with years in between each occasion. It happened once. Then some years later again. And then again finally. When it happened for the third and final time, it was very guilt inducing. I wasn’t able to just walk away from her. I felt guilty, wondering if I was now committing adultery with my wife, thinking that the punishment for adultery in this life is so harsh, what about after I die?
Islam is the only religion where you can end up in a situation wondering if you are committing adultery with your own wife
But you’re just a bad Muslim!
The reason I share this personal story is not to show that we had conflicts. It is to show you how Islam instead of helping causes additional suffering for many couples.
Muslims should never divorce! Especially when angry, right? But it’s an issue that happens far too often. Fatwa websites are littered with questions on what to do when you divorce your wife by accident and regret it. Although considered haram to many, there’s even a whole industry of imams who will perform ‘halala marriage’ to get you back together.
I wondered over and over again would it be better to leave her, despite having kids together, and despite we still loved each other and wanted to work it out
I had crossed a metaphysical boundary by saying ‘divorce’ three times, making our marriage magically void.
The thing is, people will always be people. You have to look at the the underlying system. A flawed system (or in this case religion) will create suffering for those who follow it.
Why we stayed together
We both didn’t want to break up. I self-justified that I was really angry when I said talaq. But who isn’t? It doesn’t usually happen under ideal conditions.
This excuse of anger didn’t satisfy me. Many fatwa sites said divorce is still binding even uttered under anger. And the ones that said otherwise stated you had to be at a certain level of anger (some saying you had to be practically insane). It wasn’t cut and dry just how angry you had to be in order for it not to count.
The thought of breaking up and destroying our entire life together over a few words uttered in a moment of haste was far too heavy a cost for me to swallow
Eventually I decided to ignore my guilt and accepted we will stay together. I told myself Allah knows this was better for the family and that we were better off together, for the sake of all involved. I made myself think that Allah wouldn’t want us breaking up over this.
But I wasn’t sure. The law seemed clear enough, but it didn’t make a lot of sense. It caused me a lot of confusion how Allah came up with such a strange rule like this. I heard scholars justify it by saying if you said it three times it must mean you don’t belong together, but that was ridiculous too. We still wanted to be together. Why would Allah do this? It makes the marriage far too fragile… far too dependent on the man’s personality and mood.
There is a strange exception to this rule that involves your wife getting married to another man, having intercourse, and then getting divorced by him before you can remarry her. This discussed in detail in my essay Divorce in Islam.
A better way
A better divorce system would have a mandatory waiting period, so that it’s not rushed into or taken in haste. This is how it works in many countries: you need to be separated for 6 months before you can get a divorce. It gives you time to work out how life will be without each other or get back together.
It was only when I left Islam that I was able to accept that my instincts of this rule making no sense were right. Because once I saw it was man made, I could drop the cognitive dissonance and see it for what it was: a ridiculous and clumsily designed law that made no sense.
For more on this topic check out my essay on Divorce in Islam.
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