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The concept of Talaq in Quran

translated by Abdus Sattar Ghazali
Letters to Saleem - No. 4

Saleem, I am delighted that now your attention is diverted from the ideological discussion to questions about practical social problems. But I am astonished to notice that you have begun from the bottom of the problem instead of the beginning. You should have first asked about nikah, then duties and rights of matrimonial life and at the end talaq.

However, if you think so, let it be like that. You will be astonished to know that the shameful traditions that you mentioned are not seen as social traditions but are being enforced as the sharia law. 

Once I was visiting my village during holidays. Chanda Teli had a brawl with his wife and in anger he uttered thrice to his wife the word “talaq-talaq-talaq”  (which are equal to three divorces in shariah law). You know his wife is an aged modest woman with grown up children. Chanda himself is also a very nice person. His talaq story got spread in the village like a jungle fire. When he cooled down, he was very much ashamed. He has adult sons and their wives living with him. Molvi Chiragh Deen (of Gherowal) was contacted for fatwa. He said this is an irrevocable talaq and halala is now obligatory. They asked him,  “Mianjee what is this halala” ?  He said,  “Chanda’s wife has to marry another person with the condition that he should divorce her after spending one night in bed. Only then Chanda can re-marry his wife. This fatwa created a huge crisis in the family. His sons were infuriated with anger because they could not imagine seeing their mother being dishonored in her old age. They got so outrageous that they were even ready to kill their father Chanda, who was now hiding his face in shame and ignominy. His wife was even more in worst situation. In frustration she protested, “What kind of this injunction of God is that she is being punished while this is the fault of Chanda ?

Saleem !  Truly, no one in the village was able to understand, what kind of this divine injunction is? Since Molvi Chiragh Deen had said that this is the injunction from God and Prophet, therefore, no one could dare to challenge it. On the other hand, Molvi Chiragh was also right, since he was taught that way. What better could we expect from him ?

Saleem, imagine the greatness of Quran ! The chapter in which the talaq injunctions are mentioned, the following warning is given first:

Do not treat Allah's Injunctions as a jest. (2-231)

Keeping the above incident in mind, Saleem think, how the people in our society make mockery of Divine Injunctions?

Saleem, as you know, in Quran, there are very few injunctions that are given in detail. Mostly, these are stated as general principles. The injunctions related to the family life are among those few, which are stated in full detail.  From this fact alone you can realize the importance of family life in the human social system. As a matter of fact, family life is a miniature replica of the state system. What is a home? It is a small state where the family-head is just like a ruler. It has a consultative body and an executive body. It has rights as well as responsibilities. It has organization, administration and a system of accountability. This state is run with the mutual consent and cooperation of husband and wife therefore they must have unanimity of views and share a common ideology. If they do not have identical views then there will be no joint action and there will be confusion, which will ultimately have negative affects on the community life and Ummah as a whole. 

Hence, nikah is the name of an agreement to assume these joint responsibilities through mutual consent. However, if for certain reasons, such a situation arises that husband and wife do not have identical views or action, that is disrupting the family life, in such situation, the Quran has given permission to abrogate the agreement. This is called talaq

Obviously, when the Quran gives too much importance to this agreement and also stresses the importance of its compliance, it will not make the abrogation of this agreement a child play. That is why Quran has set such limits and imposed such terms and conditions that without fulfilling them this agreement cannot be abrogated. Quran gives full details of these conditions and restrictions. When you will carefully analyze these details, you will realize that the objective of Quran is to find out such ways and means so that this agreement of sharing the life’s journey could be saved from breaking. God does not ignore the weaknesses of human nature. He knows that a humanbeing sometimes is overpowered by extreme emotions and takes such decision for which he himself feels sorry and shameful afterwards. He does not want his wrong decision to be implemented or become a verdict. Therefore, Quran has given this latitude. But at the same time, Quran does not want to make this important matter of nikah and talaq a child play that one should keep doing it again and again in life.  

Saleem, recall the causes that result in divorce and then consider the limits and conditions imposed by Quran,  it will become clear how talaq comes into force in accordance with the Quranic injunctions. 

However, before proceeding further, you should understand that Islam is not the name of a private or personal relation between God and man. It is a complete code of life, which should be implemented as a state system and law of the land.. 

Regarding marriage, its condition is that the parties should be adult, sane and are willing to engage into the matrimonial relationship with mutual consent. It means that there should not be any compulsion either on the boy or the girl. In this way when the two parties enter into an agreement and assume matrimonial rights and responsibilities, it is called nikah. Obviously, one doesn’t need an arbitrator in this matter. However, arbitration or a judicial authority is required to abrogate this agreement in order to safeguard the interests of the parties and their children. 

Hence, Quran has established a procedure for talaq according to which it cannot be given in private. It should be given either through an arbitrary council or a court of law..  

Accordingly, Quran addresses to the society as follow: 

If ye fear a breach between them, appoint (two) arbiters, one from his family, and the other from hers; if they wish for peace, Allah will cause their reconciliation.[4-35] 

In the above verse the pronoun ‘ye’ refers to the society or the legal system. If the relation between husband and wife become tense to the point of talaq then the concerned authority should appoint mediators. These mediators should sort out the differences sincerely.  It is just possible that God may create circumstances for reconciliation between them. However, if these mediators reach on the conclusion that the circumstances are so tense that reconciliation is not possible then the case will be sent to the court and the court will proceed to hear it and decide for their separation. This is called talaq – The Divorce. 

 [ This letter was written in 1949. In 1962, government of Pakistan legislated Family Laws that includes a provision for the formation of a reconciliation council for talaq.  But our ulamas opposed these laws and their opposition continues until now  (July, 2003). ] 

Saleem, you have seen the stages through which one has to pass before arriving at the point of talaq. These conditions are the basic principles of talaq and a talaq cannot be effective unless these conditions are met. It means that the court will proceed only after receiving the report of mediators to find out whether there is any chance left for reconciliation or there is no alternative for talaq. If the decision is that talaq is unavoidable then the further proceeding will be as follow:  

1-  TIMMING OF DIVORCE 

The first thing for the court is to determine the exact time of  executing talaq or when its decision should become effective? In this regard, the following verse of sura al Talaq provides guidance.

O Prophet! When ye do divorce women, divorce them at their prescribed periods (Iddat). (65-1)

[ in this verse reference to Prophet is made because he represents the state authority or the legal system. It should be noted that Prophet had never divorced any of his wives.] 

Here, it becomes clear that talaq should be executed at such  a time from where Iddat can be counted. (Iddat will be explained later)

2- DURATION OF IDDAT 

About the duration of Iddat, Quran says:  

  Divorced women shall wait concerning themselves three monthly periods. (2-229 

 

Such of your women as have passed the age of monthly courses, for them the prescribed period, if ye have any doubts, is three months, and for those who have no courses - it is the same. (65-4)

For those who are pregnant, their period is until they deliver their burdens. (65-4)

In brief, The duration of Iddat varies from woman to woman as follow:  

i-                    For women with menstrual cycles is three cycles.

ii-                  For those who do not have menstrual cycles (because of age or sickness), is three months.

iii-                 For pregnant women, until the delivery of child. 

3- DIVORCE TO UNTOUCHED WOMEN 

There is no iddat for a woman who is divorced without touching by her husband.  

 In this regard, guidance is taken from following verse:   

O ye who believe! When ye marry believing women, and then divorce them before ye

have touched them, no period of Ěddah have ye to count in respect of them: so give them a present, and release them in a handsome manner. (33-49)

 

For the menstruating women, in order to complete the prescribed period of three months, the menstrual days are not counted in Iddat. One of the object of  Iddat is that any pregnancy that happened during the strained relationship, will be discovered. This may also help in avoiding the talaq because both parties will have a chance to reconsider their decision and if there is a baby birth it may lead to a new pleasant matrimonial relationship. 

Saleem, did you notice ?  How the Quran has tried to utilize an opportunity to save the marriage, because its objective is to strengthen the relationship and not separation; to resolves differences and reunite. 

Hence in the case of a women, who has menstrual cycles, talaq duration will begin after the cycle, while in other situations, it is not applied. 

When a court, after considering all these preconditions, issue its decision only then it will be called talaq. After that nikah is invalid and the couple becomes free from its obligations. (Talaq literally means freedom from fetters.) Various terminologies of talaq in Islamic jurisprudence such as rajh’ai, bidh’ai, ba’en etc are all innovations of human mind. Just like nikah, there is only one kind of talaq in Quran. The agreement is either maintained or abrogated. There is no way in between. After the court decision, nikah between husband and wife is dissolved. That’s it. 

What will happen next ?  Now the period of iddat begins. You will ask, what is iddat? Iddat is the waiting period, during which a divorced woman cannot enter into a nikah agreement with another man. In case of a menstruating woman it is counted from the last day of a menstrual cycle. However, if the divorcees are willing to rejoin, they can enter into nikah again under the same terms and conditions as prescribed by the Quran (I will give details later). 

Saleem, did you notice the latitude which Quran has kept to bear with the human weaknesses. In fact, the period of iddat is a blessing in disguise. During this period both husband and wife experience the pangs of separation. And there is a possibility that this (bitter) experience may persuade them for reconciliation and they may mend their broken relation. If the talaq is initiated by husband (i.e. wife was willing to remain in nikah)  and the court had ratified it but now he wants to mend his way, in this situation he will have priority to re-enter into nikah during the iddat period. 

 

And their husbands have the better right to take them back in that period, if they wish for reconciliation. (2-228) 

But if nikah was not renewed during the iddat then the woman will be free to marry the previous husband or anyone else. However, two witnesses are required in this final stage too, in order to make this public that the woman is free for another nikah

And take for witness two persons from among you. (65-2)   

If during the iddat period or afterward, husband and wife re-enter into nikah, it means that they have availed the first chance of talaq  (Saleem, in these words you will easily understand the concept). Now if during renewed matrimonial life their relations become tense again, they can go for second talaq by following the same procedure as mentioned earlier. After this talaq again there is a chance that during iddat period or afterward, nikah can be renewed and matrimonial life is restored. If they renewed nikah,after the second talaq, it means that they have availed two chances of talaq. 

A divorce is only permissible twice: after that, the parties should either hold together on equitable terms, or separate with kindness. (2-229)

Finally, after the second talaq (and third nikah) both husband and wife are warned that life is not a joke and life realities should be taken seriously. Now, they have to row the boat of life towards shore responsibly. If again they could not live together amicably and broke the relationship, then the husband must remember that in the case of third talaq, the same lady cannot come back to his nikah either during the iddat or afterward. This will be an irrevocable talaq. Therefore he should now take his decision very wisely.

 

So if a husband divorces his wife (irrevocably), he cannot, after that, re- marry her. (2-230) 

According to Quran a couple can avail at the most two chances for talaq and three for nikah during their married life. Now the question is, “Would this woman become haraam upon this man forever?” The Quran says that this is not the case. If this woman marries another man but this marriage is also not successful and reaches the point of talaq (as mentioned earlier) then this woman can again marry the first husband after iddat by mutual consent.  

The complete verse is as follow: 

arabic 

So if a husband divorces his wife (irrevocably), he cannot, after that, re- marry her until after she has married another husband and he has divorced her. In that case there is no blame on either of them if they re-unite, provided they feel that they can keep the limits ordained by Allah. Such are the limits ordained by Allah, which He makes plain to those who understand. (2-230) 

After the third talaq, this woman will be forbidden for her husband unless she marries another person, if he gives talaq willingly and in true Quranic spirit then there is no harm in remarying the first husband. 

Saleem, this is that noble verse from which the most despised issue of halala has been contrived by the clergy. First they ridiculed the verse 2/229, by saying that if someone utters three times -  talaq, talaq, talaq -  in one breath, the talaq becomes irrevocable. This hasty nasty way of divorcing has forced many families, like Chanda Telli mentioned earlier, to live a life of disgrace and shame. When they suffered bitter consequences of ridiculing the divine law, they started to search for a solution. They came to the conclusion that someone should be persuaded to marry the divorced woman for one night and gives talaq next morning after spending the night with her in bed. This is called halala. In this way, she can marry her first husband again. 

Saleem, pause and think ! Can you find any nation on earth with a more shameful custom than it? Can we call it a nikah? This is just the mockery of a nikah. This is ridiculing the divine law! Rather its ridiculing oneself! Divine laws cannot be ridiculed.

You will be astonished to know that there are professional halala makers in our society. Imagine, how these halala makers may be exploiting or blackmailing the parties? Saleem I feel ashamed to explain you such things, however, since you have asked for it, I have to tell you and you, too, have to bear with listening of such despicable things. However, I will not be able to give details of halala (these are mentioned in Shariah literature) because it is hard for me to narrate and difficult for you to listen these shameful episodes.

Saleem! In short, this is all what Quran says about talaq. I am happy that you asked this question and the related Quranic injunctions were thus detailed. You will notice, that regarding this matter how deeply Muslims are sunk in the sea of ignorance? As far as I have observed, I did not see talaq being given in our society in accordance with the Quran. In some places, saying talaq, talaq, talaq, three times in a single breath is considered as irrevocable, while in other places, it is completed in three months (iddat period) by saying talaq, talaq, talaq  in succession at an interval of one month. 

Anyhow, this procedure of talaq is adopted from Fiqah and Hadith. It is not from Quran. Unfortunately, whatever practiced by Muslims that includes very little from Quran. This is a great blessing of Allah (since He has completed the Deen and has taken responsibility of preserving Quran) that Quran is available to us in its pristine beauty. This provides us an opportunity to compare which of ours deeds are in accordance with the Quran and which are against it. Otherwise there was no way to find out today the real form of Islam. 

It would have been not possible neither for me to tell nor for you to know all this if the Quran was not preserved in its original form. What has happened to the religious books of other religions is that they are not available in their original form Therefore, today, they are unable to find out that when and where they got astray from the original teachings of religion. Consequently, they are helpless to carry on their religion. This is a different story. The question you asked for is satisfactorily answered in the above lines. 

Saleem! One more point needs clarification. The above explanations give an impression that only man has the right to divorce, whereas woman is forced to accept the decision of man. Actually, this is not the case. In the same verse, along with these injunctions, the Quran says clearly:  

 

And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable. (2-228) 

In other words, it means that women have similar rights over men as they have over women. 

This verse is a very comprehensive principle and a wonderful formula that embodies all details of nikah and talaq which are addressed to men. It is apparent from this principle that under which circumstances and according to which conditions a man can divorce his wife, a woman can also take talaq from her husband in the same way. Hence, it is said in surah al-Nisa

arabic

If a wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husband's part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves; and such settlement is best; even though men's souls are swayed by greed. But if ye do good and practice self-restraint, Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do. (4-128)

In other words, if a wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husband’s part then the concerned authorities should appoint arbitrators in the same way as they do in case of an husband. However, if there is no way of reconciliation then court can order divorce and state will take the responsibility to meet out their expenses.

arabic

But if they disagree (and must part), Allah* will provide abundance for each of them from His all-reaching bounty: for Allah is He that careth for all and is Wise. (4-130) 

* What Allah says that becomes the responsibility of Islamic State to fulfil it. 

In the following case (when court notices that man is ready for reconciliation while woman wants separation) woman will give money from her mehr (alimony)  as compensation. 

If ye (judges) do indeed fear that they would be unable to keep the limits ordained by Allah, there is no blame on either of them if she give something for her freedom.  (2-229) 

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Now comes your last question. What to do if a man, in rage, says something or takes a vow that affects the matrimonial life? In this respect the Quran says: 

arabic

Allah will not call you to account for thoughtlessness in your oaths, but for the intention in your hearts; and He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Forbearing. (2-225) 

This means that there is no harm in any vow that is taken un-intentionally. However, it is not a good practice and the Quran orders to avoid this. The distinct character of momineen:

arabic                                                                             Who avoid vain talk. (23-3)  

They abstain from frivolous absurdities and from anything, which could prevent them from following the Quran. 

Regarding intentional vows, on which a man repents later and wants to recur, there is a fine called kuffara. This means that he pays for his foolishness with fine: 

GOD does not hold you responsible for the mere utterance of oaths; He holds you responsible for your actual intentions. If you violate an oath, you shall atone by feeding ten poor people from the same food you offer to your own family, or clothing them, or by freeing a slave. If you cannot afford this, then you shall fast three days. This is the atonement for violating the oaths that you swore to keep. You shall fulfill your oaths. (5-89)

However, if those persons who vow not to go to their wives and also are not repenting on this; in this case wife will be in an uncertain situation which cannot be continued indefinitely. That is why the Quran says:   

arabic

For those who take an oath for abstention from their wives, a waiting for four months is ordained; if then they return, Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. (2-226)

arabic

But if their intention is firm for divorce, Allah heareth and knoweth all things. (2-227)

It means, you have to decide within four months whether reconciliation is possible or not. If you repent on your vow, then you can rejoin your wife after paying the prescribed kuffara. But if the situation goes out of hand and there is no chance of reconciliation, then after fulfilling all the conditions mentioned above, nikah agreement should be revoked.

Saleem! You must have noticed that the Quran did not fix reasons for talaq. In Christianity, divorce is possible only because of adultery. The result is that if husband and wife want separation for other reasons, they have to prove adultery. Undoubtedly, that can cause many evils in the society. This is because of such difficulties that Christian governments have abandoned the religious law of divorce and adopted civil laws. But these laws also do not fulfill the conditions laid down in the Quran. Similarly, in the Hindu religion, there is no possibility of divorce. Therefore, they are also abandoning their religious injunction and finding other ways of divorce. On the other hand, look at the Muslims! They have got excellent laws from God but they landed themselves into trouble by adopting man-made laws. The only solution of all these social evils is that we should abandon all other laws and traditions; and make the Divine Laws our code of life. This is real Deen. 

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Before concluding this discussion, let me tell you an interesting story. You may remember that once a bill, known as Sarda Bill, was presented in the India’s Legislative Assembly (in the pre-partition days) according to which child marriage was to be banned. This bill was presented by a Hindu, whose religion not only allows child marriage but considers it a good practice. But Saleem, you will be astonished to know that leaders of all Muslims’ religious sects had bitterly opposed this bill. They jointly appealed the Viceroy that Muslims should be exempted from this law. What an irony? Ordinarily, our clergy never agrees on any issue, but its strange that they came together on an issue that was against the Quran. How saddening it was to see that the representatives of all Muslims’ sects i.e. Our Ulama-e-Ikram  are requesting a non-Muslim ruler that the child marriage should not be banned because it will tantamount to interference in our Deen. 

It was a sobbing event for every sensitive heart. Some people, whose minds were not littered with the curse of sectarianism, asked that if there is any reference from Quran?  The answer was yes. Saleem! You will be astonished to see that how could one get a reference from Quran to justify child marriage?  Nikah is a very serious and an important contract. The very first condition of any contract is that the parties should agree with mutual consent, without any pressure or coercion. And this is possible only after reaching the adulthood. But listen, what they say about the Quranic reference? 

You have seen that within the discussion of iddat, the Quran says: 

Such of your women as have passed the age of monthly courses, for them the prescribed period, if ye have any doubts, is three months, and for those who have no courses. (65-4)

They (mullahs) argued that since Quran says that the women who do not have menstrual cycle have three months iddat. Here it becomes clear that women who do not have monthly cycle only could be minor girls. So when minor’s iddat is mentioned, therefore their marriage is also allowed. 

But Quran says which means those women who could not have menstrual cycle (due to some body defect or illness). This word should not be translated as those women who did not have menstrual cycle (due to young age). Suppose, if we accept that Quran mentions the iddat period for a minor girl but how could we conclude from this verse that Quran allows child marriage? 

On the basis of this verse, at the most, one can say that if there is a situation in which somebody has married a minor girl in violation of Quranic injunctions, then her iddat will be counted that way. It is the same situation, like praying in the state of intoxication. The Quran says that don’t pray when you are intoxicated. It does not mean that the Quran gives permission of drinking alcohol. Quran forbids consumption of alcohol, but also says that if someone has violated this injunction so he should not pray as long as he is intoxicated. 

Saleem, anyhow its another question that will be discussed at length some other time. You had asked about talaq and I hope that by now talaq’s regulations under the Quran are clear. 

Once again, to summarize, the important conditions of talaq are: 

  1. In the case of differences between husband and wife: (a) every effort should be made for reconciliation through mutual understanding; (b) if it fails then court or panchayat should appoint two mediators. If these mediators also fail then there will be no alternative left for the court, except to order talaq.
  2. Implementation of talaq will begin in normal period after the menstrual cycle.
  3. After the court decision, nikah agreement will end and iddat period will begin.
  4. During iddat period this woman cannot marry another person but if these (ex) husband and wife are willing, they can remarry.
  5. After the iddat period, woman is free to marry another person or re-marry her ex-husband. But marriage with her ex-husband should fulfill all conditions of nikah.
  6. After re-marrying they will begin their new matrimonial life.
  7. If again relations reached to a point of talaq (second talaq) they can again re-marry either during the iddat period or afterward by following the same procedure as mentioned in case of first talaq. Now this couple has availed two chances of talaq.
  8. After this (second nikah) if again relations reached to a point of talaq (which will be counted as third talaq) then they cannot re-marry neither during iddat nor after that.
  9. However, if this woman gets married to another person through mutual consent and afterward their marriage gets dissolved and she gets talaq from her new husband on the same conditions, as mentioned earlier, or she becomes widow, then there is no harm for her in marrying her previous husband.
  10. Whatever rights a man has in respect of talaq, a woman also has the same rights. A woman can also get herself free from the bond of marriage, the same way as a man can do. However, both of them cannot do that whimsically, a man has to achieve talaq through court, in accordance with the Quranic injunctions and a woman also has to do the same way.

Saleem - did you get that? This is called a Quranic talaq. I know its not difficult for you to accept it but believe me mullahs will never agree to it because the religion they follow is not sent by God. They are following man-made religion but they claim that it is sent by God. That is why Quran says:  “They write the Book with their own hands and then say : “this is from God”, to traffic with it for a miserable price !….[2:79].

January 1949

Other injunctions regarding matrimonial life and women can be found in “Letters to Tahira.” This book has been published by the Idara Tuloue Islam. Explanations about Talaq can be found in this book. After the promulgation of Family Laws, these issues are settled in accordance with these (Quran) laws. In case of necessity, one should refer to these laws. (April 1980)