Last Stop in La La Land- Why US Muslim Marriages Fall Apart and Some Proactive Steps to Deter Divorce.
In the name of God, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful.
Everyone loves a love story. Hollywood, Bollywood, Nollywood - the scripts write themselves. We save up for years anticipating the Walimah and even the Mahr. Ironically, they both end up being paid on the same installment plan. Moreover, not to be morose, but some debts outlast the ceremony and marriage.
According to the CDC:
The rate (per 1000 persons) of marriage has declined from 8.2 in 2000 to 6.9 in 2016. The rate (per 1000 persons) of divorce has declined from 4.0 in 2000 to 3.2 in 2016. What's really behind those numbers. Note that although those divorce rates look negligible, they aren't. For example, the 2000 rate is equal to 944,000 divorces with 4 states unaccounted and the 2016 rate is equal to 827,261 divorces with 6 states unaccounted. Every year in between has hovered around nearly a million divorces.
Ilyas Ba-Yunus has conducted the most recent research into divorce rates for Muslim communities in continental North America, and found that 31.14% of couples had separated. However, his research was published in 2000 and pertains to couples marrying and divorcing in the 1990s. Also, given the liquid nature of marriages recognized and unrecognized by the state, researching Muslim marriages yields an impression of those trends instead of an absolute quantification - marriages (and consequently divorces) recognized solely by the Mosques are difficult, if not impossible to track. Anecdotally, Imams, Muslim social workers and Muslim counselors have attested to a significant rise in divorce cases in the last two decades. Some divorces spring from mutual immaturity. Some people slip in their faith and commit unthinkable harm to their relationship, while others simultaneously run out of love and patience for their partner.
According to Abdullah ibn Umar, the Prophet (SAWS) said:
"The most upsetting of the Halal to Allah is divorce"
(Sunan Abi Dawood 2172)
According to IIUM (International Islamic University of Malaysia), Talaq means "freeing or undoing the knot". The procedure for divorce is explicitly mentioned in the Quran towards the end of Surah Al-Baqarah (ayat 226-232) and the beginning of Surah Nisa' (22-23 and 34-35). In essence, there are SEVERAL chances given for couples to observe M'aroof (deliberately, well-intentioned thinking) as it pertains to deciding on divorce. In cases of emergency, these steps can be hastened or circumvented, depending on the severity of the situation and the rulings of the local Ulema. Consult your local Imams on these matters. Trust me, if marriage is half your Deen, marriage matters are half their job.
Now that you're depressed and ready to annul a Nikah contract you haven't even signed yet, let's look at what some of the causes of divorce are and some preventable measures that can extend longevity or even permanence to your relationships Insha Allah.
Fronting When You Should be Upfront
In the 2nd Ayah of Surah As-Saf, Allah (SWT) says: يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لِمَ تَقُولُونَ مَا لَا تَفْعَلُونَ
“O you who have believed, why do you say what you do not do?
Also, on account of Abu Hurairah (RA):
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, "There are three signs of a hypocrite: When he speaks, he lies; when he makes a promise, he breaks it; and when he is trusted, he betrays his trust." This hadith is found in both Al-Bukhari and Muslim collections. Another narration adds the words: "Even if he observes fasts, performs SalaH and asserts that he is a Muslim." The beautiful thing about Islam is that it addresses practical matters in a practical way. People lie. They say one thing and do another. They write the rules and then break them. This is part of the flaws of both man and woman. One of the most toxic things that can happen with a marriage is that it is initiated upon a false premise. A sister says she’ll wear hijab, the brother says he’ll stop drinking. The husband has a criminal history. The sister may have hereditary health issues. These are all matters that need to be discussed at length before proceeding with any type of marriage negotiation.
Such betrayal casts a shadow of doubt on any and everything you’ve ever said as it is unfair to the spouse. All of a sudden, your spouse is second guessing everything about what you do and whether you love them. Of course, some people are simply ashamed of the skeletons in their closets- we all try to present our best selves until we can’t help revealing our ugliness. However, not mentioning that you were voted “Most Likely to be a Contestant on America’s Got Talent” is one thing, neglecting to mention that your parents “disciplined” you for acting out is another. Your spouse should be aware of not only what family you come from, but what type of dynamic was at play and where you fit into it. Also, if a brother or sister shares with you their state and you have reservations - i.e. alarms start sounding in your head - then listen to that gut feeling. Don't deceive yourself by agreeing to marriage and then complaining about your spouse when things turn out how they were predicted.
The Quranic verse and Hadith that I mentioned above involve observing accounts of action, not word. If you are interested in an individual, especially if you're both embedded in the same social network, observe how they interact with friends, strangers and especially the vulnerable, such as restaurant staff, retail associates, etc. How do they react in moments of trial and error - do they revert to old habits, do they step up to the challenge, did they put themselves in a compromising position? More importantly, did what they say match up with they did? If the person doesn’t even acknowledge said contradictions or tries to justify it, leave them be. And yes, this isn’t an overnight approach, it takes time and dedication and the observed cannot be aware of your observations, lest their charade be two steps ahead of your analysis.
As is obvious in pretty much any college in America, Muslims are pretty bright. In a previous article, I mentioned that immigrant Muslims average a higher education rate than the general immigrant population. Alhamdulillah, for the most part, academic performance is not among the top concerns for the Muslim community in the US. However, as far as transmitting Islamic knowledge from the Quran, to the Prophet (SAWS), to the Suhabah, to the Tabi3een, to the Classical Scholars, to the Ulema, to their successors, to their students, to our communities, to our Imams, to average Joes like you and I. There is considerable work that needs to be done.
Anas ibn Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim” Sunan Ibn Mājah 224. What does education have to do with marriage? Why am I citing a hadith normally associated with scholars on an article about divorce?
Our Deen is a religion of reason, not dogma, and as such sex education should be compulsory in madrassas and in Sunday schools. It's just a suggestion. However, appropriate relationships between males and females should be modeled for students. And I don’t mean only in regards to not mixing genders, but how, under permissible circumstance (and marriage falls into this) men and women should interact. Yes men shouldn’t strike women, but women shouldn’t strike men. Yes the husband should be the breadwinner, but if the woman earns a higher salary, how does the couple manage? If there is a newborn, how much time does the father spend with the child to give his wife some relief? What is it that women really want, and paradoxically what is it that men want?
Well, at least for the last question, there is a simple answer - women want to be loved and men want to be respected. Exactly how a woman receives and expresses her need for love and how a man perceives and expresses his need for respect is a lesson that should be discussed and explored under Islamic pretenses. For those of us that are products of the general education system - public, charter and non- Islamic private schools, we’ve been presented this dichotomy and been given answers that are incompatible with the the precepts of Islam. Moreover, in the Muslim world at large, especially due to the intellectual toll of Imperialism, many Muslim nations either practically operate with a Euro-centric conception of social norms or they go with pre-Islamic customs that the Muslims of previous generations absconded.
وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَىٰ لِقَوْمِهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَأْمُرُكُمْ أَن تَذْبَحُوا بَقَرَةً ۖ قَالُوا أَتَتَّخِذُنَا هُزُوًا ۖ قَالَ أَعُو بِاللَّهِ أَنْ أَكُونَ مِنَ الْجَاهِلِينَ
And [recall] when Moses said to his people, "Indeed, Allah commands you to slaughter a cow." They said, "Do you take us in ridicule?" He said, "I seek refuge in Allah from being among the ignorant." (Surah Baqarah, Ayah 67)
Ignorance is no laughing matter, as our beloved Prophet Musa (AS) begged Allah from becoming as ignorant as the very community he had rescued. Ignorance isn’t an excuse on the Day of Judgement. What causes so many divorces, particularly among Muslims is that males are ignorant of female psychology and females are ignorant of male psychology. Of course, they know something, there is television, friends and the internet - the most reputable sources. Muslims are more educated about the psyche of non-believers than they are of their own coreligionists. Even more concerning is that the rights of one spouse to another are reduced to bargaining chips, and, as with any sneaky negotiation, maintaining an edge by keeping the partner ignorant is a winning strategy.
Except your running a marriage, not an asset firm. Particularly for the brothers, who are tasked with the intellectual well-being of the family, willingly or unwillingly withholding your rights from your wife is oppression. For the sisters, withholding your rights will cause discord in the house. The reasons for divorce are clear, but the solution requires sustained communal effort at the institutional stage to make sure Muslim men and Muslim women enter a Muslim union with Islamic principles in mind.
In the Quran, Allah says:
فِيهِنَّ قَاصِرَاتُ الطَّرْفِ لَمْ يَطْمِثْهُنَّ إِنسٌ قَبْلَهُمْ وَلَا جَانٌّ
كَأَنَّهُنَّ الْيَاقُوتُ وَالْمَرْجَانُ</p>
In them are women limiting [their] glances, untouched before them by man or jinni….As if they were rubies and coral (Surah Rahman ayat 56 and 58)
He SWT, also mentions:
كَأَمْثَالِ اللُّؤْلُؤِ الْمَكْنُونِ
جَزَاءً بِمَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ
And [for them are] fair women with large, [beautiful] eyes, The likenesses of pearls well-protected, As reward for what they used to do (Surah Waqi3ah ayat 22-24)
Does this remind you of your wife? Is he your match made in heaven? If not, then snap out of it. This is a description of your match made in heaven. However, you have to reach heaven first. Allah SWT made his Hur al 'Ayn so beautiful that you could only handle their beauty in the next life, not this one. By His Mercy he has reserved them for the next life because your mind would literally be blown upon seeing them in this worldly life, SubhanAllah. Appreciate who you have, aim high, but don't have unhealthy expectations.
What if I told you sisters there was a man that has been described as being as more beautiful than the moon itself ? A man who is so handsome that it is as though he was covered in silver. A man who was so bright that it was as though the sun shone through his face. A man whose physical attributes are indicative of how painstakingly proportionate every single inch of him is. What if I told you that looking good was the LEAST of his accomplishments. A man voted as the greatest human that ever walked the earth by people that don’t even follow his revelation. A man to whom Allah SWT says:
وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَاكَ إِلَّا رَحْمَةً لِّلْعَالَمِينَ
And We have not sent you, except as a mercy to the worlds (Surah Anbiya’ Ayah 107)
Of course I speak of the Prophet Muhammad SAWS, may we all be able to meet him in the next life, Ameen. However, the only Muhammad you’re getting is Mo from down the street. I’m sorry... Well, no I’m not. In short, both men and women have exceedingly high expectations of their spouses. And there is nothing wrong with having healthy expectations for yourself and your spouse - there is a load of Fitnah out there that both sides are struggling against, and marriage is one (of several) defenses against them.
However, people have been watching too many movies. Too many shows. Some think because they pray 5 times a day that Paradise will manifest through their spouse. That’s not to say that it won’t. But you both need to be on the same plane spiritually in order to connect on that level:
إِنَّ الْمُسْلِمِينَ وَالْمُسْلِمَاتِ وَالْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ وَالْقَانِتِينَ وَالْقَانِتَاتِ وَالصَّادِقِينَ وَالصَّادِقَاتِ وَالصَّابِرِينَ وَالصَّابِرَاتِ وَالْخَاشِعِينَ وَالْخَاشِعَاتِ وَالْمُتَصَدِّقِينَ وَالْمُتَصَدِّقَاتِ وَالصَّائِمِينَ وَالصَّائِمَاتِ وَالْحَافِظِينَ فُرُوجَهُمْ وَالْحَافِظَاتِ وَالذَّاكِرِينَ اللَّهَ كَثِيرًا وَالذَّاكِرَاتِ أَعَدَّ اللَّهُ لَهُم مَّغْفِرَةً وَأَجْرًا عَظِيمًا - 33:35
"Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so - for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward" (Surah Ahzab ayah 35).
Focusing on fictitious expectations will kill your relationship with your spouse. Slowly but surely, the minor disappointments mount and mount and mount. The disappointment turns into contempt, then from contempt to resentment and then from resentment to rage. One day she puts too much salt on the eggs. One day, he leaves the toilet seat up again. She doesn’t look the same after 3 children. He doesn’t look the same after working 50 hours a week for the last decade. The flame that was there can’t even melt wax now. In the Verse above, Allah SWT pairs individuals up based on their qualities and promises that for those who endure those relationships with their character matching, that they have forgiveness and a great reward awaiting them. Ultimately, this is the highest attainment from marriage.
I’m realistic about this post. There are people struggling to hold on to their marriages right now. For a number of them, divorce is imminent. We feel repulsed at the thought of a couple splitting. Then there are all the juicy and salacious details that follow along a protracted divorce.
I’m always going to push Islam first in these matters. Entering any relationship with any person without understanding and fearing Allah while also striving to earn His favor is going to open that relationship to human faults. If both sides enter with Taqwa on their minds and in their hearts, no matter the result, even divorce itself, there is a blessing in every element of the relationship. Yes that sounds simple. It sounds fun. You, your spouse, praying under a rainbow with the whole of creation in awe of how synchronized you both are. It is not simple.
As the numbers earlier in this post indicated, there are plenty of people who got ejected from the emotional roller-coaster of marriage, and it has happened both outside of and inside of the Muslim community. Additionally, there is a laundry list of even more reasons for why/how marriages die, but the reasons highlighted above covers the foundation of a few of these issues. Insha Allah, may this article be of benefit to each of you reading it, and I pray that Allah SWT grants us the best spouses for our condition, and that we are in a condition worthy of nobility once Allah grants us the best partners. Ameen.
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This article was researched and written by Br. M Badawi for ilmnikah.com.