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Dr. Azizah al-Hibri – “Domestic Violence” and “Dissolution of Marriage in Islam”

Date: 7/21/2016

Dr. al-Hibri’s latest LLSP classes consisted of explaining first, that the Quran never justifies domestic violence, and second, the various methods by which an Islamic marriage may be dissolved. As to the first, Dr. al-Hibri began by quoting Qur’anic verses stating that God created all humans, male and female, from the same soul (the Equality Principle), so that couples may find tranquility in each other. God also put love and mercy between couples (The Harmony Principle). A happy family, therefore, is one that recognizes the human dignity of all its members, and is based on both the Equality Principle and the Harmony Principle. Dr. al-Hibri noted that the Muslim woman does not lose her individuality or independence upon marriage.  Marriage is the act of two independent human beings freely entering a contract to start a family.  After marriage, the woman does not lose that independence. For example, she retains her maiden name. She also retains her right to have exclusive control over her finances, to work and to establish her own business. Furthermore, the Muslim wife is not obligated to engage in housekeeping chores, because as scholars noted, the Islamic marriage contract is one of companionship not service. (See the “Muslim Women’s Rights in the Global Village.”)

Having set the foundation for family relationships in Islam, Dr. al-Hibri then moved to address verse 4:34 in the Qur’an which has been erroneously understood by some as a permission to engage in domestic abuse against women. She noted that the opening verse and several other verses in Surat al-Nisa’ impose limitation, as opposed to grant permissions to men, in their relationship with women. She then proceeded to analyze verse 4:34 word by word to show the error of the common interpretation. She also pointed out that in some Muslim countries, such as Jordan and Kuwait, even verbal abuse is sufficient grounds for divorce.  Read Dr. al-Hibri’s analysis of verse 4:34 here.

On the second issue, Dr. al-Hibri listed the various forms for marriage dissolution, pointing out that the woman has a right to dissolve the marriage unilaterally, similar to that of the man, so long as she returns his mahr (obligatory marital gift) to him. If the man divorces his wife, then he has to relinquish his marital gift to her. These rules are developed to prevent either party from profiteering from their marriage. However, she noted, many men in the United States go to court to avoid either the payment of the (remaining part of the) mahr at divorce, or the expected divorce settlement under American law, whichever is larger. To advance their case, some men have recruited expert witnesses who, at times, provided the court with their cultural interpretations of concept such as mahr, as opposed to Islamic ones.  This kind of misinformation is not only damaging to women, but to Islam as well. They also result in faulty legal precedents.  Read more on matters covered in this lecture here, (but note that since this article was written in 2000, some Muslim countries, such as Egypt) have eliminated the requirement for the husband’s consent in case of khul’, thus reforming this concept to accord with the prophetic tradition).