By Attorney David Engler
In my practice, I have had the opportunity to represent about 8 people of the Muslim faith seeking a divorce. Most of these have been women and the rule in almost all marriages … it is the husband that causes the problem but the wife files for divorce. Like usual, I am always left wondering how in the heck did some guy get a beautiful educated woman willing to take care of him, get away. Bad judgement is consistent across all faiths. There have even been a couple of instances where I have been hired specifically to meet with the husband and talk some sense into his head.
Sharia law is given by God to provide guidelines and rules for much of the personal life and conduct of the Muslim. The concept of love and responsibility and respect for each other is found in Sharia. In America we develop an instant bias against anything Muslim given much of our knowledge comes from CNN news clips or political rants by anti-immigration crowd. Our law comes down from our representative bodies and the judges who interpret the law through cases. We rely on the courts and lawyers to help straighten out a messy divorce In Sharia the plaintiffs and defendants usually represent themselves. But the concepts of marriage and divorce in Sharia law mirror our U.S. Courts, so the effects of a Sharia Law marriage can largely be enforced in an American divorce court.
A marriage can be terminated by the husband in the ‘talaq’ process, or by the wife seeking divorce through ‘khul’. Under ‘faskh’, a marriage may be annulled or terminated by the ‘qadi’ judge.
Men have the right of unilateral divorce under classical Sharia. A Sunni Muslim divorce is effective when the man tells his wife that he is divorcing her, however a Shia divorce also requires four witnesses. Upon divorce, the husband must pay the wife any delayed component of the dower. The American lawyer should introduce the Sharia marriage contract as evidence that this gift should be enforced during the temporary orders or as part of a property division.
If a man divorces his wife in this manner three times, he may not re-marry her unless she first marries, and is subsequently divorced from, another man. Only then, and only if the divorce from the second husband is not intended as a means to re-marry her first husband, may the first husband and the woman re-marry.[Qur’an 2:230] A woman may not remarry for 5 months after a divorce to protect the proper lineage of children. In our courts we ask women of all ages before granting the divorce, “are you now pregnant.”. So often the name of the former husband appears on a birth certificate because the woman became pregnant during the marriage but not by the husband. It is interesting in Sharia law that this issue is dealt with by prohibiting marriage for five months after the divorce.
‘Mahr’ or dowry is a beautiful concept. It is security for the woman even if it is more in a symbolic sense. The bridegroom makes a gift of value that takes the form of a contract. The gift can be jewelry, money, a car or other items of value. Like our common law practice a gift like an engagement ring cannot be taken back because the marriage did not last.
At a Muslim marriage there is a point where the bride leaves to become part of the groom’s family. This can be a very touching moment because the daughter is now literally part of a new family. This does not mean she is subservient to this new family, just that the responsibility for her care belongs to the groom’s family. The modern reality is that Muslim women in America are career-oriented, well-educated and can usually take care of themselves. But once again the American lawyer should become familiar with Sharia law and consider calling an Imam, or cleric, to speak to as an expert as to what was considered as the parties entered the marriage contract.
In our temporary hearing orders or in determining an appropriate spousal support, the law provides that the understanding of the parties is appropriate evidence. It is also important to determine if the wife has sacrificed her income to support the husband’s education or stayed at home to raise children. Likewise it makes sense to introduce the Sharia marriage contract and cultural customs that form the basis of what the parties intended.
The fact that a marriage was arranged has no impact on a division of assets or spousal support award. It might even mean more in support if the court understands that it was the understanding that the woman truly was to be part of this new family and left so much behind. As a father of two young daughters (21 and 23) I definitely believe I could make a better choice of their mates than they could. I and their mother have more life experiences to draw upon and know what mistakes to avoid. So I do not look poorly upon arranged marriages even though my children can only be subjected to my gentle persuasion. If I push too much I will be tuned out. So it is interesting to note that in Muslim divorces it is not the fact of an arranged marriage that is at the root of the divorce. It is the usual suspects of lack of respect, infidelity, money problems and immaturity of thought.
My exposure to Sharia law and my Muslim clients has been one of the most positive in my career. There is little deceit and a great sense of honor that makes it easier to do my job.