Divorce: Islam Versus Christianity


Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

The only countries that do not allow divorce are the Philippines and the Vatican City, an ecclesiastical state, which has no procedure for divorce. Countries that have relatively recently legalized divorce are Italy (1970),Portugal (1975), Spain (1981), Ireland (1996), Chile (2004)[2] and Malta (2011).

After the fall of the Roman Empire, familial life was regulated more by ecclesiastical authority than civil authority. By the ninth or tenth century, the divorce rate had been greatly reduced under the influence of the Church,[48] which considered marriage a sacrament instituted by God and Christ indissoluble by mere human action.[49]

President Jimmy Carter, well known all over the world, for his humanitarian work, since leaving the office, wrote in his book, A Remarkable Mother:

Until I went away to college, no one in Plains had ever been divorced; divorce was considered to be a sin against God committed only in Hollywood and among some of the more irresponsible New Yorkers. The oath given during the marriage ceremony was regarded as inviolable, based on the words of Christ himself, who, when questioned about marriage, referred to the first binding of Adam and Eve, concluding with ‘Therefore what God has joined together, let no man put asunder.’ For some reason, this commandment was considered to have priority over the one against adultery. One of the most notable cases involved two white families who lived in a fairly remote area near Archery. In what was obviously a totally harmonious arrangement, the two husbands simply swapped wives and a total of nine children. Perhaps to minimize false rumors, one of the husbands came over to our house and described their decision to my father. Other children were born to the new
couples, and the resulting common-law marriages remained intact thereafter, but the parents stopped going to church.[1]

Although divorce, as known today, was generally prohibited after the tenth century, separation of husband and wife and the annulment of marriage were well-known. What is today referred to as “separate maintenance” (or “legal separation“) was termed “divorce a mensa et thoro” (“divorce from bed-and-board”). The husband and wife physically separated and were forbidden to live or cohabit together; but their marital relationship did not fully terminate.[50] Civil courts had no power over marriage or divorce. The grounds for annulment were determined by Church authority and applied in ecclesiastical courts. Annulment was for canonical causes of impediment existing at the time of the marriage. “For in cases of total divorce, the marriage is declared null, as having been absolutely unlawful ab initio.”[51][52][53] The Church held that the sacrament of marriage produced one person from two, inseparable from each other: “By marriage the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being of legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage or at least incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection and cover, she performs everything.”[54] Since husband and wife became one person upon marriage, that oneness could only be annulled if the parties improperly entered into the marriage initially.

Another dramatic consequence of prohibition of divorce, was the creation of Church of England, by King Henry VIII, for the Catholic Church would not allow him separation from his first wife.

Initially prompted by a dispute over the annulment of the marriage of King Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon, the Church of England separated from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534 and became the established church by an Act of Parliament in the Act of Supremacy, beginning a series of events known as the English Reformation.[6]  

As originally enacted, the Constitution of Ireland also included a prohibition on divorce. The ban on divorce was not removed until 1996.  Incorporating Catholic social teaching into law was common to many predominantly Catholic countries in the 1930s.

Unlike the Bible which prohibited divorce, the Holy Quran allowed divorce as last resort and described very detailed teachings about it and as a matter of fact, one of the chapters of the Holy Quran is named, ‘Divorce.’

Here I mention two of the several teachings about divorce in the Holy Quran:

And if he divorce her the third time, then she is not lawful for him thereafter, until she marries another husband; and, if he also divorce her, then it shall be no sin for them to return to each other, provided they are sure that they would be able to observe the limits prescribed by Allah. And these are the limits prescribed by Allah which He makes clear to the people who have knowledge. (Al Quran 2:231)


And when you divorce women and they reach the end of their period, prevent them not from marrying their husbands, if they agree between themselves in a decent manner. This is an admonition for him among you who believes in Allah and the Last Day. It is more blessed for you and purer; and Allah knows but you do not know.  (Al Quran 2:233)

According to a recent article, by , published in the Huffington Post, titled, Forgive Your Brother, Unless He’s Been Divorced, the author wrote, highlighting the ruins of the Christian teaching, on the subject of divorce: 

I can be as born again as the former tax collectors and prostitutes of the New Testament, as devout as Mother Theresa, as divinely gifted as a saint, but because I was divorced at the age of 24, I can never be part of an Orthodox religion. Well, not without an annulment. More specifically, an annulment from them, meaning the Church. A legal annulment isn’t required but to become a recognized part of their church body and receive their sacraments I would be required to carry out interviews and, in most cases, fill out paperwork regarding the nature of my marriage from the ceremony to the sex and everything in between. The higher church members or priest, depending on the sect, would decide if my previous marriage was valid in the eyes of their faith. In the case of Catholicism, which is not considered to be directly under the umbrella of Orthodox, if my wedding was performed by a Protestant, I could obtain this annulment since my marriage was not recognized by them in the first place.

All the Islamic teachings have a utilitarian value and that has been shown with respect to several of it’s teachings, in a volume of Alislam-eGazette, and this post adds another teaching to the list.

The Quran claims that Islam is a religion of nature, in keeping with human psychology and needs (3:84 & 30:31).  Christianity, on the other hand, had preached a counter intuitive absolute prohibition against divorce, which is now being gradually rectified, in one country after another.

Divorce was most recently allowed in the island state of Malta in 2011 and made headlines all over the world.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.


1. President Jimmy Carter. A Remarkable Mother. Simon and Schuster, 2008. Pages 62-63.

7 replies

  1. Islam is a practical religion. If a couple cannot be happy together and if by staying together they will not be able to fulfil the rights of Allah and their spouses then its best to look for a systematic seperation.

    ofcourse Islam encourages reconcilation and muslims are encouraged to respect the sacred covenant of marriage, but that is not possible at all times.

    Talaq – divorce based upon Islamic shariah

    Example of Arranging Similar Verses:

    Looking to the example of ‘divorce,’ we find that the subject is scattered in three different chapters (chapter 2, chapter 33, and chapter 65) which, when placed together, provide a complete picture of the proceedings and laws regarding divorce.

    “For those who are discontent with their wives, let them wait for four months. If they reconcile, then God is Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Quran 2:226)

    “And if they insist on the divorce, then God is Hearer, Knowledgeable.” (Quran 2:227)

    “And the divorced women shall wait for three menstruation periods; and it is not lawful for them to conceal what God has created in their wombs, if they believe in God and the Last Day. And their husbands would then have just cause to return together, if they both wish to reconcile. And for what obligations the women are owed, so similarly must they fulfil their obligations. But the men will have a greater responsibility over them in this. And God is Noble, Wise.” (Quran 2:228)

    “The divorce is allowed twice. So, either they remain together equitably, or they part ways with kindness. And it is not lawful for you to take back anything you have given the women unless you fear that they will not uphold God’s limits. So if you fear that they will not uphold God’s limits, then there is no sin upon them for what is given back. These are God’s limits so do not transgress them. And whoever shall transgress God’s limits, then these are the wicked.” (Quran 2:229)

    “So if he divorces her again, then she will not be lawful for him until she has married another husband. If the other husband divorces her, then there is no sin that they come back together if they think they will uphold God’s limits. These are God’s limits, He clarifies them for a people that know.” (Quran 2:230)

    “And if you have divorced the women, and they have reached their required interim period, then either you remain together equitably, or part ways equitably. And do not reconcile with them so you can harm them out of animosity; whoever does so is doing wickedness to his soul; and do not take God’s revelations lightly. And remember God’s blessings towards you, and what was sent down to you of the Scripture and the wisdom, He warns you with it. And be aware of God and know that God is Knowledgeable in all things.” (Quran 2:231)

    “And if you divorce the women, and they have reached their required interim period, then do not prevent them from remarrying their husbands if they amicably agree amongst themselves out of what is best. This is to remind any of you who believe in God and the Last Day, this is better for you and purer; and God knows while you do not know.” (Quran 2:232)

    “O you who believe, if you marry the believing women, then divorced them before having intercourse with them, then there is no interim required of them. You shall compensate them, and let them go in an amicable manner.” (Quran 33:49)

    “O you prophet, if any of you have divorced the women, then they should be divorced while ensuring that their required interim is fulfilled, and keep count of the interim. You shall reverence God your Lord, and do not evict the women from their homes, nor should they leave, unless they have committed a proven adultery. And these are God’s limits. And anyone who transgresses God’s limits has wronged his soul. You never know; perhaps God will make something come out of this.” (Quran 65:1)

    “Then, once the interim is fulfilled, either you remain together equitably, or part ways equitably and have it witnessed by two just people from among you; and give the testimony for God. This is to enlighten those who believe in God and the Last Day. And whosoever reverences God, He will create a solution for him.” (Quran 65:2)

    “And He will provide for him whence he never expected. Anyone who puts his trust in God, then He suffices him. God’s commands will be done. God has decreed for everything its fate.” (Quran 65:3)

    “As for the women who have reached menopause, if you have any doubts, their interim shall be three months. And as for those whose menstruation has ceased, and those who are already pregnant, their interim is until they give birth. And anyone who reverences God, He makes his matters easy for him.” (Quran 65:4)

    “This is God’s command that He sends down to you. And anyone who is aware of God, He remits his sins, and will improve his reward.” (Quran 65:5)

    “You shall let them reside in the home you were in when you were together, and do not coerce them to make them leave. And if they are pregnant, you shall spend on them until they give birth. Then, if they nurse the infant, you shall pay them their due for such. And you shall maintain the amicable relations between you. If you disagree, then another woman may nurse the child.” (Quran 65:6)

    Here is a summary of the rules for divorce as obtained when arranging all similar verses:

    A ‘cooling-off’ period of four months is required before commencing a divorce. (Quran 2:226)

    If they still insist on divorce, then the wife and husband must remain together in the same home during the ‘interim-period.’ (Quran 65:1)

    If the couple reconcile, then divorce may be retracted and cancelled at any point during the interim period. (Quran 2:229)

    The divorce is automatically retracted if sexual intercourse takes place between the husband and wife during the interim period. (Quran 65:1)

    The interim period required is three menstruation periods. The interim for women who no longer menstruate is three months. The interim for pregnant women is until they deliver (Quran 2:228, 65:4)

    There is no interim period required if the divorce takes place while no sexual intercourse has ever taken place between the couple. (Quran 33:49)

    If the couple still wishes to follow through with the divorce after the end of the interim period, then two witnesses are required to complete the process. (Quran 65:2)

    If this is the 3rd divorce, then the couple may not remarry each other unless the woman has been married to another man and then divorced. (Quran 2:230)

    As shown in this example of divorce, the simple step of examination of all related verses gives a very detailed conclusion that can be applied in any modern and civil society.

  2. [cf: Parvez, November 7, 2013 at 3:00 pm]
    The text from ‘Example of Arranging Similar Verses:’ to ‘ applied in any modern and civil society.’ appears to be taken from a source, also available on the web, without any acknowledgement of the original effort of someone else.

  3. the topic was summarised by yasir qadhi, i have it only on pdf file. i think the weblink doesnt exist anymore

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