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) 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, which considered marriage a sacrament instituted by God and Christ indissoluble by mere human action.
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.
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. 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.” 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.” 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.
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 Angela Jamene, 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.