The Mideast and Abroad
- Published on Thursday, 04 October 2012 05:29
Perhaps no other practice is so despicable in any society than the halala (some say “hilla” or “hulla”) system that is being practiced in parts of the Muslim world. This is a system that entitles a divorced wife to return to her husband, if both husband and wife so desire, but only after marrying another person and after that person divorces her. The practice is antithetical to the very worldview and egalitarian spirit of the Quran.
Unfortunately, the application of this practice stems from the way the relevant Quranic verse has been translated and interpreted by Muslim scholars, as well as from the related message found in traditional literature. A translation of this verse given by Yusuf Ali is as follows:
2:230 So if a husband divorces his wife (irrevocably), he cannot after that remarry her until after she has married another husband and he has divorced her. In that case there is no blame on either of them if they re-unite, provided they feel that they can keep the limits ordained by Allah. Such are the limits ordained by Allah, which He makes plain to those who know. (Italics mine)
The Quran regards divorce to be final after the husband confirms it a second time (2:229). Evidently, this provision of the Quran is intended to avert rash judgment on the part of a husband. A divorce becomes genuine when both parties arrive at a serious, well-considered decision. In anger, a husband may say that he will divorce his wife. But this should not count as a real divorce. Certainly if he does not stick to it when his anger dies down; emotional decisions are never rational ones.
Ironically, however, divorces often take place regularly just on the basis of a husband uttering the word “divorce” three consecutive times. But the Quran assures us that God does not hold us responsible for mere utterances or oaths without meaning them seriously (2:225). In Islam, a husband can take back his wife after a first or a second divorce, but as generally believed, after a third divorce, it becomes irrevocable. The Quran, however, does not mention this “third-time divorce” nor does it assert that divorce should ever be irrevocable. Rather, the tenor of its whole direction on this subject runs counter to this misguided societal understanding.
The very translation given above of verse 2:230 is problematic. It stipulates that the divorced wife first marry another person and get divorced by her second husband as a precondition for her return to her former husband. This verse, however, can be reread as: “If he (a husband) has divorced her (wife), she is not lawful unto him thereafter until another husband she has married (after the divorce) has divorced her…” (2:230). This rereading means that if the divorced wife marries another person – this should be meant as voluntary – only then she is not lawful to her former husband until her current husband divorces her. This reading of the verse sounds more sensible and dignified. There is no obligation imposed on the divorced wife to marry another person as a precondition for her to be able to remarry her former husband after the second husband divorces her.
It’s also important to note that in verse 65:2, the Quran urges husbands not to force their divorced wives out of their houses before their term (iddat) expires and to make a choice between taking them back or parting with them when the term expires. This choice available to a husband divorcing his wife is found repeated in verses 2:229 and 2:231. Further, the Quran warns society not to create any obstacles on the way of the husband and divorced wife getting remarried:
2:232 And when ye have divorced women, and they have reached their term (iddat), place no difficulties on the way of their remarrying of their husbands, if it is agreed between them in kindness. This is an admonition for him who believeth in God and the Last Day. That is more virtuous for you, and cleaner. God knoweth and ye know not.
The Quran also declares: “And when you divorce women and when they reach their waiting term, either retain them in a fair manner or let them go in a fair manner. But do not retain them against their will in order to hurt (them) so that you transgress the limits: for he who does so indeed wrongs himself. And make not the revelations of God a laughing-stock …” (2:231, also see 229).
All this unmistakably leads to the conclusion that there is no room in Islam for the halala system that compels an unwilling divorced wife to marry another person for a brief span of time just to be able to get back to her former husband after the second husband divorces her. This system is inhuman and vile. It has ruined many happy families! In the Quran, God calls for justice, fair play, and equitable treatment. The Quran portrays husband and wife as partners having equal rights over each other (2:228). It urges husbands to always treat their wives with kindness. Further, God desires ease and no hardship for us (2:185). A system that causes hardship and immense suffering to couples and their children can never be a just system.
The reprehensible halala system is practiced in Muslim countries where the orthodox version of Islam is practiced, including notably India, Bangladesh, and Iran. Does it not ever occur to our common sense that we should not force a divorced wife to marry another husband against her will? And why should one ever anticipate that a person would marry the divorced wife of another person just for the sake of divorcing her? The Quran warns us not to make the revelations of God a matter of laughing-stock. Amir Taheri reports in his 1986 book that in the Iranian city of Qom, “there are men who make a living as ‘one-night husbands’: they marry thrice-divorced women, consummate the marriage, and divorce them the next day, so that the women can now lawfully go back to their families” (p. 51).
Significant reforms have been carried out in recent years with regards to Muslim marriage and divorce laws. Some of these include limiting polygamy rights, expanding rights for women seeking divorce, allowing women to stipulate conditions favorable to them in the marriage contract, and raising the minimum age for marriage for both spouses. However, the halala system still remains untouched. And it is past time for that to change.
Abdur Rab is a retired economist and public policy analyst and author of “Exploring Islam in a New Light: A View from the Quranic Perspective,” 2010. Follow Abdur Rab @Twitter.