EDITOR’S NOTE: **UPDATED, This piece previously stated that two people who have been divorced by khul cannot be remarried later. It has been brought to our attention that khula is, in fact, not a permanent end between two people, should they wish to reunite later, assuming they draw up a new contract. We sincerely apologize for this mistake. May Allah forgive and guide us all, ameen.**
It was early April and my sister had just left Egypt. We enjoyed a wonderful family vacation to Luxor, Hurghada and the pyramids at Giza– all on her dime.
Something happened inside my heart being with my sister, being in this strange place with another person for the first time ever who really knew and understood me. I gained a new awareness of the true me I had been forced to repress for years. So when my husband began oppressing and neglecting me again after she left, I knew that I had had enough.
This was the final straw in 5.5 years of heaps of emotional, spiritual, mental and financial neglect.
After the final time he tried to refuse one of my rights or tried to convince me I was wrong to need my rights fulfilled, I opened my wallet and handed him the equivalent of my mahr, or the gift of money he gave me when we married. I told him 5.5 years of neglect and oppression was enough, thank you, and with my new job I was financially stable enough not to need to rely on him. I told him that the money was for my khul’, or wife-initiated divorce.
He took the money, but refused to grant me the khul’ and within a week, had used two imams and their wives to convince me to take him back– and the money– and give it one last try.
When that one last try proved to be– surprise!– no different than the past, I demanded a divorce. We went to Cairo and signed the divorce papers, but not without my having to defend myself to every. single. person. in the divorce office.
“Come on, sister! You have four babies! They need their father! How can you break up the family? Please, Allah loves the patient ones, sister,” I was rebuked, time and time again. And the pleading and begging and accusations didn’t stop there.
As soon as anyone in our town learned of the divorce, it was immediately my fault. I was shamed for ‘giving up on my marriage’, for ‘ruining his good reputation’, for ‘making the family look bad’.
But not one person admitted that I had been robbed of my rights in plain view for many years. Not one person stood up and said yes, Islam gives women the option to pay back their dowry and be forever free from marriage with a man who was bad for her. When one of my only friends here told him he was wrong for how he treated me all these years, he tore her reputation to shreds in revenge, saying she deserved it for ‘helping to break up a family’.
But in the time of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, women were granted khul’ simply for not liking their husbands.*
And we have no record of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, ever telling a woman no, she could not be granted this right and she should be patient and return to the man she could not respect, love or even like.
I was granted a talaq, but in my heart, our divorce was anything but a ‘talaq’.
I was the one who left him, and yet I was the one being forced to stay in our apartment for 3 months, unable to move on and find healing, or even another husband, perhaps. But because of a technicality I had been persuaded to accept, my husband was able to leave Egypt and go start a new, happy life in another country while I had to stay in our apartment, in this tiny town in Egypt– alone.
Yes, God hates divorce, but yes, divorce is still halal. And I believe that the evidence is clear that there is something God hates more than divorce: oppression.
God answers the call of the oppressed one and his or her du’a is never rejected. It is oppression being married to a man who neglects you financially, emotionally, in time and attention, sexually and otherwise. It’s also oppression of your own soul when you find yourself unable to give him his right to respect because of the many ways he has abused and/or neglected you.
By robbing women of this fundamental right to be free of men they cannot any longer remain happily married to, and by blaming them and calling them ‘impatient’, we are stepping over the line of what Islam dictates. How can imams and spiritual leaders in our community think they know better than Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him?
Just before my ‘iddah period ended, I was given a life-altering choice: go to the country he had made a life in and remarry him, giving my children the chance of a lifetime, but robbing them of the happy, fulfilled, alive, emotionally-well mommy I always, always became in his absence.
Or I could take a chance on a new life alone with them in a different part of Egypt, far from the negativity and rumors of a small village, but with the opportunity to finally heal and come to terms with myself as an American Muslim, and build a stable home in a community of other converts.
All thanks be to God, I chose the latter, and finally escaped my cage.
* “The wife of Thabit Bin Qais went to the Noble Prophet (peace be upon him) and said to him: ‘Messenger of Allah, I dislike Thabit the most. I do not level any charge against his faith or morals; but I fear that living with him may plunge me into Kufr.’ The Noble Prophet (peace be upon him) asked her whether she would return the garden which he (Thabit) had given her as Mahr. To which she replied in the affirmative. Then he (the Prophet) asked Thabit Bin Qais to get the garden back and divorce her.” (Bukhari)
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