A strange divorce and remarriage law in the Quran
James M. Arlandson
The Quran has a strange marriage law for the divorced couple in this situation, after they have worked out their differences. It says that a divorced couple may remarry each other if and only if the wife first marries another man, have sexual intercourse with each other, and then this second man divorces her.
The Bible, on the other hand, does not prohibit a divorced couple from reconciling and remarrying each other, and it permits this directly and straightforwardly without interference or an intervening marriage and divorce.
Sura (Chapter) 2:230 says:
And if the husband divorces his wife (for the third time), she shall not remain his lawful wife after this (absolute) divorce, unless she marries another husband and the second husband divorces her. (In that case) there is no harm if they [the first couple] remarry . . . . (Sayyid Abul A'La Maududi, The Meaning of the Qur'an, vol. 1, p. 165)
Maududi (d. 1979) is a traditional and conservative commentator on the Quran, so we should let him explain, first, the context of this remarriage law in Sura 2:228-232. A final and absolute divorce is built on a three-stage process, coordinated with a woman's monthly cycle.
He reports that a man may pronounce a divorce against his wife only after her menses, not during it:
In order to check hasty action and leave the door open for reconciliation at many stages, the right method of pronouncing divorce as taught by the Qur'an and the Traditions is that if and when it becomes inevitable, it should be pronounced only when she is not in her menses and even if a dispute arises during the monthly period, it is not right to pronounce divorce during that condition, but he should wait for her to cleanse herself and then may pronounce a single divorce [but not the third and final one], if he so likes.
Then Maududi says that the divorce pronouncement is repeated two more times. On the third one, the divorce is final and absolute.
Then he should wait for the next monthly course and pronounce the second divorce [but not the third and final one], if he so wishes after she is cleansed. Then he should wait for the next monthly course to pronounce the third and final divorce after she is cleansed. (vol. 1, p. 167, note 250)
Despite this three-month process, Islamic law also allows a husband three divorce pronouncements in quick succession, without waiting three months. Also, the right to divorce is nearly exclusively on the side of the husband. In Islamic law, a woman has a very hard time divorcing her husband against his will, while a husband can easily divorce his wife against her will. She will not be asked.
But in regards to this three-month procedure, it must be admitted that this procedure has two advantages, on the surface. First, this process offers hope for reconciliation. It allows a "cooling off" period. Indeed, Maududi goes on to say that the husband should wait and reconsider the matter because he has the right to take his wife back after the second pronouncement. Second, Maududi informs us that in pre-Islamic Arabia a man could make as many divorce pronouncements as he pleased, which was unfair to the wife, so Muhammad limited this to three. When the man does this for the third time, he "forfeits the right to take her back, nor can the couple remarry [each other]" (note 250).
However, the Quran does not go far enough in protecting women and in honoring marriage, as seen in Maududi's explanation: "nor can the couple remarry [each other]."
This is when Sura 2:230, our target verse, comes into play. The couple who is divorced finally and absolutely is not permitted to remarry each other after they worked out their differences-unless the wife marries another man, and then he divorces her. Maududi does not offer an explanation or defense of this rule. He says that Muhammad cursed schemers. This refers to a case in which a woman and another man plotted to get married, so that he could divorce her, with the express purpose of her getting back together with her first husband. This is dishonest, says Maududi (note 253). Though he does not explain this verse, what else does he need to say? The verse is clear enough as written.
Even in an honest scenario, Sura 2:230 dishonors marriage, ultimately. It engenders a second divorce between the wife and another man, on the road to a possible reconciliation of the original couple-and this is potentially adulterous. Why have the intervening steps of a second marriage and divorce before the first divorced couple can work out their differences and get back together?
It would have been better if Muhammad had allowed a judge to work out reconciliation after an absolute divorce. Putting roadblocks like a second marriage and a second divorce before the original couple is permitted to reunite is confusing and possibly destructive of the institution of marriage.
Furthermore, even though the husband is the one who divorces the wife, it is she who has to pay the price for the (hasty) divorce. It is she who is humiliated by yet another marriage and divorce before they can come back together. Why does only the woman have to marry and get divorced another time before she can be joined again with her original husband? Why not the husband who in most cases initiated and pushed through the first divorce? Why is the wife punished if the husband makes this mistake?
This policy contrasts with the Bible's rulings on the divorce and remarriage of a couple.
This sacred book promotes freedom and righteousness without confusion.
Serving as a background to the New Testament, Deuteronomy 24:1 permits a man to write a certificate of divorce if "he finds something indecent about her." The Hebrew word for "indecent" means, at its essence, "nakedness (indecent or shameful) . . . 'to expose the nakedness' is to have sexual relations." This restricts the reason for a divorce, but by the time of Jesus, at least one rabbinic interpretation expanded on this restriction to include trivial reasons. This expansion put the woman at risk if she could not return to her father's house. It certainly put a strain on her own paternal family if her husband sent her packing to her father. It dishonored marriage (Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:3-9).
Jesus tightened up this popular and loose interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1, in order to protect women. Divorce is permitted only for sexual unfaithfulness. No man should divorce his wife for trivial reasons.
Moreover, to deduce from the doctrine of reconciliation, an overarching theme in the Bible, neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament prohibits a remarriage of the original couple to each other after their divorce (see Isaiah 54:5-8 and Jeremiah 3:8-14). This desire to reconcile demonstrates that the divorced couple has set aside their grievances and decided to start afresh, which is always welcomed in the Spirit of Christ. The Bible would never deny this righteous desire.
Thus, the differing patterns for the divorced couple in the Bible and the Quran work out in the following way, as the couple seeks to reconcile and remarry each other (the capital letters standing for the key words in the process):
The Bible: Marriage-Divorce-Remarriage (M-D-R)
The Quran: Marriage-Divorce-Marriage-Divorce-Remarriage (M-D-M-D-R)
It may be true that Muhammad cursed schemers who misused remarriage to get their own way. But his ruling opened up the door to scheming in the first place.
Clearly, the Bible is simpler and promotes and protects the sanctity of marriage, particularly of the first marriage, and it promotes and protects a straight path towards reconciliation and remarriage.
Here is the essential difference between the Quran and the Bible.
The Quran prohibits reconciliation and remarriage of a couple to each other after a divorce; but it also requires and demands a second marriage and divorce before permitting the reconciliation and remarriage of the original couple.
On the other hand, the Bible allows reconciliation and remarriage after a divorce without requiring or demanding an intervening second marriage and divorce. This follows the Biblical themes of reconciliation and forgiveness (Isaiah 54:5-8 and Jeremiah 3:8-14).
M-D-M-D-R vs. M-D-R
Therefore, Muhammad's old-new law on this specific matter is confusing, whereas the Bible's righteousness promotes reconciliation and forgiveness after a divorce, without confusion.
This three-part article answers a Muslim missionary's charge against this present article. The conclusion of the three-part article: Neither Muhammad's questionable (multi)married life nor the confusing, misguided Quran on marriage should lead humanity into the new millenium.
This dictionary entry gives further background information from the Muslim traditions regarding the muhallil, the second man who is necessary to make the wife lawful to her first husband again.
This article analyzes the ethics behind Quranic divorce procedures and contrasts them with the New Testament.
For a general survey of divorce in Islam, see this old but still reputable and informative online dictionary. Scroll down to "divorce."
This short chapter in an online booklet offers a general survey.
This article discusses lewdness generally, but it also has a section on divorce and remarriage according to Sura 2:230.
This very short article at a Muslim website shows concern for the divorce rate in Islam.
This short page at a Muslim website explains divorce.
The next three links demonstrate that sharia (Islamic law) generally must not be allowed to spread around the world.
This news report says that problems emerge in the modern world during the Islamic divorce proceedings.
This news report says that Malaysia permits "text messaging" divorce.
This Muslim website in a reply to a question says that divorces via emails are valid.
At this Muslim website an Islamic scholar answers the question of a Muslim who wrote in about divorce.
Here is a fatwa (legal decree) on divorce from a Muslim website.
Copyright by James Malcolm Arlandson and used by permission. Originally published at Answering Islam.