Divorcing in the Muslim World
In some parts of the Muslim world, women may not end their marriages without their husband’s consent. Divorcing in the Muslim world and other trends have changed recently, showing a liberalization of family law.
In Egypt, women have increasingly sought divorces in the past few years as Egyptian society has grown more tolerant. One agency claims the divorce rate rose 8.4% from 2008 to 2009. Interestingly, public discussion of relationships has long been a faux pas in Egypt. Written work and radio programs have begun addressing relationship matters, and unsurprisingly, people have tuned in to listen to them. It would seem the lack of discussion about such an important subject could create relationship difficulties by stunting people’s examination of how to manage relationship issues.
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Egypt’s divorce rate has increased to around 40%, similar to the rates of many Western countries.
Recently, the West Bank has made the divorce process easier for women as well. Before, women who wanted a divorce had to prove that their husbands had been abusive or neglectful if their husbands did not agree to the divorce, creating an expensive, lengthy legal hurdle for women to overcome. Some forms of neglect, like the husband failing to pay bills, might not have been too difficult for the wife to prove, but proving psychological abuse or neglect could be very difficult. There are cases of financial neglect coupled with physical abuse where the court did not grant a divorce for years after the wife sought one. Requiring men to agree to a divorce also enabled men to extort money from their wives because men could demand payment in exchange for agreeing to the divorce.
Now, West Bank courts can grant divorces without the female spouse presenting such evidence even if the husband does not wish to divorce. Consequently, wives have flooded courts with divorce filings, and attorneys are handling many new divorce cases. Although the new legal developments might make a lot of spouses unhappy, I suppose many attorneys are billing more hours. Women in the West Bank will still face some difficulties, however. All of the judges in the West Bank are men, and the women will have to repay their dowries (money the husband contributed to the marriage at its inception) if they obtain a divorce. In addition, men may still obtain divorces without going to court.
Some Palestinians claim the divorce law changes reflect the diminishing importance of Islamic law in the West Bank, adding that it is one of the most liberal areas in the Muslim world. The head of the Islamic courts in the West Bank said marriages should be based on love, and if a couple no longer love each other, then they should not be forced to remain married.
Critics of the divorce law cite reputational concerns. Families of wives who seek divorces might be embarrassed, and others look down on women who divorce. Divorced men might be viewed poorly as well.
Some Arab countries like Iraq and Jordan freely permit women to divorce, but require them to return their dowries.