The general objective of the Qur'anic laws is the preservation of the marital relationship unto death. However, by no means does it seek to remain in the dark with regard to the difficulties associated with human nature. It may be that there exist quarrels and incompatibilities amongst spouses. These can even lead to the disruption of the family. The thirty - fourth verse of surah Nisa deals with the measures that a man has to undertake in order to save the family from disintegration in the event that the problem has been due to the woman's lack of discipline and obedience'¦Counsel, advice, separation from bed, beating '“ all of these are meant to save the family from breaking up. The Qur'an has further commanded that no punishment must be carried out against the spouse who, with other measures taken against her, turns away from indiscipline. 'Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because God has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what God would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly); But if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance): For God is Most High, Great (above you all).' (4: 34).
The Qur'an has provided for measures that would save the family from disintegration. It is, however, not the Qur'an's injunction that divorce must be resorted to as soon as it is seen that problems continue to persist even after all other measures have been taken. On the other hand, it stresses upon the need for the other family members to sincerely mediate between the estranged spouses and help them to come closer. Indeed, the Qur'an does say that when an attempt at reconciliation is being made in all sincerity, Allah will provide ways and means for the purpose. 'If ye fear a breach between them twain, appoint (two) arbiters, one from his family, and the other from hers; if they wish for peace, God will cause their reconciliation : for God hath full knowledge, and is acquainted with all things.' (H.Q 4: 35).
It is also true that the Qur'an permits the dissolution of the marriage tie if all such attempts at reconciliation between the spouses fail. Indeed, when the partners are forced to live together as husband and wife even when all attempts at reconciliation fail it will be more the case of a bondage, rather than a bond, that will exist between the two. Leaving such bondages untied will only lead to a situation where it will have to be cut through. This is what transpires in communities wherein divorce is not permitted. It is in such circumstances, where the bondage is to be untied, that the Qur'an has permitted divorce. It can also be seen that besides permitting divorce in such situations, the Prophet had also instructed that both partners must exert to their utmost to avoid such an eventuality. He had said: 'In the sight of Allah the most hated amongst the permissible things is divorce.' (Abu Dawood, Ibn Majah).
The Qur'an had, as in the case of all other matters, only served to improve upon and civilize the practice of divorce as it existed at that time so that it may be made as acceptable and suitable for mankind as possible. It is quite true that almost all legal codes in the world dopermit divorce. Several legal codes, however, see divorce as a weapon that can be used indiscriminately by man against woman. The Qur'an has brought about a change in such a state of affairs and has presented divorce as an option that is permitted only in the most critical of eventualities.
Manu spoke of divorce thus:
'Vandhyasta medhi vedhyabdhe deshamedumrthepraja
ekadashe sthreejanam satyasta priya vaadiui'
'A barren wife may be superseded in the eighth year; one whose children have died, in the tenth; one who bears (only) daughters, in the eleventh; but one who says unpleasant things (may be super-seded) immediately'
It is especially relevant that the Qur'an does not instruct one to discard one's wife if she be barren or is suffering from other ailments. It is cruel that the woman be divorced for no crime of hers for, after all, barreness, giving birth to a stillborn, or to female off springs alone: these are all cases that go beyond her control and she can have no part, whatsoever. The Qur'an does not stand by such cruelty. It is also unjust that the woman who displeases is discarded straight away. The Qur'anic recommendation is that she be allowed the opportunity to correct herself and she be divorced if, and only if, she refuses to comply, thereby, leading to a situation where such a course of action is made expedient. The Qur'an further instructs that the woman be given a further remuneration at the time of the divorce. 'For divorced women maintenance (should be provided) on a reasonable (scale). This is a duty on the righteous.'(H.Q 2:241). Thus, the prescription of the Manu smrithi that the 'divorced women are to be given nothing' is quite alien to the Qur'an.
What is the stand of Marxism, which itself claimed to be the ideology of the twentieth century, on this issue? Let the Marxist ideologues speak for themselves: 'It is not possible for any to say how long the individual tendencies for sexual love will last for each person, particularly for the man. It is better that divorce be resorted to as soon as it becomes clear that all love has drained away or that it has been channeled into another receptor. If that be done, it will be a blessing for the partners themselves and for the society as a whole.' (Marx, Engels: Selected Writings, Volume 3, P.319)
It is the stand of communism that divorce be resorted to as soon as all love drains off. The Qur'an disagrees with this attitude. In the Qur'anic vision, love is never a material commodity that exhausts itself. It is, in fact, a divine gift. It ceases to exist only because of the changes that take place in the material world. Lust and love are never the same. It is not the recommendation of the Qur'an that the marriage bond be dissolved on the mere pretext that all love has dissipated owing to problems between the spouses. The Qur'an has chalked out the ways in which those problems can be resolved after they have been properly identified. In the Qur'an's view divorce becomes the better option only when all attempts at reconciliation fail and the spouses keep on growing apart from each other. Marxism sees love as a material commodity and recommends divorce as a solution as soon as it dissipates. Indeed, it is a solution that is part and parcel of its vision of society. It was about just such a society that the greatest Marxist ideologue of India had commented thus: 'They are free to chose the mate of their liking and to live the married life so long as it suits them. If any of the partners were to dislike the arrangement, divorce could be had and, if so desirous, they could chose another mate and settle down to yet another married life. It is just to bring about such a state of affairs that Democracy as well as Socialism, which is its higher form, functions.' (E.M.S: Chinda weekly, 25th November, 1983)
It is clear that divorce will be a daily occurrence in a society as envisioned by communism. It is never such a society which Islam conceives. It is for the same reason, therefore, that the Qur'an introduces divorce as an option that is permitted only in the most inevitable of circumstances.
It is clear from the Old Testament of the Bible that divorce was permitted in Israeli society. It was a divorce that was not subject to any conditions, whatsoever. The only condition that did exist was that if the divorced woman was again divorced by her next husband she could not be married to her first husband again. Observe how this is explained in the Old Testament of the Bible:
'When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house,when she has departed from his house and goes and becomes another man's wife, if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord our God is giving you as an inheritance.' (Deuteronomy24:14)
The same idea can be found in the book of Jeremiah (3:1,2). From this it may be understood that divorce was prevalent amongst the Jews.
This is, however, not the case with the New Testament. There are verses in the gospels and the words of Paul, which explicitly pro-hibits divorce.
'And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.' (Mathew 19:9)
'So He said to them, 'Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.'And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.' (Mark 10 :11,12)
'But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.' (Mathew 5:32)
'Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband.But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife.' (1 Corinthians 7:10,11)
It need not be emphasized that these are instructions that make divorce quite impossible. The only thing that makes divorce possible is adultery on the part of the woman. According to the laws of the New Testament it is also a sin to marry a woman who has been divorced by her husband. Cases wherein divorce becomes impossible will further lead to extremely dangerous situations. For it is possible that, at least in a few instances, the wedlock actually turns out to be a burden and a bondage. In such instances the lack of freedom to untie the knots of such bondage can lead to grave dangers. In fact, the Christian community is indeed, facing such dangers presently.
In countries, which have accepted the Christian way of life, voices are now being raised for relaxing the laws prohibiting divorce. It is now being said that one of the reasons for laxity in the moral plane, in these lands, is the very existence of such laws. What is it that is happening in those lands? The husband and wife both harbour mutual animosity towards each other. Indeed, such animosity often prevails in families and it prevents them from living in harmony together. They continue to grow apart from each other. All sorts of problems and quarrels take place. The man, in order to satisfy his sexual desires, finds gratification with call girls or his girl friends. The woman takes recourse to giglo (male prostitutes) or incest to satisfy her sexual desire. Both remain as husband and wife! There are with them their children as well! But is it possible to call this group a family? What will be the condition of the children belonging to this family? Studies have revealed that the tendency for crime and other mental ailments that develop in children are all primarily because of such a disturbed family atmosphere.
Take the case of India itself. As far as the Christians are concerned, the only way for divorce is to prove that the husband or the wife has indulged in adultery. For those who yearn for separation it then becomes possible to create circumstances that can make of the other half an adulterer (or an adulteress). Even if there are those who can prove their innocence under these circumstances, evidence to brand them as adulterers is then fabricated. Righteous men and women are finally branded as adulterers with not a little help from the silver tongued oratory of the lawyer who argues successfully against them in the courtroom. In the event that even this proves useless and the defendant manages to cross the scrutiny of the court of laws, a 'solution' for the problem is quickly found in an exploding gas stove or through food poisoning. It is the contention of the Qur'an that such a state of affairs can never be allowed to transpire. It is, thus, that we feel the laws of divorce that it envisages to be strict, at the same time, yet practicably easy.
The atmosphere of love, compassion and peace that must reign within the family is, however, not one that is to be enforced with the rod of law. It should emanate from that love which binds two hearts together. Indeed, it is futile to even try to reconcile hearts that have grown apart simply through the use of law. It is necessary, in all such instances, to identify the causes for this loss of love and to treat them accordingly. It is this treatment that the Qur'an recommends when cracks develop within the institution of the family. In the view of the Qur'an divorce must be resorted to only when all such methods of treatment fail. In such a situation all solutions other than separation quite often complicates the problem even further and leads to unfavourable and unsavoury incidents. More than the man, it is the woman who suffers the most owing to such incidents. It can, therefore, be asserted in the most unambiguous of terms that by permitting divorce under inevitable circumstances, the Qur'an has, far from putting the woman in any difficulty, actually protected her. Contemporary events, too, provide for lessons in this direction.