Or Separate With Kindness

9

Islam ensures the protection of women in all of her affairs.

Haya slammed the door with all her might. The hinges of the door were starting to wear off from all the slamming. “Why can’t they just leave me alone?” she thought, “I am a grown woman.” Their constant questioning was less merciful than the interrogation that criminals on C.S.I endured. “What happened? What next?” She mimicked their nagging questions in her head. “Just leave me alone,” Haya thought, wishfully. “At least long enough for me to figure things out.”

***

Sondos flipped through the mail for the day. Most of the pile was receipts for the month’s paid bills. With the stack of mail in one hand, she bent down to pick up her crying son, Abdullah, with the other.  He had been tugging persistently at what was in his reach from her long silk skirt. With little Abdullah perched on her waist, now busily tugging at her pearl necklace, Sondos made her way to the kitchen to check up on the lasagna she was cooking. “Mmm, looks good. Isn’t that right, Abdullah?” she chimed. Abdullah kicked his feet happily agreeing with the notion.

***

Haya got dressed quickly the next morning, and slipped out before anybody was awake. She needed to clear her mind, and to do so there was a coffee shop a couple blocks away where she intended on meditating with her hazelnut coffee. Haya sat in a corner, stared out of the window and allowed herself to become lost in thought.

“Assalamualaikum,” said a deep voice.

Haya almost jumped. She was completely caught off guard. The voice belonged to Samer, the guy who lived in the next-door building. Although she didn’t quite appreciate any sort of company right now, she couldn’t help but feel thankful towards his kindness in the last few weeks. Very few people understood what she was going through lately, but Samer had been completely sympathetic, and, most importantly, he did so without prodding. It hadn’t been the first time they ran into each other, and it was getting harder and harder for Haya to keep their conversations formal especially considering all the stress she was under.

As they made small talk, Haya answered robotically while her mind wandered elsewhere. Samer’s sympathy, albeit needed, didn’t comfort Haya as much as it confused her. Was she even ready for a new relationship? Was he really exceptionally kind, or were her emotions pushing her to see things out of proportions? And it pained her to even consider the last question. Did Samer, a semi-stranger, really care about her worries, or was he manipulating her less-than-stable state? Guilt washed over Haya as more questions gushed in her mind. Wasn’t this entire meeting uncalled for? Was she compromising her standards?

Haya’s eyes began to well with tears, and she excused herself before Samer could notice her crying. She’d had too many recent public breakdowns, and she wasn’t about to let Samer witness another one.

***

Faisal stepped into the house. He hung up his keys by the door as usual and went to the kitchen where he could hear the clanking of plates, which he recognized as Sondos setting the table for dinner.

Dinner was quiet, but peaceful. They exchanged brief conversation. Then Sondos mentioned that his mother called that day.

“And?” Faisal looked up from his plate, with intent.

“And, nothing.” Sondos replied. “She tried to ask me what was going on, and when I was planning to leave the house. I told her I wasn’t. Not for a couple of months, at the least.”

He nodded, and after chewing another bite said, “InshAllah khair.”

“InshAllah.” she agreed.

Sondos got up and started clearing the plates.

“That was some good lasagna.” Faisal said, without too much emotion, as if stating a fact. He then paused, “Thank you.” Then he walked out to wash his hands.

Sondos mulled over the mood of the house while washing the dishes. She had really anticipated that hatred would cultivate between them. Maybe a few explosions and eruptions here and there. But rather, over the last couple of weeks, Sondos and Faisal had both become rather mellow. Not friends, not enemies. Just getting through.

It was a good time for her to really see the picture from a bird’s eye view. Faisal was still himself, and his family certainly didn’t change, but she no longer had charged emotions towards him. Sondos had to admit, if she had left seventeen days ago, she would have left with eternal contempt. But if she were to leave now, it would be very different. Besides, she couldn’t imagine how she could have managed Abdullah with her raging emotions. But the setup for now was that Abdullah didn’t even know. He still slept soundly in his crib at home. He didn’t know that his Mom and Dad had divorced seventeen days ago.

***

When she arrived back home, they were all ready with attacking questions.

“Haya! Where were you? We were worried about you! Why did you sneak out?”

Haya dodged the questions as best as she could.

“Your husband left you a message on the…”

“He is not my husband!” Haya interrupted sternly, her attention finally drawn. She then went over to the kitchen phone to play the message herself. As she listened to his demeaning demands, Haya massaged her temples. He was asking for everything back. Everything, from the Citizen watch to the plasma T.V. “Fine by me,” muttered Haya, “I don’t want anything that has to do with him anyway.”

Ever since their divorce over two weeks ago, Haya had been struggling with the demands of her husband. Divorce hadn’t ended the torture as planned; she was now even more tortured but in other respects. Almost literally, Haya had been thrown out on the street after the divorce. It was hard enough that he suddenly cut off his support, and even harder that she had to deal with all the craziness at home, where her siblings and relatives pitched in with their unhelpful ideas and comments.

As if that wasn’t enough, her family had taken the liberty of meddling in her affairs “out of love” and had been threatening her divorcee’s family. It had been like the two families declared war, and Haya was watching from the sidelines. It was changing nothing and certainly not solving anything. Dealing with the aftermath of the divorce had been like dealing with aftermath of a tsunami, and Haya was at the end of her rope.

***

In the two fictional parallel stories above, Sondos and Faisal represent the Islamic example of divorce, but Haya’s divorce pattern might seem more familiar, as it abides by cultural norms. Islam protects women financially, emotionally, and physically. The surprising thing is that one of the topics that allows you to best appreciate that protection is the conduct of divorce in Islam. Sondos was still in her husband’s home, spending the iddah, while Haya was forced out of her home and was now living with her family. Although my purpose here is not to delve into the fiqh of divorce, hopefully it was made obvious that the iddah was not issued to imprison the woman. Rather, one possible wisdom behind it is to give the couple some space and time to think things over.

As the first Ayah of Surat AlTalaq (65:1) states:

“O Prophet, when you [Muslims] divorce women, divorce them at their Iddah (waiting period) and keep count of the waiting period, and fear Allah , your Lord. Do not turn them out of their [husbands’] houses, nor should they [themselves] leave [during that period] unless they are committing a clear immorality. And those are the limits [set by] Allah. And whoever transgresses the limits of Allah has certainly wronged himself. You know not; perhaps Allah will bring about after that a [different] matter.”

It is also a time where the woman is very vulnerable, and another benefit of the period of iddah could be to avoid the consequences of such vulnerability, like Haya experiences with Samer. It protects the woman from making decisions she might regret in the future.

Since divorce situations may not be as simple as the example of Sondos, even when we try to abide by the teachings of Islam, I mean no offense towards anyone who is divorced or how the divorce took place. However, divorce in Islam is not meant to be disastrous. Instead, Allah commands men that if they should chose to divorce, they should do so with good treatment:

“A divorce is only permissible twice: after that, the parties should either hold together on equitable terms, or separate with kindness. It is not lawful for you, (Men), to take back any of your gifts (from your wives), except when both parties fear that they would be unable to keep the limits ordained by Allah.’   Al-Baqara (2:229)

I would like to end with the beautiful words of Sayyid Qutub as he puts it so beautifully in his Tafseer of the verses in Surat Al-Baqara regarding divorce:

Compare the principles of the Islamic family system God has enacted for human life, and the balanced and peaceful society it produces, with what prevailed in human life prior to Islam, or what prevails today in non-Islamic societies everywhere, and you are bound to recognize the high standard of peace and dignity God wants for mankind.

Women in particular will appreciate the extent of care God takes of them. I am absolutely certain that no woman could understand this manifestly caring approach without feeling the love of God fill her heart.