Marriage can be a difficult decision to make. The decision to divorce is even tougher, even in today’s society, where celebrities divorce after 55 hours (see Britney Spear’s first marriage) or after 72 days (see Kim Kardashian’s arguable publicity stunt of a marriage). In the Western world we’re lucky to have the right to decide to marry whoever we want, and to divorce for whatever reason (although I must ask, why is the divorce process such a lengthy procedure?) In the Middle East marriage is often a more formal, family-oriented affair; divorce, while legal in Islam, is a frowned-upon affair that usually rests solely on the husband’s whim.
Yet even the Middle East shows signs of the Western world’s penchant for making spur-of-the-moment decisions, as is evidenced by the recent divorcing of a Saudi man’s wife over a mall loudspeaker. Bikya Masr reported on a Saudi man who, after seeing his wife accept another man’s telephone number while out shopping in the mall, got on the mall’s loudspeaker system to tell his wife he was divorcing her.
Public humility? Check. Deciding to throw away a sacred vow because of one silly incident? Check. Like many American marriages that are built more on lust than love, it would seem safe to say that this Saudi marriage was built on a foundation of distrust and not love; after all, even if you’re angry, you don’t jump on the mall loudspeaker to tell the whole world that you’re breaking up with the mother of your children. The actions of this Saudi husband are abhorrent, and they highlight a strange sort of contradiction where men are to be accorded the highest honor, particularly in a marriage, and yet this husband decided to publicly air his dirty private laundry.
The preferred method some Middle Eastern men (or the families) take when dealing with misbehaving wives would be honor killings, or honor violence; after all, why let the wife (who was most likely abused or mistreated) go free and have the choice to make a new life? Throwing a troublesome woman into the Nile is a much preferable option, as was the case for one Egyptian woman who was recently tossed into the Nile River to die by her own family after she refused to remarry her abusive, much-older ex-husband.
Honor violence is one of the many tragedies women face in the Middle East, but what makes it perhaps the most despicable tragedy of all is that it is not simply a sexist matter, nor is it a private matter between a couple. Many times honor violence is approved (and even encouraged) by a victim’s mother or other female relative (though I believe sister’s might not be so keen on having their siblings battered, as they can empathize too easily). Countless honor killings are preformed not just by the spurned or cuckolded husband but by fathers, brothers, uncles. It is incomprehensible that a mother could condone the killing of her own daughter; that a grandmother would accept the treatment of her granddaughter as a punching bag.
Divorce is legal even under strict Islamic shariah law; therefore, it should not be as stigmatized and frowned upon as it is. If a man is technically allowed to have several wives under Islamic law, why can’t a wife who is just one of many wives and who is more or less ignored be able to decide on divorcing her husband without risking a violent retaliation, or social suicide? Why does she have to give up her kids in order to be free?
Coinciding with the recent Nile-drowning attempt (the young woman lived), Egyptian Parliament Member Mohammed EL-Omda has decided to push legislation that would overturn the approved circa-2000 bill that granted Egyptian women their right to file for divorce. This shocking bit of news is troublesome for Egyptian women and Middle Eastern women in general; after all, Egypt was traditionally seen as a model country among it’s neighbors. And while the as-of-late ‘moderate’ Muslim Brotherhood is going strong at the moment, the majority of power (excluding the SCAF) is in the hands of people religious enough to call themselves Islamists: in these times of stress and uncertainty in Egypt, who’s to say that confidence-lacking Egyptian men might not pull a Taliban and decide to do away with womens rights, starting with women’s right to divorce, in order to boost their confidence and create an illusion of “security and stability?”
In the West, divorce is difficult because one party may still love the other one, or has been emotionally hurt. In the Middle East, divorce is difficult purely because of a sense of honor, a sense of property and a sense of familial propriety which is hopelessly outmoded. Either way, it’s not a pretty situation, and there is no need to make a difficult decision worse by purposely punishing one of the parties involved.
To conclude with a passage from the Qu’ran, Surat Al-Baqarah (The Cow):
And when you divorce women and they have [nearly] fulfilled their term, either retain them according to acceptable terms or release them according to acceptable terms, and do not keep them, intending harm, to transgress [against them]. And whoever does …