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Author Topic: Interesting 4 yr study on Trends in American Muslim Divorce and Marriage  (Read 963 times)


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A four year study, 48 pages... have not read the whole thing but it looks very detailed. Posting the Recommendations they have at the end. Agree with most of them, but find the discouragement of polygamy interesting. Why not just put rules in place to make people practice it in the right way? -- J.


Full Study:

The following recommendations are based on the study data and are offered as proposals
for community discussion.

Getting Married

1. The nikah is an important potential vehicle for the negotiation and expression of a couple’s
expectations of one another before they commit to marriage. Individual pre-marital counseling,
or pre-marital classes, provides a forum for this discussion. Recourse to a boilerplate nikah
which the parties may not even read before signing misses an important opportunity for the
couple to make meaningful promises to one another. This study shows that couples sometimes
make erroneous assumptions over the operating principles of their marriage. These might
include whether the wife will work outside the home, or whether the husband expects to take
a second wife. Negotiating the nikah and treating it as a serious commitment would raise
discussion of these and other issues, and may enable serious differences between a couple
to be identified ahead of time.

2. In the same spirit, the promises made in the nikah should be taken seriously. Islamic law
clearly allows for any modifications that are agreed between the couple. For example, a realistic
amount should be set for the mahr, especially if this is a genuine effort to achieve financial
fairness in the event of a divorce (or default to the civil law system).

3. Multiple marriage is a problem for families and for the community at large. The use of the
nikah for multiple unions should be discouraged by imams and other community leaders.
One in seven marriages in the sample ended because of conflict over another relationship,
variously described as a “second wife” or adultery. There is a need for a stronger and more
explicit stand against polygamy in North America rather than the passive tolerance evident
in some communities.

4. It is time to question the (sometimes default) assumption of arranging marriage unions within
the same culture – for example, so-called trans-national marriages where one spouse grows
up in North America and the other comes to the West from the family’s country of origin. This
study found that a significant number of these marriages failed. Muslims who have grown up
in North America often have far more in common with another North American Muslim, albeit
from a different cultural community, than someone from their family’s country of origin who
has grown up in very different circumstances and with very different expectations. In contrast,
cross-cultural marriages between men and women who had both grown up in North America
experienced very similar types of marital conflicts as couples from the same culture.

Marital Conflict

5. The most frequent source of marital conflict in this study was conflict over changing gender
roles and expectations. Like other families, some Muslim couples are struggling with the
dramatic changes that have occurred in the last 30 years, both in North America and elsewhere,
as more and more women attend higher education, enter professional workplaces, and in
many cases are trying to integrate childrearing and family life with professional goals. As a
community that includes growing numbers of well-educated and professional women, the
Muslim community should pay attention to these new challenges and encourage discussion
of the many attendant issues and challenges. The older generation, especially women, should
be encouraged to be part of this discussion. Many of the respondents’ stories suggest that
it is important for community leaders to explicitly acknowledge the compatibility of women’s
empowerment (in education, in work, and in public life) with Islam, and to separate discussion
of responses to these broader societal changes from matters of faith.

6. This study found that another significant factor in marital conflict is the relationship between
a married couple and their extended families. There is an increasing expectation of greater
autonomy among younger couples. A further challenge arises where there are significant
differences between the two families regarding marital and gender roles. While the extended
family is very important in Muslim culture, it is equally important for young couples to be able
to negotiate their own norms and expectations, even where (perhaps especially) where these
are different from those of their parents and in-laws.

7. One in three women in this study experienced domestic violence, that is, physical or sexual
assaults by their husband. While this issue is not unique to Muslim communities, these
communities need to recognize it as a serious challenge to their integrity and cohesion and
develop strategies for raising awareness and ensuring the safety of women and children. The
imams are an important part of the social system that responds to domestic violence, and
their commitment to addressing this problem – including referring women to police, shelters
and other resources–is critical. Community tolerance of male violence against women was
evident in some communities. Steps are being taken to address this issue openly–these efforts
should be continued and expanded, in dialogue with both Muslim and non-Muslim agencies.

Staying Married
8. Reconciliation is an important value in Islam and a central part of the imam’s role in
marriage counseling. However reconciliation may be wholly inappropriate where there has been
domestic violence, or where one party is already clear that they wish to be divorced. Women
in particular reported a great deal of pressure to reconcile (from imams and sometimes from
family members) which was sometimes inappropriate and usually ineffectual. More useful
would be the broader development of marriage counseling services and the removal of the
stigma of using such services.

Getting Divorced
9. Decisions to divorce are painful and personal, and many of those who participated in this
study expressed the desire for greater support – from family, friends and others–in thinking
through their decision. More open discussion of divorce – in mosques, community centers,
and using social media–and a reexamination of the social stigma which still attaches to divorce
and especially to women divorcees, is vital to identifying ways to both support marriages and
establish caring and compassionate norms around divorce.

10. Some imams are doing admirable work assisting women in leaving violent or abusive
husbands, and facilitating outcomes for mutually agreed divorces. However access to religious
divorce is inconsistent and patchy, reflecting a wide spectrum of approaches among the
imams. Some women report “imam-shopping” in an effort to secure permission for divorce.
Greater consistency requires a more open dialogue about the problem of women trapped
in “limping marriages” where their husband has already left but refuses to agree to divorce
– and ways to address this problem. The emergence of regional panels is an encouraging
development. It is also important for imams to discourage the use of talaq to end a marriage
without dialogue or discussion.

11. Marriage support and counseling services should not be limited to the mosques, and
need to be provided to a wider community including those who prefer not to approach an
imam for help. There is also an important and as yet undeveloped role for Muslim lawyers to
provide assistance with asserting Islamic rights and meeting Islamic obligations in relation
to both divorce and its financial consequences. Another area that should be explored is the
establishment of co-operative relationships between imams and lawyers to provide a complete
range of services for divorcing couples.

12. The imams are highly influential in setting norms and expectations for family life (for example
on divorce, domestic violence, and polygamy) for the Muslim community in North America.
Many imams find themselves overwhelmed and inadequately prepared to manage the volume
and complexity of the family issues they are asked to help with. Additional resources are
needed to support them – for example, the incorporation of professional counselors and social
workers into the services provided by the mosques. While there are some signs of increasing
interest in imam education, there is an urgent need for the development of specialized training
to prepare them to work with families in crisis.

Further information on this study and its results is available in a forthcoming book, “Islamic
Divorce in North America: A Shari’a Path in a Secular Society” (Oxford University Press 2012)
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