DIVORCE – THE EMOTIONAL turmoil, the devastating aftermath, the struggle to pick up the pieces and make sense of it all – and, for Muslims, facing the community stigma of their new status. Thanks to rising awareness regarding sensitive issues and a stronger willingness to face taboo topics, there have been more Muslims sharing their stories.
However, when it comes to personal experiences such as divorce, it is often Muslim women who are most forthcoming about what they have gone through. The struggles of Muslim men going through divorce are almost never discussed, in part due to the societal stigma against men speaking about their emotions and vulnerability. Unfortunately, as a result, there has been a severe lack of understanding and support for Muslim men going through a divorce – and many misperceptions regarding why they may be getting a divorce, or how they feel about it.
While it is true that many Muslim women who have spoken out about their divorces were coming from a background of abusive relationships, it does not mean that all Muslim divorces are because of abusive husbands. Just as non-Muslim divorces take place due to a myriad of other reasons – ranging from incompatibility to infidelity to finances and much more (including female-to-male abuse), so too is the Muslim divorce experience equally varied.
Just as it is necessary for the healing and growth of the Ummah to hear the voices of women sharing their lived experiences, so too should we acknowledge and respect the challenges and obstacles that our men face as well. In a bid to understand what divorce means to Muslim men, I reached out to some of them to share, in their own words, what they went through and how divorce affected them on an emotional and spiritual level.
Note: Responses have been edited for clarity and conciseness.
HOW LONG WERE YOU MARRIED BEFORE THE DIVORCE? DID YOU HAVE ANY CHILDREN?
Four and a half years, with one son.
Three years, no children.
Separated after six years, divorced two years after that, no children.
Two years, no children.
Thirteen years, three children.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO SEEK DIVORCE?
Brother 1: Lack of respect, excessive jealousy, incompatibility.
Brother 2: Distance (we were apart for 2 years), resentment related to the distance.
Brother 3: Infidelity, loss of trust.
In truth, after I found out (I had suspected for months, then confronted her, been persuaded/bullied into apologizing – though I refused to apologize to her Masters student, then found concrete proof on her phone and saw her leaving a hotel with her student), I was pretty messed up. I couldn’t speak to my kafir family back home, couldn’t speak to my in-laws (how would I tell my ex-MIL, who I loved because she was such a beautiful Muslimah? Mate, I still miss her – not my ex, not my SIL, not my FIL, but I definitely miss my ex-MIL.), and didn’t feel comfortable talking to the brothers I was close to in Singapore. Not wanting to speak to them I think was an issue of masculinity – I would have felt inadequate admitting to be in this situation.
In the end, I spoke to an online friend I had. I told them what had happened, how I was trying to make it work, but I didn’t feel it would, and wasn’t sure what to do. They asked me if I still loved her, and I said I thought so; and if I trusted her, and I said no. Their response, well, what does that tell you? And it was at that moment that I decided to separate, and return home to Oz.
Brother 4: I never sought divorce. My ex-wife absconded to her parents’ house and claimed she wanted a different man because I wasn’t the kind of man she wanted in life. She refused to speak to me or to any third party to facilitate counseling until I granted her request for khul’. I eventually granted her request after a month and under the advice of a local Imam.
Brother 5: We had a lot of problems over the years. After having lived our lives in Canada and the USA, we had decided to come live in Jordan, raise our children right, and live among pious people. It was a mutual decision. On the day of travel, we had another spat and she decided she wasn’t going to Jordan with me. She told me to go alone with the children, so I did. People tried to convince her to join us in Jordan and she refused, so I divorced her.
HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT THE PROCESS OF GETTING A DIVORCE? WAS IT A RELIEF, WAS IT EMOTIONALLY DIFFICULT, WHAT WERE THE CONCERNS/ CHALLENGES THAT YOU EXPERIENCED DURING THAT TIME?
We were separated 4 years before the divorce. It was really emotional because we had been friends for a long time and [my] family loved her.
[It was difficult] leaving our son with her because my parents wanted to keep our son. It was difficult separating from our son, whom I would only see on weekends.
I did feel relieved because the trauma of it all was too much for me to bear, including the strain it had on my parents. I did feel a lot of guilt as well, feeling that I should have either not gotten married to her in the first place, or I shouldn’t have left her for my higher studies abroad. Emotionally it was quite taxing. I didn’t have too many concerns in the short term, I was just relieved to have ended it, but then you do worry about the future and whether you’ll be able to find the right person the next time.
My older brother also went through a divorce and I am the second of two boys in our family, so I did worry a lot about how my parents would feel. For them it was that both their sons are divorced! I even overheard my mum once saying to my dad, “It’s probably our sins that have caused our sons to end up with failed marriages.” So that hurt a bit too.
Aside from a few emails during that year after I left Singapore, I had very few communications with my ex. We already [had] separate lives, so the divorce was straight forward.
There were complications though – we had a house co-owned in Singapore, that we couldn’t sell for another year under Singaporean law. Via our communication, we had become platonically friendly again, and I grew to trust her somewhat.
I gave her power of attorney in Singapore to help hasten the house sale, and though I got the superannuation from my taxes that had gone into the house back, once the house sale went through, I didn’t hear from my ex ever again, and never saw my share of the house sale proceeds.
This wasn’t out and out fraud I think, though. We made the mistake of doing this informally, and relying on each of us to be honest with each other. I think we wanted to trust the other, but couldn’t quite do that. I honestly think she thought I planned to defraud her, so she did it to me first.
It was one of the lowest points in my life. I contemplated suicide on a daily basis and fell into deep depression. I was alone because I was stuck in a city where I had no family or friends. I felt used, taken advantage of, and emasculated. Obviously, I had a lot of trust issues with women that arose and still continue. How could you just leave your husband like that while at the same time claiming that he was a good husband and a good man?
What I describe in the second point above is my third, final divorce (irrevocable). At that point, I was relieved. It was finally over and I could move on. I had another chance to do it right, to avoid all the screw-ups I had committed over the years. Of course it was extremely challenging: I had sold all my things, quit my job, and moved across the world with three children that I needed to get into school. The children didn’t know Arabic well enough, so I had to tutor them, cook, and clean after work. I couldn’t go back to Canada. I had lost everything, and I was alone.
DID YOU HAVE EMOTIONAL SUPPORT BEFORE/ DURING/ AFTER THE DIVORCE? IF SO, WHO DID IT COME FROM? IF NOT, WHAT KIND OF SUPPORT DO YOU WISH YOU HAD HAD AND THAT YOU FEEL YOU NEEDED AT THAT TIME?
My family was there for me and my best friend. They supported me emotionally and made sure I didn’t think too much about it. My father especially was a big support, always asking me how I was doing.
At the beginning, at least for the first month, my father-in-law and my mother-in-law were the only ones who knew we had issues. They asked me not to tell anyone about it. But bottling it up for just over a month, I just couldn’t take it anymore, so I opened up to my best friend, and my brother.
After about 2 months I told my mother, my father and other close friends/cousins. I was surprised at how much love, sympathy and support I received from them. However, when it came to counseling, I felt that it was inadequate. All of them had good intentions, but they could never replace a qualified practitioner who is trained for these kinds of situations. There were many counselors in Sri Lanka, but we didn’t find any qualified Muslim counselors, just imams telling us both that getting a divorce is the worst permissible thing in the sight of Allah. We had to go to church pastors, temple priests and atheistic/secular counselors in order to help us with the process. So I definitely wish we had had more professional support for couples from within the Muslim community.
I had my kafir ex-American Marine boss. We were pretty close, and it helped deal with the culture shock that one experienced in a foreign country even after having been there for 3 years. We were actually out having lunch when I saw my ex leaving the hotel – he tried to distract me and prevent me from seeing her doing so, and was upset with himself that he had failed me in that.
I’m not sure why I didn’t go to the 2-3 brothers I was close to in Singapore. I think I was embarrassed to seek help, whereas my boss was there for me –and I had been there for him when he had family issues, on a previous occasion. Which is unfortunate, as I suspect having proper support from believers could have helped me avoid the multiple falls I experienced in the five or so years that would follow.
When I returned to Oz I moved out to a remote rural town (80 people) for a job, and for the isolation and a change of scenery. No Muslims, very strong drinking culture, and a complete 180 for me in terms of religious practice –from excessively Salafi to, well, non-practicing. The people I talked to when I was out there were either colleagues, or online via various music forums I was in. Such a psychological break –from having thrown away collectable Black Sabbath records because profiting from their sale was impermissible– to finding comfort in the metal, punk, reggae, rockabilly ska music I had loved before my shahadah).
So, in summary, I didn’t have much support, but then I didn’t seek much out, and just made do with what was on hand. The problem there was that I spent five years of my life on the outermost limit of the religion without leaving it, and gradually building up to full-blown alcoholism. My qadha (make-up prayers) count is in the thousands, and will take me a decade to repay.
Unfortunately, we have a subculture that identifies the ideal man as not giving way to his emotions. He can stand on his own and an expression of his feelings is considered weak. So no, not much of any beyond my non-Muslim mother who is like a good friend to me.
The emotional pressure was so great that I contemplated suicide. Of course, damnation is a worse alternative than emotional suffering, so I didn’t go ahead with it. There was also the issue of my parents and children: I couldn’t leave all that pain behind for them. What I faced was a complete lack of empathy from anyone. Everyone –other than immediate family– was convinced that the divorce was entirely my fault. They took my ex’s words at face value: I was the villain; I was the beast; I got what was coming to me. In the sense that Allah doesn’t oppress anyone, I got off easy. However, in terms of human accountability, this was grossly unfair. There was no one for me to cry with, no one to share the pain with. It was crushing. How could I talk about the circumstances with anyone? I couldn’t. I just suffered alone.
WHAT ARE SOME THINGS YOU WISH PEOPLE KNEW ABOUT MUSLIM MEN GOING THROUGH A DIVORCE?
It’s the worst thing that can happen to anyone. Especially when there are kids involved. It’s one of the most hated things by Allah. A conscious parent shouldn’t abandon their family. Consequences are severe.
I wish people knew that men experience abuse too. It may not be physical, but the emotional abuse is still pretty traumatic. I remember I was so sick of reading posts on Muslim FB pages about the stereotypical Muslim girl being abused in her marriage that I in-boxed one such page and asked them, why doesn’t anyone talk about the abused husband who suffers in silence, unable to even talk to anyone about it? They asked my permission to post my message on their timeline, for which I readily gave permission. But you should have seen the comments, it was so mean, there were women posting sarcastic comments saying “I’ve never heard of a man experiencing domestic abuse.” or “There’s no such thing as male domestic abuse.” Reading the comments made me feel sick. Also it was very awkward opening up to other friends.
Brothers get cheated on too.
Divorce is embarrassing. It leaves you feeling inadequate, like you’re a failure as a man.
At the time I left my wife, it felt like my whole entire world had come crashing down. I lost my wife, my home, my feeling of safety, stability, my Muslim family. I felt like I had nothing left. My perfect world (again, communication – I thought it was perfect) was gone.
Communication matters. It matters so much.
If you’ve grown up in a culture where men are supposed to be resilient, are not supposed to cry, and are supposed to keep their feelings to themselves, this is all made worse. It took me years to work through everything, first to regain my identity after divorce (since in marriage, you merge part of yourself with your spouse), and then years more to overcome feelings of inadequacy and paranoia (it’s only in the last few years – almost a decade later – that I stopped feeling like my current beloved wife was judging me).
This would have been much cleaner if I had had someone devout and wise to talk to about this when it first happened. Instead I bottled it up and went off into the deep end. Nothing healthy grows in the dark, it only festers.
Nice guys finish last. I can’t paint all Muslim men with this brush because I believe as a Muslim community we certain stereotypical role. This prevents us from really being vulnerable and human with one another, and ultimately we spend our time evaluating our spouse against this facade of a model we try to cut out for them. We don’t learn to truly love another because we’re too busy trying to be some ideal.
We’re not always the villains. Sometimes, the woman is cruel, immature, and selfish. Sometimes, it’s the woman who does not want things to work. Sometimes, it’s the woman who refuses counseling. And Muslim marriage counselors are often deaf to men, only hearing the woman’s side. Silence from a man may be to preserve his children’s feelings, to keep the lid on things, not a declaration of his guilt and the woman’s innocence.
WHAT ADVICE (SPIRITUAL AND/OR OTHERWISE) WOULD YOU GIVE TO MUSLIM MEN WHO ARE ABOUT TO, OR IN THE PROCESS OF, GETTING DIVORCED?
I would tell them my story and tell them to rethink their divorce. I thought about divorce for 1 year before deciding to do it. I didn’t want my child to go through it but because of me, he is going through it.
My advice would be to trust Allah no matter what. Do istikhara before starting the divorce process; don’t get too many family members involved; and don’t ever lose your cool, no matter what.
Talk about it. Naming a thing gives you power over a thing, and not the reverse.
Do not act tough. Divorce is painful, it hurts, and you need to talk about it. If you don’t talk about it, then that pain and disturbance will reappear later somehow, in a manner you can’t control.
If you don’t have some good brothers strong in imân, find them. It doesn’t matter how weak your faith and religion is, if you find the right people, your failings and insufficiencies will diminish in their company and their strength will inspire and strengthen you.
If you surround yourself with the irreligious and faithless, then your faith like an untended flame will wither and slowly die out.
If you have children, get a lawyer and make sure your conversation with your wife is on record. Protect yourself if you live in a western society. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Find friends but don’t let other people convince you against what your heart tells you. Don’t let your in-laws interfere. Listen to your heart. Listen to your heart. Listen to your heart. If you feel you are divorcing for the sake of God to be closer to Him, then fear nothing. Don’t let religious rhetoric from clergy distract you and make you feel guilty as if you are the source of Satan’s joy. Everything is by its intention. Don’t overreact. Deliberate. And most importantly, look for ways to take care of yourself because this divorce will change you.
What advice do I have? I have none. Everyone failed me. I just toughed it out alone. The advice I got from the world was, “Suffer alone, you wretch.” I guess I do have some advice: Make some heartfelt du’a. Allah replaced my ex with a woman who is my true soulmate. I didn’t know what I needed, and I had no idea that this woman I’d marry would be my soulmate.
HOW DO YOU FEEL THAT DIVORCE AFFECTED YOU EMOTIONALLY OR IMPACTED YOUR IMÂN?
From a relationship perspective, I was privy to a side of my wife I had never experienced, so it still scares me to know that this side to her exists. I also don’t trust anyone 100%. Recently she wanted to open a joint bank account. I just can’t get myself to open one. The scars of the experience still linger. Insha’Allah I’ll get there soon. [Editor’s note: this brother did not complete the divorce process and is currently still married.]
Actually, about a year or so before the divorce, I was going through an internal spiritual transformation. So the timing couldn’t have been better! Alhamdulillah, I was able to relate to Surat Al- ʿAlâq (96) at such a deep level because of my experience. Alhamdulillah my Islam became good ever since.
Going out-bush was good to get away from everything, but I lived by myself with few emotional ties, and so didn’t necessarily deal with everything I should have been dealing with. Again, the need for talking, and confidantes comes up here.
While out-bush I didn’t practice, I didn’t even think of it. I believed, and Ikhlas was always in my heart. Sheikh Munajjid’s essays on Tawhîd had left a mark that nothing would wash away. I did have crises of faith, but they related to a separate issue of realizing that finite beings such as ourselves couldn’t quantitatively prove the existence of God. Brothers I knew from Singapore helped me through this by answering questions and focusing on the fact that faith, in the end, is belief, not facts proven by the scientific method.
Because I didn’t deal with my emotions immediately, much of it lingered on for years, even a decade, afterwards. For example, I started smoking cigarettes in the six months leading up to my separation as a coping mechanism. When I came back to Australia, within six months that ‘cigarettes only’ had transitioned into cigarettes and alcohol, and from there slowly built up into quite a habit. I’ve been sober for 582 days (after several years of attempting to quit) – I wrote about my alcoholism anonymously here: https://www.reddit.com/r/stopdrinking/comments/4dzim1/muslim_and_alcoholic_my_experiences_of_being/
It was via two brothers and a sister (an Iraqi-Kiwi brother, an Irish-Australian sister, and an ex-anarchist/ex-punk turned Salafi-ish brother whose story was remarkably similar to mine) on Twitter that provided the first reminders to me and turned my face towards the Ka’bah again. Their examples pierced my subconscious and heart, and slowly I started returning to the faith.
I just try to hang on to my Salah and my Kalimah. That is uncompromisingly. I maintain my pillars, but I’ve lost a lot of motivation to fulfill upon my etiquettes that create a beautiful structure upon those pillars. I’ve found ways to take care of myself, but I still am haunted by the idea of being abandoned and lonely. This is even after spending 2.5 years studying the Dîn in Egypt and Yemen. I’ve learned to accept where I am and I just hope that whatever I end up doing, that God makes it so that I please him with whatever I do.
The divorce taught me that nothing is sacred except for the Sacred. Love your wife, love your kids, love your life, but realize that no one and nothing will be there for you at all times. As the Sufis say, there are only three realities: Allah, you, and your grave.
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These stories, from Muslim men around the world, highlight just how important it is for Muslims to take the time to understand the perspectives of both men and women who experience such personal ordeals in their lives. It is not enough to make assumptions, or to rely on one-sided stories; it is not acceptable for us to deny our brethren the right to express sorrow and seek help for their grief and heartbreak. Qualified professionals, empathetic support, and spiritual reassurance are lacking for divorced Muslim men just as they are for women.
Unfortunately, we are too used to assuming that all or most Muslim men involved in divorce are villains; while it is true that some Muslim men are, indeed, abusive (just as some non-Muslim men are), it is a fallacy to assume that every divorced Muslim man has a questionable background and should be viewed with suspicion. So too have we internalized, to our own detriment, the wrongful belief that men do not feel or should not express their vulnerabilities and emotions, and that a man’s strength is dependent upon his silence. Yet from the Sunnah of RasulAllah ﷺ, we have ample evidence that even the greatest man in creation wept and smiled, grieved and celebrated, and sought comfort in times of turmoil.
Now more than ever, we as an Ummah must remember that the believers – men and women – are meant to be supportive of each other, ready to provide solace and encouragement, especially at our most difficult moments.
The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise. [Sûrat Al-Tawbah, 9:71]