WE CONCLUDE FROM Part 3 the details of Qur’anic divorce regulations, showing how they better serve the individual and society than do their Biblical counterpart.
Remarriage for the Widow and the Widower: Permission for One vs. Permission for Both
The Old Testament has no objection to the remarriage of a widow or a widower. The New Testament permits a widow to remarry someone. It is stated:
But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes. (The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians 7:39)
Now the New Testament is surprisingly silent as to the remarriage of a widower whether he is permitted to remarry after the death of his wife. There is no single verse about this issue in the vast volume of the Gospel books (reporting the sayings of Jesus) or in Paul’s writings.
The Quran, however, is clear as to this issue. All widows and widowers are permitted to remarry. On this point there is no objection or barrier. Only that the widow after the death of her husband must first wait four month and ten days, after which she may marry another man. It is stated:
They, [the wives, shall] wait four months and ten [days]. (Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:235)
This waiting period can be helpful for the widow to overcome nostalgia for the previous husband and to sort out whatever internal problematic affairs there may have been between them, and thus to prepare herself wisely for another marriage. Besides that, she will be able to know for sure whether she is pregnant by her deceased husband.
Accusation of Adultery without Evidence: Ineffective Method vs. Testimony
The Old Testament gives two instructions regarding the false accusation of adultery against a wife by her husband:
- If a man marries a virgin girl and later he makes a claim against her, alleging a lack of virginity, for the purpose of divorcing her– but has failed to prove his claim–then he will be fined “a hundred pieces of silver,” and he will not be allowed to divorce her as long as he lives. (Deuteronomy 22:13-19)
- When a husband suspects his wife’s adultery but he has no evidence to prove that, then the accused wife is to go to a priest to be declared innocent. After performing some rites, she shall drink “the bitter water“ and announce an oath on her chastity. If she is guilty, her abdomen would swell or her womb would miscarry, and consequently the husband will divorce her. (Numbers 5:11-31)
If such symptoms are not seen, the wife will be no longer considered as guilty. It is noted that here the husband has nothing to do in favor of his claim such as swearing an oath.
Such falsification tests mentioned above are not effective in modern days. In the first case, the evidence of virginity is usually understood to be a cloth with her blood which resulted from the defloration of her virginity that occurred during her first sexual union with the husband. Medical science tells us today, however, that without having sex a girl may lose her defloration through various kinds of physical injury. So this test is not water-tight. In the second case, the justification of adultery is in any workable sense so ineffective that none practice it; this method is not employed in Christian or Jewish communities today.
On the other side, the Quran talks only about adultery during one’s married life, not about virginity. It instructs both the husband and the wife–the accuser and the accused to swear by the name of Allah, five times, regarding their truthfulness in claiming or denying the accusation of adultery.
And for those who launch a charge against their spouses, and have [in support] no evidence but their own–their solitary evidence [can be received] if they bear witness four times [with an oath] by Allah that they are solemnly telling the truth; and the fifth [oath] [should be] that they solemnly invoke the curse of Allah on themselves if they tell a lie. But it would avert the punishment from the wife, if she bears witness four times [with an oath] by Allah, that [her husband] is telling a lie; and the fifth [oath] should be that she solemnly invokes the wrath of Allah on herself if [her accuser] is telling the truth. [Sûrat Al-Nûr, 24:6-9]
If the husband persists in his claim and the wife refuses that claim, then they shall be divorced.
If a person other than the husband brings an accusation against a wife, he must produce four witnesses. But if he fails to do that, he shall be given eighty lashes as punishment.
And those who launch a charge against chaste women, and produce not four witnesses [to support their allegation]–flog them with eighty stripes; and reject their evidence ever after; for such men are wicked transgressors–unless they repent thereafter and mend [their conduct]; for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. [Sûrat Al-Nûr, 24:4]
Marrying Disbelievers: some similarities
The Old Testament exhorts the Israelite man to divorce his wife who is an idol-worshiper.
After all this had been done, some of the leaders of the people of Israel came and told me [Ezra] that the people, the priests, and the Levites had not kept themselves separate from the people in the neighboring countries of Ammon, Moab, and Egypt or from the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and Amorites. They were doing the same disgusting things which these people did. Jewish men were marrying foreign women, and so God’s holy people had become contaminated. The leaders and officials were the chief offenders. (Ezra 9:1-2)
…why do we despise the covenant that God made with our ancestors? The people of Judah have broken their promise to God and done a horrible thing in Jerusalem and all over the country. They have defiled the Temple which the Lord loves. Men have married women who worship foreign gods… (Malachi 2:10-11)
The New Testament views it differently. It says that if a couple is mixed with a Christian and a non-Christian, and they want to live together, then there is no need of divorce. But if they no more want to live together for any reason, only then can that divorce occur.
To the others I say (I myself, not the Lord): if a Christian man has a wife who is an unbeliever and she agrees to go on living with him, he must not divorce her. And if a Christian woman is married to a man who is an unbeliever and he agrees to go on living with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made acceptable to God by being united to his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made acceptable to God by being united to her Christian husband. If this were not so, their children would be like pagan children; but as it is, they are acceptable to God. However, if one who is not a believer wishes to leave the Christian partner, let it be so. In such cases the Christian partner, whether husband or wife, is free to act. God has called you to live in peace. How can you be sure, Christian wife, that you will not save your husband? Or how can you be sure, Christian husband, that you will not save your wife? (The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians 7:12-16)
The Quran does not permit a Muslim to marry a woman who is a disbeliever. If such a situation comes about, there must be a divorce to separate them.
When there come to you believing women refugees…if ye ascertain that they are believers, then send them not back to the unbelievers. They are not lawful [wives] for the unbelievers, nor are the [unbelievers] lawful [husbands] for them…. [Sûrat Al-Mumtahanah, 60:10]
In conclusion, it is crystal clear that the Quranic instructions on divorce are very practical and effective. Such as, before going for divorce, a man should fear Allah, and he must try to correct the problem arisen in his wife. If that does not work, then he has to ask his own relatives to help fix the problem with her relatives. But the Bible does not suggest anything like that; the New Testament denies the followers of Jesus the right to divorce except in the case of adultery. The instructions of Paul to Christians give other conditions.
On the one hand, the Quran mandates a waiting period for about three months so that a couple may get enough time to rethink and return from the path heading to divorce, and in this duration the husband must give her shelter and bear her living costs. After having initiated the divorce, the husband is bound to help the wife by providing her financial assistance. On the other hand, the Bible does not give any such directions, and the New Testament colors divorce with the concept of a chain of adulterers.
In reality, Christians take a variety of positions. They can be described, according to some Christian commentators, as divided along six doctrinal lines:
- Neither divorce nor remarriage are allowed. (A conservative Protestant view)
- Divorce is OK, but remarriage is forbidden. (A second conservative Protestant view)
- Divorce is OK; remarriage is OK in cases of adultery or desertion (A conservative/mainline Protestant view)
- Divorce is OK for many reasons; remarriage is OK — as described on the website. (A mainline/liberal Protestant view)
- Divorce is impossible, unless the marriage never existed. (Roman Catholic)
- Divorce is OK in cases of marriage breakdown; remarriage is OK. (Religious liberal and secular view.)
Thus we end our look at two perspectives on divorce, the Biblical versus the Qur’anic. No doubt we have not exhausted what could be said on this topic and our readers may find some other points of comparison–which they are welcome to contribute in the “Comments” section of this page.