What is Dissolution of Marriage in Islam?

Although the institution of the family is accorded profound importance in Islam, the right to dissolution of marriage is given to both spouses. The Qur’an and Sunnah provide clear guidelines for dissolution of marriage that protect the rights of all stakeholders — the husband, the wife, the children, and society at large. These Islamic teachings are, for the most part, the basis of the different family laws in Pakistan, although there are some conflicts and inconsistencies. However, there are certain practices in Pakistan, which are often in blatant violation of Islamic teachings, largely due to public ignorance of Islamic teachings and weak implementation of laws, and partly to weaknesses in the laws. To alleviate the additional suffering that this situation imposes on disintegrating families, the remaining inconsistencies and gaps between Islamic teachings and family laws need to be closed, public awareness needs to be built on a war footing, and the concerned stakeholders, especially legislators, lawyers, the judiciary and ulema, need to be facilitated in understanding one another’s perspective and working together.

Marriage is highly revered and extolled in Islam and accorded a detailed treatment both in the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). It is, for instance, called the sign of God, a way of prophets and the Sunnah of Muhammad (pbuh). The Qur’an uses the simile of a garment[4] to describe the mutually protective and beautifying relationship between spouses, and requires them to be very kind and considerate to each other. It also assigns different roles to each spouse to ensure smooth functioning of the family that emerges as a result of the marriage contract between husband and wife in a prescribed way.

Islam treats marriage as an everlasting institution with specific rights and responsibilities assigned to each partner. A Muslim marriage is a social contract between two independent persons who have attained puberty. Islam introduces checks and balances to protect and secure the rights of all stakeholders in this matter—the husband, the wife, the children, and society at large. It prohibits all forms of extramarital relations, both before and after marriage, treating them as a transgression.Thus, Islam, with its provisions for establishing and maintaining the integrity of the family, is diametrically opposed to the viewpoint that stands for sexual laxity in the garb of “freedom of choice.”

In spite of its emphasis on marriage and its preservation, however, Islam does not rule out dissolution of marriage as a last resort for estranged couples. Describing divorce as the most detestable among the permissible acts, Islam gives both the partners the right to terminate their marriage contract if they fail to fulfil the primary objectives of marriage.

This article discusses the different ways of dissolution of marriage in the context of Islamic teachings, contemporary practices and prevalent laws in Pakistan. The different forms of marriage dissolution are discussed in detail, comparing the governing Islamic principles with the relevant laws of Pakistan and prevalent practices. This is followed by a discussion of the key issues that crop up immediately after the dissolution of marriage, again, comparing Islamic teachings with relevant laws and actual practices. In the end, recommendations are presented for addressing the key problems.

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