by Lizzie Schofield
The BBC recently published a report on the controversial practice of Halala marriage. Halala marriage is a temporary marriage (which must be consummated) for the purpose of enabling a divorced woman to be reconciled with her husband. Farah, a woman considering Halala marriage, told of women who
“…went to the mosque, there was apparently a designated room where they did this stuff and the imam or whoever offers these services, slept with her…”
The article went on to qualify that this is a practice that the ‘vast majority’ of Muslims are strongly against and was strongly condemned by Khola Hasan of the Islamic Sharia Council.
But is this really the case? What is it that convinces women like Farah that halala is valid? Does it have any basis in the Qur’an or the supporting Scriptures?
Let’s examine the Qur’an, Sura 2:230:
“And if he [the husband] has divorced her (the third time), then she is not lawful unto him thereafter until she had married another husband.”
When Ibn ‘Umar was asked about person who had given three divorces, he said, “Would that you gave one or two divorces, for the Prophet (ﷺ) ordered me to do so. If you give three divorces then she cannot be lawful for you until she has married another husband (and is divorced by him).”
It also has support from the Hanafi’s al Mukhtasar (767 CE, pp427-8) and Shafi’I – ‘Reliance of the Traveller’ (820 CE n7.7) schools of fiqh, and from the Deobandi movement. The Deobandis, are an ultra-conservatives Sunni Muslim sect who control around 45 per cent of Britain’s mosques, and nearly all the UK-based training of Islamic scholars – you can find out about them on this Radio 4 documentary, and The Spectator.
Take a look at the advice the Deobandis give below to a man who allowed a ‘family friend’ to sleep with his wife for halala purposes now wondering if he’s done something wrong:
So, if this is the advice from the group that controls 45 per cent of Britain’s mosques, and almost all of the Islamic training in Britain, is the BBC right to assert that halala marriage is something “the vast majority of Muslims are strongly against?” Can the BBC provide any independent research on this subject?
When we’ve discussed this subject publicly, it has provoked an angry reaction from Muslims, who, like the Islamic Sharia Council, denounce it as ‘un-Islamic’. So what are the counter-arguments and are they convincing?
1. The words Halala marriage are not found in the Qur’an
This is a straw man: tawhid isn’t found in the Qur’an either, yet it’s Islam’s central doctrine. The concept (if not the detailed application) of Halala is clearly there in Sura 2:230.
2. A man who marries a woman with the intention of divorcing her for Halala purposes – that is haram
Let’s look at the Sura 2:230 again:
“And if he has divorced her (the third time), then she is not lawful unto him thereafter until she had married another husband.” Then, if the other husband divorces her, it is no sin on both of them that they reunite, provided they feel that they can keep the limits ordained by Allah.”
The primary issue here is not intention, but lawfulness. In order for her to be reconciled to her husband, she must marry another man and divorce him – that way, there is “no sin on both of them.” The implication is, if they were simply to reconcile after a final divorce, they would be sinning. Why will Allah not allow them simply to be reconciled? How does this cruel act make her ‘permissible’ again and what does this say about Allah’s morality?
3. Muhammad cursed it.
“Ali narrated: – Ismai’l (one of the narrators) said: “And I think it was from the Prophet” – “The one who marries in order to make a woman permissible (for her first husband) is cursed, as is the one on whose behalf it was done.” (Sunan Abu Dawud Vol. 2, Book 11, no 2076)
According to the the Saudi publishers (English Translation of Sunan Abu Dawud, Volume 2, Riyadh: Darussalem, 2008 p. 517) this hadith is da’if (weak). Other collections, such as Sunan Ibn Majar refer to this same curse as ‘sahih’ (reliable.) So this saying is disputed.
If, for the sake of argument, it is a reliable hadith, how is this to be interpreted? Is a curse the same as a prohibition? Not according to Darul Iftar Birmingham Fatwa 01323:
In other words, the curse makes halala marriage unpalatable, but not invalid.
Even if the majority opinion is that this hadith does amount to a prohibition on halala marriage, at least of the quickie convenience kind – it still doesn’t deal with the issue of lawfulness as prescribed by Allah in Sura 2:230. The fact remains: if, after a triple talaq, a woman wants to be reconciled to her husband, she has no choice but to consummate a marriage with another man first. Again: why does Allah not let them simply be reconciled?
4. It’s a kind of ‘triple lock’ protection for marriage
Muslims argue that what Sura 2:230 actually teaches is that the triple talaq divorce is so serious there’s no going back. But if that were the case, why does the Sura not say so and leave it at that? If this is true,why is the possibility of reconciliation mentioned at all?
Rather, Sura 2:230 is a warning to anyone tempted to divorce their wife by triple talaq, because if you do, Allah says your wife has to have sex with another man before you can get back together. Instead of appealing to the man’s conscience by reminding him of the sanctity of marriage, Allah issues a cruel and degrading threat dressed up as a ‘safeguard.’ And where are the woman’s rights in all of this? Can she refuse her husband if he wants to be reconciled this way? Does she at least have the same rights over her husband? Not according to the Qur’an.
What does the New Testament teach?
Let’s contrast this with the Jesus’ teaching on marriage. Matthew 19:4
“A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Biblical marriage is between one man and one woman for life; God himself has joined them together. In Christianity marriage is a sacred institution that demands to be taken seriously. In the Qur’an a man can marry up to four women at once (Sura 4:3).
On the subject of divorce, rather than issue threats, Jesus’ appeals to the man’s conscience:
“Anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman, commits adultery.” (Matt 19:5)
Divorce in Christianity is a concession, Jesus says, “because your hearts were hard” (Mt 19:8). But it is not prohibited. Paul writes:
“A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.” (1 Cor 7:11)
This is a warning to a Christian husband and wife of the sanctity of marriage before they decide to separate – which both the husband and wife can instigate on equal terms. Paul also writes
“if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.” (1 Cor 7:15)
There is no suggestion in the Bible that a woman is forced to stay in an abusive marriage as some Muslims argue; and no where does God say a woman has to have sex with another man to be reconciled to her husband – this would entirely contradict the teaching of the New Testament.
If we take Muhammad’s curse as prohibitive, then some could argue the practice of paid-for convenience halala is un-Islamic. However the curse still does not negate the clear statement in Sura 2:230, that a woman is not lawful to her first husband unless she consummates a marriage with another man. This is strongly supported by the reliable hadith compilers such as Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, and both Hanafi and Shafi’I schools of Law. Halala marriage in this sense is perfectly consistent with the teaching of the Qur’an and the Islamic Traditions.
The issue isn’t the edict itself, but how to apply it. Most Muslims are understandably horrified by the idea of a reconciliation sex service. But where do you draw the line? According to the Deobandis – who control 45 per cent of the UK’s mosques – sex with a ‘family friend’ to get a husband and wife back together is OK.
In the Bible the believing wife must remain unmarried or be reconciled with her husband; in the Quran the woman must have sex with another man in order to be reconciled to him. The Bible emphasizes the sanctity of marriage; the Qur’an emphasises the finality of divorce. In the Bible, divorce is a concession which can be accessed by both husband and wife; in the Qur’an, only the husband can issue a triple talaq. The concept of whether a woman is ‘permitted’ underpins marriage in the Qur’an; the concept of a holy union between a man and a woman underpins marriage in the Bible. In the Qur’an rules for marriage were taught by a polygamist who took some of his wives through conquest; in the Bible, rules for marriage were taught by a celibate man who only ever treated women with dignity and respect.
Whose teaching would you rather follow?