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The Difficulties of Divorce in the Muslim Culture


In the United States we are very fortunate to have certain freedoms that a lot of the world is unable to participate in, one of these being divorce. Here, the government understands that they cannot force two people to stay together when there are so many reasons telling the couple that it is time for them to move on. Divorce used to be for couples only when there was adultery involved, and now today we are fortunate to make the decision for ourselves if we believing leaving our spouse is the best decision for us to make. In the event that a couple does choose to divorce, they have the freedoms of the law to have rights to their assets, whether it is through community and separate property states or equitable distribution, no spouse will be left with nothing.

There are situations however, that involve those in the Muslim religion and certain aspects of the Islamic Law, or Shariah, that may be preventing these individuals from divorcing, even in America. One lawyer in New Jersey, Abed Awad, has been seeking to help these couples bound by their religious laws to seek divorces, and has dealt with at least 100 different cases. Awad shares that there was one case in which a woman, who now lives in the United States, was married to a man in West Africa under the Islamic laws and later down the line, her husband claims that there was never actually a legal marriage.

Awad is seeking to help this woman declare her marriage as a genuine legal act, because if the judge determines it was a legal union then she will be entitled to the normal aspects of a divorce in the states such as alimony and the division of the martial assets. Sadly, if the judge rules that the marriage between her and the man was never a legal union, then she will be left with absolutely nothing. What makes this situation so sticky is the fact that the judge will need to learn the ins and outs of the Shariah law when it comes to marriage in her African country.

The judge plans to learn what their law claims about marriage in order to make a ruling as to whether it was a legal union or not, and this will require him to discuss the matters with those who are educated in this specific Islamic law. A big concern with this matter is the fact that there are many politicians who want to make it so that judges in the United States are able to overrule laws of other countries. Awad believes that if the judge does not consider the ways of the Islamic law that he will not be able to adjudicate a decision. If the judge were to base the case only on the laws of New York marriages and divorces, it may result in this woman not having her union be deemed as a legal marriage, even though it happened in Africa.

If a decision is passed that a judge is prohibited to consider the laws and beliefs of other countries when it comes to making a decision in court, it is likely that the Muslim people may have some of their rights diminished when it comes to either divorce or marriage. This would keep the judge from being able to fully understand the ways of the couple’s religious beliefs in their original country. Divorce is very common in the United States, and within the statistic of 50% of all marriages ending in divorce, it is stated that one out of three marriages in the Muslim culture here in the states also ends in divorce as well.

When this group seeks a divorce in the U.S. they want to make sure that it is done in a way that lines up with their Islamic laws, and if the states will not allow them a legal civil divorce, then the Islamic religious leaders will not allow them to have an Islamic divorce certificate either. If the imams, or Islamic leadership, do not receive the civil divorce papers and approve an Islamic divorce, then the couple will not have the rights to their endowments and inheritances, etc.

At this time there are six different states in which a judge is prohibited from acknowledging the Shariah law including Arizona, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Louisiana, Tennessee and Kansas. With this ban lawyers who represent the Muslim community claim that is is depriving the people who live in the states from constitutional freedom of religion, equal protection, as well as other constitutional rights. Reports also state that at this time around 20 other states are considering this ban as well in their state courts.