Q. It is widely believed amongst the Muslim 'ulema' that a Muslim woman who has been divorced three times from the same husband cannot remarry her husband for a fourth time unless she goes through the process of 'halala.' She is required to consummate a second marriage, and then wait for a divorce from the second husband before she can remarry her previous husband (if she so chooses). This is based on the following Qur'anic verse:

"And if a husband divorces his wife finally [for a third time], she shall thereafter not be lawful unto him unless she first takes another man for husband; then, if the latter divorces her, there shall be no sin upon either of the two if they return to one another -- provided that both of them think that they will be able to keep within the bounds set by God: for these are the bounds of God which He makes clear unto people of [innate] knowledge".(2:230)

Is the above ruling still applicable today?

A. We firmly adhere to the view of Professor Fazlur Rahman that the minutiae of the Qur'an were never meant to be permanent, and that what we should make permanent is the underlying philosophy of the Qur'an. Your question validates our point. We feel that the laws of divorce as outlined in the Qur'an were specific to the time of the Prophet as a man living in an androcentric society. The Qur'an, while emending the position of woman in society, could not do so overnight and approached the subject through what is known as gradualism. To the men who treated their wives as property, the idea of having her marry another person and then consummating that second marriage, etc. was to ensure that a man think carefully before he divorced his wife multiple times. Note that the stipulation is three divorces and then the woman is required to take a different husband. It would seem that three divorces would be more than enough and then marriage and divorce become a game. This ruling served two purposes: 1) it provided women with rights that they did not have prior to the revelation, and 2), it set limits for men in terms of how much they could treat women as property to be manipulated at will.

It is our position that the idea of the ruling was that as we progressed spiritually, we would realize the important role of women in society and change our laws and customs to fulfill the divine plan. Sadly, Muslims often read the Qur'an with an eye on preserving ossified traditions, often neglecting to ask the appropriate questions regarding certain legislation. It is strange that on one hand, there are those who talk about the permanency of the Qur'anic laws, and then (paradoxically) support the idea of abrogation in many matters. Our view is that in today's society, given the scenario you put forth, this matter should be one wherein importance is placed on the cultural mores and laws of the land the woman resides in, and she should do that which she deems as the correct course of action.

Posted May 19, 2010