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Question: Is it true that in Islam ONLY man can divorce his wife and a woman can not divorce her husband?
Answer:

This is certainly wholly untrue and false; such a misconception is mainly due to utter ignorance of the laws of the Shari’ah as well as, unfortunately, due to the distorted ways we have been practicing these laws in our societies. When all evidences are considered and evaluated, it is crystal clear that in Islam women, just like men, can have legitimate rights to divorce their husbands.

Divorce, however, it must be noted, is the most abominable of all permissible things in Islam; it is considered as the pet project of the Devil, who is never satisfied with anything other than breaking up the relations between a husband and his wife. So every conscientious Muslim, male as well as female, must guard against the snares of Satan. They are obligated to try their utmost to maintain the sanctity of family; therefore, divorce is a rare exception only to be undertaken for specific reasons, after having exhausted all means of reconciliation.

Having said this, I must state: Islam envisages perfect equity between the spouses in rights and responsibilities: “They shall have rights just as they have responsibilities in fair measure.” (Qur’an: 2: 228).
Such rights of women definitely include the right to divorce their husbands when and where cohabitation becomes difficult.

Such genuine reasons include: Physical or emotional abuse, for at no time Islam tolerates such behavior from anyone; the Prophet, peace be upon him, has instituted the firm principle, “There shall be no inflicting or reciprocating of harm!”

The Prophet, peace be upon him, has inferred the above principle from numerous Quranic verses which clearly forbid abuse/injury/harm in every respect in all cases, and even more particularly in spousal relations. Thus we read a constant theme in the Qur’an: “….But do not retain them in order to harm or wrong them…” (Qura’n: 2: 231). “…..Do not harass them so as to make life intolerable for them…”(Qur’an: 65: 6). “….A mother should not be made to suffer because of her child, nor should a father because of his child. The same duties devolve upon the father’s heir…”(Qur’an: 2: 233). Based on these and similar evidences, there is a consensus among scholars that where there is a clear evidence of harm inflicted on a wife she has every right to seek divorce from her husband.

The Qur’an has also established the principle that where spouses feel that they are so utterly incompatible with one another so that they find themselves in a situation where they will not be able to protect themselves against sins, then they have a right to divorce. Thus we read in the sources that the Prophet, peace be upon him, granted divorces to women who had complained to him that they were no longer happy with their husbands because of their incompatibility, while they had no moral faults as such. The Prophet, peace be upon him, never harassed these women by further questioning; he only told them to return the dowry and gifts they had received from their husbands.

For further details, please consult the answer to the question #659 on this site.

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