Accessibility links

Breaking News

Pakistan’s Religious Council Moves Against Rash Divorce

FILE - Maryam Suheyl, a marriage and family therapist, checks her books at her office in Lahore, Jan. 6, 2013.

A state-run Pakistani council has proposed an amendment to the country’s Islam-based family laws, seeking punishment for a man if he divorces his wife in a fit of rage.

The proposal by Maulana Muhammad Khan Sheerani, head of the state-run Council of Islamic Ideology, is likely to stir up debate in a country where a man can divorce his wife by simply telling her "I divorce you" three times. He must follow up to register the divorce with authorities.

Sheerani told VOA Deewa Wednesday that if a man says the divorce word three times in succession, it might represent an act that was committed in a fit of rage.

To leave room for reconciliation between an estranged man and his wife, Sheerani’s council has proposed that if a man wants to divorce his wife he should say the phrase in a phased manner.

The council recommends that after a man has said the phrase once, he should give it some time, hours or possibly days, before saying it a second and third time to ultimately annul the marriage. Sheerani said "this will leave a man time to calm down and reconsider if he was going to divorce his wife in a rush of anger, and even leave room for mediation by relatives."

He added if the phrase is said three times in a row, it should be declared a punishable crime.

“If a man gives three divorces [phrases] at the same time, since this is an act against Sunnah [sayings of the Prophet Muhammad] the court has the authority to give him punishment according to criminal procedures,” Sheerani told Deewa.

Sheerani said the government would decide the punishment for a man who rushes through a divorce process.

Already under Pakistan's penal code, a man has to give three notices, each one a month apart, to the family arbitration council, if he wants to legally divorce his wife, says Liaqat Binori, a lawyer who specializes in family laws.

A woman can also seek an end to her marriage but she does not have the authority to do so by a word of mouth. Instead, she has to go through an arbitration process.

Unlike western societies, the concept of a written marriage certificate [contract] is not generally practiced in conservative Pakistan. After efforts by civil rights’ advocates and growing awareness, educated middle class Pakistanis obtain marriage certificates mostly in urban centers before the marriage, authorizing both man and woman to seek divorce.

Under Sunni Muslim law, both oral and written divorce can end a marriage but under Shiite Muslim law, there has to be at least two witnesses to a divorce procedure for it to be effective.

The Council of Islamic Ideology is an advisory body including clerics and experts on Islamic laws. The council is mandated by the Pakistani constitution to vet laws and make sure they were not against Islamic principles but the council’s recommendations are not binding.

Rabia Pir contributed to this story from Islamabad