Can Women Initiate Divorce?

It is often a misconception that men are the only ones allowed to divorce in Islam. Women can initiate divorce if there is a genuine reason, such as if the man is falling short in terms of her rights or where he treats her unjustly. Islam allows divorce ultimately to escape from any harm caused by the irreconcilable differences. Divorce enables the protection of interests and rights of the parties involved – : the husband, wife and children – and these are done by strict rules. However, it might be forbidden in cases where the needed benefit will not be achieved and where the problem will not be solved which would furthermore cause undue harm to one of the two marriage partners.

Abu Dawood (2226), al-Tirmidhi (1187) and Ibn Maajah (2055) narrated that Thawbaan (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allaah SAW said: “Any woman who asks her husband for a divorce when it is not absolutely necessary, the fragrance of Paradise will be forbidden to her.” Therefore, it is absolutely necessary for the woman to give a genuine reason for initiating the divorce. It is also important for all measures to be taken to avoid divorce, solutions should be sought when critical disputes and differences occur between husband and wife; Allah SWT, states in the Glorious Qur’an: “And if a women fears cruelty or desertion from her husband, there is no sin on both of them if they make terms of peace between themselves; and making peace is better.” [4:128] Allah SWT, also says: “If you fear a breach between them appoint two arbitrators, one from his family and the other from her family: if the two of them both wish for correction, Allah will cause their reconciliation. Indeed Allah is Omniscient and Well-Acquainted with all things.” [4:35]

A wife is permitted to nullify her marriage under Islamic jurisprudence, if the husband abuses her physically or verbally. She is also entitled to have the marriage nullified if the husband is impotent and cannot perform his marital duties, or if the husband for any reason, refuses to have sexual relations with his wife and fulfil her lawful needs. Likewise, the Prophet SAW said: “If a man calls his wife to his bed and she refuses, and he remains angry with her overnight, the angels will curse her until morning.” Narrated by al-Bukhaari (3237) and Muslim (1736).

Moreover, if the husband contracts any type of venereal or reproductive disease that may harm the wife or make her lose her desire to be with her husband, she may nullify the marriage. Also, if a wife reaches the extreme limits of patience and abhors her husband, feeling that life is unbearable, then she has the right to divorce – this form of divorce is called annulment, or “Khula”, wherein she would return the dowry or some other property that he gave her. A shari’a judge should look into the individual case if the husband refuses to accept the wife’s request and if the request is considered sound and valid, will pass a judgment in favour of the woman.


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