Divorce among Muslims is easy to obtain, at least for the husband. Under sharia, a man who says “I divorce you” three times (talaq, talaq, talaq) to his wife in front of witnesses has legally dissolved the marital bond. The latest rulings by Islamic jurists have even validated the procedure when it takes place over the telephone.
In recent years there has been a trend in various Western countries for courts to uphold the practice of sharia within their jurisdictions. Not long ago Britain ruled that polygamous husbands were allowed to collect welfare benefits on behalf of their extra wives.
So it comes as a pleasant surprise that the state of Maryland, not known as a bastion of conservative jurisprudence, has ruled against a provision of sharia and denied the custom of talaq any legal recognition. According to today’s Washington Post:
Islamic Divorce Ruled Not Valid in Maryland
After his wife of more than two decades filed for divorce in Montgomery County Circuit Court, Irfan Aleem responded in writing in 2003, and not just in court.
Aleem went to the Pakistani Embassy in the District, where he executed a written document that asserted he was divorcing Farah Aleem. He performed “talaq,” exercising a provision of Islamic religious and Pakistani secular law that allows husbands to divorce their wives by declaring “I divorce thee” three times. In Muslim countries, men have used talaq to leave their wives for centuries.
But they can’t use it in Maryland, the state’s highest court decided this week.
The state Court of Appeals issued a unanimous 21-page opinion Tuesday declaring that talaq is contrary to Maryland’s constitutional provisions providing equal rights to men and women.
“Talaq lacks any significant ‘due process’ for the wife, its use, moreover, directly deprives the wife of the ‘due process’ she is entitled to when she initiates divorce litigation in this state. The lack and deprivation of due process is itself contrary to this state’s public policy,” the court wrote.
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The decision affirms a 2007 ruling by the Court of Special Appeals, the state’s intermediate appellate court, which also said that talaq does not apply in the Free State.
Under Islamic traditions, talaq can be invoked only by a husband, unless he grants his wife the same right.
Notice the prominent part played by money — serious quantities of money — in this domestic dispute:
According to the Court of Appeals’ opinion, Irfan Aleem, who worked for years as an economist with the World Bank, is worth about $2 million, half of which Farah Aleem is entitled to under Maryland law. When Irfan Aleem tried to divorce his wife under the concept of talaq, a sum of $2,500 was mentioned as a “full and final” settlement, according to the appellate decision.
That amount was written into the marriage contract Farah Aleem signed the day she married him in their native Pakistan in 1980, according to the appellate decision. The contract was in accordance with Pakistani custom. At the time, he was 29 and she was 18. The couple moved to the Washington area in 1985.
[The wife’s attorney, Susan] Friedman said she thinks that Irfan Aleem, who retired in recent years, invoked talaq to avoid paying Farah half of his World Bank pension, which provides him with $90,000 annually, the attorney said.
“It will be very pleasant when [Farah] gets her share of that,” Friedman said. “She’s delighted about that.”
Friedman said she will serve papers on the World Bank showing that the original order from the Circuit Court — that Farah Aleem is entitled to half her ex-husband’s pension — is now final and that the bank has to give her half.
Irfan Aleem, who is in his late 50s, lives in Pakistan, Friedman said.
Hat tip: Center for Security Policy.