The more I learn about Islam, the more incongruities I find when compared with Christianity. Of course there are items in each religion that appear similar, but so too there are many places where stark areas of divergence emerge. One such area is in the issue of divorce and remarriage. In both Christianity and Islam, divorce is viewed as a terrible occurrence, yet one that is sometimes unfortunately unavoidable. In this sense, the religions seem to be similar. But upon deeper investigation, some bizarre differences become apparent.
When God gave the law to Israel, one issue that it dealt with was that of divorce. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were familiar with the letter of the law, but they seemed to miss the point entirely (Matthew 19:7). God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), and Jesus was quick to inform them that divorce was a concession given because of the reality of the hard-hearted nature of humans, but that divorce was never God’s desire (Matthew 19:8). This isn’t surprising, as anyone who has been divorced or had parents who divorced knows the heartache that accompanies it.
But there are circumstances where divorce may be inevitable. Two such reasons cited are adultery (Matthew 5:32) and abandonment by an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15). In such cases, the victimized spouse has options. One option is to follow through with the divorce, while the other is to offer forgiveness and work toward subsequent reconciliation. This isn’t always advantageous or even feasible, but the freedom to choose the option of reconciliation is always there until a remarriage occurs.
The first four verses from Deuteronomy 24 spell out the scenario in more detail. In essence, if a man divorces his wife, and she marries another man, and that second man also divorces her, the first man should not take her back as a wife. Such a statute protects the sanctity of the second marriage and it prevented women from being tossed around as property.
Regardless, the Bible teaches that reconciliation of broken marriages can happen at any point until a remarriage occurs. This fits with God’s character, since God is all about reconciliation (Romans 5:10, 2 Corinthians 5:18). The entire Bible is about God finding a way to repair and reconstruct the broken relationship we have with Him (Colossians 1:20).
Back to the marriage scenario, once reconciliation does not occur, and a person gets remarried, that new relationship is given the same protection and standing as the first marriage, so much so that you cannot go back.
So what does Islam teach about divorce, remarriage, and reconciliation? The primary verse in the Qur’an that speaks to this is as follows:
[2.230] So if he divorces her she shall not be lawful to him afterwards until she marries another husband; then if he divorces her there is no blame on them both if they return to each other (by marriage), if they think that they can keep within the limits of Allah, and these are the limits of Allah which He makes clear for a people who know.
If a divorce is finalized according to Islamic customs, it is irrevocable and reconciliation is no longer an option. An irrevocable divorce can be accomplished by the man uttering the words “I divorce you!” three times over any period of time, whether spread out or consecutively. As this Islamic site notes,
The absolute majority of the scholars are of the opinion that if one pronounces three divorces to one’s wife at one time, they will count as three and an irrevocable divorce will be established.[i]
There is one and only one way to get remarried. This can be done if the woman gets married to another man, and then gets divorced from the second marriage. Not only must this second marriage occur, but it must be consummated. Muhammad himself spoke to this in the Hadith.
The wife of Rifa’a Al-Qurazi came to Allah’s Apostle and said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Rifa’a divorced me irrevocably. After him I married ‘Abdur-Rahman bin Az-Zubair Al-Qurazi who proved to be impotent.” Allah’s Apostle said to her, “Perhaps you want to return to Rifa’a? Nay (you cannot return to Rifa’a) until you and ‘Abdur-Rahman consummate your marriage.” [ii]
Notice that this woman apparently wanted to go back to her first husband Rifa, but she could not do so until she and Abdur-Rahman consummated their marriage. This might be getting a little confusing, so perhaps a recap is in order.
In Christianity, a broken marriage is always open for reconciliation until a remarriage occurs. In Islam, a broken marriage is not open for reconciliation until after a remarriage occurs. In Christianity, a second marriage precludes a person from returning to their first spouse. In Islam, a second marriage is required and must be consummated so that a person would have the option to return to their first spouse.
Everything is completely reversed.