Divorcing the Wife at the Behest of Parents
Q. Is there any religious requirement in Islam for a husband to divorce his wife merely because his parents are displeased with the marriage, or continue to disapprove of it? Didn’t the Prophet ﷺ endorse the decision of ‘Umar who ordered his son to divorce his wife? Is the son being disobedient if he refuses to do so?
A. The incident in question refers to the case of Ibn ‘Umar who relates: I was married to a woman that I loved, but my father disliked her. So he ordered me to divorce her, but I refused. I then mentioned this to the Prophet ﷺ who said to me: ‘O ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Umar! Divorce your wife.’1
The leading Hanbali jurist of his age, Ibn Muflih, writes in his al-Adab al-Shar‘iyyah: ‘If his father demands that he divorce his wife, he isn’t required to do so. This was stated by most of the senior students [of Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal]. Al-Sanadi states: A man said to Abu ‘Abd Allah [i.e. Imam Ahmad]: My father orders me to divorce my wife. He responded: “Do not divorce her.” The man said: But didn’t ‘Umar order his son ‘Abd Allah to divorce his wife? So he replied: “Only if your father is like ‘Umar, may God be pleased with him.”’2
Shaykh Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut explains in a footnote to this point: ‘Meaning, he shouldn’t divorce her on account of his father ordering it; unless the father is like ‘Umar, in the sense of doing what is true and just, and not merely following his personal whims in the matter.’3
Ibn Taymiyyah stated something similar about a mother ordering her son to divorce his wife: ‘It is not required to obey her. Though one [continues to] remain dutiful and kind to her. Divorcing one’s wife is not part of kindness due to mothers.’4
So if the parents’ decision in this delicate issue springs from profound piety and depth of religious insight, and not from from their whims or egos, then one considers their judgement and looks to obeying them; if not, then not.
Here, it is appropriate to mention the honour, kindness and service that Islam expects children to show to parents. The Qur’an states: Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you show kindness to your two parents. If either or both of them attain old age [show no sign of impatience, and] do not even say “fie!” to them nor rebuke them, but speak to them kindly. [17:23]
Allah also said: Be grateful to Me and your two parents. [31:14] And: We have enjoined on mankind kindness to parents; but if they try to force you to ascribe to Me that of which you have no knowledge, then obey them not. [29:8]
The hadith compendiums record that the Prophet ﷺ was asked: What deed is best? He said: ‘Prayer at its earliest time, and then kindness to parents.’5 ‘A parent,’ declared the Prophet ﷺ, ‘is the best of the gates of Paradise; so if you wish, protect the gate or lose it.’6 Then there is the hadith: ‘The pleasure of your Lord lies in pleasing parents, and the anger of your Lord lies in displeasing parents.’7
Yet despite the tremendous status Islam accord parents, a son is under no obligation to fulfil the demands of his parents to divorce his wife, if there is no valid reason for doing so. Moreover, the above texts in no way sanction the tyranny that some parents inflict on their sons and daughters: physical abuse, forced marriages, indifference to religious education and upbringing, forceful imposition of ‘back home’ cultural values and, in a few hideously haram cases, honour killings! Such issues must be challenged, stood-up to and be rooted out of our communities.
In summary: If parents ask the son to annul his marriage because of some reason held to be valid in the Sacred Law (shari‘ah) – like shielding him from an overriding worldly harm; or to safeguard his moral, spiritual and religious wellbeing – one considers the parents wishes and defers to their judgement. To use the hadith unrestrictedly would be highly tragic and, given the moral degeneration of people today (parents includes), it would be highly reckless too. If parents have no legitimate grounds for their dislike, then no such obedience is due. If one is in any doubt about the matter, one consults a well-seasoned scholar of the Sacred Law.
Lastly, we must remember that when a man takes a women in marriage, this nikah, or marriage, is described in Allah’s Book [4:21] as a mithaq ghalizah – “solemn covenant.” Such a solemn marital bond must be honoured and nurtured and its rights fulfilled: it isn’t a trivial thing that should be subjected to the egotistical whims of selfish parents. Let men be loving, affectionate, relaxed, easy-natured and honourable companions to their wives – soul mates, even; reverently upholding the sanctity of marital ties. After all: They are a garment for you and you are a garment for them. [2:187] And after all, the Prophet ﷺ did tell us: ‘The best of you are those who are best to their wives.’8 Thus, in Islam, being a good husband is an essential part of being a man. So be a man!
1. Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan, no.1200, where he said: ‘This hadith is hasan sahih.’
2. Ibn Muflih, al-Adab al-Shar‘iyyah (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1996), 1:475.
3. ibid, 1:475.
4. Cited in al-Adab al-Shar‘iyyah, 1:475.
5. Al-Bukhari, Sahih, no.527.
6. Al-Tirmidhi, no.1961, who said: ‘This hadith is sahih.’
7. Al-Tirmidhi, no.1962, and it is authentic (sahih). Cf. al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Beirut: Maktab al-Islami, 1985), no.516.
8. Al-Tirmidhi, no.1162, who said: ‘The hadith is hasan sahih.’