A recent trend in Muslim communities that is raising red flags is the alarming rate of increased divorces. Whether married for a few months or for several years, divorce is sadly becoming the initial course of action when marital difficulties surface rather than a last resort. According to a recent article featured on CNN online and on Yahoo Shine, a scientific study has shown that "divorce is a contagion that can spread through social groups like a virus, weakening the marriages closest to it." -- Retrieved July 10, 2011--(http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/06/10/divorce.contagious.gore/index.html) and (http://shine.yahoo.com/channel/sex/is-divorce-contagious-1957289/)
These results are definitely something to be concerned about. While the study did not focus on religious or cultural traits of the participants, it did take a long-term look at different couples who encountered divorce for various reasons. One cannot deny that Muslim communities around the world are being hit by this "contagion" just as quickly and fiercely as non-Muslims. Yet, understanding the reasons that often lead to divorce may work as a preventive measure that could help save some marriages before they end.
In the foreword of the book "When Muslim Marriage Fails: Divorce Chronicles and Commentaries", Dr. Mohamed Rida Beshir explains that one of the most common causes of divorce in the narratives presented in the book was: "a stark lack of communication between the spouses. They failed to communicate well before the marriage, and they failed to communicate well during the marriage. To exacerbate the problem of lack of communication, the couples in these stories often entered their lives together with two very different expectations of marriage, and unfortunately, never shared their expectations with one another. In the rare instances where communication did occur, it happened so ineffectively and in such an abrasive manner that it left the spouses feeling a great deal of resentment toward each other, resentment that festered in their hearts and ate away at their shaky marriages until they could take it no longer." (Pgs 5-6 in Ismail)
This lack of communication is truly a problem in our Muslim marriages. Often taught to stifle complaints rather than air them out in open discussion, the snowball effect can often make a mountain out of a virtual molehill that will continue to grow throughout the years of marriage. While many people wrongly assume that divorce mostly happens in younger couples without children, this is sadly not the case. Divorce is now occurring with greater frequency among couples with young children who have been married for several years and also among older couples who've been married for decades.
The book mentioned previously, "When Muslim Marriage Fails," takes a closer look at several of the most prominent reasons cited for divorce today. The first narrative explores the issue of domestic abuse. This is a serious problem that frequently goes unnoticed because the victim's voice is often silenced out of fear of the abuser or fear of society's reaction. Yet, Islam does not sanction nor tolerate any form of physical abuse in a marital or other familial relationship. Anyone who is encountering domestic abuse needs to vocalize and address the issue in an Islamically prescribed fashion.
The second narrative addresses another common issue seen in many Muslim marriages and ultimately in numerous divorces today. It is the issue of maintaining marital faithfulness. While many Muslims will not entertain the idea of outward adultery or carrying on an affair, often unfaithfulness can creep into marriages in the guise of "friendship" or other deceptively harmless-looking ways. In this narrative, the husband maintains overly-familiar friendships with female coworkers that extend past the limits of business encounters. Questions of social media gender etiquette and acceptable online boundaries are also addressed in this pair of stories.
The third narrative focuses on problems that stem from a culturally dissident couple. When a Muslim Arab man helps a young woman convert, he assumes responsibility for her and marries her. Yet, the marriage is fraught with issues of identity and clashes of upbringing and expectations due to their different cultural worldviews. After having several children, the couple divorces due to irreconcilable differences.
The fourth narrative explores the issue of divorce among empty-nesters. An older immigrant couple, married for over three decades, cannot deal with the emptiness of their home and their relationship after years of focusing on raising their children rather than nurturing their own marital relationship. Surprising as the statistics may be, this group of older individuals shows the greatest spike in divorce rates in most recent years.
The fifth and final narrative couplet in the book focuses on one of the most disturbing and most commonly seen divorce situations today. It discusses the situation of divorce in a young couple after seven years of marriage due to the stress of work, family-life, children, and maintaining household duties and roles. Perhaps the greatest woe in this situation is that the divorce here seems so avoidable when viewed independently from the voice of the wife and the husband. Yet, when put together, it seems like divorce really is their only option.
In all of these situations and the many more that weren't even addressed in the book, divorce seems to be the course of action followed before attempting to work through mediation, marriage counseling, or therapy. It is important for communities to rally around families and couples and to help support each other when marital problems do arise. If we perpetually live in fear of "catching the infection" of divorce or marriage problems, we will never reach out to those couples who need community support to make it through the rough patches in life. Viewing divorce as a spreading disease is a dangerous train of thought, divorced individuals in our communities need friendship, love, support, and companionship even more so after going through a divorce. Forsaking them in their time of need will only breakdown our already fragile community structure.
Suzy Ismail is currently teaches in the Communication Department at DeVry University. She received her Bachelor's in English, Communication, and Middle Eastern Studies, her Master's in Communication and Information Studies, and attended Rutgers University as a doctoral student in the field of Intercultural Organizational Communication. She is also the author of "The BFF Sisters" and other pending works. She wrote a book "When Muslim Marriage Fails: Divorce Chronicles and Commentaries" available under the new release section of http://www.amana-publications.com. She resides in New Jersey with her husband and three children. Her websites: http://www.suzyismail.webs.com.