“And it is not lawful for you (men) to take back (from your wives) any of your Mahr (bridal-money given by the husband to his wife at the time of marriage) which you have given them, except when both parties fear that they would be unable to keep the limits ordained by Allaah (e.g. to deal with each other on a fair basis). Then if you fear that they would not be able to keep the limits ordained by Allaah, then there is no sin on either of them if she gives back (the Mahr or a part of it) for her Al-Khul‘ (divorce)”
The Khulla is the right of the woman in Islam to ask for an annulment of her marriage in order to dissolve it. “Khula’ means the separation of the wife in return for a payment; the husband takes the payment and lets his wife go, whether this payment is the mahr which he gave to her, or more or less than that” (Islam qa).
Why is it then that a khulla appears to be the right of a man because he ascertains whether she can have an annulment or not? The argument here is not as to whether the wife has justification to end her marriage or not, but whether she has the means.
Subhanallah, I have had many sisters come up to me and complain that they cannot afford the cost of a khulla and what is already a hard time is made tougher by sharia councils with no heart or compassion. Many women are therefore forced to stay in miserable marriages, some of which are abusive because their voice once again is not heard. For an Ummah that prides itself on stating how women have a high status in Islam we sure have a hard time following suit.
I decided to investigate these complaints and put it to the test. There was no way, I reasoned; that these appointed judges could NOT have mercy upon desperate women. I mean, these are scholars we are talking about!! Surely they would have more fear of Allah swt than the common man! They are revered and respected because they should obviously be fair, Muslim men of good character. Allah swt has honoured them with a high status allahumma barakh lahum! I Googled ‘Sharia council London’ and got two main results. The first place I called was islamic-sharia.org.
I am fairly certain the brother who answered is a well known scholar but as I am not 100% sure I won’t divulge any names. He was soft spoken. I told him I wanted a khulla. I said I had checked the website and saw the prices were fairly steep (think it was about £250) but I couldn’t afford it as I don’t work and receive benefits and am a single mother. He said if I show proof of receipt of benefit he would reduce it from £400 to £300. £400?!! Subhanallah, that’s more than I originally thought it was!! I said it was still too high and he said I could pay in installments and I again said I could not. He then said I could go to the National Zakaat Foundation and they could pay as they had done for other sisters. Maybe it’s just me, but I consider that money and money from charities to be for the poor and those who can’t make ends meet. It isn’t that I don’t have the money in my account, it’s that is my savings for my kids.
So I asked him what if they refused to give me the money, did that then mean that I would have to forgo my right to a khulla? How was this fair or from the sunnah? He asked why I couldn’t go to the charities and ask. I knew he wanted to get me off the phone and I was offended at how cold he sounded and his lack of sympathy. I didn’t feel I could continue this conversation further or that he welcomed me to speak my mind. I felt belittled subhanallah and unheard. I thanked him, gave him salaam and hung up.
The next number I found was for shariacouncil.org. This time I thought about what I wanted to say and prepared my speech… The brother who answered was an older Pakistani (us Pakistanis can recognize each other even by our voices!). I think he was probably in his 50-60’s. This council was only charging £175. I again explained my situation and told him I couldn’t pay and he said he could knock £50 off. I said that that was still too much and he said he didn’t have the authority to offer more of a discount. I asked who did have that authority and he said the chairman wasn’t here as he was on holiday in Egypt till September. He also said he didn’t think the man would go any lower. I then asked who was second-in-command and he said no-one. I said there must be someone but he maintained there was no-one else. I then launched my speech.
I told the brother that whilst I understood they had offices to run and bills and salaries to pay I was sure they understood risq comes from Allah swt. I told him who I was and about my organisation and how many sisters come to me desperate because they can’t get a khulla as they can’t afford it. I told him charities are for the poor and I didn’t feel it was right to use the money for issues like this. I said the khulla was the right of the woman; it wasn’t fair that this was in the hands of a man, because he determined whether she even got heard, because of cost. I pointed out that this wasn’t from the sunnah. I said some women want to escape abusive marriages where they are beaten and raped and now they couldn’t because the judge who is a scholar (and therefore should know better that risq is in the hands of Allah swt) wouldn’t even hear them out. I asked why men who are oppressors and abusive in their marriage couldn’t be made to pay the fee. I asked why the fee couldn’t be wavered fi sabillilah and given as sadqa (because don’t these shayukh give sadqa?!!).
I said that I couldn’t talk for the scholars but that this brother knew that today a sister came to him asking for his help; that he had been blessed with a higher status Islamically than me and was in charge of my safety and well being. I said to the brother that he wouldn’t be able to say on Yaum-al-Qiyamah to Allah swt that he did not know this sister was in need, asking for her freedom. That she came to him for his help and that he told her he could not help as she could not afford to pay. I asked if he was willing to give up gaining barakah for helping someone just for money?!! I also said any good deeds done in this month were worth so much more alhamdulillah. Finally, I said that whilst I knew he said he couldn’t make any decisions, I wanted to give him something to think about in the month of Ramadan; we all have rights over one another, scholar or not. He said he would pass on my thoughts and feelings to the chairman.
I put it to you all: is this really fair? In a country where legal aid is available and where concessions are made for those who cannot afford full college courses or marriage counseling, are you telling me that the sharia council is so rigid that their main goal is money and they cannot budge from their fee or offer a low rate?!! How is this proving to others that Islam is the best, most fair, religion? Is this from the sunnah?!! I personally have come across rakhi’s and sisters who do hijama who either say ‘give what you can’ or do it for free when you say you have no money. Do they then fear Allah swt more than these brothers?!! Women go to these men who they look up to, and leave feeling even more humiliated and degraded. Asking for a khulla is not a matter of pride, us divorcees know the stigma we face because of divorce. It’s not easy to tell someone our marriage has failed, knowing we might be judged. Is it fair these judges belittle us and make us feel inferior?
Who will stand up for us and voice our concerns, complaints and rights?
The wife of Thaabit ibn Qays ibn Shammaas (may Allaah be pleased with him) came to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and said, “O Messenger of Allaah, I do not find any fault with Thaabit ibn Qays in his character or his religious commitment, but I do not want to commit any act of kufr after becoming a Muslim.” The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said to her, “Will you give back his garden?” Because he had given her a garden as her mahr. She said, “Yes.” The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said to Thaabit: “Take back your garden, and divorce her.”(Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 5273).
Where in this hadith is payment referred to? Where does it say that the sister in question had to pay admin fees, that her rights had a price attached to them made payable to a judge?!! How can we claim to follow the sunnah when we ignore and forget this?!!
I ask you to support our sisters by sharing this with everyone you know. I am considering starting a petition so the councils know how many women feel the same way I do and how many are not willing to accept this injustice. Please keep our sisters in your dua. Barakhallahu feekum.