In this lecture, Vivienne Stacey explores the quranic teaching on the topics of divorce, inheritance, and singleness. These lectures were given at Columbia International University in partnership with the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies. The Zwemer Center was founded in 1979 and exists to offer comprehensive courses on Islam, facilitate research, foster dialogues, offer seminars, conduct training, and provide resources for effective witness and ministry among Muslims. We also have a course study guide for these lectures that you might find helpful.


Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Vivienne Stacey’s Lecture on Divorce, Inheritance, and Singleness in the Qur’an:


We’re continuing our series about women and family in the Quran, the Quranic teaching about women and family. And, we need to look at the question of divorce and also inheritance, and then we will consider singleness in Islam because that is also part of family and women in family. So divorce, the Quran allows divorce, but it is considered the most detestable of permitted things. Divorce is permitted, but it’s the most detestable of permitted things. And there’s a verse in surah 2, verse 237, about divorce after a civil ceremony is performed.


It is a religious ceremony in one sense, but it’s it’s, it’s not a a religious ceremony in the way that Christian marriage is. So it’s more civil than religious, although, religious leader will take part in the proceedings. Well, after a ceremony has been performed and the marriage has not been consummated, if divorce is desired. This is what the Quran says. Surah 2237.


And if ye divorce them before consummation but after the fixation of a dower for them, then the half of the dower is due to them unless they remit it or the man’s half is remitted by him in whose hands is the marriage tie and the remission of the man’s half is the nearest to righteousness and do not forget liberality between yourselves for Allah sees well all that you do. Thank you. So, men and women do not generally have equal rights in these matters, in the matters relating to divorce, and only the man is, according to the Quran, free to send his wife away. It’s commonly thought that if the wife has the same possibilities, if she did have it, she would be less concerned with preserving the home. That’s to explain it perhaps.


The right of asking for divorce can always be granted to the wife if it has been written into the marriage contract and if the prevailing school of law permits it. There are several, schools of law, and, there are, I think, 2 that permit it. There may be others that don’t. I’m not sure about the numbers, but those are the sort of general conditions, and it depends also on the laws of the particular country. But we are talking about what the Quran says.


We’re not talking about, later down or how laws have developed and reform laws and so on, the position in the Quran. So the permission, divorce can be, divorce is really the man’s initiative. When it works out, it becomes possible for a woman to have divorce, to ask for it, but it has to be written in the marriage contract. Contract was the word I wanted. Marriage is a contract in Islam.


But you try to think of this in terms of societies where people are illiterate. How does an illiterate woman, even know what’s written in her contract, and how does she get it enforced or brought to light? These kind of things. So let’s hear this verse then. We’ve heard one verse, haven’t we?


You’ve we’ve heard surah 2 verse 237. And now we’re we’re going to think about, more normal divorce, divorce after the consummation of the marriage and the marriage has been going. The first quarrel in the life of the couple will not necessarily lead to divorce. But sometimes, marriages do go down, and it becomes a difficult relationship. And, so Islam has sort of, steps for dealing with this, which, are laid down in the Quran itself.


The Quran lays outlines several steps towards reconciliation when a a marriage is going a bit off the rails. The husband should begin by admonishing his wife. If she doesn’t respond, he should abandon the conjugal bed. He can beat her if she persists in disobedience. Surah 4 verse 34.


Men are the protectors and maintainers of women because Allah has given the one more strength than the other and because they support them from their means. Therefore, the righteous women are devoutly obedient and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear, this disloyalty and ill conduct, admonish them first. Next, refuse to share their beds. And last, beat them lightly.


But if they return to obedience, seek not against them means of annoyance, for Allah is most high, great above you all. Right. So the wife, if she obeys, they can be reconciled. But if she doesn’t, if these possibilities are exhausted, the husband can appeal to 2 arbitrators, one from his family and the other from hers. And surah 4 verse 35 tells us about this.


If ye fear a branch between them twain, appoint 2 arbiters, one from his family and the other from hers. If they wish for peace, Allah will cause their reconciliation. For Allah has full knowledge and is acquainted with all things. Divorce will only be pronounced if all these efforts fail. Otherwise, the divorce will take effect after 4 months.


During that time, the wife will join her parents’ family. And at the end of the period, the husband will again have the chance for reversing his decision. In the case of divorce, or widowhood, the woman has to wait 3 menstrual cycles before remarrying, lest there be any doubt about the paternity of the newborn child. Surah 2 verse, 226. For those who take an oath of abstention from their wives, a waiting of 4 months is ordained.


If then they return, Allah is oft forgiving, most merciful. During this delay and if she is pregnant until the time of the birth and the end of weaning, which is generally 2 years, the divorcing husband is bound to provide for her and for the child. Surah 2 verse 233. The mother shall give suck to their offspring for 2 whole years if the father desires to complete the term, but he shall bear the cost of their food and clothing on equitable terms. No soul shall have a burden laid on it greater than it can bear.


No mother shall be treated unfairly on account of her child, nor father on account of his child. An heir shall be chargeable in the same way if they both decide on winning by mutual consent. And after due consultation, there is no blame on them. If you decide on a foster mother for your offspring, there is no blame on you, provided you pay the mother what you offered on equitable terms. But fear Allah and know that Allah sees well what you do.


The divorce is only irrevocable, after 2 pronouncements. We find this in surah 2, verses 227. I think we won’t read it, but we’ve read half of it already, this passage. We’ll note that there has to be 2 pronouncements by the husband. If after divorcing his wife, her husband wants to marry her again, he can only do this after she has married someone else and been divorced.


So let’s hear that one. Surah 2, 229. Actually, it’s in 200 and 230. 230. Okay.


So if a husband divorces his wife, Yes. I have to put it irrevocably. I have to put you that word. After that, remarry her until after she has married another husband and he has divorced her. In that case, there is no blame on either of them if they reunite provided they feel that they can keep the limits ordained by Allah.


Such are the limits ordained by Allah, which he makes plain to those who understand. The third pronouncement finalizes the matter, and the Quranic reference here is 2 verse 230. But but it’s like the one before that. Okay. 229.


  1. A divorce is only permissible twice. After that, the party should either hold together on equitable terms or separate with kindness. It is not lawful for you men to take back any of your gifts from your wives, except when both parties fear that they would be unable to keep the limits ordained by Allah. If you judges do indeed fear that they would be unable to keep the limits ordained by Allah, there is not blame on either of them if she gives something for her freedom.


These are the limits ordained by Allah, so do not transgress them. If any do transgress the limits ordained by Allah, such persons wrong themselves as well as others. Yes. So once the divorce is finalized, the ex husband has to guarantee to his ex wife a suitable pension so that she does not become an expense for her family or society or until until she marries someone else, then his duties finish. In the case of death, a man who wishes to marry a widow has to respect the waiting time.


During that period, he must not propose marriage nor make a secret promise. Surah 2235, is it? Mhmm. There is no blame on you if you make an offer of betrothal or hold it in your hearts. Allah knows that you cherish them in your hearts, but do not make a secret contract with them except that you speak to them in terms honorable nor resolve on the tie of marriage till the term prescribed is fulfilled.


And know that Allah knows knoweth what is in your hearts, and take heed of him, and know that Allah is oft forgiving, most forbearing. During the year following the death of her husband, the widow ought to be provided for. Surah 2240? Those of you who die and leave widows should bequeath for their widows a year’s maintenance and residence. But if they leave the residence, there is no blame on you for what they do with themselves provided it is reasonable, and Allah is exalted in power, wise.


Yes. Thank you very much. Now we’ll think about the subject of inheritance Inheritance. The Quran contains quite a number of instructions about inheritance and which lawyers have harmonized. The fortune left following a death can be divided into inheritance and legacy.


Inheritance is the most important part. It’s divided according to the well defined proportions fixed by the parental decision ahead of time, according to the Quran. Legacy is left by the will of the testator, but in any case, he’s not to bypass the legitimate inheritors. So he can allow give money to and or leave things, property, to other people as he wills, but but he must do the legal thing as far as the legitimate inheritors are concerned. It is left by will to this or that person.


That’s a, legacy. Legacy is left by will to this or that person whom the testator has freely chosen. Sura 2, a 180, is it? Mhmm. Right.


It is prescribed when death approaches any of you, if he leave any goods that he make a bequeat bequest to parents and to the next of kin according to reasonable usage, this is due from the good god fearing. And then for the dividing of the inheritance, Islamic law applies, among others, the following principles in surah 4 and verse 11. Allah thus directs you as regards your children’s inheritance to the male a portion equal to that of 2 females. If only daughters, 2 or more, their share is 2 thirds of the inheritance. If only 1, her share is a half.


For parents, a 6th share of the inheritance to each. If it if the deceased left children, if there is no children and the parents are the only heirs, the mother has a third and the if the deceased left brothers or sisters, the mother has a 6th. The distribution in all cases is after the payment of legacies and debts. You know that not whether your parents or your children are nearest to you in benefit. These are settled portions ordained by Allah, and Allah is all knowing and all wise.


So the man receives double the wife’s amount because of his direct responsibility for the children. He ought to meet all the material needs of his family in case of necessity. The woman is not held responsible for her father, mother, brothers, sisters, children, or other near relatives. Surah 4 verse 12. In what your wives leaves, your share is a half.


Your share is a half. If they leave no child, but if they leave a child, you get the 4th after payment of legacies and debts. In what you leave, their share is a 4th. If you leave no child, but if you leave a child, they get an 8th after payment of legacies and debts. If the man or woman whose inheritance is in question has left neither a sentence or descendants but has left a brother or a sister.


Each one of the 2 gets a 6th. But if more than 2, they are to share in a 3rd. After payment of legacies and debts so that no loss is caused to anyone. Thus, it is ordained by Allah, and Allah is all knowing, most forbearing. Thank you.


And now we come to the subject of singleness in Islam. We’re thinking of singleness in the Quran, but also I’ve mentioned the traditions here. I became very interested in the subject of singleness in Islam, because I met some Christians who thought that single women, Christian women, shouldn’t work in certain works in Muslim countries. And so I got an increase in my correspondence. People were writing and say, God has called me to work among Muslims in this particular country, but our leader says that a single woman should not be working in direct evangelism in this kind of situation and, various letters of this kind.


So I used to write back and say, well, I gave reasons why they might follow their calling, one being that if god had called them, probably be a good thing to to follow that. But, and the whole question seemed to be that single women, Christian women, were rather an oddity. So then I started to look at, what singleness was in Islam itself, and, it’s been very interesting to see. Arabia, one one of the most famous Muslim mystics, was held in very high regard, and she was single. And, also, she had a band of, mystics in her sort of group, and they were all single.


And some of the Sufi men advocated celibacy for religious reasons, including, Al Ghazali, who’s a very famous Muslim theologian and mystic. Eventually, he became a Sufi or mystic, I suppose. He I always remember well, he’s easy to remember he was around. He he died in 1111, AD. So, he was quite a long time ago.


But the thing about al Ghazali was that, that he knew the when he represented first the strictly Quranic view, and then he became a Sufi mystic, And, he, therefore, held a moved to a position of, perhaps not at the very center of orthodoxy at that point. But he advocated, singleness where it would help concentration on on religious affairs. Well, so but some orthodox Muslims will argue that al Ghazali, became Sufi and was therefore slightly marginalized, although very famous. But then we come to somebody like, Jamaluddin Afghani al Afghani, who certainly was right in the center of Orthodox the Orthodox tradition. And, al Jamaluddin al Afghani was highly respected.


He was a highly respected orthodox reformer in the 19th century, and he was a teacher of Muhammad Abdu who who was leading, reformation in Islam and renewal of Islam in Egypt the in this century. So, various people, when Jamaluddin Afghani went here and there teaching and preaching, some people thought he should get married and said, well, I’ve got a nice niece and, you know, what about marrying my niece or something? And he always gave the same answer when his admiring disciples offered daughters or arrangements. He always said, the ummah, the Islamic community, the ummah is my spouse. So here’s, some endorsement, from people in the history of Islam.


But if we go right and then we come to more modern times, we find, Jina, the, sister sister of Jinnah, Fatima Jinnah. Muhammad Ali Jinnah was the founder of Pakistan, really, and he was single. No. He wasn’t single, but she was single. He married twice, I think.


Well, at least he married once. Fatima Jinah, the sister, remained single, and he used to take his sister, to public functions. I think he married a parcee, so it wasn’t so appropriate for him perhaps to overtake his wife, but, his sister often appeared on platforms. And then, about 1962 or so, there was a presidential, what should we say, election when, Ayub Khan, the martial law administrator of Pakistan, leader of Pakistan, was decided to regulate and introduce basic democracy, jinnah. Strangely enough, they put forth, Fatima Jina.


And, even the Jama’ite Islami, the very fundamental fundamentalist group, agreed to that. They that probably, that was the best way to get a candidate in, but it’s interesting that Pakistan did that. But if we go back to the Quran itself on the question of singleness, then we go back to tradition. 1st, before we get back to the Quran, tradition says marriage is half the faith. Marriage is half the faith.


So you’re not it seems that it’s the usual thing or even more than that. It’s more than the usual thing. But, the Quran itself has Jesus mentioned, he’s a major prophet, a major prophet, one of the 6. He was single. It mentions Yahya.


Yahya was John, John the Baptist. He was single. So singleness is not something foreign to the Quran. It’s not foreign to, the history of Islam, and it’s not foreign to the even to the traditions. It’s not foreign, or it’s not un Islamic.


It’s not usual, but it’s not un Islamic. And they crease I think there is increasing number of both men and women who’s who do stay single. So how, what do you what do you, have you got there? I’ve got surah 29.9. You’ve got some surahs.


Oh, good. Yes. Please read them. This is about Mary. And she who is chased, therefore we breathed into her something of our spirit and made her and her son a token for all peoples.


Okay. That’s about Mary. Okay. So it takes us on to the birth of Jesus who was single, himself remaining single. Maybe, we don’t need to look.


Did you look at, Sura 66 in verse 12? Mhmm. Same thing about Mary. Again, what does it okay. What does that say?


And Mary, daughter of Imran, whose body was chaste, therefore we breathed there in something of our spirit, and she put faith in the words of her lord and his scriptures and was of the obedient. Okay. And then John the Baptist, Yahya, in the Quran, it says that he was Hazur, which means chased, and he never married. Surah 3 verse 39. And the angels called to him as he stood praying in the sanctuary.


Allah giveth the glad tidings of a son whose name is John, who cometh to confirm a word from Allah, lordly chaste, a prophet of the righteous. Thank you. So we see that voluntary celibacy for certain causes is increasing among Muslims. For example, those who are involved in the liberation of Palestine. Some both men and women remain single because they can be more effective in their campaign for liberating Palestine.


Both Islam and Christianity, see the celibate life as permissible permissible but, as an exception. It isn’t the usual. It isn’t the norm, but it’s quite in order in both those faiths. And you can find texts in the Quran as we’ve looked at. We can find 2 of the very great prophets.


1, Jesus, the greatest one of the great six prophets of Islam, and then Yahya. So that’s solidly there in the Quran. These references to Mary and her son, well, it’s the same it’s Jesus again. But, in the traditions too, there are traditions that would uphold singleness, and we have the example of Yahrabiya, this mystic, and her school. I want to emphasize that.


I want to emphasize that she wasn’t just a lone single woman who became very famous. And I have a book, and I’m not sure if it’s on the reserve shelf, another copy of it, but I have one about Rabia and her circle. I think this is very important to realize that there are quite a number of single women, Muslim religious leaders. There still are some in South India, I know, and, but certainly, Rabia gave this classic example with her group. And, then we have straight out of the orthodox line, Jamaluddin Afgani, who, was highly respected in the 19th century and has influenced, 20th century reformers.


And he said, the people of Islam, the Ummah, Ummah, is my spouse. So he wasn’t about to get married. Maybe I could just say, 1 or 2 things about the Quran. I, just happened to to put my Bible like that. Can you I I put my Bible on top of my Quran.


Is there anything wrong with that? Oh, there is. Okay. I’ll take my Bible off my Quran. What’s wrong with it?


Putting the Bible as well as Tehran. Can’t hear it? Sorry? You’re putting the Bible above the Quran. Okay.


Well the way you are. Okay. Well, I’ll put one of the books I wrote in on top of my Quran. No. I shouldn’t do that.


Okay. Yes. Never put anything on top of your Quran. And I never I try never to do that. And you it’s, so if I’m, I I I don’t actually put anything generally on if I’m Sometimes I put things on top of my bible, but, if I were had 1 or 2 Muslim friends with us, I I wouldn’t.


And, but I train myself about the Quran, and, it’s good if you do that, because the Muslim regards the Quran as the eternal written word, the eternal written word. It is not sort of equal to the bible in a sense because we regard Jesus as the eternal living word, and and we’ll discuss this another time, but a closing thought. These are the authorities of these two faiths, but, the Quran is claiming that it is the eternal written word of God. The Bible is the inspired word of God, which points to the eternal living word of God. So we’d have to discuss these subjects in the light of what these books teach.


So it’s very important that we have Qur’ans. And if you buy a Quran, please buy, Yusuf Ali, translation, which with the Arabic and the and the rendering on whether I should call it translation, I’m not really sure. But I I don’t have any commission for that, but it’s just that, it seems a very good translation to have because it reads much more easily, as you may have noticed, than Mohammed Pickthor’s, translation.