Islam and the Quran

Iftidaa – Women’s Right to Divorce

After having mentioned the single-sided divorce right by men in verses 228 and 229 of Surah al-Baqarah, the Almighty God gives the following order to believers in verse 229:

“…(Oh, you believers who act as arbitrators!) If you also fear that this couple will not be able to keep within the bounds of God, (approve that) there is no sin upon either of them in case the woman redeems herself from her husband (by giving back out of the legal share of bride -mehr- she had taken from her husband). These are the bounds set by God; do not overstep them. Those who overstep God’s boundaries are the wrongdoers.” (Al-Baqara/The Cow 2:229)

If a woman decides to divorce her husband, she applies to the authorities with her request.  If the couple is not bound by civil marriage, then the authorities would be two arbitrators, one from the woman’s and one from the man’s family, according to verse 35 of Surah an-Nisa. The authority (or the arbitrators) investigates if the couple can reconcile depending on the woman’s will. If the woman is not willing to reconcile, she gives back what she received from him as Mehr -legal share of the bride that the woman took from her husband-. The expression in the verse “by giving back out of (the legal share of bride)” might be understood as both the entire amount of the Mehr or some part of it. The authorities decide on the amount to be paid back depending on whether the husband is culpable for any type of flaw or guilt towards his wife.

The authority mentioned above can be the law court, a local judge, or the arbitrators from families. In the two examples given below, the women have taken their cases to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and Khalif Umar:


Habiba bint Sahl al-Ansari was married to Thabit ibn Qays. One day while the Prophet was going for the morning prayer, he noticed Habiba in front of his door.
– “Who are you?” he asked.
– “Habiba, the daughter of Sahl” she answered.
– “What happened?”
– “I don’t want to continue to live with Thabit.”
When Thabit came, the Prophet said to him: “Habiba explained to me everything.”
Habiba said: “Messenger of Allah, I have everything he gave me.”
The Messenger of Allah told Thabit: “Take that property from her.”
He took it back and Habiba went to live with her family.


Once, a woman came to Umar ibn Al-Khattāb and complained about her husband. The woman was asked to stay one night in a hut of straw. Umar came in the morning and asked the woman about her night. She replied that she never had had that a brilliant night. Then Umar asked the woman about her husband. She praised him and later added, “He is what he is, but I can’t help it.” After then, Umar accepted her request to divorce her husband.[1]

Umar’s purpose was to understand the seriousness of the woman’s request. Neither the Prophet nor Umar asked the women their reason for divorce.

The verse below shows us an example of divorcing women during Prophet Muhammad’s time.

One of the articles of the Hudaybiyyah agreement, made between our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the deniers of Mecca, was this:
“Even though they convert to Islam, every man from the Meccan community that comes to join Muhammad (PBUH) (and his followers) is to be returned to his community.”
After this agreement, a group of Muslim women from Mecca came to the Prophet, in Hudaybiyyah. It was upon this event when the verse below was revealed. The word mentioned in the agreement and translated as ‘man’ into English is the exact Arabic match for ‘male human’. As the women were not included in the category mentioned in the agreement, the Prophet behaved in compliance with the verse and did not return the women back to their tribe. The topic of the verse is especially the wedded women who for their religious beliefs came to find shelter among the Muslims. Their behavior shows that these women decided to divorce their husbands. On the other hand, there were Muslim women who remained in Mecca because they did not make such a decision. The Almighty God decreed about the women who left Mecca:

“Believers! When believing women come to you as emigrants, test them. Allah knows their true faith. If you think them to be believing women, do not send them back to those deniers. Those women are no longer lawful to them, nor are they lawful to those women. Send to them (their ex-husbands) what they gave (as mahr). There is no blame upon you to marry those women when you give them their mahr. Do not hold on to your marriages with denier women. Request what you gave (to them as mahr) and let them (the divorced believing men) request what they spent (to their ex-wives as mahr). Such is Allah’s command. He judges between you. Allah knows and judges correctly.” (Al-Mumtahana/ The Examined One 60:10)

The phrase “those women are no longer lawful to them, nor are they lawful to those women” shows that emigrant women were determined to divorce their husbands. They were divorced upon sending back the Mehr – legal share of the bride that the woman took from her husband.

Further details about the single-sided divorce by women can be found in the article below:

[1] Bukhari, Talaq, 13

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