The big news out of Maryland this week concerns a 21-page opinion on Islamic divorce, decided unanimously by the state Court of Appeals. And herein lies the rub: The justices have refused to recognize the talaq break-up, which requires that the husband address "I divorce thee," three times in succession, to his wife.
The Baltimore Sun reports:
Yesterday, the Court of Appeals rejected a Pakistani man's argument that his invocation of the Islamic talaq, under which a marriage is dissolved simply by the husband's say-so, allowed him to part with his wife of more than 20 years and deny her a share of his $2 million estate.
The justices affirmed a lower court's decision overturning a divorce decree obtained in Pakistan by Irfan Aleem, a World Bank economist who moved from London to Maryland with his wife, Farah Aleem, in 1985.
Farah's attorney believes that Irfan, who not long ago retired, and now lives in Pakistan, appealed to talaq and tradition to preserve the integrity of his World Bank pension, which provides him with $90,000 annually.
The couple, who married in Karachi in 1980, signed a marriage contract requiring that Irfan pay the equivalent of $2,500 to his wife in the event of divorce. And when Farah initiated proceedings in 2003, Irfan did exactly this, believing himself absolved of obligation to his wife.
"Maryland's highest court disagreed," however.
"If we were to affirm the use of talaq, controlled as it is by the husband, a wife, a resident of this state, would never be able to consummate a divorce action filed by her in which she seeks a division of marital property," the judges wrote in their decision.
They said the talaq "directly deprives the wife of the due process she is entitled to when she initiates divorce litigation."
Muneer Fareed, secretary-general of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), acknowledged: "For the most part, Muslims expected this kind of ruling […]. The contrary would be a surprise to them. They do not expect the U.S. legal system to give full recognition of talaq." He also agreed that "[Irfan] was trying to defeat the ends of justice within the American legal system."
But Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, Islamic reformer, legal scholar, and Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Atlanta's Emory University, was more to the point: "There can only be one law of the land," he stated.
Professor An-Na'im, who only just published Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari'a, argues that "if Muslims wish to influence what the law of the state says, they must do so through the normal political process and in accordance with civic discourse that is equally open for debate by all citizens, and not on the basis of religious beliefs."
In any case, he claims, "the legal doctrines of the Sharia in their original form, which go back to the seventh century, are simply incompatible with the realities of life in the 21st century."
This is a phrase one wishes to declare – once, twice, and three times again – for the benefit of Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, who suggested earlier this year that Western Muslims are within rights to "choose to have marital disputes or financial matters dealt with in a Sharia court." Adopting "parts of Islamic Sharia law" can only "help maintain social cohesion," he offered.
Back in the Free State, however, an "ecstatic" and "relieved" Farah Aleem, who has struggled to make ends meet while pursuing an evening degree, is quick to explain: "All I ever wanted was my fair share, not a penny more."
Fortunately for Farah and her family, it appears the Maryland court's decision was a piece of (crab) cake.