Islamic Divorce Ruled Not Valid in Maryland

Ruben Castaneda, Washington Post, May 8, 2008

After his wife of more than two decades filed for divorce in Montgomery County Circuit Court, Irfan Aleem responded in writing in 2003, and not just in court.

Aleem went to the Pakistani Embassy in the District, where he executed a written document that asserted he was divorcing Farah Aleem. He performed “talaq,” exercising a provision of Islamic religious and Pakistani secular law that allows husbands to divorce their wives by declaring “I divorce thee” three times. In Muslim countries, men have used talaq to leave their wives for centuries.

But they can’t use it in Maryland, the state’s highest court decided this week.

The state Court of Appeals issued a unanimous 21-page opinion Tuesday declaring that talaq is contrary to Maryland’s constitutional provisions providing equal rights to men and women.

“Talaq lacks any significant ‘due process’ for the wife, its use, moreover, directly deprives the wife of the ‘due process’ she is entitled to when she initiates divorce litigation in this state. The lack and deprivation of due process is itself contrary to this state’s public policy,” the court wrote.

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Under Islamic traditions, talaq can be invoked only by a husband, unless he grants his wife the same right.

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His attorney, Priya R. Aryar, said, “We’re very disappointed with the decision. We think this could have adverse ramifications for a whole bunch of people who reside in the D.C. area under diplomatic visas and assume that their family law rights and obligations are governed by the laws of their country of citizenship.”

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