FILE – People attend a lecture at Al-Azhar Mosque –AFP/KhaledDesouki
CAIRO – 13 September 2018: Many Egyptians remember President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s speech in January 2017 on divorce when the president tried to explain the matter several times before he clearly said it.
“[Can’t] we issue a law stipulating that divorce becomes invalid except in the [presence of] the marriage official to give people [who decided to get divorce] the chance to rethink their decision?” Sisi said during the anniversary of the National Police Day, calling for invalidating oral divorce.
Sisi justified his proposal, saying that the invalidation of oral divorce will help protect families from being affected by only two words that a husband may say while infuriated. In Islam, if a husband voluntarily told his wife “Anti Taleq” (you are divorced), then the wife is considered divorced unless he was threatened or compelled to say so.
However, a few days later, people got what they had expected. Al-Azhar al-Sharif, the official Islamic Institution in Egypt, headed by Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb who attended the anniversary and was spotted carefully listening to the president’s speech, rejected cancelling oral divorce.
On February 4, 2017, Al-Azhar’s Senior Scholars Authority said in a statement that oral divorce, which meets the conditions determined by Islam and is voluntarily made by a husband, has been valid since the time of Prophet Muhammad, adding that documentation or witnesses have not been part of the conditions validating divorce.
The question is: Does Al-Azhar unintentionally help disunite families by rejecting to cancel the oral divorce and consequently making divorce harder?
Mahmoud Abdel Fatah, an Islamic scholar who is not an Al-Azhar graduate said that Al-Azhar sticks to Islamic instructions including the validity of oral divorce besides the legal obligation represented in the necessity to document divorce after it takes place orally.
In an interview with Egypt Today, Abdel Fatah defended the entity, saying that Al-Azhar always looks at today’s issues from a modern perspective, and does not tend to make matters harder or complicated.
However, Al-Azhar cannot violate the instructions of Islam as the entity knows that Islam always fixes things. Also, nothing big has changed since the time of Prophet Muhammad in the issue of marriage and divorce, and therefore, Al-Azhar does not have the right to ban oral divorce, Abdel Fatah added.
“People who want divorce will do it anyway. They will not be prevented by any obstacles. The problem is not in the oral divorce. It is in the behavior of people which is getting worse day after day,” Abdel Fatah stated.
Al-Azhar is known for its initiatives in combating extremism and odd fatwas (Islamic opinions). Also, Al-Azhar allows its scholars to adopt different Islamic opinions based on religious proof and madhabs (schools of thought within the Islamic jurisprudence known as "fiqh").
Defenders of al-Azhar mention such initiatives to slam repetitive claims of some individuals that Al-Azhar is an extremist entity. Also, Al-Azhar is usually called upon to mediate in solving domestic disputes in some countries that have Muslim population. The Islamic entity is also known of respecting people of different religions and abandoning hate speech.
Recent social events have shown Al-Azhar's awareness of the obviously high divorce rate, feeling the responsibility to work on resolving conflicts in marriage, settle all issues between divorced couples, and to guarantee the rights of the divorced couple who are not willing to reconcile, all within the framework of Islamic instructions.
Abdullah Salama, an official in Al-Azhar International Center for Electronic Fatwa,revealed that the unit launched in April by Al-Azhar has been able to resolve 575 cases in 18 governorates. Salama revealed that the unit use phone calls and field visits to reach reconciliation between divorced couples.
The Azhar unit aims at visiting towns and villages to raise awareness among families on the consequences of divorce and to reunify families.
Salama said that in some cases the unit, which consists of 16 members and three coordinators, finds it impossible for the couple to reconcile. In these cases, the unit works on making sure that divorce does not affect the children.
Marriage, divorce statistics
Divorce rate in Egypt is witnessing a noticeable increase compared to marriage rate, according to a report issued on February 18 by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS).
It was stated that divorce rate increased by 6.5 percent from December 2016 to December 2017. The number of divorce forms issued in December 2017 reached 14,000, compared to 13,000 during the same month in 2016.
The marriage rate witnessed a relative increase as well, but the rate of separations was much higher than any other measured by CAPMAS. The marriage rate increased by 4.3 percent in December 2017, compared to the rate measured in December 2016.
The report concluded its statistics by mentioning the exact numbers of divorce and marriage papers issued during 2016 (from January to December). The marriage papers amounted to 983,000 forms, while divorce forms reached 192,000.