RAMALLAH, West Bank — Iman Basel, 25, is waiting for Ramadan to be over so she can file for divorce at an Islamic court in Nablus. Basel, who requested that Al-Monitor not use her real name, has not been able to file for divorce since a Palestinian judge banned such proceedings from taking place during Ramadan.
On May 28, the head of Palestinian Islamic courts, Mahmoud al-Habash, told judges in the West Bank not to grant divorces over Ramadan unless necessary. The order did not apply to judges in the Gaza Strip due to the divided state of the Palestinian government.
In urgent cases, Habash asked judges to base their decisions on the reports of the Department of Family Counseling and Reform.
Habash based his order on experiences from previous years, during which he said the divorce rate increased over Ramadan due to hasty decisions made by individuals who were fasting and not thinking clearly. No official statistics of divorce rates in Palestine during Ramadan exist.
Basel's family in Nablus had hoped that the month of Ramadan would provide a sufficient amount of time for the couple to reconsider their decision to divorce.
Basel’s mother, Um Amir, told Al-Monitor, “We went to the court because we had no clue about the order. It was like a sign from heaven that we should not make such a decision hastily and that the two should think well before making up their mind regarding divorce, which we all oppose.”
Dozens of other families in the West Bank were surprised to find out that they couldn't file for divorce during Ramadan. Mohannad Abu Rumi, a judge in a Hebron court, told Al-Monitor that several married couples have been given second chances to assess their decisions and protect their families from disintegration.
According to Abu Rumi, Muslims undergo harsh psychological and physical conditions during the month of Ramadan. They fast for long periods, sleep fewer hours, and this can increase marital disputes, possibly prompting many to rashly opt for a divorce. “In Islamic courts, we believe that families should be maintained and protected from the hastiness of fasting people,” Abu Rumi said.
Abu Rumi said there is a difference between requesting and registering a divorce. A divorce is registered once a couple has signed the divorce papers, which is permitted during Ramadan. Yet if a couple goes to the court to inform it of an intention to divorce, the court refuses the request and postpones it until the end of Ramadan.
Abu Rumi said divorce rates in Hebron's Islamic courts, where the order is in place, have decreased over the past years. “Six to seven cases of divorce were registered on a daily basis, but during Ramadan, no more than two cases of divorce were registered per day,” he said.
Habash has taken clear measures to limit the divorce rate, Abu Rumi said, and this has helped Palestinians maintain the lowest divorce rate in the region.
Worood Yassin, a specialist on family counseling at the Palestinian Center for Democracy and Conflict Resolution, said the order is important for the role it has played in reducing instances of divorce over Ramadan. “In several cases, this gives couples a chance to reconsider their decisions and change their mind,” she said, noting that the details of the order still lack clarity. “Does it mean that divorce is prohibited altogether, or only its registration? What are the exceptions?”
Yassin said there was no clear motive behind the order, which cited the psychological conditions of those fasting. She said we have to look for permanent solutions, instead of just deferring the issue. She believes the order should not be limited to the month of Ramadan, and that divorce registrations should be continuously deferred so couples can reconsider their decision and seek counseling.
Yassin has worked in the field of marriage counseling for eight years. She believes it is paramount for couples to consider their decision to divorce when they are not anxious. In her experience, many couples change their mind about divorce.
Habash is considering extending the order past Ramadan. Abu Rumi said the order will be applicable in the months preceding Ramadan. “This decision will pave the way for other decisions aimed at further reducing the divorce rate,” he said.