Sms-divorcing: the new shariah in Central Asia?
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Editor’s note: It’s becoming a truism that mobile phone technology could reshape Central Asia for the better, but there’s also a dark side, even a ridiculous side. NewEurasia’s Marat discusses the problem of shariah-backed sms-divorcing.
Modern technology is not only improving lives in Central Asia. Lately, short message services, emails, and other technical means are being utilized by male heads of family to dissolve that very family. Husbands are divorcing their wives thousands of kilometers away with one SMS message, reading “Talaq.” The word is an Arabic term for “divorced” and is the prerogative of the husband, according to Islamic teachings. While talaq is a permissible act in Islam, it is strongly discouraged for the sake of the family and society.
Nonetheless, Central Asian husbands are abusing the prerogative. There have been numerous cases when husbands caught their now ex-wives by surprise by announcing, while thousands of kilometers away, the two were no longer spouses. The situation has gone so bad that the Tajik directorate for spiritual affairs has issued a decree banning so-called “SMS divorces” last year. This year, it appears Kyrgyzstan has to do something about it. MP Tursunbai Bakir uulu is appealing to the Kyrgyz directorate for spiritual affairs to rule such divorces are invalid. The agency is yet to react to the request.
Even if the directorates pronounce such divorces illegal, that in no way is going to stop husbands from “remotely divorcing” their wives. A question, therefore, begs to be asked: Is this not observed previously phenomenon testimony to the rise of religious knowledge/attitude in males (strangely among only those away from home)? The answer is: It’s about economy, dummy! It is only those husbands who are labor migrants that use “SMS divorcing,” having left their homes seeking employment in foreign lands. At the new place, they marry either a local woman or a fellow countrywoman living there seeking job. It now becomes a burden to provide for two families—one in Russia (Kazakhstan) and one back home. It is much easier and economically sound to divorce the latter.
What surprises me is that why these men resort to the Islamic way of divorcing and not secular, given that both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan only recognize court-endorsed divorces. While both countries do (mostly) practice Islam, talaq alone does not legally separate the spouses. Moreover, in a traditional society like that in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, couples start having children at early stages of their joint life. By the time the head of household leaves for Russia/Kazakhstan, they usually have at least one child. Someone as irresponsible as those divorcing their wives with an SMS certainly will not be responsible for the child(ren)’s financial soundness. It is, therefore, clear that husbands are simply utilizing the talaq practice as cheap and convenient way of freeing themselves of family burdens.
While I see no effect in the muftis’ pronunciation of such divorces as illegal, it is those husbands’ parents, whom wives usually stay with, who must not recognize their sons’ divorce aspirations. Also, albeit a rather unusual move, the to-be-bride’s family must advance a requirement to the to-be-groom that he will not divorce his wife in such a fashion in future.
All the legal and other peculiarities aside, because it is a husband’s prerogative to unilaterally disband a family union, it also certainly calls for an enormous responsibility, perhaps a double—husband’s and wife’s—responsibility on part of the father.