Decline in the Rate of Divorce among the Muslims in the Middle East

These data should be treated with some caution for a number of reasons: official statistics, based on divorce certificates issued by the shari’a courts, 43 are under­estimates because in Muslim society, for reasons extensively discussed above, 44 the registration of divorces is not complete.

This is true especially for divorces followed by reinstatement of the wife before the end of the ‘idda and for arbitrary talaq divorces. Moreover, a divorce is sometimes registered many years after the event.

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The data of the Central Bureau of Statistics reflect the dates of registration and not the dates of the divorces themselves.

Legal statistics of divorces45 have similar defects and thus do not reflect the divorce rate accurately. Besides, the subject-matter of the claim is not necessarily identical with the final judicial award.

Thus, for instance, many claims for maintenance, obedience and so forth ended in divorce, and on the other hand, many actions for the confirmation of divorces were dismissed.

These shortcomings existed also during the Mandate, but in Israel, although data collection procedures in vital statistics have greatly improved, there is a further motive for abstention from registration of divorces, viz., the wish to conceal infringements of the ban on divorce against the wife’s will.

It can therefore safely be assumed that the real divorce rate was higher than that reflected in official statistics. At the same time, it seems that this does not basically affect the conclusion that the divorce rate in Israeli Muslim society was low.

A Muslim did not hasten to exercise his right of talaq despite the ease of divorce in Islam. The divorce rate has dropped significantly since the time of the Mandate.

The traditional factors likely to deter from divorce are the prospect of having to discharge the attendant obligations, especially to pay the deferred dower; the possible deterioration of relations with the wife’s family or liamula; the expenditure involved in taking another wife (prompt dower, celebration of the marriage, gifts) etc.

The importance of some of the traditional factors seems to have increased in Israel, and some new ones have been added.

The respective weight of the different factors cannot be ascertained, but they can be divided into two group’s factors accounting for the decline of the divorce rate compared with the closing period of the Mandate and factors likely to account for its decline in Israel. Within the latter group, one may distinguish between those operative in the early years of the State and those operative at a later period.

One of the chief factors in the decline of the divorce rate as against the Mandate period has been the decline in the Muslim urban population. The divorce rate in towns is higher than in rural areas.

There is a striking difference in Israel between the respective rates of Muslim divorces in mixed towns and in Arab villages and towns: 0.9-1.0 as against 0.3 (1967), respectively; among the Beduin, the rate is 0.4-0.5.49.

The high rates in mixed towns are certainly due to the influence of norms prevailing in Israeli society. Some villages, especially in the Little Triangle, are not inferior in. economic, social and cultural respects to Nazareth or Shafa Amr.

The data on Beduin should be treated with caution, although it is usually assumed that divorce is frequent among them.50

Another factor involved was the youthful age-structure of the Muslim population in Israel compared with that during the Mandate.

Also of account in considering the declining divorce rate was the solution during the early years of the State, either by divorce or reunion, of the problem of families separated as a result of the 1948 War.

The enormous increase in the amount of dower from the late 1950s, and the necessity to pay compensation, or provide maintenance (including a dwelling) for life or until remarriage in return for the wife’s consent to the divorce, also militated against divorce.

As stated, this custom, sometimes involving an outlay of thousands of pounds, was prevalent in the prosperous Little Triangle villages yet rare elsewhere.

The increased expenditure involved in a new marriage as a result of a rise in economic expectations, the standard of housing and the standard of living, must also have had an effect.

It is difficult to assess to what extent the decline of the divorce rate is attributable to the Knesset’s ban on divorce against the wife’s will.

Although there are signs of a deterrent effect of the penal sanction, the main result of the ban, as stated, may simply have been avoidance of registration.

Moreover, divorce against the wife’s will was still frequent and the ban was circumvented by various devices.

As stated above, the divorce rate also decreased in the Jewish sector of the population from 2.6 per thousand persons in 1946 to 1.8 in 1951 and 0.9 in 1968,51 i.e., to one-third of the figure at the end of the Mandate, although the ban on divorce against the wife’s will was almost without significance for this sector.

The decline of the divorce rate must therefore be mainly attributed to other factors: demographic, social and economic, rather than to Knesset legislation—as is also the case with the rise in the age of marriage.5? In fact, Israeli legislation has, in another way, led to an increase of the divorce rate.

As has been shown, the Knesset’s ban on polygamy was one of the most frequent causes of divorce.

If the increase in the divorce rate from this cause is not reflected in statistics, this is, apparently, because it was offset by other factors making for a decline.

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