Divorced Arab women open up about their experiences and their refusal to give up, despite facing discrimination from their communities
Fatima al-Khulaidi got married to her husband at the age of 15 while she was living in Yemen.
“I thought he would be my other half, would support and love me,” said Fatima, now 21. “Little did I know what was in store for me.
“Getting married wasn’t a problem, until I realised how much money he was taking from my family.” Fatima said that she was “naive” and didn’t think much about it at first.
Fatima Khulaidi: “After I graduate, I want to open a charity that deals with underage divorcees and help them combat depression’
“Then he started to hit me and I needed a way out, but my father refused to let me get divorced because of the shame it would bring.”
It wasn’t until Fatima became pregnant that she was able to move between Yemen and the UK because her father was financially supporting the baby.
My father refused to let me get divorced because of the shame it would bring.
– Fatima al-Khulaidi
Only when she was in England was Fatima finally able to get a divorce after constantly pressuring her father – and refusing to take no for an answer. She insists that the only reason she had a “lucky escape” was because of her British passport.
Even now, her father insists that he would not have allowed Fatima to divorce in Yemen because of the low social status of divorced women.
“I couldn’t take it anymore,” she said. “I felt like a slave.”
International Women’s Day is a celebration of the achievements of women and their ability to rise up against systemic misogyny. But while many in the Arab world share this sentiment, there is one group who are frequently forgotten and shamed – divorced women.
Often, when the topic of divorce is discussed in the Arab world, it is the woman who is seen as the source of the breakup. Take Saudi Arabia: late last year, the General Authority of Statistics released figures indicating that stay-at-home wives are less likely to get a divorce than their working counterparts.
The report stated that the number of working women who divorced in Saudi Arabia in 2016 was 72,895, whereas the number of stay-at-home wives who divorced was 14,856. Saudi newspapers began to use the statistics to correlate working women and divorce rates, which started an online campaign that translates as “work is not a cause of divorce”.
It forced the General Authority of Statistics to dismiss those who used the published statistics to create such a politically charged correlation.
Fatima’s story is not unique.
Haneen Tarachani, 26, is British-Palestinian and was engaged for four years before she got married. “The problem with mainstream Arab society is that we judge men based on their academic credentials,” she said. “My ex-husband is a doctor and everyone thought he would be a good and open-minded person because of that, which was a huge mistake.”
During her marriage, Haneen said she was subjected to emotional abuse. Whenever she did speak up to her family, she was told that she had to deal with it for the sake of keeping her marriage alive.
My grandmother told me to be thankful he was only emotionally abusing me, not understanding how badly my mental health was deteriorating
– Haneen Tarachani
“When I was engaged, I also had an Islamic ceremony, which meant I had a full right to a prenup if he and I broke up. In the beginning, he was amazing, but I still had a feeling he wanted me because of my British passport.
“It wasn’t until he found his way to Germany that he changed and I felt like I was not wanted, which was when the abuse started. I knew the only reason he did not break up with me was that he did not want to pay my prenup.”
Eventually, after four years of engagement, Haneen and her fiance married and moved to Germany. “That’s when the abuse got really bad,” she recalled, “and the worse it got, the less supportive my family were.
“At one point, my grandmother told me to be thankful he was only emotionally abusing me, not understanding how badly my mental health was deteriorating.” A year later, she finally got her divorce.
Rawan Taha, 28, is from Lebanon. For her, divorce came quicker.
“I loved him for four years, but was only married to him for six months. I didn’t even get to watch my wedding DVD because it was finished on the same day I got my divorce,” she told MEE.
Her husband simply divorced her by telling her three times that she was now divorced, a tradition that is practised in some Muslim societies.
“You know, divorce here is hard,” she explained. “Society and culture has given the word divorced a wrong connotation. It’s also not easy being divorced here, and we’re hardly given support to stand on our feet.”
I was shamed for not being able to sustain my marriage and not keeping my mouth shut when I faced abuse.”
For Taha, the betrayal was more than emotional. “I didn’t even get my moakhar [a prenup that divorced women are entitled to in Islam] because out of trust and love, I gave up my rights to it when I got married.
“This was a big mistake.”
All three women said that they were blamed for their divorce. “After I got divorced, I was automatically treated as a failure,” explained Haneen.
“No matter what the back story is, you’re to blame, not him. I was shamed for not being able to sustain my marriage and not keeping my mouth shut when I faced abuse.”
Fatima added: “One time, I was at a wedding and this woman came up to me and complimented my beauty. After I told her I was divorced, her tone changed with me completely.”
They all agreed that divorced women are on the receiving end of discrimination and marginalisation from their communities; something that their male counterparts are immune from.
“Arab culture has made divorced women look like they are half women and that they are the last option for men,” Fatima continued.
Yet despite their shared trauma, none of the women is giving up on life. Instead, they have embarked on a difficult road to recovery in the knowledge that healing comes from self-love.
“I’m getting my education now, and being both a mother and a father to a five-year-old,” said Fatima.
And Haneen urged other women to stand up for themselves in an abusive relationship. “You are worth more than what you think,” she urged. “If you’re facing abuse, get out and don’t listen to anyone who tries to guilt-trip you.
“If you’re Muslim, God made divorce permissible because he does not want you to be stuck in abuse. Don’t let society be your God.”
Rawan similarly refuses to be a victim.
“He divorced me by saying ‘I’m divorced’ three times, so every day, I tell myself I’m resilient three times,” she said.
“Let’s celebrate divorced women on International Women’s Day, because they deserve love and support, not to be stigmatised.
“Society tells us to settle for less now that we are divorced. My expectations in a man have risen though; if he’s not as good as me or better than me, he can find the door.”
Get married, free, on muzmatch.
My name is Halima and I'm from Gauteng, South Africa and my husband (Arshad) is from Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa; we are both South African Indians.
He liked my profile on muzmatch on the 8th of April 2018 and on the 9th we started chatting and Alhamdulillah, today we are husband and wife.
About a month before I joined muzmatch I remember speaking to my mother in the kitchen as we cooked supper and she had full confidence that I'd be getting married soon.
I told her that I felt that maybe I'm just not meant to get married and be happy, taking into consideration that I personally felt like one could never find a decent man whose intention is to make Nikah in this day and age.
My Moulana had recommended that I join Nikah/Muslim match-making groups and muzmatch populated amongst my searches, so I downloaded the app and registered. After a while I had lost hope so I deleted the app from my phone but did not deactivate my profile.
It was a Monday morning, I had woken up to get ready for work,
I checked my phone and I had an email notification from muzmatch which read "Arshad likes you".
I was quite surprised; I looked at his profile and his biography was quite captivating but it seemed so surreal - this was too good to be true.
I used the link in his bio to view his Facebook profile, we had a mutual friend which was my cousin that also resides in Kwa-Zulu Natal, so I felt a bit more assured that this is definitely real considering that I had started to think that this could potentially be a catfish.
We started chatting that very morning and there was an instant click. It felt like we were long lost friends because of how well we understood each other and could complete each others sentences. We had the same interests and the same intention; we could speak for hours on end without running out of things to say.
We had realized that we are most definitely soulmates.
Within 2 weeks he called my parents to ask for my hand in marriage. In July 2018 (21st), I booked a flight to visit him and his mum for the day and after spending time together we knew that this was the right decision and that Allah SWT had created us for each other.
We then saw each other once again in August 2018 (25th - A surprise for my 21st birthday planned by him and my mum); and again in November 2018 when he flew up to attend my younger sister's wedding with his mum, younger sister and brother-in-law.
Slowly the long distance had become difficult, our younger sisters were both already married and settled and we started wondering when would we actually get married. In February this year he decided to relocate to Gauteng and found a temporary job.
His dad visited my parents and they decided to set a Nikah date, Alhamdulillah once the date was set everything fell into place by the will of Allah. He found a job as a PC Engineering lecturer and we were able to find our own place with our parents help and support.
Today I am happily married, living my dream with my husband and I have wonderful in-laws that love me as much as they love Arshad.
The most important quality I wanted in a husband was someone that could take my family as his own and Alhamdulillah I found that in Arshad.
We are now a huge happy family Alhamdulillah.
Jazak'Allah muzmatch! Arshad has found me due to the creation of this wonderful app (He always says that he found me, not the other way around).
I would advise everyone to put their trust and faith in Allah SWT, never give up hope that Allah SWT will send the one who is meant for you when the time is right - for Allah is the greatest of planners. May all the other individuals find their spouses through this app as well Insha'Allah.
Halima & Arshad
My name is Yasmeen and I found my husband, Taymoor, on muzmatch on the last day of last ramadan. We were both divorced.
The first time we talked on muzmatch was in June and we got married one month later in August 2018. I always wanted to send our story to inspire others who are searching for a good husband and wife.
We are both Egyptians, from Cairo, we even work & live very near to each others in New Cairo city. I am a digital marketing manager and Taymoor is an IT manager. I am 37 years old and he is 40.
I have a daughter who is 12 years old, and I was searching for a real Muslim man who would be a good husband and father. Finally I found Taymoor, who is a good man and a good Muslim, he is very kind.
I am telling my friends that I found someone who really looks like me from the inside. He was divorced and also has a kid, who is 5 years old. When we first chatted on muzmatch we spoke for over 6 hours, he was surprised much we got on, he even thought that this was a prank!
I couldn't believe that I finally found the man I was looking for. The first time we met, was after Eid al futr, in the House of Cocoa, as Taymoor knew that I loved chocolate. We talked about ourselves for over six hours, I did not want to leave and neither did he.
After we met I told my family and friends, and he did too. He and his family visited us and we got married in only two months, I never imagined that I would find my soulmate and marry him that fast.
I always wanted to find a man to trust and love, after being a single mom for years, I found out that my dream man was hard to find, but alhamdullah I found him on your app.
Alhamdullah, we are very happy together, my daughter lives with us and his son visits us on the weekends. You cannot imagine how much I am now recommending muzmatch to all my friends.
It didn't even take me long to find my husband. I used the app for almost one month or less.
I am so happy alhamdullah now that I married a real muslim I always wanted.
Get married, free, on muzmatch.
My name is Sara and I just wanted to thank muzmatch and let you know that I finally got engaged on 24th December 2018 and found my Fiance - Ghazunfar on the App.
We are really happy Alhamdulilah and just wanted to thank you for creating a platform for Muslims to find a suitable match for marriage!
I believe it's a real blessing because initially we matched but we didn't talk as he hadn't read my messages and was not appearing online. After around 4 weeks, I unmatched however after some weeks I logged in and I came across his profile again. After some giving it some thought I decided to rematch and give it a try again.
The next day he replied to me and the is history. Its been a almost a year since we matched on Muzmatch and we have set the Nikkah date which will be 1st March 2019 in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.
Our families are very happy and we are looking forward to entering into the blessed union of marriage Insha'Allah. We just wanted to say keep up the good work, may Allah bless you and request that you keep us in prayers.
One last thing to everyone using the muzmatch App - please do not give up, there is someone out there for us all!
Get married, free, on muzmatch.