Here's a startling fact: Divorce rates in United Arab Emirates (UAE) countries have reached 46 percent, according to a Saudi Arabian study.
In the U.S., the land where Islamic leaders criticize the so-called morally loose and oh-too-independent women, the divorce rate is roughly the same.
Seems like a veil has finally been lifted to expose a problem that happens when a husband can just utter "I divorce thee" to his wife and then, poof, the marriage is annulled without going through a judicial process.
Now, according to Islamic scholars meeting in Abu Dhabi as part of the tradition of welcoming Muslim scholars during the holy month, divorce has become an epidemic in the Gulf and a crisis that need to be addressed to prevent family break-ups.
One solution being discussed is getting rid of the ability to have an oral divorce.
Some Arab countries, such as Morocco and Tunisia, have already moved away from oral divorce and now require divorcing couples to appear before a judge, mainly to safeguard the rights of the wife. (Always a good thing).
Regardless of how divorce proceedings are reformed, most scholars agree that preventing family break-ups is a crucial issue.
Sheikha Naima bin Yaish, a Moroccan scholar specializing in family Islamic jurisprudence, urged greater investment in programs that help keep families together and educate couples how to have a fulfilling marriage both sexually and emotionally. She blames the West -- natch -- for our cultural influences, but it sounds like it is a reality that needs to be addressed and cannot be ignored.
“Family now has a different role than it did in previous generations. It’s not possible for newlyweds today to enter into a marriage with the same mentality as their parents,” she said.
“The main role of the family today is to give emotional fulfillment to its members, starting with the wife and husband. They must fulfill each other emotionally otherwise the family is threatened with break-up.
“Adultery, usually the sin of husbands, is also a rising phenomenon among wives, and that too is due to lack of fulfillment for women.
“Couples must also fulfill each other sexually. This is a very important element of marital life.”
Sheika Yaish added that globalization had introduced the western concept of individualism to the Muslim world, which is not complementary to Islamic or Arab culture, and that it was also contributing to family break-ups.
A program in Morocco has helped prevent 70 percent of their cases from divorcing, she says.
“Through one organization, Karama for Women’s Development, we entered a partnership with the family court and asked them to send us their divorce files as a last effort to mediate between the husband and wife,” she said.
The group was so successful it had even managed to help a dozen divorced parents to remarry five years after their separation.
Sheikha Yaish said one of the essential elements young couples are missing today is education in family jurisprudence, what she called the culture and science of family interaction. This was adding to the rising divorce rate throughout the Muslim world.
Malaysia also tried a similar experiment. The country did a study of divorce rates and found it to be 36 percent. Now there’s a program that requires anyone who gets married to attend a month-long course to study the science of family.
“It is fully paid for by the government, and includes hotel accommodations and a tourism trip,” she said. “At the end of a year, divorce had fallen to 19 percent. They managed to cut it by half through education, and that was only targeting the newlyweds. I am sure they can do the same for those already married.”
However, for any of these programs to work, the men – yes, the men -- must be open to changing their attitudes and behavior.
Marriage counseling courses had been tried before. In March, the Ministry of Social Affairs launched a two-month program called Sweet As Honey, in response to complaints from Emirati wives that the unrelenting pace of change was putting intolerable stress on them and their marriages. But few husbands attended, a fact much lamented by many of the wives who did.
With men being 50 percent of a marriage, unless they are involved in change, it can't happen.