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Law of the Land Prevails in Divorce Case


For centuries in Muslim countries, men have been able to divorce their wives simply by saying "I divorce thee" three times. In the United States, divorce is a more complex legal procedure, and the Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled that it will remain that way in the state, regardless of a couple's religious beliefs.

A Pakistani man had argued that his invocation of the Islamic talaq, which dissolves a marriage when the husband says so, allowed him to divorce his wife of more than 20 years and not share any of his $2 million estate with her. Irfan Aleem had obtained a divorce decree from Pakistan, but a lower court had overturned it. The Maryland Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's decision.

Irfan Aleem, a World Bank economist, had moved from London to Maryland in 1985 with his wife Farah. The couple had two children who were born in the United States.

Farah Allen filed for a divorce in 2003 in Montgomery County Circuit Court. In Irfan Aleem's counterclaim, he did not object to the court's jurisdiction in the divorce case. However, before the divorce was finalized in the U.S., he travelled to the Pakistani Embassy in Washington and invoked the talaq in an attempt to transfer the jurisdiction of the case to a Pakistani court. The Pakistani court granted him a divorce.

When Farah and Irfan married in 1980, Farah was 18 years old and a high school graduate. Irfan was 29 years old and a doctoral candidate at Oxford University in England. The couple signed a customary marriage contract that obligated Irfan to pay Farah the equivalent of $2,500 if they divorced. When he left her, he gave her $2,500 and claimed that he had satisfied the agreement and owed her nothing more of his estate.

The Maryland Court of Appeals denied Irfan Aleem an Islamic divorce. Because the couple resided in the state of Maryland, the court found that their marriage and divorce were subject to the laws of the state. The court refused to acknowledge the use of talaq because it is completely controlled by the husband and allows for no equitable distribution of marital property and deprives the wife of due process, which she is entitled to in a divorce settlement.

The Baltimore Sun reported that U.S.-based experts in Islamic law and religion did not disagree with the court's ruling. One Muslim scholar said that if Muslims wish to influence state laws they must do so through the normal political and legislative processes and not on the basis of religious beliefs.

Because of the separation of church and state in the United States, many were surprised that Irfan Aleem attempted to force the court to accept the notion of talaq. Because talaq is a matter of Muslim religion, it could not be used as a successful legal argument in the United States.

Legal experts say that if Irfan has travelled to Pakistan and invoked talaq there, the U.S. Court may have recognized it under the concept of comity. Under comity, countries accept the premise of law as it is in another nation even if the local law is not even remotely similar.

Since Irfan Aleem did not travel abroad to invoke talaq, there was no issue of comity for the court to consider and his efforts were considered as a weak attempt to circumvent the American legal system.

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