A 48-year-old divorced Briton confessed last Sunday that he had killed his two young children by slitting their throats near the eastern French city of Lyon. The bodies of a five-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy were discovered in the man’s apartment. A judicial source mentioned that the case was “linked to a bitter separation” and “the state of his visitation rights which he considered insufficient.” A neighbour told AFP the couple had divorced “two or three years ago” and that the man had drinking problems and was a wife beater. The man had visitation rights but only in the presence of another person and this was the first time he had brought the children home to his apartment without a third party being present.
This brutal murder stuns us to the realities of post-traumatic stress disorder after divorce. PTSD is an anxiety disorder that some people get after seeing or living through a dangerous event. While it may not be the cause for these particular murders, and while not all divorces lead to PTSD, more and more divorced individuals are reportedly showing signs of PTSD. PTSD occurs in situations of acute or prolonged trauma. While there are many jurisprudic angles and issues surrounding Muslim divorce especially averting it, the psychological fallout of such trauma is rarely visited. How does the Shariah address the healing process when divorce is inevitable or impossible to avert? Is there such a thing as a talaq with taqwa?
In a short (12 ayah) yet powerful Surah detailing Talaq (Surah 65) Allah mentions Taqwa five times – firstly to urge acceptance of the situation, then to encourage self-restraint in the Believer. Then, to make him or her turn to Him for hope, relief and provision to pass through loneliness, estrangement and related frustrations, especially when children are involved.
Marital breakup is ugly and rarely civil. Both sides are usually bitter, angry and resentful and as a result, resort to ugliness and injustice in word and action. While there is no ‘right’ way to feel after divorce, the following inspirational guidelines from Surah Talaq only highlights how closely Allah guards the grieved and angry heart, so long as its body behaves with a spiritual self awareness.
“...And whosoever fears Allah and keeps his duty to Him, He will make a way for him to get out (from every difficulty).” (Qur’an, 65:2)
“…and He will provide him from (sources) he never could imagine...” (Qur’an, 65:3)
“And whosoever puts his trust in Allah, then He will suffice him.” (Qur’an, 65:3)
“...And whosoever fears Allah and keeps his duty to Him, He will make his matter easy for him.” (Qur’an, 65:4)
“...And whosoever fears Allah and keeps his duty to Him, He will remit his sins from him, and will enlarge his reward.” (Qur’an, 65:5)
According to The National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD includes flashbacks, bad dreams, feeling emotionally numb, feeling guilty, having trouble with memory, being easily startled, feeling tense and angry. Additionally, the diagnosis of PTSD requires that the symptoms persist beyond 30 days and that they interfere with daily life. There is a difference between normal grief, shock and anxiety and the pathology of PTSD.
There are certain resilience factors that may reduce the risk of PTSD including seeking out support from friends and family. Often friends, therapists and doctors didn't really listen; rather they project how they believe a divorcee should be feeling. For this reason regular exercise and mindfulness therapy including salaah, zikr and Quraan tilawah (which offers routine, time regulation, a reason to get out of bed, and meditation) can help to reset the sympathetic nervous system and regulate the release of stress hormones.
- Justice versus Retribution
O you who believe! Stand up firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah; even though it may be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, be he rich or poor, Allah is a Better Protector to both (than you). So don’t follow the desires (of your hearts), lest you may avoid justice, and if you distort your witness or refuse to give it, verily, Allah is Ever Well Acquainted with what you do. Quran [4:135].
- Selfishness: financial responsibilities
“Beware of oppression, for oppression will turn into excessive darkness on the Day of Resurrection. So to beware of niggardliness, for miserliness destroyed your predecessors.” [Muslim]
“No person can receive a greater reward then the man who spends on his children so Allah may make them self-sufficient or independent. “
- Children: a blessing and responsibility
The Quran gives us an example in the story of Yusuf, of a family where some children felt that one brother was more loved and more favoured by their father. They went so far as plotting to kill him. Therefore, as fathers and mothers equal love for our children is imperative. Being equal in material things, like clothing, gifts and treats is important but doesn’t cover the whole responsibility. It is also crucial to make sure not to show emotional favouritism. Insofar as differing emotional constitutions, some children have a greater need for affection, while others have a greater need for praise or reassurance. To take time to understand what each child needs at specific stages of their life, be it the teachings of Deen or Dunya is part of the justice mandate. As the bough bends, so grows the tree.
Similarly, children need to feel safe that (both) their parents are capable of behaving rationally and as stable God-fearing guides and nurturers. Parents (incl grandparents) who contradict one another, behave irresponsibility, contravene legal duties or foul mouth one another only harm the same children they claim to love and protect.
Narrated from Umar ibn al-Khattab that Allah's Messenger taught him to say: "O Allah, make my inner nature better than my outer, and make my outer nature good. O Allah, I ask Thee to give me some of the abundance thou gives to mankind, in family, property and children, which neither strays nor leads astray." [Tirmidhi]
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