The Maryland Court of Appeals has held talaq unconstitutional and has also forced a Pakistani husband to split his property evenly with his wife. Many American Muslims have welcomed the ruling.
After his wife of more than two decades filed for divorce in Montgomery County Circuit Court, Irfan Aleem responded in writing in 2003, and not just in court.
Aleem went to the Pakistani Embassy, where he executed a written document that asserted he was divorcing Farah Aleem. He performed "talaq," exercising a provision of Islamic religious and Pakistani secular law that allows husbands to divorce their wives by declaring "I divorce thee" three times. In Muslim countries, men have used, for centuries, the talaq route to leave their wives.
But they can't use it in Maryland, the state's highest court ruled.
The state Court of Appeals issued a unanimous 21-page opinion Tuesday, saying, "Talaq lacks any significant 'due process' for the wife, its use, moreover, directly deprives the wife of the 'due process' she is entitled to when she initiates divorce litigation in this state. The lack and deprivation of due process is itself contrary to this state's public policy."
The Court of Appeals said Irfan Aleem, who worked for years as an economist with the World Bank, was worth about $2 million, half of which Farah Aleem was entitled to under Maryland law. When Irfan Aleem tried to divorce his wife under the concept of talaq, a sum of $2,500 was mentioned as a "full and final" settlement.
That amount was written into the marriage contract Farah Aleem signed the day she married him in their native Pakistan in 1980. The contract was in accordance with Pakistani custom. At the time, he was 29 and she was 18. The couple moved to the Washington area in 1985.
Citing the precedent that foreign law will be respected only so long as it does not infringe on local public policy, the Court of Appeals agreed with the Montgomery County Circuit Court and the Court of Special Appeals that Farah was entitled to a portion of the pension too.
Judge Dale R. Cathell wrote that recognising Pakistani law in this matter would violate Maryland's Equal Rights Amendment.
"I don't even know how to express how happy I am. I am ecstatic, relieved," Farah Aleem, 46, said, Washsington Post reports.
"All I ever wanted was my fair share, not a penny more," said Aleem, who lives in the Washington area.
She had been left virtually penniless with a son and a daughter to support. She later joined an accounting firm where she now works full time and also pursues an accounting degree at night.
At the direction of the judge who presided over the Aleems' divorce proceedings, the couple's Potomac home was sold, and half the proceeds -- about $200,000 -- went to Farah Aleem, said Susan Friedman, her attorney.
Friedman said she thinks that Irfan Aleem, who retired in recent years, invoked talaq to avoid paying Farah half of his World Bank pension, which provides him with $90,000 annually, the attorney said.
Irfan Aleem, who is in his late 50s, lives in Pakistan, Friedman said.
A large number of Muslims living in the United States too welcomed the Maryland decision.
"If you live in America, you should observe American laws," said Mian Shakil, a resident of Springfield, Virginia, who is associated with several local mosques.
Ambreen Khan, a social worker in Silver Spring, Maryland, noted what Irfan Aleem had sought to do, disposing of his wife with a paltry $2500 when he was worth over $ 2 million.
"This is exploitation, pure and simple. No religion allows this," she said.
Even Muslim religious organisations refused to back Irfan. "For the most part, Muslims expected this kind of ruling," said Muneer Fareed, secretary- general of the Islamic Society of North America. ISNA is on of the largest Muslim organisations in the United States and Canada and runs hundreds of mosques, schools and welfare organisations in the region.
Only Irfan's counsel was upset. Said, Priya R. Aryar, "We're very disappointed with the decision. We think this could have adverse ramifications for a whole bunch of people who reside in the D.C. area under diplomatic visas and assume that their family law rights and obligations are governed by the laws of their country of citizenship."