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Tajik Fatwa Bans SMS-Divorce

A Tajik migrant worker sends a message on his mobile phone, Moscow.
A Tajik migrant worker sends a message on his mobile phone, Moscow.
Tajikistan's Council of Ulema is set to issue a fatwa banning a so-called SMS-divorce, the state religious committee announced today.

The move comes amid growing complaints that some Tajik men -- working as migrant laborers in Russia -- divorce their wives by sending a mobile-phone text message or just making a phone call.

Sunni Islamic traditions allow men to divorce their wives by merely saying "talaq," -- an Islamic term for a declaration of divorce -- between one and three times.

Tajik religious leaders, however, insist that ending a marriage is not such a simple matter.

"Our country's laws prohibit men from divorcing their wives over the phone," the head of State Committee on Religious Affairs Abdurahim Kholiqov told journalists in Dushanbe.

"It is against Tajik laws and it is un-Islamic. The state religious committee and the Council of Ulema have discussed this issue, and the council is going to announce its decision very shortly."

"Such a way of getting divorced is prohibited," Kholiqov added.

"This is a wrong and unfair act that violates women and children's rights," said Umarali Nazarzoda, head of Tajikistan's Islamic University. He called on people to respect family values and prevent their marriages from falling apart.

Nonetheless, if divorce really is necessary, men should handle all its aspects with dignity, said the Islamic scholar.

According to local lawyers, SMS-divorces largely leave wives and children without any financial settlement because it's simply impossible to track down their husbands working in Russia.

Most of the migrant workers are employed in informal, seasonal work, such as building private houses, without contracts. On top of this, many don't have an officially registered address in Russia.

There are no official statistics about the number of SMS-divorces in Tajikistan, but local media says there have been "hundreds" of cases.

-- Farangis Najibullah