Ask Ali: The politics of divorce in the UAE and explaining dokha

Divorce, “taliq” in Arabic, is considered the most-disliked lawful thing to God. This means that while it is lawful, “halal” in Arabic, it isn’t encouraged.

Dear Ali: A married expat couple were joking that all they had to do to get divorced here is say: “I divorce thee, I divorce thee, I divorce thee.” At least I thought it was a joke, but then they insisted that it’s true in Islam. Are they right? PD, Doha

Dear PD: Divorce is not a joking matter in the Muslim world. Sorry to be so harsh, but divorce, “taliq” in Arabic, is considered the most-disliked lawful thing to God. This means that while it is lawful, “halal” in Arabic, it isn’t encouraged. There are fewer divorces in Muslim countries on average than in western ones.

The part of your question that has some truth to it is that to leave a marriage, a spouse must say the word “taliq” three times. (When women initiate the divorce, it is called “khula”.) Each taliq is supposed to be followed by three months of separation in which the couple works with counsellors, imams and their families to repair their relationship. Remember that a marriage of two people in Gulf culture is also a marriage of the two families. The families lose face to a certain extent when their children divorce, so they will advise the couple to try to stay together if possible.

The third taliq is the most dire. Once it has been said, your spouse becomes a stranger to you. It is haram to even touch them. The part of divorce under Sharia law that might cause confusion is that a judge is not necessary. No witnesses are even necessary. The couple will probably go to a judicial court to formalise the divorce, but this doesn’t define divorce as it does in other cultures. A judge may choose not to grant them their paperwork if a person was in a bad emotional state or in some way impaired. He might even order the couple to try again. But, ultimately, divorce comes down to the true intentions of the couple.

In case of divorce, the man almost always pays for the living expenses of his wife, who is usually in charge of raising the couple’s children until they reach a certain age. Most divorced women go back to live with their family. Others appeal to the court to have their house paid for by their husband.

Dear Ali: I was at a movie theatre the other night when I smelled something suspiciously like marijuana. I saw a man in a kandura and a headscarf lighting some kind of pipe. What was going on? RG, Abu Dhabi

Dear RG: I hope what you smelled was not marijuana, because buying and selling this drug brings steep penalties; some offenders face long jail sentences.

It sounds like what you witnessed was someone smoking dokha, which is a tobacco that is smoked in a wooden pipe called a medwakh.

I don’t smoke it myself, but, as of right now, it’s still legal and many shops across the Gulf sell the tobacco.

Bedus embraced the tobacco after obtaining it from sea traders. Tribal leaders saw it as prestigious, since it was very difficult to obtain.

In the 1970s, American cigarettes made it over to the Gulf and took over from dokha as the thing to smoke. In the 1990s, dokha came back in style. The advantages that dokha smokers cite are that it’s the best type of tobacco and strong. One puff makes most first-timers sit down. They also seem to like the routine of pulling the pipe out of its special case and pinching the tobacco into it. It’s also cheaper than cigarettes, since you have one pipe that you refill.

Many of my expat friends are also embracing it nowadays.

I find it funny to see expats smoking it. This really isn’t a part of Gulf culture, but, like belly dancing and shisha, people have come to associate it with this part of the world.

Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.

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