Divorce: A Glimpse of One Somali Woman’s Plight in America


If pronouncement of marriage is the peak of happiness in one’s life, then no doubt divorce is the opposite of it, and the psychological moment of that grief in a woman is more intense and damaging in the long term. But in America, the experience of one Somali woman’s divorce is tantamount to the most unthinkable tragedy that inflicts an individual. Her story is one of heart-wrenching, and of depressing conclusion. For privacy reasons, I call her Dhiban in this article, just to conceal her identity.

She spent most of her life in Mogadishu, Somalia. As a student of knowledge, her passion to learn and the no-schooling lifestyle of Mogadishu’s idleness in 1990s collided, causing her to depart to Nairobi, Kenya. In her mind, she was in search for an opportunity to learn and expand her educational scope. For that young age at the time, that was an exceptional good inspiration to lean on, indeed.

And, after years of hurdles in the process to set foot in America, she finally arrived in New York on one of the most unwelcoming days of America: a few minutes prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks. The beginning of her Dhib (hardship) and the shattering of expectations of America had started to unfold. Flights were suspended, she spoke no English, had no money, was alone— a hijabified helpless girl in the middle of a major wilderness. The strangeness of her African and of Muslim origin gave an incentive to the passers-by to scold her brutally during the seven long days, as the furor of a yet-to-act nation spilled from its enraged citizens.

Immediately, with the resilience of her enduring patience and adaptations in America, she opted to live in Minneapolis, and she worked hard to sustain not only for her life, but also for the lives of those loved ones still confined in Somalia. A well-bred decent girl with a principle was now overwhelmed with huge problems – the calls of help from Somalia, the need to make ends meet here. And above all there was the urge to marry – in preserving her dignity – before her time is up.

However, early last year she married a Somali man she thought would be the charming compliment of her life. Unfortunately, in a few unbearable days, of not more than three weeks, the marriage was torn-a-part. Why? Still, the maker of that decision is unable to provide a reasonable explanation for it, but he could only regret the hastiness of his unforgiving irresponsibility.

What was left in her heart is a mark and lasting intrinsic nightmare of shattered hopes, unfinished goals, and great vulnerabilities ahead. Miraculously, she became pregnant with a baby girl she would deliver late in the same year. At this juncture, problems tend to intensify, because with the burden of pregnancy, lack of help, her state of vagabond, and the depressing impact of a debilitating divorce that held her hostage until she gave birth.

Of course, divorce in this part of the world is unique with something that is appalling to many of us: social isolations and the stigmatized outcast of a single parenthood. In reality, the affect of divorce is taking a deep root in our society today, mainly in our Diasporas community, where the sanctity of marriage is repeatedly violated. A recent observational trip to Minneapolis, aside from the dazzling entrepreneurial progress of my people, was indeed absolutely dismal in terms of the consequential dark side of our presence. Ilaahow naga soo gaar!

Given the amount of insurmountable cases of family issues in our community, including the numerous single-parent families still recovering from the shock of three-count divorce strikes (Dalaaq), our society’s core extended (not nuclear), family values are threatened.

This issue has discouraged many young people from embarking on marriage commitments because the lessons of their peers and the experience of evaporating short-span marriages. Thus, are not we afraid of seeing the boy- friend and girl-friend notion taking a full swing turn in our community, and replacing the marriage entity? If that perception (i.e. marriage as a hot water, or no go near) becomes well appealing, then how far is that from an illicit sex and abortion issues getting justified among us, or HIV-related issues eroding our sense of everything good, including the Islam, we stand for?

The collective neglect of social responsibility to address lurking crisis in our midst, especially at the level of our learned spiritual leaders, seasoned elders, and community center propellers, would be enough to revolutionize much of the negatives we suppress from our at-risk youth until what we fear most takes a grim hold on us.

Now, the calling of 911 police enforcements and the attempts to solve problems through the wrong elements would only fuel the flame with more gasoline, but diligent traditional problem-solving skills from cultured elders applied as a key first step would make matters less intricate, but that is only if we intend to rectify each other and rescue our families.

Our beautiful Somali women, the bedrock of our social spirit and the holding pillars of a demised Somalia, require our unconditional support to stand shoulder to shoulder in these troubled times, while assuming responsibilities on our failures, and then, of course, offer assurances to our sisters from our now increasingly hair-triggering three-count divorce strikes.

The history of our family/ethnic traditions as Somalis, testifies that our fathers were understanding and flexible to the circumstances of the time. They practically understood the wisdom of being humble in the family and at home, while acting the lion of the village on the outside. Never has it become customary in our decent culture for a man to act out of emotions and wreck havoc in the existence of the family. It’s time for retrospective analysis to understand the trend that took us here, so as to frame a mechanism for saving families from the pitfalls of total breakups.

This problem is increasingly festering in many stable-looking houses today. What we also need to come up with is a plan at the community level led by our Sheikhs, to remind people of the crucial responsibility counted on them as they marry. That marriage has its own etiquettes and needs to be practiced at home. That Allah (sw) loves the ones who keep their family’s interest at heart, and never neglect their obligations. For a plan with sound and practical ingredients in it can at least alleviate some of the burdens, if our spiritual authorities engage this with concerted efforts and make its prevention a priority for the community.

Finally, to the upcoming wave of our sisters in Africa, who are bound to America, I tell you the glittering of America, and exactly the one you might have seen on TVs, has a danger beneath, the one that has trapped our gifted sister in Minneapolis, Dhiban. And for my surviving sister, Dhiban, please know that we will, under moral obligations, pray for you, as well as share the burden and pain you are undergoing in your holy struggle to overcome the problems. My hope is that you, and the likes of other sisters in your situation, will lead a successful life – keeping in mind the patience and the fear of Allah – in this planet and the next, insha-Allah.