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Mediation: solving marital disputes mutually

by Sound Vision Staff Writer

"Salma" and "Hassan" were about to call it quits.

She was fed up with his behavior and both of them argued to the point that they wanted to divorce.

But a couple of meetings with a local Imam and scholar in California changed all that.

Today they are still together. Mediation helped save their marriage.

What is mediation?

This is how mediation works: when two parties (i.e. a husband and wife) are in a conflict, they name a person to be a mediator.

The wife in this case, will name a person she is comfortable with, and the husband will do the same. Or they both choose one person.

This individual will then help the couple come up with a mutually agreeable solution to their disagreement.

The mediator is more like a facilitator than a judge. S/he will not make a decision on what the couple should do (as is the case with arbitration or through litigation).

"The job of the mediator is to listen to both sides, to help the clients identify what the problem is, where the conflict is, and then allow each client to listen to each other," explains Shahina Siddiqui, executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association of the United States and Canada (ISSA)

"Conflict [means] basically we have stopped listening, we have both become entrenched in our particular positions," she adds. "We believe we are not being heard or understood. And we believe we are right."

"The job of the mediator is to turn it around and say 'make each other listen, make each other facilitate the communication' and then help them arrive at a resolution of the conflict."

What leads to successful mediation

Mediation is not always successful. However, Siddiqui says that most of the time it is if the mediator is trained and is neutral, knowledgeable, and has compassion.

As well, one key component is that both the husband and the wife in conflict have to agree that they want a resolution to their differences.

Siddiqui notes that some couples come to her as a counselor not with a sincere desire to work out their problems. Rather, they come simply to please family members or the local community, trying to show that they did try to save their marriage but it failed anyway.

An example of mediation in the Muslim community

Mediation is something that can and has within and outside the family in the Muslim community.

Inside, usually older family members have intervened. On the outside, Imams have played the role of mediator in a number of communities.

Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) has been a mediator in his community in Orange County, California.

In an interview with Sound Vision, he gave an example of a Muslim woman brought up in America married to a Muslim man who had come from India.

The couple was facing a culture clash and were about to divorce. Siddiqi says after a few sessions of sitting with the couple and letting them openly discuss their differences, during which they sometimes became angry and cried at other times. They were able to resolve their differences and are still together today.

"Sometimes couples have said that 'I wish we had come before. I wish we had gone to someone earlier, we may have saved our marriage,'" he says.

If mediation is sought early on with a desire on both sides to solve the difficulties in a relationship, there is hope.

Mediation is a better option legally

From a legal perspective, mediation is also a successful way of dealing with conflict, according to some Muslim lawyers.

Zafar Hasan is a Chicago-based corporate lawyer. He says Muslim couples can resolve a conflict through mediation, then sign a contract agreeing to a uphold conditions they have agreed to through the mediation. If this contract is notarized, it is then a binding, legal document that can be enforced by local courts.

This is in contrast to arbitration, for example, where such a contract is more likely to be ignored, appealed or not enforced because of incompatibility with local laws.

Hassan explains that courts are more likely to enforce a notarized contract that results from mediation than one that results from arbitration because both the husband and the wife have agreed to the conditions mutually. It was not a decision enforced on one party by another.

Siddiqui also notes that another reason for the success of mediation is that since the couple is directly involved in seeking a solution to their problem, they are more likely to follow through with what is agreed upon than if the decision was decided upon by someone else.

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