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Afghan divorce

In the fall of 1943 Dr. Anwar realized that he would be imprisoned in the near future if he didn't leave Afghanistan. He managed to obtain a visa to travel to India for a medical procedure, but the Afghan government would not allow his wife Phyllis, who was considered an Afghan citizen, to leave the country. To free her from this bind, the couple decided to get a divorce according to Muslim law. The document at left is a facsimile of the divorce registered by Dr. Anwar, with the required three-fold repetition of the oath of talagh. The translation below was done by the American legation in Kabul.

"I have the honor to report," Cornelius Van H. Engert, the minister of the American legation, wrote to the U.S. secretary of state (20 January 1944), "that Mrs. Phyllis Davidson Anwar, an American citizen...was divorced from her husband Mohamed (sic) Anwar, an Afghan subject.

"Mrs. Anwar told me over a year ago that she had asked her husband to divorce her, but that he had persuaded her to reconsider the matter. She renewed her request a few months ago, and this time Mr. Anwar agreed to release her.

"As the Legation was not consulted by Mrs. Anwar regarding the formalities in connection with the proposed divorce there was no opportunity to advise her or to discuss them with her before the documents were signed.... According to Mrs. Anwar the divorce was arranged entirely 'by mutual consent', and no opposition was encountered on the part of her husband, his family, or the Afghan authorities....

"Mrs. Anwar left Kabul for the United States on January 19, 1944. Before her departure I took the precaution of consulting the Legal Adviser to the Afghan Ministry (a Turkish jurist) as to the legality of the proceedings. He assured me that the divorce was entirely legal according to Afghan and Islamic law, and that the Persian document signed by Mr. Anwar (Enclosure No. 1) would in itself be quite sufficient to constitute a valid divorce.

"It would interest me to learn whether any similar cases of divorce under Islamic law, where one of the parties was an American citizen, have come to the attention of the Department, and whether any States of the United States have recognized such divorces."

The State Department responded the following July: "No record has been found in the Department's files of any case involving such a divorce, nor has any reported decision of an American court been discovered which considers the effect to be given in this country to such a divorce."

The divorce did not in fact automatically free Phyllis Anwar to travel on her American passport. As a divorced woman with no family, Phyllis had no status at all in Afghan society, though she remained an Afghan citizen in the eyes of the government. The American legation, fearful of angering the Afghan authorities, was unwilling at first to take any action on her behalf.  It was thus a harrowing month that she spent alone in Kabul fighting for the authorization she needed to leave the country.

Hammad and Phyllis Anwar were reunited that January in India, where they applied for and received an immigration visa for Hammad to enter the United States. They never bothered to re-formalize their marriage.

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