Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The marriage question

THE Shoura Council this week has decided it is not time to simplify marriage laws concerning Saudis marrying foreigners.

By streamlining the law things could become more complicated according to the logic of some lawmakers.But leaving the law the way it is will only continue the heavy burden -- especially for women -- that Saudis carry if they want to marry a foreigner.

There are hundreds of examples of Saudi women in high-level jobs in Saudi Arabia and around the world. These women work in the Ministry of Education or other government jobs or are poets, writers, journalists, film directors, pilots and even race car drivers.

But the Shoura Council apparently believes that they are not competent to choose a husband.Shoura members are frustratingly vague about why they refuse to streamline marriage laws when it comes to marrying non-Saudis. The general argument is that a streamlined system would only increase the problem of spinsterhood.

“Such recommendations would greatly increase the number of Saudis marrying foreigners while we are fully aware of the complications that such marriages create,” Shoura member Abdullah Al-Dosary told a journalist this week.Well, those complications are created by the Saudi government in the first place. Perhaps minimizing the complications that exist in the law would help those marriages.

A friend of mine is a graduate of a US university and she is in her mid-30s. She owns her own home and her own car. She is a success by every standard. Her father is in ill health and she has no brothers. She told me recently of the pain she endured in order to get government approval to marry a foreigner.“I wished that I died before going through the humiliation of trying to get approval,” she said.

She said the looks that male government officials gave her while she was getting her documents processed made her feel as if she were doing something haram and immoral.It has been many months and she still has not received permission. While Saudi marriage laws affect male and female Saudis alike, the resistance to changing the regulations is really directed at women with the age-old argument that Saudi society must protect us helpless females.

While figures are not readily available, Saudi men have a much easier time marrying a non-Saudi than a Saudi women do.Human relationships are complicated and messy. People get married. They get divorced. They have custody issues regarding children. But it shouldn’t be up to the government to regulate the bonds between two people.

Yet, not only does the Saudi government insist on being part of the marriage pact from the beginning by deciding who we can marry, the government also stacks the deck against women from the onset of the relationship.The children of a Saudi mother are denied citizenship if the father is a foreigner. No matter what the future holds for the marriage, the children of a Saudi woman will never be fully integrated into Saudi society.

Despite being born and raised as Saudis, they will never be treated as Saudis, which limits their social, economic and professional opportunities.The same goes for foreign-born husbands. They must be in the country on the wife’s sponsorship or the sponsorship of her father. And unless the foreign-born husband is working for a non-Saudi company, his prospects of professional success are limited. And this doesn’t even address the exclusion he faces as a non-Saudi in society.

For all the worrying Saudi government officials do over whether Saudi/non-Saudi marriages will work, they do their best to set the marriage up for failure before it even beginsThere is a tremendous gap between the attitudes of Saudi men and women about the issue of marriage to foreigners. At the risk of perpetuating stereotypes, most of the Saudi men I know oppose the idea of “their women” marrying foreigners – especially non-Arabs.

There is a proprietary attitude among men that the women in their families belong only to Saudi society.Women, of course, generally feel the opposite. Possessive, paternalistic attitudes among men are not accepted by educated women who are seeking balanced relationships. This does not necessarily mean driving a car, having a job, getting an education or going shopping alone at the mall, but the right to have the choice to do so.

Many Saudi women today no longer find it desirable to walk three steps behind their husband at the shopping center, but prefer to walk right alongside.Since many Saudi men are reluctant to give up these “perks” of male domination in the household, Saudi women are willing to consider marriage to a non-Saudi.

The opportunity to establish a relationship on an equal footing is very appealing. And with this choice, many women are willing to risk spinsterhood or establishing an independent and professional life beyond the Saudi border.So the argument that simplifying marriage laws would only increase the likelihood of spinsterhood is ridiculous.

The government should not be denying Saudis the opportunity to marry non-Saudis. They deny the country the resource of a new generation of smart, well-educated and loyal people by refusing them citizenship. They deny the country a valued resource in allowing non-Saudi men to live and work in an unrestricted environment. They deny the country the valued resource of educated Saudi women who may look elsewhere in the world for professional and personal fulfillment.


Sirajuddin said...

miss sabria,

i was really moved by reading ur article in saudi gazette dated 12th nov.

what u have mentioned is the difficulties of getting into marriage with someone who is non saudi.
the problems being raised by the present laws for marriage which are under controll of shoura council.
which is inturn a male dominated institution who r on the negative part for any changes in the present laws.

i have been in kingdom for the last two years only, but to my dismay i found the kingdom totally a different world.

regarding the laws for marriage, i found it totally different.
here u need a legal guardian every where and several a time i found it that rules r put on the shelves and young girls who r in teenage, are forced to get married to a man who is double or triple of age.
dont u think that this is also wrong. To me i condom this practise of marrying young to too much old.

here i found few cases of miss matches which took place in kingdom for just mere some money lend and unable to pay back , so get ur young teen girl to some one who is about triple of age.

one more case in which two father want young wives, so they decided to exchange each other's daughters to marry them and enjoy the newly bride.
what happened next everybody knows, the two girls took phenyl to end her life.
what is the mentality behind this act, being a muslim i am sometime ashamed of what is happening here.

once i was shopping in a mall, a saudi old man hold me for sometime, as i was going to ask him i saw a young girl came after her and then i realised that she might be his wife.
no way for this kind of matches, where wife is youger than ur own daughter nobody knows when any one will die. here u have money, marry and marry. in the name of islamic rule divorce her.

if u get pemission to get married to a foreigner, he/she is not given citizenship, which is always a humilation for them.
kingdom should allow the dual citizenship to them because u getting some creative brain from outside and let it flow in the favour of development of kingdom.

so here i feel by heart and brain what ever u have written in ur article is true to what i come to know about the kingdom.

u also mentioned how ur friend who is seeking the permission for the shoura council to get married to non saudi, who being humiliated by the male counterpart in the shoura office also is not a sign of islamic nature who give females an equal right as men have.

A lot of wishes that some day what u felt and experienced should go the way u feel is better.

ratherdashing said...


Good job. Keep putting pressure on the Shoura Council to make decisions that will better the Kingdom. They give vague reasons for their decisions in order to obfuscate their true purpose - the subjugation of women. Continue to demand answers and demand open discussion of the topic. They will eventually run out of excuses for their behavior.

I enjoy the blog.

Mohamed Amine said...


First of all, I want to say your article is well written as usual, the way you approach the matter gives a really good insight to a reader who's never heard of it or someone looking into it already (like myself).

About this saudi/non-saudi matter... When I first heard about it years ago... I was really mystified at what logic was behind it, is it really a way to protect saudi women? is it just another boundary put up against Non-Saudis who are trying to integrate into this society? or is it political? .. well.. it could very much be a bit of all and more.

I have a couple of questions if i may :)

Are there any kind of requirements that make getting the permission easier? like i heard that the girl being over 25 years old somehow makes it easier...

And Do you think that there is any hope that the strict regulations will lessen any time soon (a few years maybe)? and this really matters to me

Thank you for this piece of writing and your time :)

Mohamed Amine

Anonymous said...


Tara Umm Omar said...

As an anthropologist, I'm wondering if the Shoura Council has ever investigated the reasons behind spinsterhood in Saudi society? Perhaps I could suggest a few examples to give them a head start:

1. Could it be the high mahr some Saudi women demand (in addition to the gold, house, driver and maid), making foreign women more affordable to Saudi men?

2. Is the Saudi woman's family refusing to let her marry a non-Saudi man or anyone outside of their tribe?

3. It has been my observations that it is considered 'ayb (shame) for Saudi woman to approach her family and inform them that she wants to marry so and so. Rather she should wait for men to come to her family and ask for her hand. In some cases, I have heard of the father or male family members repeatedly rejecting compatible suitors due to varying reasons until the woman is well past the desired "marriageable" age.

4. What about the father who wants to keep his working daughter at home, unmarried, so that he can continue to partake of her wealth?

5. Times are a changin' and so are Saudis! Saudi women are getting an education and working before they marry which also puts them past the desired "marriageable" age.

6. Saudi men are studying/traveling abroad and residing alongside different cultures that do not segregate the sexes. This puts them in direct contact with the opposite sex and allows for them to get to know them without the constraints and restrictions of Saudi society. They often marry the foreign women they "fall in love with" with or without approval from the Saudi government and remain living with them outside of Saudi Arabia.

7. This might be hard to digest but some Saudi women choose to remain unmarried if they can't marry whom they fancy or if they don't have to get married at all (meaning their family doesn't place emphasis on marriage or will continue to provide for them). They are seriously prejudiced against Saudi men because of their "bad" attributes and from hearing about other Saudi womens' horrible experiences with Saudi men: abusive, not treating women fairly, encroaching upon their basic and Islamic rights, infidelity, promiscuity, divorcing women on a whim, taking children away from mothers who are still breastfeeding or who has not remarried and her children are under the age of seven. I think I'll stop right here. Oh yeah, this happens around the world...and in Saudi Arabia too!

8. The Prophet (peace be upon him) predicted that towards the end of time, there would be more women than men.

Despite the restrictions on Saudis marrying non-Saudis, its apparent that they are still marrying who they want, when they want. If they truly love a foreigner and want to spend the rest of their lives with them, they will find a way to be with them. One such way is circumventing the system. Or not bothering with the system and marrying legally in a foreign country where they can live happily and build a family without repercussions.

If the Saudi government really wants to help eradicate spinsterhood amongst Saudi women, then they should be part of the solution and not the problem. Part of this would entail making it easier for their citizens to exercise the right to marry whomever they wish and not making them feel hardship and suffer the consequences of choosing a non-Saudi. After all isn't that what Islam teaches us, ease in the religion? I exhort the Saudi Shoura Council to recall the following hadith: if someone makes things easy for his/her brother in this world, Allah will make it easy for them in the next world.

In conclusion, I hope that no Saudi has been offended by my suggestions as it wasn't intended as an attack on spinsters or the Shoura Council. Its an honest assessment of the situation however I'm not above correction. I welcome your feedback and comments.

Tara Umm Omar

Foxxi said...

Are you talking only about saudi/non-saudi or also about muslim/non-muslim marriage?

Average Joe Body Builder said...

foxxi, it is about saudi and non-saudi marriage only. islam strictly forbids a muslim woman from marrying a non-muslim man. no one is complaing about that. the complaint is to let saudi women marry non-saudi men, which is not against islam, but still hard for a woman to do.

i know of 2 cases where saudi women married non-saudi men, and in one of those cases the saudi woman bribed the right people in order to get permission. so its not like it does not happen. the point is why is it so difficult to have it done? the reason is because of an attitude which is a sickness in males of all ethnic backgrounds, they don't want to see their women leave the fold. in america a lot of white men will not date white women that have been with black men, in pakistan amongst the pashtuns, heaven help the non-pashtun man interested in a pashtun woman, amongst african americans, even with the number of black guys dating white women increasing, they can not tolerate a black woman dating a white guy. this is a worldwide phenomenon. the only difference is that in saudi arabia it has the force of law. i am sure that if the regulations were lifted, there would be a lot more saudi women ATTEMPTING to marry non-saudi men, but whether or not they will be successful is a different question. I also believe based on what i have seen of saudi culture, if the laws were modified and a significant number of saudi women actually were successful in marrying non-saudi men, that there would be a massive movement to have the laws go back to their original state. the fact of the matter is that this would be seen as an insult to the brothers, uncles, fathers and even sons of the women who "leave the flock". never mind muslim brother/sisterhood that islam has stated unequivocally, never mind that there are better non-saudi men than saudi men, never mind that saudi society is massively oppressive even to the men, all that shit diminishes to insignificance when family issues are at stake. the laws are the way they are because in the end that is how 50% of the people (the men) want it to be. and even if 70% of the women want it to change, that means in the end that it is still a minority that want such a change. those 70% of women will not raise their voices for change, maybe 20% will raise their voices, amongst those maybe 10% will make an attempt to marry a non-saudi man. there you have it.

Foxxi said...

Thank you for your specification, although I doubt that islam strictly forbids marriages between muslim and non-muslim, it's always men's approach how to deal with beliefs ...
Anyway, I strongly agree with your comment!

أبو سنان said...

This is VERY frustrating for us. I am an American married to a Saudi female. We have been working on this issue for over five years.

Unless you have wasta or reshwa, it is very hard to get your marriage recognised. Without it, it becomes very hard for the Saudi woman to do almost anything with the Saudi government.

So the married Saudi woman has to appeal to male members of the family back in Saudi for basic things like getting a passport renewed, the ability to travel to Saudi, scholorship, ect.

We have spent so much time at the Saudi Embassy here and no one wants to help.

It is too much!

Anonymous said...

Yes islam strictly forbids marriages between muslim and non-muslim

Average Joe Body Builder said...

أبو سنان

Salaam alaikum, No one wants to help because they are PISSED OFF that you married "their" woman. Don't let it strain your marriage though. While I am not married to a Saudi woman, happily married to my girlfriend, I wish they had more ability to do what they need to do, like get a passport, id papers, basic stuff like that.

Average Joe Body Builder said...

just out of curiosity, I have seen American and European men marrying Saudi women, however I have not seen or heard of any man from East or South Asia being able to marry a Saudi Arab woman (like Dossary, Qahtani, etc). That would be another pandora's box I would imagine eh?

Tara Umm Omar said...

@ Avg Joe

Could it be that the East or South Asian men are "beneath" a Saudi woman's status? I don't mean that in a derogatory way. And American and European men are considered to have a higher status than East or South Asians? Or perhaps it is because Saudi women come more in contact with Americans and Europeans due to frequent travels to those countries rather than East or South Asian countries. Food for thought!

Average Joe Body Builder said...

@ Tara

You stated:
Could it be that the East or South Asian men are "beneath" a Saudi woman's status? I don't mean that in a derogatory way.

If that isn't meant to be in a derogatory, it still is. If you are stating Saudi women's views of them then I guess Saudi women are racist. If you are stating your views, then I guess you are a racist. I am from the US, so I know in the back of my mind the only way that victims of racism were able to overcome racism was that they were willing to sacrifice their own lives, as well as take the lives away from the perpetrators in order to set America right.

You then state:

Saudi women come more in contact with Americans and Europeans due to frequent travels to those countries rather than East or South Asian countries. Food for thought!

Tell me, do you live in KSA? If you do then you would know that the number of flights that Saudi Women take to the Europe and America pales in comparison to the number of Asians that come to Saudi Arabia! I suppose in the world of Saudi Arabia, those flights, those travels, those PEOPLE... they don't count. It is not surprising, because as of yet, I have yet to meet a Saudi who can say without having a problem that Saudi Arabia is indeed a part of the world known as ASIA.

Food for thought of course as you state. Especially given the fact that this violates EVERYTHING Prophet Muhammad (S) has said about race relations and being Muslim. It goes so far as this:

The Prophet (peace be upon him) says: “Listen and obey, even though your ruler is a black slave whose head looks like a ball.”

We are not to see them as less..
In another hadis:

A believing slave is better than an unbeliever

I repeat the hadis:

A believing slave is better than an unbeliever

But... you didn't mean it in a derogatory way:

Could it be that the East or South Asian men are "beneath" a Saudi woman's status?

I will stop here, otherwise I might say ittaqullah....

Tara Umm Omar said...

@ Avg Joe

No need to get defensive brother. They were only questions not statements or facts. If you noticed, I put question marks at the end of each sentence. This gave an opportunity for anyone who could fully answer these questions or negate them with facts could do so.

My post was not written in a derogatory way but you took it as such instead of being objective. I do humbly apologize for offending you nevertheless.

Secondly, I'm not a racist. I am African American by identity with a mixed heritage that includes French and Native American ancestry. I also am fully aware that Islam is color blind and no other person is better than another except by taqwah.

Nor am I accusing Saudi women of racism. I was posing the questions from an anthropological perspective as I'm an Anthropologist. Whether you like to admit it or not, people still class themselves by social status. Which means they will usually marry someone at or above their status especially because of compatibility.

Yes I live in KSA. No I don't know for a certainty that the number of Saudi women traveling to American/European is less than the number of Asians entering Saudi Arabia. I'd say its most likely yet hesitant to fully agree without statistics to back it up. What does that have to do with Saudi women?

Average Joe Body Builder said...


Your questions were strictly and succinctly, way out of line. This line of thought simply shows the latent bias that is within you and in a large section of Saudis. You might not have thought you were being derogatory, but you were. The question of my being defensive is simply inappropriate. You were out of line and being racist. full stop. African Americans can be just as racist as whites. Just ask Malik Shabazz.

Well I guess black women in America are at the bottom of the economic and social totem pole because because they are "beneath" a white woman's status? I don't mean that in a derogatory way. White women are considered to have a higher status than black women by black men? I don't mean that in a derogatory way.

But I AM accusing Saudi men and women of racism. Not all, but a large portion of them, large enough that it explains why American and European employees have higher salaries for the same jobs as Asians, why so few BLACK Saudis have decent jobs, never mind promotions, why they face discrimination even in their own country.

What does it have to do with Saudi women? It goes back to the point, of the subject, "the Marriage Question", and why it is so difficult for a Saudi woman to get married to a non-Saudi, I mentioned that I know Saudi women that have married Euro and American men but not Asians. Your response was that silly question "Could it be that the East or South Asian men are 'beneath' a Saudi woman's status?"

As if a kafir might be more desirable than a Muslim?

Then followed up by yet another sill statement, "Saudi women come more in contact with Americans and Europeans due to frequent travels to those countries rather than East or South Asian countries."

As if the hundreds of Asians that they come into contact every month at their beck and call as drivers cleaners, whom they treat as slaves that are in their own country never existed, because hey they are "more in contact with Americans and Europeans due to frequent travel to those countries rather than East or South Asian countries". You ask "WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH SAUDI WOMEN"?! You might be trained as an anthropologist, but I suggest you get your glasses fixed, or remove the blinders. If you don't think you are an elitist, I could draw a picture for you if you like. Of course you didn't mean to be derogatory, but then again, the KKK actually believe what they say as well. You need some serious reeducation. Good luck.

Tara Umm Omar said...

Avg Joe,

I refuse to debate further with someone who doesn't even have his facts straight about Malik Shabazz, who after performing hajj, changed his racist views. But maybe you are confusing him with Louis Farrakhan. Better get your black men right.

Peace to you Avg Joe! Anger management classes are that way ---->

Average Joe Body Builder said...

I refuse to debate further with someone who doesn't even have his facts straight about Malik Shabazz, who after performing hajj, changed his racist views

When I said you needed to reeducation yourself I meant that.

I repeat, Just ask Malik Shabazz... You remember him? The guy who was killed by Black Racists, members of the Nation of Islam.... You need a re-education (hidayah) a more than a lot of others, and you need to quit justifying an obviously racist point of view in the guise of a question, I mean, again, black men prefer white women over black women, because black women are "beneath" white women's status? I don't mean that in a derogatory way.

You need hidaya badly, unfortunately even if I gave you some directions, you might not find the way, for some, the sirat al-mustaqim, is the hardest path to follow. You need to turn your statement around, there is no group of people superior or inferior, and if some people do categorize people as such, it is the ones doing the categorization that are going astray. You even justifying that behavior is a problem, and I am not obliged to try to be nice about it to you.

The original question was about marriage to non-saudis and why is it so hard. Thanks for being part of the larger problem.

Anonymous said...

who wouldn't love to marry a blond like Britny Spears or handsome like Tom Cruze