It takes a nation to protect the nation
Published: Mar 15, 2010 00:33 Updated: Mar 15, 2010 00:33
Why did we make polygamy a solution to the problem of spinsterhood and not the facilitation of marriages of Saudi women to non-Saudi men whether they are Muslim Arabs or non-Arab Muslims? Why is it that some of our men flex their muscles and ask women to accept polygamy and not to object to being a second wife? Why do they enter into doubtful marriage unions of misyar and misfar while turning a blind eye to the marriages that are legitimate and not forbidden by religion?
Paradoxically, these people bend religion to suit their personal whims. Some men will pretend to follow the directives of religion when it comes to polygamy and underage marriage while completely ignoring the teachings of Islam when it comes to a Saudi woman marrying a Muslim foreigner! The irony is that these people are very well aware that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) asked Muslims not to refuse to marry their women to Muslim men with good manners.
The Prophet (pbuh) made piety and good manners the parameter of preferences among Muslims, but the rotten teachings of racism and the laws of tribalism do not bother with Islam or its teachings when it comes to women! The universe will crumble if a Saudi woman dares to think of marrying a man from another nationality, but a Saudi man can marry up to four women regardless of nationality. His parents will not care about the background of his wife and will not be concerned about her personal qualifications or her respect to the norms and traditions.
Hell will break loose if a Saudi woman considers marrying a Muslim foreigner who is religious and good mannered. The male members of the family will try their best to foil this marriage. They will use the woman as an element of tribal fanaticism.
If the Saudi woman is able to overcome all hurdles to obtain government permission to marry a foreigner, her new husband will not easily obtain a residence permit. Her children from the non-Saudi man will never obtain Saudi citizenship. Therefore if the family has mercy on her and approves her marriage to a foreigner, government regulations will take a toll on her through red tape and complications. The Saudi woman who marries a non-Saudi man will be looked down upon while the non-Saudi wife will easily obtain a residence permit the moment the marriage contract is made; the doors for obtaining Saudi citizenship will be open to her. The husband will have no problem getting the state to recognize his children as Saudi citizens and embracing them even if they were born in the Comoros!
Arab News reporter, Hassna’a Mokhtar wrote a painful article, bidding farewell to her country while migrating to Canada to join her Arab-Canadian husband. She had to leave her home country after bureaucracy stood firmly in her face. Her husband was twice deported from the country because his Iqama (residency permit) expired and she was unable to renew it for him. She went through humiliations because she married a non-Saudi. There was nothing for her to do but leave her country after all doors were closed for her and her husband.
Saudi Arabia’s cruel marriage laws
The tribal mentality has changed, at least to some degree, among the middle and upper classes. But even if the father consents, the Saudi government makes it arduous for the couple to proceed with the marriage.
All Saudi men and women must obtain a permission to marry a non-Saudi Muslim before marriage (nikkah). And there is one set of rules for men and another for women. "Why is it so difficult to get the permit?" Mokhtar asked the female officer at the interior ministry. "The country wants to protect you," she recalls the officer responding. The officer told Mokhtar that she, too, wanted to marry a non-Saudi Muslim but would have to resign from her government job to do so.
Mokhtar, now 32, was ready to marry, but faced many hurdles. She applied for the marriage license in June 2007 and finally received it a year later. "They [the Saudi government] are not going to solve the problem by forcing men or women to marry another Saudi," said Mokhtar. "They should leave the choices open."
When she finally did get married, it was the beginning of another set of problems. In that, she is not alone. Her husband was not automatically eligible for a residency permit (iqamah). He can visit her in Saudi Arabia on a visa that can be extended up to two months, on which he can neither work nor own a car or a property. And there is no set of procedures for obtaining residency; it could take months if you know someone who can get it done through the back door, or it could take years.
"How could we have a stable life and start to build our life together, if he has to hop back and forth?" asked Mokhtar, who wants to live in Saudi Arabia with her husband. This way she can remain in touch with her 12-year-old son from a Saudi ex-husband. Each time the visa was about to expire, her 32-year-old husband, who is vice-president of a digital marketing company, flew back to Canada, leaving her alone for months to prepare yet again for a visit visa. This went on for two years. What otherwise could have been a joyous married life turned out to be financially draining and emotionally traumatic for the couple. "I appreciate that he gave up two years of his life to be with me, now it was my turn to move to his country, if I want this marriage to work," said Mokhtar.
Leaving behind her parents and her son, Mokhtar has now moved to Montreal, where the residency procedure for her, as a wife of a Canadian, is well defined. In Saudi Arabia, she relied on clandestine operators to speed the process in return for SR40,000 (about ₤7000) – but that didn't work, because it was merely an attempt to profit from her misery.
She questions the apparent unfairness of certain policies that discourage women from marrying non-Saudis. "When a Saudi man is granted the marriage license from the interior ministry, he is automatically granted a residence permit for his wife. And, after some years of marriage, she gets to become a Saudi [citizen]. So I don't understand why the same rule is not applied to a Saudi-woman marrying a non-Saudi?"
The officer Mokhtar spoke to at the interior ministry told her that each day six or seven Saudi women apply for a licence to marry a non-Saudi, and all would like to see the process eased. So why isn't it? The Islamic creed gives women the right to choose a spouse and makes no distinction between a Saudi and a non-Saudi Muslim. In his last sermon, the prophet Muhammad said: "Arab has no superiority over non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any over an Arab … except by piety and good action." It is evident that these practices are not in sync with the equality Islam espouses.
As for Mokhtar, she hopes to return to the kingdom with her husband once he is granted a residence permit. Though she is with her husband who loves her, she misses her son. The ordeal continues.
Fahad Faruqui is a freelance writer and a TV/Radio presenter. He read Philosophy of Religion and Middle Eastern Studies as an undergraduate at Columbia University and then pursued M.S. in Journalism from its Graduate School of Journalism. He also studied classical Arabic in Jordan. This article was previously published in the Guardian's Comment is Free.