Married To A Saudi?
By Sabria S. Jawhar
The Saudi Gazette
19 December 2006
SHE is a Saudi citizen. Her papers are proper and perfectly legal. Every body, including the prison administration, knows for sure that she is innocent. And yet, she cannot leave prison.
Let’s call her Dina (not her real name), a two-year-old Saudi girl who is in prison for no reason other than the fact that her parents were not legally allowed to get married according to the Kingdom’s laws governing the marriage of Saudi men to non-Saudi women.
Four years ago, Dina’s mother Aisha (also not her real name), was engaged to a Saudi man who was ready to pay the dowry Aisha’s family had asked for. As with all young women her age, Aisha was excited to marry a man who will share with her father the responsibility of taking care of her as well as her family.
Hearts beat fast as the wedding party waited for the Sheikh who was supposed to write the marriage contract. The witnesses were there, the father and the brothers were all excited and nervous at the same time. The Sheikh arrived, the dowry was paid and the marriage was completed.
“It has been four years since we got married,” Aisha told the Saudi Gazette during a visit in her cell at Jeddah’s Briman Prison.
She said that because her husband cannot be legally permitted to marry, he did not document the marriage contract in the court as it was required. The couple lived together for almost four years, and Aisha got pregnant and gave birth to their first child.
“My husband was not living with us all the time,” Aisha said. “Because he rarely showed up the neighbors doubted him and us and informed the police that something wrong was happening in our house.”
The police came and arrested her as well as her family. They deported those who were not there legally to their country of origin and released those who paid bail while keeping Aisha in prison for more than two months without taking her to court or even explaining what she was charged with, the young woman said.
“Simply, I do not know – what is my crime?” she asked.
Officials at the prison administration said that she was arrested for having an undeclared marriage charge, a violation of Saudi law.
The Kingdom’s marriage procedures demand that a Saudi must seek permission from two civil authorities – the emir of the region where the marriage will take place and then from the Interior Ministry – before he being allowed to marry someone of a different nationality.
To receive approval from the Interior Ministry, the non-Saudi in the marriage has to have been born in Saudi Arabia. To prove that the wife was born in Saudi Arabia, a birth certificate and a medical report must also be included in the application.
In addition, the man must provide information about his financial status, a letter of confirmation from his employer, a copy of his fiancee’s Iqama, as well as her father’s Iqama and passport.
Aisha told The Saudi Gazette that she did not know that her marriage was illegal. In addition, she trusted the judgment of her husband because he works for the government and knows the regulations, she said.
According to the head of the Interior Ministry’s special rights department, Mohammad Bin Abdullah Al-Muhana, the regulations on the marriage of Saudis to non-Saudis are designed to protect the interests of both the parties as well as the Kingdom and its citizens. He said that if a Saudi man married a non-Saudi woman without first obtaining the permission of the Ministry, he would be taken to court and his wife would not be allowed to get into the country. But if she is already in the country, he added, she will be deported.
However, separate regulations cover children. For example, Al-Muhana explained, if the children were born outside the Kingdom, say in the mother’s home country, representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be asked to deal with the situation after making sure that the available documents proving the relationship of the children to the father are authentic. Then they send the documents to the Ministry of Interior.
‘If there is any doubt about the authenticity of that relationship from the husband’s or the wife’s side, the papers transferred to the specialized authority and a DNA test is demanded from both sides,’ Al-Muhana said.
In Islam, there are three conditions for a marriage contract. First, both parties should be free of anything that might prevent the marriage from being valid, such as being close relatives who are permanently forbidden to marry, whether this relationship is through blood ties or through breastfeeding (radaa’), or where the man is a non-Muslim and the woman is a Muslim, and so on.
Second, there should be an offer or proposal (ijaab) from the wali or the person who is acting in his place. Finally, there should be an expression of acceptance (qabool) on the part of the groom, or whoever is acting in his place, saying “I accept,” or similar words.
As per the conditions of a proper marriage contract, both the bride and groom should be clearly identified, whether by stating their names or describing themselves.
Both the bride and groom should be pleased with one another. The one who does the contract on the woman’s behalf should be her wali (guardian). The marriage contract must be witnessed. Finally it is also important that the marriage be announced.
The Saudi Gazette talked to a Sheikh, who preferred to be referred to as Abu Mohammad, who said that based on what he was told of Aisha’s story, the marriage contract is valid from an Islamic point of view because it meets all the conditions. However, Abu Mohammad wondered whether they announced the marriage or not. He also added that each country has its own regulations that govern marriage and the citizens have to abide by them even if they do not like them.
“Obeying the ruler’s regulations is part of Islam that should not be ignored or violated just for the sake of personal desire,” the Sheikh said. “Those regulations are introduced to guarantee both the wife’s and the children’s rights.”
Aisha said she has not heard from her husband since she was arrested and does not know if he has been arrested too or he is moving around scot-free.
“All I want is to be taken to court to face my destiny or deported back home to raise this girl outside the prison bars,” she said.