MARRYING A NON-SAUDI MAN
By Maha Akeel
After more than 18 months of running around from one government office to another to get the permit, a Saudi friend of mine finally married her non-Saudi fiancé. Before a Saudi man or woman can marry a non-Saudi, they need a permit from the Ministry of Interior for the marriage contract to be officially recognized. The process of filing the form and explaining why the Saudi man is marrying a non-Saudi woman is cumbersome. For the Saudi woman it is difficult and rules are apparently meant to dissuade them from such an alliance.
After my friend got the permit from the ministry she had to get another from the Makkah Principality to have the marriage certificate issued in Jeddah. At the women’s section of the principality, the official told her that they receive around seven applications a day from Saudi women seeking to marry non-Saudi men, but that there are restrictions. The authorities would reject an application if the woman is under 25 years; it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a never-before-married Saudi girl under 25-years to be permitted to marry a non-Saudi. If the woman is divorced, a doctor, or handicapped, then it is much easier to get the permit. A Saudi man does not fancy a woman in this category to be his wife. Such women can go for “the second best choice”. So basically, the restrictions are not meant to protect Saudi women but for guaranteeing that Saudi men have the first chance to marry a Saudi woman. In other words, if a woman had exhausted all her chances in marrying a Saudi as the better choice and has become old (over 25), used-goods (divorced), or is highly educated or disabled, then she can be permitted to marry a non-Saudi even if it is her first choice. Where in Islam does it say that a woman cannot marry the man of her choice, especially if her family approves of him?
The fact that she is applying for the permit means that her family already approves because a Saudi woman cannot marry without her male guardian’s consent, no matter how old she is. While our religious figures keep wailing about the high rate of single women and encouraging Saudi men to have more than one wife, the officials are putting all kinds of restrictions and obstacles in the path of an adult Saudi woman who wants to marry a man of her choice simply because he is not Saudi. There are certainly risks in marrying a non-Saudi, especially if it ends in divorce leading to a child custody battle, but there is the kind of risks one should expect in a marriage even if the husband is a local guy.
I can understand if the delay in issuing the permit or denial is because the ministry checks the man’s background for a criminal record, if any, for example. Now that would be the service expected of the ministry. Furthermore, why do we assume that a Saudi man is always the better choice? The type of qualities a Saudi man finds “undesirable” in a woman indicates his shallowness and narrow-mindedness. This also gives you an idea of the perception a Saudi man has of a future wife and her role in his life. I dare to assume that few Saudi men consider the wife a true partner. They are there to fulfill bodily needs, procreate and keep house. I think lineage and tribalism also enter the picture. The underlying assumption is that we as Saudi nationals are of a superior stock and should not allow our women to marry nationals of a lower lineage. The discrimination against these “lower lineage” nationals continues, as inheritance laws do not apply to Saudi women married to non-Saudi men and their non-Saudi children. Her husband and children do not inherit her, even though that is against Islamic laws. One of the government offices my friend had to visit in the process of obtaining the permit is the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution where she had to sign an affidavit to the effect that she is not forced into this marriage and that she is marrying this man on her own volition. How I wish the bureau asked the same question to the 12-year-old girls being married off by their fathers to 60-year-old men as a third or fourth wife. Islam insists on a woman’s consent before she is married to someone. How many of our officials bother to ask a girl directly and privately, especially if she is young, whether she is being forced into the marriage or agrees to it? If we really want to protect Saudi women from harmful marriages, and possible ugly divorces, then we should start by educating our men and women of the true meaning of marriage, of the rights as well as obligations both the husband and wife have in Islam, and setting a minimum age for marriage.