Hassna’a herself alerted me to the below article. When I first saw the email, her name seemed familiar and it dawned on me that in addition to having read her articles on Arab News, she had previously told her personal story on FHWS. At the time I did not put two and two together that she was a reporter masha’Allah. Not that it would have mattered as being a Muslim, I’m inclined to treat everyone who comes to FHWS equally regardless of their job position, nationality, race, religion, social/financial status or gender. An attitude that is sorely lacking amongst some Saudi government officials, in particular those charged with overseeing the Saudi marriage permission process between Saudi/non-Saudi couples.
I hadn’t gotten through reading half of Hassna’a’s article and was livid. I asked my husband, why must it come to this? What do they want from us? He doesn’t know. If he knew, he’d be able to solve our problem.
But I know this: my story, the story of Hassna’a and many other Saudi/non-Saudi couples like us is that our various dilemmas are a result of the stringent Saudi marriage permission rules which are not only unjust but oppressive. I consider it oppressive because they talk about safeguarding the rights of Saudi women and men and enforcing these strict marriage laws in the best interests of Saudis while making it difficult for them to marry non-Saudis. How are they safeguarding my husband’s rights by refusing to give us a new marriage certificate even though we have the official marriage permission from the MOI thus leaving me in limbo without an iqamah and my SAUDI son without a Saudi passport or Saudi national ID? How are they safeguarding the rights of Hassna’a by causing her to endure painful separations from her Canadian husband and making a heart-rending decision to leave Saudi Arabia and her son behind just to be with him? How are they safeguarding the rights of the female Saudi employee at the Marriage Licence Office by making her choose between her source of livelihood and a good husband? Good men are hard to find, Saudi or non-Saudi! How are they safeguarding my sister-in-law’s rights by telling her that her daughters (from a Syrian father) can not have Saudi passports and travel outside of Saudi Arabia but they can have the Saudi national ID? After all of that running around government offices, wasting her money and time! Oh but supposedly that’s how they “protect” their citizens from marrying non-Saudis.
Hassna’a will go to Canada where she is not oppressed in regards to her marriage. Isn’t it such a shame that a Muslim country does not accept her and her husband’s marriage but a non-Muslim country does?
GOODBYE SAUDI ARABIA
By Hassna’a Mokhtar | Arab News
7 March 2010
The decision to leave my country came after I knocked on many doors of the Saudi bureaucracy, hoping in vain to obtain the God-given right to live with my Arab-Canadian husband in the country of my birth.
Instead of a residency permit, I was called names and degraded. Why? Because I, a Saudi, had chosen to marry a non-Saudi. Not only was I humiliated, I was also approached for bribes of up to SR40,000 (about $10,600) by people claiming to know how to manipulate the system. My husband was kicked out of Saudi Arabia twice because his temporary status had lapsed. At one point in this ridiculous process, an immigration official lost my husband’s Canadian passport.
It was at the end of this long, fruitless and humiliating journey that I realized giving up and moving to Canada was the best decision to make.
Living constantly in distress because my country refuses to grant my beloved husband legal status is infuriating.
I tied the knot in June 2008, but only after a year of frustration in order to obtain the Interior Ministry’s permission.
At one point in that process my father-my legal guardian-escorted me to the ministry to obtain legal recognition of my marriage. At the marriage license office, I interrogated the woman behind the desk.
“I see many women applying to get married to non-Saudis. Is the number increasing?” I asked. “Why is it so difficult to get the permit?”
“There are at least six or seven women applying every day,” she answered. “The country wants to protect you and grants you your rights.”
I refrained from scoffing at her reply.
“I have an 11-year-old son from my Saudi ex-husband,” I said sharply. “I can’t see my son whenever I want to.”
She paused for a minute and her look softened.
“You’re a reporter. You’ve got to write about the situation of women,” she said, almost pleading.
She then told me her story: That she too was planning to marry a non-Saudi, but that she had been told she would have to resign in order to get the permit.
“I don’t want to lose my job,” she said. “At the same time, he’s a really good man and I’m afraid of losing him.”
This goes against everything I have learned about Islam. I am no scholar, but as I understand it, for a Muslim woman to marry, the requirements are: The consent of both parties, for the groom to be a Muslim, dowry to be paid by the groom to his bride, witnesses and a public announcement.
I don’t see anywhere in these rules a nationality test for marriage. It is not written in Saudi law, either. But the reality on the ground is that the bureaucracy throws up roadblocks for Saudi women who want to marry an outsider.
I was taught in school that in Islam an Arab is not superior to a non-Arab or vice versa, just as a white person is not superior to a black person or vice versa. What matters are piety, moral standing and the content of one’s character and soul. Islam teaches us that these are the only requirements for marriage.
Why is my husband denied residency? Is it because I am a woman?
This most certainly is the case.
If a Saudi man desires to marry a non-Saudi or two (or three or four) he is automatically issued a residency visa with the marriage certificate. Not only that, but after a few years and a couple of children, the non-Saudi wife is granted Saudi nationality. Their children are also Saudi by birth whether they are born in Saudi Arabia or on Mars.
The same does not apply to a Saudi woman.
In addition to the unwritten bureaucratic hurdles, a Saudi woman married to a non-Saudi does not have inheritance rights and her children are not considered citizens., While I am writing this, my husband is filling out the application to sponsor me as a permanent resident in Canada. He downloaded the applications from the Internet, gathered the required documents and followed simple, printed instructions. The request could be accepted or it could be rejected, but the process is simple, straightforward and easy to comprehend. Nobody asks for bribes, and Canadian officials aren’t offended by the fact that a Canadian wants to marry a non-Canadian.
So while I say goodbye to Saudi Arabia and hello to Canada, I would also like to express my hope that the situation will improve for Saudi women in their own country.