Forgive me for not posting to FHWS on a regular basis. I have a lot of blog posts lined up but so little time. I will try to be better insha’Allah. This post and the one coming next should be worth the wait.
Cathy provides some stellar advice based on her personal experience with her Saudi husband. If you are a non-Saudi involved in a non-marital relationship with a Saudi, you may want to reevaluate your circumstances and figure out if this is what you really want out of your life. If you decide it is, then I suggest you make your Saudi prove that he is genuine and wants to marry you. Although there will be no lie detector at your disposal or even a heart-o-meter to gauge his true intentions, you can judge from his actions. Start today. No excuses. Be strong.
Thanks for sharing your story, Cathy! Tara Umm Omar
I was so happy to find your website, I have been following some others over the years but yours is unique in that it’s an educated piece rather than just some musings (although there are some other very valuable blogs on Saudi marriage as well). Anyway, I was going to post on your site but figured I should email you first. I am interested in both sharing my story and also, if you think it worthwhile, becoming part of the women’s Facebook group. Anyway, as my introduction, please read my story. God bless your work!
I met my husband about 7 years ago at a Ramadan breakfast at a local university – I am actually Christian, but I was invited and thrilled at the prospect of getting to know Saudi culture and religion. When we met, there were many, many other Saudis there from all over Saudi Arabia and one of them was very forthcoming about iterating the tenets of Islamic marriage and how it relates to Saudi custom. In other words, I was told almost immediately that marriage to foreigners is prohibited or at least very strongly frowned upon both culturally and legally, that the Cultural Mission would cut scholarships if known that marriage was being requested, and that family is usually very strict when foreign marriage came into play. There it was, in a nutshell expressed directly. But I asked the person informing me whether or not he thought that dating American girls under those circumstances was somewhat elusive and fraudulent. He answered, with a very straight face, “No. Don’t we all have the right to love?”
It was at that moment that I thought about all these girls who might eventually date one of these guys without knowing the pitfalls that come along with it – for example, maybe they wouldn’t have the clear introduction I had. Anyway, at that point you would think that all bets would be off and that I would run in the opposite direction from the very handsome and good smelling Saudi pursuing me, right? Well, we dated really casually and thought that we could have dinner dates and not get serious for a few weeks and then end it. And then, you guessed it, we fell in love with each other. 6 months later he was returning home to visit and a few days before leaving I sat down with him and told him that I could not pursue a relationship that was going nowhere, that I needed a future, etc. We both cried because we knew what that meant. He went home to visit….and he came back with a renewed sense of purpose and said that he spoke to his brother and his aunts and feels its right to pursue marriage with me. He explained we could not, of course, get officially married until he graduated as to not risk his scholarship. And so it was, we lived together for years.
Then I got pregnant.
It is here that you will really see the tale unfold. My Saudi boyfriend flipped out and scattered like a petrified cat being chased by a rabid dog…and then I think he began acting like a rabid dog actually. The man was beside himself because he was completely and utterly in deep trouble for many reasons. One of those reasons is that really it wasn’t ok with his parents to marry a foreigner – notice when he came back he never said “I spoke to my parents.” The second is that sin finds you out like an ant on a hill when trying to hide something in front of God – and this great haram was about to be exposed. So, do you know what he did? He began having an affair with another American girl, told his friends that he left me and that I was pregnant by a Mexican man. I was truly alone and destitute and could not afford the rent on my own. Our relationship, please remember, was one that everyone thought was a romance made in Heaven, one that was inseparable and one that was admired by many around us. I am saying this very prominently because I notice many other girls on these blogs say over and over again “But we are so in love!” Yeah, well, so were we. But religion and culture and family are MUCH more powerful than you think they are in that private moment.
What ensued after that was a long pregnancy with him trying to come back and apologize but still acting like a rabid dog, not knowing what to do, which way to turn, how not to get found out. He was affected so much by the this trouble that he was hospitalized for stomach pains with no known cause, he flunked out of the university entirely and was dismissed academically, and ultimately his scholarship was cut. When I told him that I could not mend things because of his affair, he immediately proposed to this other American girl (who, by the way, had NO idea of anything Saudi or of us) and she was just tickled pink that this beautiful man was asking her to marry him. Again, no sign of his family involved, but hey, she could care less. Amazing to think about as I write this.
After my child was born, we met again and he was now the one destitute and hopeless. He was engaged to a random girl and without an education or money soon thereafter but wanted to marry her so he could stay in the U.S. The girl had NO idea he had flunked out of school either. Finally, I opened my door to him and said we can be friends and you can meet your child – however – you must go to that girl and tell her the truth of who you are, what you are doing and let her go. He did. We then spent much time talking, being friends, and discussing all things we never discussed – about Saudi culture, Islam, family, feelings…everything. I eventually told him that he would have to prove to me that he wasn’t interested in a green card or any other sneaky thing and to prove it he would have to give me up and return to Saudi Arabia – and he did. He eventually re-applied to a different school here in the U.S. and was accepted and given a student visa but he stayed in KSA until I asked him to visit. We saw a family counselor when he was here and worked things out as best we could. We discussed the possibility that his mother would ask him about his desire to marry at some point, and we talked about how he will deal with his new family and his Saudi family. There were a lot of tears. Tears because he knew that he was making a huge choice. We were married and he has chosen to live in America and essentially keep a large distance from his family. He gave up the vision his father had for him as working in his company and he gave up the financial security his family would provide for him. We live by our wits and we stand by each other and we have accountability structures in place. It is now that I learned the most about dating, marrying, and understanding a Saudi man. Please note that he is a Bedouin tribal Saudi – they are different from other Saudis. It is important to know the “where” in Saudi the family stems from because THAT is the culture they follow. Anyway, we have worked through a tremendous amount of pain, hardship and grief. And I want to share my story because this is what I know now and this is what I want every single woman in America to know when dating a Saudi man:
A Saudi man is a man like any other man in the world – he has a heart, feelings and a desire to be accepted and to create a life for himself. He comes from a very closed world and when entering America it is his chance to see the world in a free atmosphere where he can make his own mistakes, try out anything and everything while always keeping his eye on becoming what is expected of him at home. All Saudi men are Islamic and wish to adhere to their religion and what is expected from them but the truth is when they come to America they are just so young and so susceptible to temptation. The level of devotion to their Islamic faith and obedience will vary GREATLY from one man to the next. For example, you will see some Saudi guys on campus praying five times a day with a beard. These guys are less likely to get involved with an American girl. Others may be somewhat religious and just fall in love with a girl and date her all four or five years while telling her to be very quiet when his family calls on the phone. This is probably the guy who will return back home to work and marry a nice Saudi wife arranged by his sisters, mother and aunts. Then there is the guy who practices Ramadan, believes in Allah, and tries to pray but is interested in partying and in more what America has to offer. This guy, too, probably dreams about breaking the mold and staying in America or bringing an American wife back home, but he also faces some hesitation when thinking about how to approach his family with the idea.
Family is identity in Saudi Arabia. More so with tribal clans. If a guy offers you to meet his family, this is priceless. If family stays at an arm’s length at all times, this could mean either he is not serious or that he is serious but does not want to be utterly shunned. Because this is what they face if they go against the family custom – and this is what my husband faces, complete and utter alienation for quite a long time. Yes, they may come back around but he will have a long wait. Just look at Muslim/Non-Muslim marriages in the U.S. where Muslim parents are horrified at the prospect. Usually the Muslim parents do not accept the foreigner into their family. So it is with Saudis. It is very, very important to know this before even *thinking* about dating a Saudi man.
There is a great poll on this blog that asks if now that you know all this information whether you would still consider marriage to a Saudi – and the overwhelming answers are almost 50/50. I am amazed at this answer because I would assert to say that at least 85% of Saudi/American marriages face very big challenges, challenges that you can’t possibly anticipate! Do I love and forgive my husband? Yes. Does he provide and did he make up for what he did? Yes and yes! BUT….a lot of pain is experienced by both of us because of many, many reasons. His family remains a bone of contention for us and for him. We are often times trying to navigate our friends together and forget the past. In raising our child there are lot of cultural things that pop up that I really didn’t see coming, but overall my belief in God has carried us.
If I had to do it all over again – as much as I love him and our child, I would have to say, no, I would not ever put myself in that position again. It is that reason that I share my story, so that others will see the extreme difficulty that a relationship like that comes with. My story isn’t over yet and there is much more to come, but my hope is that women find themselves strong in choosing their mates. In my circles we have a saying that says “Guard your heart” – and that really applies here. You can’t really date someone without the risk of really falling in love and you can’t really guarantee that dating a Saudi won’t end up in extreme heartache because more times than not – I’ll say it again – MORE times than not, it does end up in extreme heartache. Be strong, guard your heart and go with your gut. Romantic love cannot possibly carry a marriage, it is the friendship, the value and the importance that a spouse puts above themselves for the other. Selfless love means that the person you are marrying is more important that absolutely anything in this world. Patience, selflessness and devotion are the three elements to build a marriage on. That means that family, culture, religion, and everything else will have to come second to you. If that is not there in your potential guy, RUN!!!!!!!
May God richly bless your readers.
Photo Credit: Art Magick