By Tara Umm Omar
9 April 2006
This is not an attempt to discourage anyone from marrying a Saudi national. It is written for both non-Saudi men and women from an Islamic viewpoint. No one should go into any marriage with rose-colored glasses and marriage to a Saudi is no exception. You should prepare yourself and know the advantage and disadvantages of being married to a Saudi before you make the commitment. If you are a Muslim reading this, please do not forget to pray istikharah insha’Allah.
1. The Saudi marriage permission is required for any Saudi male or female who desires to marry a non-Saudi. These days it is hard to obtain unless your husband knows an influential person (called “wasta” in Arabic) or pays through the nose with a hefty bribe in order to get the permit approved quickly. Ideally the spouse must apply for the marriage permit BEFORE marriage. However there are cases where the marriage permit has been granted after marriage and even after children have been sired before approval. Warning: the marriage permit might be rejected if this is allowed to happen. There are even cases of the non-Saudi/Saudi couples being punished by either having their marriage application rejected or the process is dragged out without any resolution (files are “lost”, put out of sight and mind or locked away in drawers).
2. It is highly advisable that you meet your prospective spouse AND his/her family before marriage. Muslim women should be represented by a wali/wakeel (male guardian) and be present at all meetings between her and the brother she would like to marry. Saudis are very family-oriented and spend a lot of time with their immediate and extended families. He/she can not disown their family if they do not accept you. This does not mean that they should allow their family to treat you badly and come to your defense if needed. You should take this into consideration and discuss family living arrangements with your spouse if you decide to live in Saudi Arabia. Especially since you might be expected to reside with in-laws if the husband doesn’t have a separate residence or can’t afford one right away.
3. Saudi men are allowed to marry Christian and Jewish women. Children will most likely be raised as Muslim even if the mother never reverts to Islam. Children of Saudi men born to non-Saudi women automatically receive Saudi citizenship but children of Saudi women and foreign men do not.
4. Women aren’t allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. You will have to depend on your husband (or other male family member) to drive you around and run errands for you. Otherwise you will have to take a taxi or hire a driver. Some men do not accept for their women to ride alone with a strange man, whether from his family or not. It is more acceptable if you are accompanied by another woman or a son/daughter who has reached puberty. It is possible to walk whenever you can however women who do so alone have been harassed.
5. Wife must get husband’s permission for herself and children before traveling within or outside of Saudi Arabia regardless of the transportation method. In some cases the husband’s verbal permission is sufficient however it is better to have a written permission just in case.
6. If you apply for Saudi citizenship will have to relinquish American citizenship. You will need to write a document and sign it under oath with the American Embassy that you are not giving up your American citizenship. After the Saudi government takes your American passport then the American Embassy will grant you a new one. You are not obligated to apply for Saudi citizenship however in some circumstances it would make things much easier for you.
7. Limited job opportunities for non-Saudis due to Saudization of some private sectors and high unemployment rates. If you do not speak Arabic then your choices are even narrower. If not self-employed, most non-Saudis are employed in the education and medical fields.
8. Read and research the Islamic religion, history, culture, and society of Saudi Arabia before living there.
9. Saudi men are allowed up to 4 wives but they need prior permission from their wife/wives. Contrary to popular belief, polygamy is not practiced widely due to high dowry of Saudi women, difficulty of obtaining permission to marry non-Saudis, and high cost of living.
10.A non-Saudi wife of a Saudi has to be sponsored by her husband on the iqamah. If a non-Saudi is divorced or widowed from her Saudi husband, she can sponsor herself and apply for her own iqamah. The latter is conditional, she MUST have a Saudi child/children.
11.If divorced, the wife may lose her children immediately if she has no prior agreement with husband to share custody. This is because the Saudi courts follow the Hanbali madh-hab (Islamic school of thought). The mother can retain custody if the father refuses to take the children or she can prove the father is incompetent in raising the children. The son has a choice as to which parent he would like to live with. Before marriage, the couple should stipulate in the marriage contract a custody agreement on any future children in the event of divorce. This should also include their place of residence. Also, if the ex-wife remarries then the husband retains custody of the children per Islam.
12. If you buy a house/villa/apartment make sure it is in your name and make sure you have the paperwork officially stamped in the courts.
13. Mutawwa (religious police) still exist is some areas of Saudi Arabia and often frequent the malls. They do not hit with sticks anymore but will tell you to cover your hair or face. If they come to “correct you”, gently advise that they should be speaking to your mahram. If you do not have a male present with you, and it is not your belief that you should cover your hair/face, thank them and just go on about your business. However, since you are in a Musim country, it would be nice if you cover out of respect. Arguing or getting violent with them never ends well. The Qur’an advises us to argue in a way that is better…honey draws bees better than vinegar.
14. In some areas you will have to wear the abayah (black coat), hijab (head covering) and even niqab (face veil). The Eastern Province and Jeddah aren’t too strict while Riyadh is conservative. This also depends on your husband.
15. You might be required to keep interaction with strange males at a minimum and only when necessary. Saudi society is segregated. In most places male and females do not mix freely.
16. Entertainment can’t be compared to the West so you must be creative. The following can be done for fun:
A. Science center
B. Shopping in malls with indoor amusement parks, video arcades and food courts
D. Desert drives in 4×4’s on sand dunes
E. Outdoor amusement parks
F. Women only salons, malls and internet cafes
G. Sports (some compounds have golf courses)
H. Camping and cave exploration
J. Historical and Islamic structures
K. Join a fitness gym or learn a martial art (girls are discouraged from gym in some schools)
L. Ice skating
N. Scuba diving, snorkeling, boating, jet skiing, boating, swimming (for women on private beaches)
O. Weddings, Eid and circumcision celebrations
P. Internet cafes, billiards, arcades with video games
Q. Join an expat club or Islamic center
R. Cinema (Comment provided by Sis Ayesha: There is now a cinema in Jeddah. It is located at the Sawary Landmark on North Malik Road. It shows films daily at 6, 8 & 10 pm. The shows are family types or cartoons. Families, fathers with children and wives are able to enter. No single guys. Its 30SR for each ticket and you can choose your seating. Its actually quite nice, we’ve been several times.)
S. Desert forays (hashes), hunting and camping. You can ride camels, miniature ponies, horses or dune buggies for a fee.
U. Festivals (Janadriyah)
V. Fairs (International cuisine and crafts, book fairs)
17. Women won’t be able to wear a bathing suit or swim on a public beach but there do exist private compounds with beaches where you can.
18. There are no churches or synagogues. Non-Muslims must practice their religion in privacy.
19. Women are allowed to open a bank account, start a business, and own real estate in their name. The majority of government offices and some private establishments are dominated by males so the husband or male guardian is mostly responsible for submitting paperwork and transactions. Some places have women-only sections, such as banks.
20. Depending upon the hospital, the husband can be present when the wife is in labor and during delivery. Doulas are on call.