Ministry Move On Mixed Marriages Makes Many Unhappy
Arab News | Jeddah
9 February 2009
When 38-year-old American Mary Jones married a Saudi in the United States 15 years ago, she did not expect that it would take two years for the Saudi government to allow her to live with her husband in Saudi Arabia.
Why two years? That’s how long it took to obtain the marriage permit from the Saudi Ministry of Interior.
From a Saudi woman’s point of view, Jones said, allowing Saudi men to marry foreigners increases the problem of spinsterhood.
“Marriage is a personal choice,” said Jones. “It’s not fair to decide for people whom they can and can’t marry. In Islam, husbands are to be chosen for excellence in religion and moral character, not for nationality.”
Last week the Ministry of Interior rejected a request by the Shoura Council for easing rules governing Saudis who marry non-Saudis. However, the ministry excluded from the rules the elderly, the disabled and people who are socially rejected.
“To allow only the elderly, outcast and disabled people to marry non-Saudis is an affront to society. It shows that we’re a non-cooperative and unbalanced community,” said 36-year-old lawyer and legal consultant Wail Joharji.
A non-Saudi has to apply for a marriage permit to marry a Saudi woman.
Relevant official documents, medical records, passport, identification letter and the marriage request must be submitted to the Interior Ministry to issue the marriage permit. Only after this permit is issued can the marriage legally take place.
Article 6 of the Saudi intermarriage bylaw states: “Any Saudi man or woman who desires to marry a non-Saudi woman or man must have acceptable character, nationality and religion, excluding people belonging to beliefs not approved by Shariah.”
But even with the strict regulations, almost 25 permits are granted daily for Saudis to marry non-Saudis, the Okaz newspaper reported on Friday quoting a source at the ministry.
Tara Umm Omar, an American married to a Saudi with one son living in Riyadh, wrote in her blog Future Husbands and Wives of Saudis (www.taraummomar.blogspot.com) that the entire marriage-permission process is so rife with encumbrances that it can be viewed as collective punishment.
“A few reasons that compel Saudis to marry non-Saudis are religion, love, compatibility and sometimes destiny … I propose that the Saudi government conduct a study on whether the effects of regulating such marriages are actually decreasing spinsterhood and not contributing to higher divorce rates,” wrote Umm Omar.
Talal Bakri, head of the Social, Family and Youth Affairs Committee at the Shoura Council, was quoted recently in a local newspaper as saying that the council requested the ease of regulations due to the unfortunate situation many Saudis who marry non-Saudis without permission are in.
“Saudis whose marriage permits were rejected are forced to travel outside the country to conduct the marriages. These marriages don’t last long and end in divorce. The victims are the children who eventually become homeless. It all gives a bad reputation for our country,” Bakri said.
Taha Al-Safi, a 25-year-old systems analyst at Saudi Aramco in Dhahran, is currently engaged to a non-Saudi.
“I wish I was an outcast or disabled so that I could obtain the marriage permission without problems,” said Al-Safi humorously.
“At the end of the day, marriage is a personal choice. And with the increased divorce rate among Saudis, I believe we must be given the option,” Al-Safi added.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “If a man of whom you’re pleased with his religion and manners comes proposing, then approve the marriage.”