Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Divorce Saudi-Style

Divorce is one of those things, like many in Saudi Arabia, which is exceedingly easy for men to obtain, but quite difficult for women to achieve. When a Saudi man wants a divorce, all he is required to do is to simply say “I divorce you” three times in front of a couple of witnesses (male, of course). However when a woman initiates the divorce in this country, she is required to go through the legal process in court before a male judge, and prove her case, which may or may not result in her desired outcome. Also, for the divorce to be granted, the woman is almost always required to repay the full amount of the dowry paid to her or her family when she was originally married, which could be a considerable amount, and even though she may have been married for many years.

A recent case which made the news here involved a 20-something-year-old young woman who was pressured by her family into marrying an old man in his 80s who already had three wives. The old man had offered to pay a dowry of 50,000 Saudi Riyals (about $13,000 US) to help out her financially strapped family, plus he promised to provide her with her own home – a promise he failed to keep. She had even withdrawn from her educational pursuits at a university in order to get married. So even though the octogenarian lied to his young wife by making empty promises, she cannot get a divorce from him until she repays the dowry, which her family has already spent. In the meantime, the young woman is miserable being married to a dirty old man and has no legal recourse.

A bizarre Saudi divorce case came to light in the spring of 2009 when a Saudi court upheld the divorce of a man who actually texted his wife on her mobile phone that he was divorcing her. Because the darling man had immediately notified two of his friends who were at his wedding as to how he had just divorced his wife via text messaging, the court accepted the manner in which the man chose to divorce his wife and found it perfectly legal and adequate.

Earlier this year a Saudi cleric came out and said that it’s perfectly acceptable, according to Islam, that girls as young as ten can be married, and even added that “those who think she's too young are wrong and they are being unfair to her.” Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh’s comments came in the wake of the ensuing uproar caused when a Saudi judge failed to annul the marriage of an 8-year-old girl to a 47-year-old man. The marriage was arranged by the girl’s father as a way of settling a debt, a fairly common practice among less educated tribes in Saudi Arabia. The outrage sparked by this decision eventually helped get the case assigned to another judge who granted the annulment, but only after the father admitted that perhaps the marriage wasn’t legal in the first place.

So, if Islam says that a woman’s permission is legally required for marriage, how can a father here basically sell his underage daughter into marriage and this act still be considered acceptable according to Islam?

Years ago typical arranged Saudi marriages had a fairly low divorce rate - although this doesn’t necessarily mean happy marriages, since Saudi men are legally allowed up to four wives, and Saudi women have a much more difficult time obtaining divorces than men. Nowadays the divorce rate in Saudi Arabia has increased so alarmingly that it is not all that far behind that of the United States. Some of the possible reasons for this upsurge include polygamy, abuse, age differences, family interference, not religious enough, not responsible enough, or not generous enough, when in fact it could have everything to do with men who are unable to deal with the now educated women of Saudi Arabia.

To read more on this topic, a recent post by Achelois - Raw and Uncut called "The Virgin Bride's New Tricks" discusses a new phenomenon sweeping the Arab world, and Eman over at the SaudiWoman blog posted her excellent take on the realities of Saudi divorce a few months ago.


  1. This is so fascinatingly frightening!

  2. These cases have, I think, more to do with being Saudi and less to do with being Islamic. The Saudis seem to make up there own rules about how to follow the religion and divorce is one of those times. Sad!

  3. The hypocracy here just blows me away. As education for women increases so will the divorce rate. Sure hope it doesn't get violent. Another great post Susie.

    How are you doing back in SA?

  4. This reminds me of the polygamist communities in Utah... young girls, multiple wives, religious reasons... just sad.

    Is the little girl in the picture getting married?

  5. Hi Amy - That's a good way to describe it!

    Hi Diane - I agree - but the reasons given for their behavior always point back to the religion, so it's very confusing to be able to draw that line.

    Hi Gaelyn - Thanks. I'm doing fine back here. It's cooler now, so for me, that's always better!

    Hi Angel - It is interesting how parallel Muslim and Mormon can appear. I just found the pic of the little girl online'- I don't think she's getting married, but I thought it fit the post. She has on much makeup, trying to look more grown up, but still obviously a little girl.

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  7. I cannot even imagine, if I had to stay with my first /boyfriend/ that I had at the age of 17. But at the age of 8??? Imagine you'd have to be with this person the rest of your life (and he might not even be someone you'd remotely picked as a companion...), With literally no way out. I seriously wonder about the suicide rate among Saudi Women...? Do you have any insight into that, Susi?

  8. Excellent post Susie!

    You inspired me to write something too -

  9. Susie this is so horrifying unfortunately I have heard of this before. Diane being Saudi and Islamic go hand in hand in the "majority" of cases. Please do not try to excuse what a nation is allowing men to do with women. I hope Saudi women keep forging to get an education. It is the only way to break free from this nightmare.

  10. That picture of the girl in the car is haunting.

  11. Now,there's a lot of wrong here,but who agreed to marry the 80 year man.Islam says the woman has to agree,so if she didn't,it's against Islam to start with.
    Now if divorce was permitted and the wife didn't have to return the mahr,it would be just the other way around,take the money and run.....

  12. 8 years old, I have a 7.5 year old daughter. That just makes me want to vomit! No menarchy= no marriage!! (At the very least!) Women must have a say, it's just so sad.

  13. Re: Suicide in Saudi:

    80% of completed suicides by Saudi nationals are by Saudi men. 20% by Saudi women. The causes are social; for women most often being harassed/persecuted by a man.

    In general, and except for China completed suicides have higher rates for men, whereas women have more attempts.

    The reason for that is both intent and means. Men intend to kill themselves and use more lethal means; women are more likely to signal that they need help and use less lethal means. Or so the theory and the numbers go.

  14. It is a big eye opener for us in the U.S. It is sooo easy to take for granted the rights women have AND have had for several generations. Thanks for the great posting, Susie.

  15. At the risk of sidetracking things into a language discussion, I had always been taught that a "dowry" is money or goods (or property) that a woman brings to her husband in marriage. Conversely, money that is paid to the bride's father (or family) would typically be called the "brideprice" or a similar term.

    So I guess the question is: is a "dowry" something legally different in Saudia Arabia, or is this simply a case of journalists and writers latching onto a common word and using it loosely?

  16. It bothers me that younger women in more enlightened countries are not protecting their rights. Without outside pressure what hope is there for women in countries like Saudi.

  17. The text messaging divorce method was tried in Malaysia. In the end the courts ruled that in order to divorce, the words need to be said, and not texted.

    It was quite funny reading it in the newspapers back then, and never tot i'd see something like this again.

  18. Hi, i am back.. well, you're right! "If Islam says that a woman’s permission is legally required for marriage, how can a father here basically sell his underage daughter into marriage and this act still be considered acceptable according to Islam? "

    A woman's permission is legally required for marriage in Islam. That's true. What that father's done is horrible! If he has married her underage daughter without her permission for settling a debt that's totally unacceptable in Islam! However, I would like to point out that it has been accepted by the Saudi authorities and not by Islam.. Saudi Arabia is not Islam.. their laws are not completely Islamic... They have some extremely absurd laws that I have ever seen! Like when I lived there I would hear incidents like the Saudi religious police hitting (a strong tap on the head) a woman with a stick because her head was not covered in public! Absurd! Absolutely ridiculous.. I haven't found any basis for that kind of a law in Islam.. "hitting women if their heads are not covered"!... but SA has it... similary, many other laws they have are unIslamic!... it's a twisted form of Islam, Susie. It's not Islam. :)

    You may want to read this: ( how a Saudi woman beat up a religious policeman )

    Hope your husband is recovering at a quick pace. Best of luck!

  19. My first husband was from Yemen. as i read your blog i see so many similarities. I am glad i never went to live in Yemen.

    texting a divorce? marrying a 12? just sickening to me - all i can say! i am so sorry that saudi women have no other way!

  20. The thing that blows my mind is that there are people like my fiancé and I that have been waiting years to get permission to marry and may never do so. Why because I'm Australian. I am an educated 30 year old woman that has built a relationship on mutual love and respect. This is viewed as a crime in Saudi Arabia but marrying a child is perfectly acceptable. And in some places it is then fine to perform an honnour killing is she does not abide by his rules. It seems the law and what is culturally accepted in some of these remote places is completely different.
    I think the worst thing is that this is not isolated to Saudi Arabia and is worse in other Muslim countries. I think the abuse of Islam to justify somebodys sick actions needs to stop. Until these people stand up and take responsibility for being the horrible people that they are and stop using Islam as an excuse to do whatever they feel like I see these incidents continuing.