Marriages and divorces in Saudi Arabia seem to crop up in the news on a regular basis here, mainly because of the controversies and bizarre natures surrounding many of them - and they are definitely not the norm in the West. In recent weeks three such unions have made headlines here.
But first, a little background on how marriages happen here. In Saudi Arabia, the marriage process differs from that in the West. In the West it is typical for a man and a woman to date for a while, get to know one another, become engaged for a period of time, and then get married. But in Saudi Arabia the process is completely different. Most often the man and woman do not really know each other when they marry. They likely had a nerve-wracking meeting once or twice in the woman’s home with other family members around and if they both liked what they saw, they agreed to marry, based on just those one or two awkward meetings. A marriage contract would then be drawn up and signed - and they are considered officially married. However, they will not actually live together as husband and wife for quite some time until the actual wedding, when the marriage is finally consummated. Most weddings here, by the way, are comprised of two entirely separate functions, one for men guests only and the other for women guests only because men and women are not allowed to mix socially in this country.
The first weird story about a divorce here in Saudi Arabia involved a young man from Qatif when he decided to divorce his young bride after only seven days of marriage. The reason? Because she had her appendix removed. No lie.
The second unusual case is about a young couple, Fatima and Mansoor, who had married happily and had a child together and one on the way. The wife’s half brothers, who had never had much to do with her all of her life, suddenly went to court to have her marriage annulled. On what grounds? Because in this tribal society here in Saudi Arabia, her "concerned" half brothers argued that she had married beneath her class. She was given the option of divorcing her husband or going to prison. Bravely Fatima opted for prison, where her second child was born, and they languished there for several years. Just recently the Supreme Judiciary Council finally ruled that Fatima and Mansoor could remain married. But don’t assume this is an automatic happy ending to this story. Her brothers may decide not to concede just because a judge ruled against them. The primitive and ignorant tribal mentality actually could place Fatima’s life in danger now so her brothers don’t lose face.
The third news article regarding odd marriages and divorces pertained to an 80 year old who had to be convinced by the court that allowing his 12 year old bride a divorce would be the proper thing to do. She's the same age as his GREAT-grandchildren! This case is similar to several that have been in the news here in the past few years. In many instances, the father will literally sell his daughter to pay a debt or to better his own family’s financial situation. But in an even more bizarre twist, just today this same 12 year old girl announced that she would accept her marriage to the 80 year old to show her obediance to her father! You've got to read this!
It comes as no surprise that three of the major causes of divorce in KSA are due to age differences, polygamy, and interference by family. Since men here are allowed up to four wives according to Islam, multiple wives spells trouble for most marriages as many women find the notion quite distasteful. In years past, the concept of love never really entered into the picture in this part of the world. Marriages were always considered a business deal. But times are a-changin’ here in that regard to marriage and the reasons for it. Women seem to be wanting more out of marriage than to just be baby-making machines and sexual objects for their husbands.
And to add just one last interesting tidbit regarding marriages in Saudi Arabia: as you know, most Saudi women veil their faces either completely or with just the eyes visible. So when a man wants to meet a woman about the possibility of marriage, he is allowed to see her one time with her face and hair uncovered. If he likes what he sees, and she approves, a marriage contract will be drawn up. But this can result in the old “Bait and Switch,” whereby if a family has a couple of daughters - one beautiful and the other not so beautiful - the potential mate is introduced to the beautiful daughter. Since he has not much else to go on but looks, he likes what he sees and agrees to marry her. But when the wedding night rolls around months later, the bride that is pawned off on him is actually her homely sister. He is miffed, but then again he only saw her once so he’s not really sure. This way the more beautiful daughter can command an even heftier dowry when she weds than the unattractive one ever could.
And that's how it's sometimes done in Saudi Arabia...