|Al-Zawaj Al-Urufi: A marriage of convenience|
Nadeen Ibrahim | Arab News
MADINAH: With an increased number of expatriates in Madinah, Saudi men — often already married — are resorting to marrying young expatriate women through nonstate-recognized nikahs/marriages known in Arabic as Al-Zawaj Al-Urufi.
“The number of expatriates in Madinah — those who are resident, legal or illegal — has far exceeded the number of Saudis here,” said a source at Madinah Municipality, who asked his name not be published.
“Some expatriates try to earn cash by marrying their daughters or sisters to Saudis. This has resulted in a remarkable increase in the number of such marriages,” he added.
Marriage registers — known in the Kingdom as “mazuns” — are accredited by the Saudi authorities and are not allowed to carry out marriages, especially those between Saudis and non-Saudis, without legal permits. Saudis wanting to marry non-Saudis must first obtain marriage permits from the Ministry of Interior, something that can take months to years to acquire.
There are, however, unregistered expatriate sheikhs who are ready to conduct the rites of an Islamic nikah. Such marriages are legal according to Islamic Law, but not acceptable under Saudi rules.
Kamal Muhammad, an IT teacher at a boys’ school in Madinah, said such marriages cost no more than SR10,000. “I learned about them from a friend who arranged an appointment for me with an expatriate man who was looking for a husband for his daughter,” he said.
“The father showed me three of his daughters and asked me to choose one. He made a condition that the dowry should be no less than SR7,000 and that I should stay with her at the same house,” he said.
He added that after agreeing to the condition he made his choice. “The father brought a sheikh who was of his own nationality to write the contract. I paid them SR5,000 and promised to give the remainder of the money later. We then underwent a wedding party that was attended by the bride’s mother and other close relatives. I never expected things to move so fast and to be married within a few minutes for such a small amount of money,” he said.
Kamal said his father-in-law also asked him to pay SR600 each month for his wife’s upkeep. “Of course I readily agreed. Where can you find such a young and beautiful wife?” he said.
He, however, divorced his wife after five months after he came to know such marriages were common trade among some foreigners. “She won’t lose any time and will remarry the next day,” he added.
Saudi businessman Ghazi said he has unofficially married and divorced a number of expatriate women. “My Saudi wife is the principal of a school; her work is her priority. I do not want to have a normal second marriage and all the responsibilities that come with it such as setting up another home and having children,” he said. “I want a woman who spoils me and makes me happy. So I’ve married five foreign ladies in this unofficial way. These marriages are cheap and nor do I need to rent a home. I just live with them at their own homes,” he said.
Ghazi said his five wives were of different nationalities. He added that the “best” was an African woman from Chad.
Khaled, a secondary school teacher, also agrees. “The common law marriage provides us with the opportunity to change. We can tie the knot with all kinds of women, old or young, white or black, without our Saudi wives and relatives finding out,” he said.
“The foreign wives will prefer to keep silent for fear of deportation because most of them are illegally staying in the Kingdom,” he said.
Fatima, an Afghan woman, said she underwent an unofficial marriage with a Saudi man who promised to make their marriage legal afterward. “He divorced me when he learned I was pregnant. My father had to beg him to come to hospital to name my baby boy after him. He did that but has disappeared since,” she said.
Fatima said her baby boy is now two and that she loves him dearly. “I was warned several times about marrying in such a way but I wouldn’t listen. I was tempted by money and my ex-husband’s promises to make the marriage legal afterward,” she said.
“I have become an example for many unmarried Afghan women who are now totally against such marriages,” she said.
A Saudi wife, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said she discovered her husband had married three women in such a way. “I became suspicious of his behavior. So I kept a close eye on him until I saw him one day entering a house, which was occupied by foreigners. When I confronted him, he confessed that he had secretly married,” she said.
“He said he resorted to them because he did not want to commit adultery. I forgave him because his marriages were only on paper; he had no children from them and did not rent a home for them,” she added.
According to marriage registers in the Kingdom, marriages with overstayers are illegal since overstayers are not recognized by law as living in the Kingdom.
Women who undergo nikahs with Saudi men without official recognition from the state usually lose their legal rights as wives in the eyes of the law. Women who are divorced cannot claim their rights — such as alimony — as their marriages are not legally registered in the Kingdom.
In a previous Arab News article, Mohammed Saeed Tayib, a legal consultant, said there are legal channels through which marriages conducted abroad can be legalized under Saudi law. He added there is little that can be done to legalize “unofficial” marriages conducted in the Kingdom.