Boy meets girl, fall in love, separated by oceans, waiting for family to agree, waiting for marriage permission…

Often when people discover mine and my husband’s nationalities, they are surprised; sometimes smirking at my husband as if by marrying a Westerner he has done something deliciously forbidden. However, we are not the only such couple out there and it has been my observation that many of our stories share similar characteristics…

Most Western wives meet their Saudi husbands at university where their husband is usually studying on a government scholarship. During this time, the young couple fall in love and enjoy their time together…until he finishes his studies. At that time, pressure from family, homesickness and a sense of obligation to serve the country which gave him his education, lures him back home. Even if he wishes to prolong his stay in the country to remain with his partner, it is often impossible due to an inability to obtain employment there. Ultimately, as a student fresh out of university, even at the Masters level, the search for a job outside KSA proves too difficult.

So he returns to a country to which she cannot follow him and to a culture which is likely still a mystery to her. He himself must deal with reverse culture shock and, in recent times, long stretches of unemployment. This is without mentioning dealing with the heart break and distress at having been torn apart from his lover.

Upon expressing his desire to marry his foreign lover he will likely be met with disapproval. This can be for a variety of reasons:

  1. For a conservative, tribal family it may be the very fact that the woman is not Saudi or even that she is not part of their tribe (some such families are so insular that they will not even allow their family members to marry outside the family)
  2. For most families it is a genuine fear for the ability of the foreign wife to adapt to the very challenging and unique environment in KSA. In the Western world we have the ‘not without my daughter’ stereotype but what many people don’t realise is that they also have their own horror stories about Saudi men who have married foreign women and lost their children. Indeed, there have reportedly been a significant amount of cases in KSA where non Saudi women married to Saudi men have effectively kidnapped their children and left the country without warning, never to set foot in the country again. This was not necessarily done to escape an abusive husband but rather to escape a country which they found themselves overwhelmed by and unable to adapt to. All families want the best for their children and if they see them entering into what they consider to be a high risk situation they will naturally be uncomfortable with that and unfortunately, mixed Saudi/non Saudi marriages are indeed high risk with half of mixed marriages failing as opposed to 22% of Saudi-Saudi marriages (see link).
  3. For those women who are not Muslim, often the family will have the additional concern of how a non-Muslim woman will raise good Muslim children in the future inshaAllah.

If family approval is given (sometimes even when it’s not!), they then move onto the next obstacle – obtaining marriage permission from the Saudi government. The government require that before any of their citizens marry a non Saudi, they must apply for permission to do so. There is no set processing time and it has been known to take anywhere from days to years.

A major determining factor of the speed and success of the process is wasta. Wasta is the practice of using your connections/influence to get things done quickly and easily, or indeed getting things done at all. It can be a wonderful thing when you have it but for the many who do not, it can be incredibly frustrating. Unfortunately, big wasta is required if you want to get the marriage permission in a reasonable period of time i.e. months rather than years. However, if you are not blessed with this, there will likely be a number of people, mainly government workers, along the way offering to accept large sums of money from you in return for speeding up the process. Such under the table deals, while tempting for the many desperate couples whose patience is wearing thin, are inherently risky and it is not unheard of for these people to accept the money without keeping their end of the deal.

Meanwhile, the lovers, often compelled by circumstances to remain apart in their own countries, may marry under Islamic law without the knowledge of either of their governments. Should they choose to marry under the civil law of the woman’s country, the Saudi man faces a fine of SR100,000 which, at the time of writing, is equal to roughly AUD25,000 (see link).

They wait and they wait and they wait, at the mercy of a bureaucracy which seems only to care about wasta and dollar signs but alhamdulilah, as Allah promised us, after hardship comes ease. After what is usually a painful, lengthy wait, the couple often eventually obtain the permission whether through wasta and/or bribes or purely by the grace of God. InshaAllah they are finally free to begin the adventure that is married life as a mixed couple in Saudi Arabia.

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15 thoughts on “Boy meets girl, fall in love, separated by oceans, waiting for family to agree, waiting for marriage permission…

  1. New Wife says:

    seems like it is becoming an increasingly common story right? but when it happens to you, you kind of feel like the only one in the whole world…

    but al7amdulillah 3la kl 7al, especially if you are one of the lucky ones whose saudi is willing to try and fight for you

    can’t wait to read more inshaAllah and hope to see you around my blog… it seems we are in somewhat similar circumstances.

  2. American Heartbreak says:

    This happens in all types of cultures in which a Westerner falls in love with someone foreign. I’m American and he is Nepali. We just got word that his family disapproves and has already arranged his marriage to a Nepali within his caste. He is forced to move on, and I can’t. . .

    • D says:

      I am so sorry to hear that. InshaAllah everything works out either with or without him. Unfortunately it is a common thing within more conservative, tribal societies 😦

  3. rainbowhorse says:

    How’s your situation going?

    • D says:

      Alhamdulilah my husbands old permission for his ex wife (also non saudi) has been removed from the system so inshaAllah we will apply for our own permission next month. Make du’a for us!

  4. Rashid Ahmed says:

    I really enjoyed your blog. It is very intriguing and insightful. You provide a window to saudi people and culture. I for one appreciate you very much. I have always been curious about the Arabs in general and Saudis in particular. I want to learn more about the language, people and the culture of the Saudis. Someone once told me that for someone to learn about some people, one has to live among them. Well untill I find a way to move to Saudi Arabia, I will have to depend on this blog, beginnes’s Arabic lessons and the net.
    Any volunteers to help me out with this!

    • D says:

      JazakAllah khair for visiting and leaving such kind words. I would like to recommend one site in particular to you which I think you will enjoy and inshaAllah benefit from –

      I have a lot of other links on my link page to some good sites with some very interesting information about KSA and its people.

  5. Jennifer says:

    I too met a Saudi and fell in love. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is much hope with him or his Saudi family. I have dated men from many different races and this Saudi man was the most affectionate gentle man I ever dated.

    • D says:

      It’s true, Saudi men, when they are good, they are really great mashaAllah. If he’s truly worth it and you feel you are prepared to move to KSA with him at some point, do some research on especially about child custody laws etc then make your decision. At one point in my engagement, I also gave up for the same reasons but after a few months and many prayers, I found myself back with him because the old adage is true – good men really are hard to find, even if they come with a lot of baggage!

      • tety says:

        thats right,but Alhamdulillah i find some Saudi man his kind i love him,his my husband now,but we still wait for Saudi approved,please make Du’a for us so i can reunited with my husband soon…may Allah bless you all……..

  6. Athlone says:

    I’m just wondering if any knows if the permission age is 35 or 38

    • D says:

      I think the official age that it becomes ‘easier’ is 35 however my husband was told 30 by those at the MOI branch near Jeddah about a year ago. Like most things it seems to depend who you ask. My general observation is that they don’t seem to be as tough on couples in their 30s and beyond.

    • D says:

      To my knowledge it is 35.

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