A reader, with excellent advice about the marriage permission process, has kindly agreed to share his story and hard-earned wisdom with us. As he is currently still in media res, he would prefer to remain anonymous for the time being. Here then, is Anonymous’ story and advice in his own words.
I was born in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia within the walls of Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia's largest company, as my father is an employee there. He's a graduate from King Fahd University Of petroleum and Minerals, in Dhahran, a Somali-Saudi migrant from Riyadh. He came here to study and never left. He had known my mother's Somali family, who had lived here in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia for 2 generations, as you would expect all people of the same ethnic background to be familiar with each other, in order to keep their culture and traditions alive.
My father’s story is different in that he was an orphan raised by his elder brother, and was born with Saudi citizenship as his father, my paternal grandfather, was born with it. My mother wasn't born with Saudi citizenship, as my maternal grandfather was born in British-controlled Aden, and was a citizen of the British Empire, which stood him in good stead when he was employed by Aramco (as it was then known). This both facilitated him getting a job and for it to be lucrative relative to other employees at the time. My mother tells me stories about them being the only family in their entire neighborhood affluent enough to own property and travel for leisurely purposes.
My maternal grandfather got Saudi citizenship easily, as back in those days --as my beloved grandmother told me--they used to knock on doors giving away citizenship. He took it, bestowing it upon my uncles. My mother and aunt were exempted, and were told they would get theirs if they married Saudi men. My mother (the pioneering and strong-willed woman that she is) had other things in mind. She had gone to University in Riyadh, had come to know some women in the Royal family, and had become good friends with them. In that way, she got enough clout to speak directly with the Minister of the Interior, and convince him of her and my aunts' case. They were granted citizenship a week later. She and my father got married, and I was born, the first of 5 sons, all with Saudi citizenship of course.
I've always had a privileged and happy life, and owe it all to Allah's blessing of having a loving family and good health, as nothing else matters. I graduated from KFUPM as my father had, several years ago. I have been working ever since, and was enjoying life as a single man, but was always being prodded with the question "When are you going to get married?” Mind you, this question almost exclusively came from my grandmother; my mother never asked, as she knew that only I could make such a crucial decision. Were it up to my grandmother, I would've gotten married right out of high school, back in 1999!
It was only in October 2007, on Eid Al-Fitr of all days, that I was once again cornered by my grandmother, Aunt AND Elder cousin about meeting a potential wife. I had shot the idea down, but they kept pushing; and, my dear mother, probably wanting her eldest son to get married in the hope that I might sire some grandkids for her, finally started asking me to consider a potential meeting with the family. Again, I brushed this off.
Come April 2008, I was hijacked into it. We would be going that weekend to the home of the people we would meet, and I was not given an option to bow out. May 1st, we arrived there, meeting and greeting, the men on one side, the women on the other. Then came the crucial moment; the man who would be my future father-in-law asked me to walk back to the other side of the hall with him. We got there, and there she was--the most radiant young woman I'd ever laid eyes upon. No superlatives would do her justice. Suffice it to say, I had that slack-jawed, gawker look to me. And, flanking her on both sides, were my grandmother and her mother. I was too intimidated; I'd never ever been put in such a position before. I said hello, or at least I thought I did; but apparently not, as my grandmother bashed me as we drove home for not saying it.
As far as presenting myself, it was a DISASTROUS first meeting. Fortunately, I had a chance to make amends 10 days later, when my mother and I visited with the family. It went better. And then there was nothing for a long period of time. I still wasn't on board with the whole marriage idea, and she wasn't either, as she wanted to continue her studies and was close to getting her Bachelors degree. So in August she left for Dubai. When she returned in October 2008, her mother called my mother and said that they were now willing, and wanted to know if we were. We were. We got engaged (milqa) on the 20th of November, 2008. And we've been talking and visiting (at her house of course) ever since.
I started the actual permission to marry a non-Saudi process purely out of happenstance. We went to the Government Run Medical Center to get tested for the now required medical marriage viability (to prevent genetic inbreeding, and transmission of HIV). As we went in to do it, we were hit by the question that always seems to lead to a rather unsavory "journey"--"Is either of you a Non-Saudi?”
My beloved fiancée is a non-Saudi with a mixed heritage--a Somali father and a non-Saudi Arab mother, and with citizenship from a third non-Saudi Arab country. This is also advantageous as citizens of her country are easily naturalized once marrying a Saudi citizen.
Thus, as my fiancée is a non-Saudi, I had to go through the Emara (Provincial Government), and petition them to marry her. I wanted to handle it all myself, but my mother insisted on a Moageb (a man who deals with Government Agencies for a fee). This man obviously wasn’t willing to do the work. I kept hounding him, but he refused to return calls, or to inform me of the status of the request. Only a few weeks ago, I learned he had done NOTHING. Taking the matter into my own hands, I've covered 75% of the process on my own in less than 2 weeks. Now I'm only waiting for Ramadhan to end so that I may complete the remaining 25% and be on my way.
As my fiancée is "foreign", yet born in Saudi Arabia AND has lived here her entire life, the process will be easier because this shows serious intent on both her and her families' parts of residing and making a life in Saudi Arabia. If the man is foreign (that is, without Saudi citizenship), there isn't much of a hassle, as the MOI are willing to speed the process up in order to facilitate the marriage of Saudi women. However, it'll go a lot more smoothly if the woman is 25 years of age or older. In their minds, "If she’s reached that age and isn’t married, surely no Saudi man will want her". For the record, I am 28 and my fiancée is 26, currently.
Payment of anything to anyone is to be a last resort, because one can handle a lot of the things on their own. For those who marry outside of Saudi Arabia, it's best to marry in the country of the non-Saudi spouse and follow up with the Saudi Cultural Mission and Embassies there, so that they might pass information back to the MOI. This will facilitate a better response.
At the present time, we are waiting for the medical permission to proceed. In mid-October I will receive the results of our lab tests concerning marital viability. As I've come by way of the Provincial Government, I don't get the results personally. They are sent in a sealed envelope to the Provincial Government, reviewed, and then relayed to me, explaining whether I can or can not get married because of (in-) compatibility. It can happen, as it has happened to several men I know, but I never was a defeatist and will see this through Inshallah.
At that time, in mid-October, assuming our marriage is medically approved, I, as the Saudi in the relationship, will be asked for further documents, to continue the approval process. Where the Saudi woman is marrying a non-Saudi man, the process would be similar, and it would be her role to deal with the Saudi government. I would be happy to share the list of documents that are required of me when I have them.
I would like to add that in my experience, there seems to be a general misconception about a Saudi woman attempting to marry a foreign man being harder. Perhaps from back when double standards used to apply, this rung true, however these days it is the easier of the two. The main reason for this is to solve the problem of a huge number of young women of marriageable age, and to avoid spinsterhood (defined here as age 25 and over).
I need only note our neighbours as an example. Their eldest son used to study in Canada on a scholarship provided by a well known company here; he met a Canadian woman of Egyptian ancestry. They didn’t apply for the marriage permission as he (naively) thought that it wouldn’t be a problem. They wed in Egypt and went back to completing their studies. Lo and behold, as he wished to enter through Bahrain, he was told his wife was not welcome. He’s been living in Bahrain and each day driving 240km return, to go to work and get home. It’s been 4 years since he applied for permission to have his marriage recognized.
Meanwhile, his sister was approached by an Egyptian man, and they began the process through the normal channels. 3 months later, she was married and had her marriage recognized by the Ministry of Interior. Some say it’s all dependent on luck, but that is only in one or two isolated incidences.
The major differences between the two cases are:
1. First and foremost, the Saudi man did not apply for permission prior to marriage.
2. His wife had NEVER been a resident, nor was born in Saudi Arabia, both of which play a huge role in the granting of permission. If she was only born in Saudi and resided here infrequently, they would’ve hassled them but eventually assisted. If she had resided here but was not born here, and no record of her existed in the archives, they would’ve hassled them but eventually assisted. If she is both born here and resided here for her entire life, it’s very straight forward, as they see this as a sign of serious intent on settling down in the country.
3. He didn’t hold the marriage ceremony (as much as it was an Islamic, though unofficial, non-civil marriage ceremony) in Saudi Arabia, or even Canada (where both resided and one was a citizen). Instead they chose a third country, Egypt. This I’ve learned to be a problem as well. Had they been married in Canada, they would’ve at least had the benefit of being informed. As he was a student, if he were to consult the Saudi Cultural Mission he would have received information, and would have had his Islamic marriage registered with the Ministry of the Interior. If necessary to protect his scholarship, he could have married in Canada at a non-Saudi mosque and registered his marriage at the Saudi Cultural Mission in Canada after his scholarship expired.
In summary, I would suggest: get the permission through your own efforts; follow the legal process; if marrying Islamically only, do it in the country of residence and of citizenship of the non-Saudi partner, not a third country, and register the marriage in that country as soon as the situation permits; have a lot of patience, a sense of humour, and most importantly a great deal of persistence.
I hope this has helped shed some light on the process and the do’s and don’ts of it.
I would like to thank Anonymous for agreeing to share his story and wisdom with us; and to wish him and his fiancée a speedy permission finalization, a beautiful wedding, and long, happy, and fruitful marriage.
I look forward to others sharing their wisdom, experience, thoughts, and comments on the marriage permission process for the Saudi and the non-Saudi; and on who is a Saudi or non-Saudi. (More about that latter topic in an upcoming post!)
Oh, and the caption of the stunning final photo should read: Photo by Susie of Arabia, author of the blog Susie’s Big Adventure, at her Jeddah Daily Photo Journal blog.
And now, on to your comments!
**Read the update of Anonymous' story here