Women Saudi bloggers reflect the frustration of battling against an extremist male ideology that oppresses women by manipulating and twisting religious rhetoric to facilitate them in every possible way to serve men’s’ pleasures.
They deplore men’s obsession with polygamy and other sex-focussed debates (Mahmood’s Den, 2010). On December 11, 2009, Saudi journalist Nadine Al-Budair, a presenter on the Arabic-language American TV channel Al-Hurra, published a satirical article titled “Me and My Four Husbands” in the independent Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm, where she wondered why a Muslim man can marry up to four wives, while a Muslim woman could not do the same. Al-Budair made her point in similar statements during an interview with the Saudi owned liberal website Elaph based in London a year earlier, in which she argued a woman needs four husbands more than a man needs four wives (Free Muslims, 2010) creating an uproar on the cybersphere, where she was condemned by both genders and especially by members of the religious establishment.
Sheik ‘Abdallah Al-Muni’, a member of the Saudi Senior Clerics Council, called to put her on trial ‘for making statements in contradiction to the Quran and the Sunna. In an interview with the Saudi daily ‘Sabq’, Al-Muni’ stated that Al-Budair was “a sinner who diverted [others] from the straight path,” and that the Muslim nation completely opposed her views. This was the only time a Saudi woman had to resort to this kind of media provocation to attract attention to the misery of many Saudi women suffering the consequences of polygamy, but there are hundreds of articles by Saudi men and fatwas by Saudi Sheiks that cater for men’s’ pleasures that have not meet such a strong backlash.
Saudi Sheiks produced a number of fatwas allowing men to enjoy different types of sexual relationships ‘marriages’ seen by the majority of women as allowing men to take advantage of women by denying them the rights of married women according to Islamic Sharea’h.
Some of the fatwas condemned seem more kin to a form of legal prostitution, but what is highly alarming is the fact that when some ‘religious’ forums discuss such fatwas to inform people of how wrong they are, they leave a big warnings in bold red font stating that women should not access the forum for the educational content is obscene. However, they do not add a similar warning for children, thus treating children with more respect than adult women (sunniforum, 2010) which reflects a mentality of retarded guardianship that does not consider women as equals even in their right of knowledge.
Different kinds of ‘marriages’ are discussed and promoted on Saudi cyber sphere, such as ‘Mut’a’ marriage which translates “pleasure”, permitted by Shi’ites which is a contract between a man and a woman for a limited period of time, and divorce is not needed to end it (Al Sajed, 2003). The second kind ‘Urfa marriage translates as “custom marriage”, is an arrangement that does not require an official contract and grants women no rights (Ayman, 2010).
The third is ‘Misyaf’ or tourism marriage practiced among rich Saudi men who go on summer vacation to other countries, especially to Yemen where they take advantage of poor families by marrying local young girls for a short period of time – a fortnight to two months – without the brides being aware of the time limitation arrangements (Yamani, 2008) after the holiday is over, the groom disappears in thin air leaving behind a broken hearted young girl who does not know what has happened. The fourth kind is ‘Misyar’ marriage in which the woman relinquishes some of the rights that Islam grants her, such as the right to a home and to financial support from her husband, and, if the man has other wives, the woman loses her right to an equal share of his time and attention (Jabarti, 2005).
The fifth kind of marriage is the ‘Friend’ marriage, where the girl remains at her family’s home, and she and the man do not maintain a shared household but meet whenever and wherever he wants. The sixth type of marriage is a marriage described as ‘aimed primarily at meeting the needs of young Muslims in the West’, where men wish to have a girlfriend-boyfriend relationship as is customary in Western society, but with alleged religious legitimacy (MEMRI, 2006). Usually those men never tell their wives that they plan to leave them as soon as they finish their education or business trip, when in fact they are using them physically, emotionally and sometimes financially since they save them the trouble of finding accommodation or facing the financial burdens on their own. This fatwa has been approved by Saudi Sheiks and available online by religious figures’ websites like Bin Baz (binbaz, 41/5).
These trends of ‘marriages’ are an unethical escape by men from their duties towards women, and since such relationships are not welcomed by Muslims at large, this meant that all the arrangements are made discretely where women will have no evidence to pursue men legally (al-Haidari, 2010). This reality of men’s ventures after pleasure led to creating hundreds of dating websites that came with revolutionary ways of interaction between total strangers in a totally segregated society where women have little experience and can be easily tricked, leading to hundreds of articles by individuals who experienced problems as a result of trusting strangers online including scammers (stop scammers.com). Sex related discussions in Saudi Arabia on the Internet is an obsession, which meant more filtering of websites and more finding ways of coding to interact with each others, and more blackmail incidents since a simple innocent passport photo can become an issue of honour.
While Saudi male sphere is preoccupied by fatwas that give them more access to sex and facilitate temporary relationship under the banner of Islam, women’s online sphere is preoccupied with discussions about finding solutions for unfair relationships that abuse women’s rights, and discussions about finding ways to be able to file complaints without having to be accompanied by the guardians which is considered a law requirement in Saudi Arabia. In many incidents the abusers of women’ rights happen to be their own guardians. Women are demanding independent legal standing so that they can access the judicial system on their own to fight for their civil rights and to stop the cycle of exploitation, some women did not mind taking the law into their own hands (Doctorow, 2010).
But most alarming of all is the latest fatwa published on July 16, 2010 on the Saudi owned Al-Arabiya.net website by Sheik Adil Al-Kalbani, the Imam of Haram Al-Sharif, where he proclaims a brand new fatwa after receiving an email from an overseas Saudi male student studying in the ‘West’ (Al-Arabiya Net, 2010). The Saudi student, who is married and living with his wife, claims that he is worried about controlling his desires when he sees ‘Western’ female women wearing seductive semi-naked clothes that arouse him.
He goes on to ask the Sheik if it is OK to marry one of those women in a ‘Misfar’ marriage, which means marriage based on travel, because he claims that he can’t fight temptations and also accuses his wife of being frigid. The good old Sheik Al-Kalbani posted on his own website the answer. His answer is a fatwa that permits marrying Western women with the intention of divorcing them when the Saudi students are finished with them and without the pre-knowledge of the ‘Western’ women of such plan.
This pathetic kind of fatwa is most degrading and most dishonest and unfair way to treat women and most certainly contradicts Islamic teachings that are based on honesty and justice by giving Saudi overseas students and travelling business men the green light to use women as a disposable container for their desires. The good old Sheik says nothing about the rights of neither the betrayed temporarily married wife nor her children if she happens to become pregnant.
These fatwas are tailored to relieve men from feeling sexually stressed whenever they have an urge but says nothing about women’s’ rights. As expected such fatwas are exclusive to men, no fatwas have been issued to relieve Saudi or Muslim female students studying in the ‘West’ from their sexual stress. It seems that Sheiks assume that women have no natural physical desires.
The same Saudi blogosphere that is swarming with insults to foreign Asian workers, including Muslim ones who happen to come to Saudi Arabia for work, and with tons of warnings that they might have a glimpse of a Saudi woman, is outraged by the mere idea that any foreigner dares to ask for the hand in marriage of a Saudi woman, not even with the good intention of marrying her for ever and not doing what the Sheiks are advising Saudi overseas students to do to women from other nationalities.
This attitude of looking down on women from other countries or faiths is unacceptable in Islam and most dishonest and most damaging for the trust between men and women who are really planning to have long lasting stable marriages. Every Western woman now will start to doubt the intentions of any Muslim man who asks for her hand in marriage because she might think it is a temporary arrangement where the man can use her and as soon as he is finished his holy mission he pulls up his pants and go back to his country leaving her behind with pain, regret and maybe a child to raise on her own. Such issues have to be highlighted by the media to inform women who might be delusional about love and long lasting relationships, so that they can make the decision with full knowledge of the possibilities lurking ahead of them.
Sheik Al-Kalbany’s fatwa tells us a great deal, such as women’s rights are no more an internal or national concern, and it is no more a case of abusing the rights of Saudi women only, such fatwas are extending their damages overseas and about to create a chaos in other societal systems. It’s about time that human rights campaigns demand of the Saudi state to regulate such ‘buy one get one free’ fatwas because the damage can’t be afforded should the last fatwa became practicable by overseas Saudi students. In November 2007 a group representing 42 UK universities visited Saudi Arabia to promote UK higher education. This kind of activity happens every year.
They should make clear to all the students who are dreaming of the freedoms of the west that ‘Western’ women have rights and dignity and they better shed the mentalities of the take-away fatwas before they stamp their passports, and keep their pants zipped until they return home and marry the way that pleases their societies.
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This post was written by Iqbal Tamimi