Saudi Arabia: Married Out of Duty

married by duty


The tradition in Saudi Arabia is for marriages to be arranged between families.  In most cases, a young man or woman, will express a desire to be married.  The family members will then start to seek (quietly) for a suitable match either within the immediate family, extended family or tribe.

Given today’s technology, social media and some lessening of restrictions, there are young Saudi’s who have found their own match.  Yet, even these cases of “love marriages” usually follow a traditional pattern.  The young couple may have seen or met one another in an independent manner but for the relationship to pursue to marriage, the family would become engaged and make the overtures.

Once a couple has agreed to be married, with the family’s approval, the couple may see one another and get to know each other better.  However, in most cases, the couple are chaperoned in accordance with Saudi Arabia’s tradition and culture.

A young man or young woman is supposed to have the choice on whether to say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ to marriage.  Yet there are cases where a couple feel a familial obligation or duty to agree to a marriage.  There are also some conservative families which will continue to prohibit a couple from seeing one another or communicating until their wedding has taken place.

In these cases it is easy to envision awkwardness or stiltedness among a couple and especially on the wedding night.  This would be the first time for the couple to ever be alone by themselves.

It’s natural to have questions and wonder how such a relationship progresses.  How prepared is the new husband or new wife for marriage let alone how to build a relationship with someone who is still a stranger.

I’d like to believe that both the young man and the young woman approach their new union of marriage with love, hope, excitement and commitment.  They are also relying for their family to know them and understand them in finding the right partner.

A reader sent me the following questions which I can only speculate rather than answer with assurance.  As a result, I thought I’d share her questions in the chance that someone may wish to respond who can answer with more authority.

“I do not know if you’ve posted something talking about it, but would like to make a suggestion to post on your blog. I’m soooooooooooooo curious to know what they think, feel, Saudi women who marry in arranged marriages about the wedding night, and the first intimate contact with her husband who often only know his name.

About men, we know they can separate sex from love, but we women don’t. It is very difficult to find women who know how to make that separation.

I wonder how they prepare, what they think, how they behave, imagine how difficult it must be to be him right now her husband, but how difficult is to be the first moments of intimacy when you do not have any feelings for this man.”



22 Responses

  1. interesting question – reminds me of the book I’m reading only it deals with Afghani women

  2. Actually there is nothing that states you must consummate the marriage immediately. If the couple would like to get to know one another before initiating intimacy then they can. However arranged marraiges in this fashion is just asking for problems.

  3. I would be amazed that many Saudi women would even want to express their experiences on the open Internet like this. I know the person is curious….but needs to be realistic in terms of responses.

    May I add: I am a firstborn (of 6 children) where my mother was a picture bride and met her hubby (my father) for the first time when she landed in Canada to marry and live with him. My father got a lead to a single woman in China and he and Mom wrote for a few months. Anyway….I was conceived within 3 months after they married.

    Are you kidding for me to get the details of how my mother felt???
    All I know is that she knew how lucky she was to marry a kind guy though he was traditional, he is respectful, listens to her thoughts and helps her with household chores (after he retired from work). There was no domestic violence….which is in itself, we are incredibly lucky.

    My parents are in their 80’s now.

  4. You have an amazing story and heritage, Jean.

  5. I think it’s none of this person’s business. Do you really need to be so voyeuristic??

    Nothing says ppl can’t get to know each other before consummating a marriage. Every culture has a different way at looking at sex and relationships. These are adults that know what to expect.

    With that being said, men have feelings too.

  6. By that I mean men feel nervous and awkward too. You have to consider the husband is going into the marriage “only knowing her name” as you said (not true) also.

  7. I too have always been curious about an arranged marriage without ever seeing the person you will call your husband and have sex with and have their children. As a westerner who has free will of sex in any form that I wish whether married or unmarried makes a big difference between those who have to remain a virgin and give herself to someone she is not in love with. The story of the woman and man from Canada, is different when there is exchange of conversations prior to meeting. They are getting to know one another. Much different than never speaking to the person involved. My questions are: Does the woman ever feel like she is being raped because she is not willing to have sex with the man just yet? Are the men caring about how the woman feels at all? Does the woman feel like she is being bought? Do they actually fall in love with their husband or just see him as a man she married? These questions can be posed to any Saudi woman who has had an arranged marriage and would like to speak out about this type of marriage. I know there are many Saudi women who have their own opinions and are not afraid to speak out. They don’t have to put it on the internet, but they sure could tell someone else how they feel and have it put on here without names being mentioned. I think it is something that should be discussed. Why not? We are all curious. I know how I would feel and I just want to know if that is how other women feel.

  8. I’ve talked to many women who are in arranged marriages. Some did meet their husband once or twice before marriage and others not. For some it was a very bad experience virtually being raped on the wedding night. For others there was a time period to get to know the man. Some did grow to love their husbands. Some still don’t. The bottom line for most was that they were raised to expect this type of marriage and they just accepted it.

  9. I think Wendy sums it up well with her comment.

  10. I myself had a traditional arranged marriage, as did many of my Saudi friends. I did meet my husband and got to know him. I don’t believe there are any women nowadays who have no feelings towards their spouse, even if it is arranged.
    None of my friends got married by force, they were all happy to marry their husbands. If anything the wedding night is a time when a woman can cross the line from living as a child to being a woman. She does it according to her choice and faith and so therefore is free from guilt and can enjoy the pleasure. It is a time when a woman gains independance. She is now a married woman and can enjoy all the benefits that union brings, not just the physical. She is free to be treated as an equal and in an arranged marriage usually the wife is treated with special affection and care in the first months, the honeymoon period exists in an arranged marriage also an as per most relationships the thrill settles down to something more routine later on.
    I certainly never felt that I was being bought. Does any woman feel this way if they are given a wedding ring or an expensive gift? Why would that only apply to arranged marriage? And while some women may have some reservations, then at least they are realistic about their future partner. As the union is marriage then there is no rush or time limit on when the marriage is consumated but believe me women have physical feelings too, they are normally willing participants, even if nervous at first, as any virgin of any faith or culture would be.
    To me the benefit of having a marriage before consumation is that the bride knows the man was comitted to her. Even if further down the line things go wrong he was happy to sign on the dotted line and feel that his future was with her. If anything this gives her a higher status than someone who was just a casual fling, at some point the man you gave yourself to was in it for the long run and he wanted a lfie with you. In the majority of cases I see, the couple become close companions and friends.
    Arranged marriages can work and sometimes they fail. This is the nature of marriage the world over, nobody has come up with a plan where the method of getting a spouse produces a 100% no-divorce rate. And as Bedu says, modern technology means that there are now practically no brides who are meeting their spouse for the first time at the wedding. Good luck to the couple if that is the case, it may well work out!

  11. Very nice and positive post Ol Blue Eyes!

  12. Thank you very much for sharing, Blue Eyes!

    On Mon, Jan 21, 2013 at 1:42 PM, American Bedu

  13. Thanks Bedu and Wendy, I just wanted to present another side of the story. Muslim women are always depicted as submissive and passive in the marriage process, as if it something that is forced upon them. However, this is far from the truth. It is the minority of cases where this happens. The image of the Muslim woman as submissive in sexual relations is a myth.

  14. I have read different stories from other people.
    Also, a Muslim man doesn’t really commit to anything if he signs on the dotted line does he? A woman yes, she is stuck until she gets divorced, but for a man there’s not much commitment if he chooses.
    It takes only three words to divorce a wife, and he can ”upgrade” any time he likes. A muslim man is legally allowed to cheat on his wife with three other wives, and with as many female slaves as he can afford.

    I am sorry but for the women (and small girls) who do not like arranged marriages there’s not much prospect. There are enough girls who are locked up and/or beaten to a pulp until they agree of their own free will.
    One may get lucky of course, but in general arranged marriages are unhealthy and unnatural.

  15. It seems as though any reply to the above incendiary comments gets blocked. Not much point in being candid if that candor is suppressed.

    We are having problems with spam eating comments. We don’t know why this is happening. If your comments do not appear this is the problem. The moderators check the spam folder once or twice a day for lost comments.

  16. OK, try to post again. Words such as ‘unhealthy’ and ‘unnatural’ are no longer considered to be acceptable in relation to peoples sexual and marital preferences. Why are they OK to use about arranged marriage but not about homosexuality say? What would be the reaction if I used these words against A-Art? Would that be a balanced argument or would it just be inflammatory?

  17. Ol Blue Eyes, please dont take it personally. Aafke Art has a problem accepting any idealogy, system, and lifestyle that differs from hers. You either agree with her or face her wrath and abusive words. People who have been involved in a consensual arranged marriage do know that there is nothing unnatural about it, I am not sure which kind of science dictates that. The path to marriage is not always conventional, some are arranged, some are by cyber dating, some are on a whim etc and who are we to dictate or impose our standards on anyone. By the way, I love your comment Ol Blue Eyes.

  18. Blue eyes, the difference is lack of free will and enforcement.
    Now I have read the stories of many women, some are forced into an arranged marriage, sometimes by beatings and torture, others unquestionably accept it because they were brought up from a baby to expect it, to be obedient to their parents and to submit to their decisions. Either way free choice has been taken away from the girl.

    The problems with homosexuality are partly also to do with enforcement against free will. A certain percentage of humanity is homosexual, that is fact. To denounce these people for how they are born is bad. To force them to live a life which is against their choice is bad.
    The same for arranged marriages. People should have free will. Women should be free to have a say in whom they are to marry, without being indoctrinated from baby onward. Women should not be denied free choice.

    You see how bad this system is when you see another 8 or 9 year old child being sold for sex into marriage with a pedophile. When the girl objects (if she even understands what’s going on, most do not, until they are taken away and raped by their new husband) she is ignored.

    With modern media we are aware now of all these girls who do not want to be married to old men, cousins, strangers. We hear their stories of rape and beatings, of family pressure and laws all combined against them.
    Women and girls are not given the right to refuse. An 8 or 10 year old is old enough to have sex with a grown up man, but not old enough to refuse it. They are old enough to die in childbirth but not old enough to refuse arranged marriage.

    To deny women and girls their childhood, education, their future, self determination and bodily integrity is a crime against humanity.
    It is also very bad for a society.

    Christopher Hitchins:
    ”The cure for poverty is known: It’s the empowerment of women. If you take them off the animal cycle of reproduction, and give them some education, the whole floor of everything, wealth, education, happiness in that village rises. It works all the time.”

    It’s really nice that your arranged marriage worked out well for you, and some of your friends. I am happy for you.
    You should rejoice in your good luck because it could have panned out very differently.

    And so you should support the empowerment of women, you should not support a system which has made the life of many of your fellow women into a living hell.

  19. Blue eyes thank you for sharing your feelings. I wish more Saudi women who are reading this post could share their feelings as well.
    I sent an email to Carol for suggesting the topic is a long post because I was curious, I met only Saudi men and have not had the opportunity to meet women to hear the other side too.
    I know you guys are not forced to marry and that many prefer marriage arranged. Other preferred to marry their “online friends” because they already had some knowledge and feeling about them, and can not marry because the family would not accept. But they need to get married one day, so for us Westerners do not marry whom one has a feeling earlier sounds like an imposition, like being forced to marry because she has to marry someone, even having no feeling or knowledge about the other person. Maybe that’s the mistake some people.
    And I was and still am curious because I just can not imagine a wedding when you did not marry because you love that person but because you need to get married one day to form your family and to hope to feel some feelings for him in the future.
    The sexual part for us women is much more than physical sense, different for men. So the curiosity to know what it feels and reacts in the first intimate moments a Saudi woman who married a man without love him without feelings, only known to be of good family and has good looks, and to feel like a man who yet it is strange in the first moments.
    I deeply respect all that you wrote, and that most couples who marry by weddings arrajados may one day be lucky enough to love your partner as you had.

  20. Aafke – you should pull back on your generalizing and stereotyping. I am married to a Muslim who certainly can’t just walk out on me and get a divorce at whim. You should narrow your statements down to a country, not an entire religion. Secondly, there can be absolute horrible abuse in non-arranged marriages as well and you know that.

    I’ve talked to some women here in Canada, mostly from India, who said that they thought arranged marriages generally worked out well when the parents or ‘arranger’ took both personalities into consideration, etc. it’s all in how one was raised. There’s no right or wrong answer and you can’t brush all arranged marriages with a bad brush. Now in my mind ‘arranged’ and ‘forced’ are NOT one and the same.

  21. Mrs B, thanks for your comment. I do not take A-A’s comment personally but I object to the language used. She speaks mainly in generalisations and stereotypes. Her thoughts are only one side of an issue.

    AA – I agree with 100% with the Hitchen’s quote. Education is a powerful tool in overcoming poverty for men and women both. I don’t see what this has to do with arranged marriage? What is the link here? Do you assume arranged marriage is only for the uneducated? As for me being indoctrinated since birth this cannot be so because none of my siblings, raised in the same faith as myself, have had arranged marriages. When you talk about young girls being married you must admit that this is a very small percentage of children, it is not a cultural norm for a child to be married at 9 or 10. Maybe 50 years ago it did happen in rural areas of India or Bangladesh but it is dying out as a practice as education and technology increases. Islam does not define an age at which a woman must be married and I personally feel these child marriages are morally wrong. Nothing in my religion tells me that I must endorse such a practice.

    Also, do not assume that Islam has the monopoly on child abuse. Child abuse occurs in every culture and country of the globe. Muslims are not the only abusers and Muslims do not have to marry girls to abuse them. It would be interesting to find out which countries allow such child marriages – I am sure Saudi but I can’t name another where it is legal. Also, the love marriage system has made life a living hell for some women also where there is also abuse and infidelity. Should we abandon the institution of marriage altogether? Relationships without marriage also have a chance of becoming a living hell. There seems to be a certain percentage of relationships will cause pain regardless of the framework within which they exist.

    Mi, you said that you cannot imagine a marriage without love but there are many shades of love. You love someone at 20 differently than you love them at 65. There are also loves of passion, love born of respect, love born from gratitude, love born from mutual affection. There is not one type of love. So there is a type of love in arranged marriage from the very start for many people, it just grows and changes with time.

    Equally baffling for me is how men and women have one night stands. Are they in love with each other? They are able to enjoy physical contact without knowing the intimate details of their partners soul. Why does a marriage of commitment and a union of joint hope seem so bizarre next to this?

  22. I believe that compatibility is important, which can result from dating and meeting a compatible person or from an arranged match. For some, an arranged match may be a better way for him/her to meet someone they are compatible with while a love match may work well for others. My husband is a lot like my extended (and immediate) family even though he is from a different culture and religion.

    @ol Blue eyes,
    I am not in favor of one-night stands (nor am I saying it’s wrong or right), but I do believe that it is more about wanting a physical connection with someone rather than a spiritual one (not to say that it can’t be both).

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