Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Eloping, Saudi Arabian Style

This past December, I heard of three Saudi students getting married in the States. Two of the weddings involved sending the bride from Saudi Arabia to be wedded to her husband on US soil. In both cases, the grooms were unable to celebrate at home due to visa renewal phobia.

When I heard about these weddings. Tried to imagine the bride on a plane. The bachelor groom, homesick, surrounded by temptations that his religious and cultural associations forbid, waiting in the midst of his many guy friends. The bride arriving to the absolute unknown. Doing her make up, hair styling, dress fitting, last minute touchups at uncertain locations. Walking the isle in an academic institute she might attend after the wedding. Her white dress lefted by Saudi girls from villages and cities known and unknown to her.

I tried to smell the feelings arising on such a day. The electricity sparking amongst the many bachelors who are witnessing a fantasy made easy-oh so easy. I imagined the girls eyeing the guys. The guys eyeing the girls. Not with their eyes, but with the heart of a human who feels home to be the distance between a girl and a boy who carry the very same home within.

I imagined heart beats arising like drums, receptive of how with every step, the bride and groom are peeling off things that seemed essential: accurate revised plans, financially explosive wedding, exaggerated feasts, lengthy guest lists, protocols and diplomacy tactics between two families.

I wondered if this was but the head of the berg. With 18+ thousand Saudi students in the States, many with expired visas and fear of returning home and going through the renewal process, are we to hear more of these semi-elope stories? Is marriage-made-simple going to be the 2008 trend?


أبو سنان said...

Are these Saudi men marrying American/Western women?

I know you get the e-mails from the Cultural Mission here in DC. For some reason my sister in law's computer, she is on the scholarship from the Mission, wont show Arabic in e-mails, so she sends them all to me to print out and bring to her.

They have made it very clear that if you get married without permission and they find out about it you will loose your scholarship.

Why are the visas expiring anyway? Are they done with school? As long as they are still attending school and have obeyed the rules with the visa (ie not working, registering new addresses) it shouldnt be an issue.

If you get caught overstaying your visa there is a possibility that you can be banned from coming to the USA again.

Aysha said...

The marriages I mentioned were fully Saudis. Saudi brides were being sent by their families from back home to meet with the waiting Saudi groom.

I do not recall the warning emails you referr to, however, I am not surprise to hear about them. First, the general law in Saudi is strict about non-saudi marriages. Second, such a message is probably intended to give a scare to those who are not serious about marriage. I think it appeals to a certain age group and immature students who are considering such marriage just as a spur of the moment thought, expecting that it would solve their everything, and you fill the blanks. It can easily occur during their culture shock stages, an example I remember is a Saudi forum where a Saudi student who recently resided in the States was saying how newly-convert American women are the best for marriage and keeping a muslim family. This is purely a culture shock, too general and non objective. So the warning is probably good for those who need a nudge to remind them to keep the goal of their scholarship in mind. Such a warning by the Ministry is probably not intended, and would mean nothing, to guys who are mature, serious, and have given their future life and companion a lot of thought.

As for the visa renewal, you are right. If a student's visa expires while still residing in the States, and that is a common case for many, they are okey as long as they are enrolled in a program, and keeping a full-time schedule. Once you go back home, with an expired visa, then you need to renew it. That is the case with the stories I've mentioned. The visa would expire, but the guys are visa renewal phobic, so they choose to remain in the US until they are done with school. My husband and I were home during summer, and an entire month wasn't enough to renew his visa. Thank goodness he had a few days left on it so we were able to go back to the US without delay.

Trevelyana said...

It's a glorified mail-order bride system.

These kids are in college.. what's the rush anyway!

Aysha said...


Two of them were grad students. And as you know, grad students sometimes do work for a few years before continuing their ed. So, lets assuem they're around 23-26. Not a bad age is it?

Its worth noting that no single & abroad Saudi girl I know of is in a rush to get married. At least, that's what I hope ;)

Carol said...

Very interesting and enlightening post Aysha!

I know quite a few Saudi girls here in the Kingdom whose fiances are in the US or elsewhere studying. In some ways, while of course it is difficult to be away from ones family and in a different country, culture, etc., it is also a wonderful way for a newly married Saudi couple to bond and forge the beginning of the lifetime partnership.

I do wonder as well how many of the Saudi male students are secretly marrying foreign wives while they are studying abroad?

Great post!
American Bedu

Aysha said...

Thank you Carol for linking to my blog.

As for the Saudi girls who are engaged to a student studying abroad, I have mixed feelings. Yes, its a good way to bond and test one's relationship. However, the very fact that a guy is at liberty to pursue his education abroad, and the girl is not, really gets to me. She has to wait to be his bride then she can move wherever he is moving. That is what most "reputable Saudis" do. The Saudi girl should feel proud to marry a well educated man. However, the well educated man should question a girl who went abroad on her own.

As for marrying and going together abraod, I think it is a very good way to start a relationship.

I am to wonder with you, how many Saudis are marrying in secret. You are probably referring to the lecture given by a certain scholar, who gave a green light to "pleasure marriage". An enhanced version of it.

Carol said...


I agree with you that the same opprotunities should be given to the Saudi woman and she should not be viewed in a questionable manner if she was able to attend University outside of the Kingdom (on her own). We should say "Mabrook and You Go Girl!" for such an accomplishment!

Above being said, I am optimistic that this is in fact changing. I am becoming aware of more Saudi girls who have been accepted and are now attending Western universities. They are thriving, enjoying the opportunity and excellent representatives of the Kingdom as well.

Actually I am not aware of any specific lecture but I do know (sadly) about the "pleasure" howla qota la billah...

And it's a pleasure to be linked with your excellent blog.


GE&B said...

I know this is an old post. But I can only imagine what its like for the girl. You're moving to a new country in with a man, if you're lucky, you sorta know. Doesn't sound like fun to be. Although living with someone abroad makes it easier to have a relationship that's independent of family.