Countless Saudi women in limbo between marriage and divorce

With no male guardian or breadwinner around, such women live in extremely desperate situations

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Countless Saudi women who face strained marital relations are left in a limbo when their husbands simply abandon them for lengthy periods, shirking their responsibility as husbands and fathers. With no male guardian or breadwinner around, such women live in extremely desperate situations with no way to support themselves or their children and their fate hanging between marriage and divorce.

Although Islam forbids men from taking advantage of their wives in such a manner, the practice is widespread in the Kingdom. According to the Holy Qur’an: “And you will never be able to be equal (in feeling) between wives, even if you should strive (to do so). So do not incline completely (toward one) and leave another hanging (neither divorce nor marriage). And if you amend (your affairs) and fear Allah — then indeed, Allah is ever forgiving and merciful. (Al-Nisa - 129).

Speaking on the topic, a number of legal experts and academics underlined the need for coordination and increased efforts on the part of the concerned authorities to address the problem. They said judicial, legislative and executive authorities must join hands to tackle the problem and put an end to the ordeal of these women, according to a report in Al-Riyadh newspaper.

Fat’hiya Al-Qurashi, member of the academic faculty for community science and social service at King Abdulaziz University, said some men misinterpret the Shariah and harass their wives by taking advantage of their situation.

“Their acts are against the principles and essence of the Islamic Shariah as well as the social customs and concepts of manhood. This practice also puts a heavy burden on the state,” she said.

According to Al-Qurashi, there are several cases in front of the Kingdom’s courts and human rights organizations pertaining to negligence and deprivation of rights of women by their husbands.

“These women are leading miserable lives caused by arrogance, ego and a wish for revenge of their husbands. This negative attitude of men has a harmful impact on these women as well as on the couple’s children,” she said while calling for enactment of laws containing stringent provisions to punish such husbands and protect the rights of women.

Al-Qurashi also underlined the need for enhanced coordination and joint efforts on the part of the legislative, executive and judicial authorities to put an end to the “punishment” meted out to women by their husbands and to prevent men from running away from their responsibility of providing maintenance to their wives and children.

“There have been a rising number of cases in which men simply abandon their wives and force them to remain stuck between marriage and divorce. In such cases, children suffer the most as they are deprived of an opportunity to live in a comfortable and peaceful family atmosphere and that may be counterproductive in both their physical and mental growth,” she said.

Prominent lawyer, legal consultant and former judge Abdul Aziz Al-Shabrami said the marriage relationship is mainly based on strong bonds of love and compassion, which eventually leads to formation of an ideal family and virtuous children.

“Problems between partners will lead to disintegrating bonds of marriage and estrangement of couples. Keeping away from one’s wife is permissible in Islam but only for a period of three days and there must be valid reasons for this,” he said.

Al-Shabrami said many men misuse this provision to stay away from their wives for months and, in some cases, years. “They use this as a pretext to avoid giving maintenance to their wives and children. These people refuse to cooperate with any efforts of reconciliation by disclosing alleged plans for divorce, simply to avoid mediators,” he said.

According to Al-Shabrami, there is no provision in the law to protect such “abandoned” women. But recently, the Ministry of Social Affairs issued a circular saying that such women can approach the concerned court to get an affidavit endorsed that she had been abandoned by her husband. That document could then be submitted to the ministry in order to get a financial allowance.

“The ministry will compel their husbands to meet their expenses whenever they come back. It was also proposed to set up a maintenance fund to meet the expenses of such women and this money will be collected from their husbands later,” he said.

Al-Shabrami also said women can approach the civil status court or general court in their region to redress their grievances, resume provision of maintenance or escape from their ordeal by seeking faskh (dissolution of marriage at the wife’s initiative without the consent of husband) without seeking any compensation.

Ahmad Al-Mohammed, a legal consultant and member of the National Family Security Program, said the main reason couples live separately is a lack of love and compassion or differences of opinion between them.

Khaled Al-Halibi, a family counselor, disagreed. He said any man who leaves his wife in such a condition is committing a social crime. Husbands are mainly responsible for leaving their wives in such a desperate situation, harming both their physical and mental health, he added.

“The increased preoccupation of people with technology has had a negative impact on the culture of family values and, subsequently, reconciliation and understanding have been replaced by dispute and separation,” he added.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on July 4, 2014.

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