The tourist marriage has been added to the long list of different types of marriages that Saudi men often undertake, at times to overcome the Ministry of Interior’s strict restrictions on marrying foreign women.
A typical tourist marriage usually lasts for fixed periods of time (sometimes ranging a few days) and is aimed at gaining sensual pleasures and not procreating. Marriage officials often carry out these marriages with two witnesses. The officials are, however, often unaware of the fixed time periods that the couples fix between them, a clause that would, according to the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence, render the marriage illegal.
Abu Fadi, a 45-year-old Saudi, used to repeatedly travel to a Southeast Asian country to recruit housemaids. It was during one of these travels that he married a woman for a short term “to avoid committing adultery.”
“We had memorable moments together, especially since I thought my marriage was legal Shariah-wise. I, however, regretted the decision because my ex-wife sent an e-mail with photographs from the marriage to my Saudi wife,” he said. “It was a terrible experience. My wife, however, forgave me after I expressed sorrow and regret on condition I would allow her to accompany me abroad, regardless of whether it is for business, education or leisure,” he added.
After returning from a trip abroad, Abdullah has been left with a sexually transmitted disease. “I contracted herpes from a hotel receptionist while abroad; we were in a tourist marriage. My friends noticed that I liked her and it was they who suggested I marry her,” he said, adding that he stayed with the woman for a month before returning to the Kingdom.
Lawyer Rayan Mufti described tourist marriages as “legalized prostitution.” “These marriages are popular among men who want to commit adultery with licenses. All of the four major schools of Islamic jurisprudence, the Hanafi, the Maliki, the Hanbali and the Shafie, agree that marriages such as these are illegal,” he said.
“This is downright fornication because these marriages are designed solely for sexual pleasures without the responsibilities of a marriage proper,” he added.
Mufti said such marriages are particularly harmful to women who are treated like commodities. “They are also harmful to any children who may be born because they more than often end up without fathers … Women should be wary and not think these marriages are right. Children born from such matrimonies are also illegitimate,” he added.
Islamic researcher Abdullah Al-Jifin said marriages that have fixed time periods are not considered sound and legal in the eyes of Shariah. “The so-called tourist marriages which are meant to end after certain periods of time are totally Haram,” he said.
“Men who travel abroad during the weekend, get married on a Wednesday evening and divorce on a Friday before boarding the plane back home are committing sins. How can a good marriage only last for 72 hours?” he said, adding, “This is not a marriage.”
Dr. Sameer Zamou, a consultant in dermatology and venereal diseases, warned that such marriages can lead to those involved contracting sexually-transmitted diseases, such as herpes and AIDS.
Saleh Al-Daboul, associate professor of criminal sociology at King Fahd Security College in Riyadh, said many social problems stem from such marriages. “Husbands often leave their wives and children behind without caring for them,” he said, adding that there are many children from such marriages abroad whose fathers are not even willing to recognize them as their own.
Ali Al-Hamdan, the Saudi ambassador to Yemen, also described tourist marriages as “legalized fornication” and blamed the strange fatwas issued by some scholars for the phenomenon. “Many young Yemeni girls fall into these kinds of unlawful relationships due to extreme poverty. They then come to the embassy seeking help to find their Saudi husbands,” he added.
Abdul Rahman Khayyat, the Saudi ambassador to Indonesia, said the embassy cannot deal with women who do not have proper documents proving they were married to Saudi men.
He, however, pointed out that the embassy is helping children who have been abandoned by their Saudi fathers.
Ali Al-Hanaki, an adviser with Awasir, an organization that cares for the families abandoned by Saudis abroad, said there are at least 596 Saudi families with 1,602 members stranded abroad for various reasons.
He said these families are stranded because the father has died, fallen sick or absconded. He added that Awasir is working hard to help these families.