The Ministry of Justice has revealed that 382 women in Jeddah and Riyadh over the last two years filed lawsuits against their parents for refusing to let them get married.
This appears to be a sign that many women are no longer prepared to accept the status quo in traditionally conservative Saudi society. Many fathers reject suitors based on their social, financial and religious background.
Some want husbands for their daughters from specific families or tribes, to be wealthy, or have certain levels of education or professional qualifications.
Some wealthy fathers, or those whose daughters are earning good salaries, reject proposals because they fear the men are only out to gain financially. These and other reasons result in many women being forced to spend the rest of their lives single.
Munira Abdullah, a 39-year-old teacher, has never been married, but still dreams of having a family. Her retired father, who worked in the military for more than 30 years, insists she marry a man from the same tribe, and rejects all other options.
Waffa Yousuf, a 27-year-old, went through a bitter divorce from her first husband, and now her father rejects everyone because he is afraid that the man would be like her former husband.
In another case, a mother is preventing the marriage of her only daughter, Dalia Fawaz, who is 29, from marrying because she wants the groom to be a doctor or an engineer, rich, from a respectable family, and a particular nationality.
Sahar Adnan, a 26-year-old, said her father wants a son-in-law with a foreign passport, apart from conditions related to his education and financial status.
Adnan completed her university education abroad, and now has a decent job in the Kingdom.
Although she is not yet thinking seriously of marriage, she is concerned because her father is rejecting all suitors.
Sheikh Ahmad Almobei said most parents take these decisions based on family customs and traditions.
Their reasons include wanting their daughters to marry relatives or members of the same tribe. They also refuse to let their younger daughters get married before their older sisters.
He said the injunctions in the Qur’an, and the Prophet, peace be upon him, forbid parents from acting in this manner. Islam encourages women to get married. Almobei said the most important conditions for marriage are the acceptance by both parties and the guardian’s approval.
While parents have the right to have certain religious, educational and job conditions in place to protect their children, this does not mean they have the right to exploit their guardianship.
If this happens, daughters have the right to file lawsuits allowing them to marry. He said verdicts in such cases are issued quicker than before because of the development of the court system in the Kingdom.
Saleh Rmeih Al-Romaih, a professor of sociology at King Saud University, said the greater cultural and social openness in society has changed perceptions of what is required from a potential bride or groom. It is not necessary for young people, including women, to have university degrees before marriage so they can lead decent lives.
However, time spent getting an education is delaying marriage for both genders. He thinks a father has the right to put certain conditions before accepting a husband for his daughter.
Both parties have the right to seek requirements, including those related to education and profession.
However, these conditions must be balanced with other priorities, such as health, character, conduct, and mental compatibility.
Fathers who want their daughters to have happy family lives should never overlook such factors, he said. Al-Romaih, however, said that parents sometimes have unwarranted fears that result in them forcing suitors to fulfill impossible conditions. This delays a young woman’s marriage and deprives her of a blessed family life.
This violates her rights. A father’s priorities and conditions must not come at the expense of his daughter, he said.
Omar Kholi, a lawyer and legal adviser, said that several women who have been prevented from marrying have filed court cases.
He said women have a right to file a suit against their guardians.
After reviewing the case, the judge may transfer guardianship to another trusted family member, such as a brother or an uncle.
This is a very sensitive issue, said Kholi. It is also difficult in Saudi society for a young woman to sue her guardian.
“The Kingdom’s law and its doctrine does not allow female marriage without a guardian, whether a virgin or previously married, and the law also stipulates that the guardian cannot be anyone other than a brother or uncle.”