Secret Marriage, Saudi Style

Mahmoud Ahmad, Arab News Staff
Publication Date: 
Thu, 2003-05-15 03:00

JEDDAH, 15 May 2003 — Secret marriages are not uncommon in the Kingdom, Al-Madinah reported. While Islam allows a man to marry four times, many men have reasons to want to keep a second or third marriage secret from their first family, and women may consent to be married in secret if they fear they would otherwise remain single.

But Sarab, a university student, told the newspaper such marriages had little chance of success as they lacked the essential ingredient of honesty. “Most secret marriages are bound to fail because the couple live in fear of exposure. The husband’s family will look at the secret wife with contempt.

“Really such marriages are an insult to a woman’s dignity. It’s plain cheating,” she added.

Manal Al-Harbi, an employee, said she did not think any sensible girl would consent to be married in secret and agree to a life in the shadows. “Girls dream of happiness and comfort. They want to celebrate their wedding. I can’t imagine a wife who hides from her husband’s family. Girls who agree to this are probably ashamed to marry. But it’s such an unstable arrangement. What women look for in marriage is stability, and if you hide you can’t have that,” she said.

A story of a Saudi man is making the rounds here. He married a woman from the Far East, and after seven years of marriage and one daughter he finally admitted his relationship to his first wife and moved his second wife in with the family. But there her life was a misery because the first wife would not accept the second and even her children treated the second wife’s daughter like a servant.

The men who spoke to Al-Madinah were more sanguine about a secret marriage’s chances of success.

One of them, Muhammad Al-Akeel, likes the idea of a secret marriage. He said it sometimes became necessary for the husband, especially if his relationship with his first wife is not good. He feels many husbands turn to secret marriages in search of happiness and a wife that understands them.

Ahmad Barakat, on the other hand, likes the idea for financial reasons. A secret marriage, he argues, doesn’t cost much.

Majed Abu Saleh, 50, said a man had the right to marry more than one woman. “There are plenty of women who agree to the arrangement, so why put the blame on men alone? A secret marriage to a second wife is the perfect punishment for women who don’t treat their husbands right.”

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