October 27, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9612

Saudi Journalist: Divorce Is Not A Sin; Traditional Marriage Customs Needs To Be Revised

October 27, 2021
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 9612

In two articles in the Saudi daily Al-Watan, from September 30, 2021 and October 13, 2021, journalist Maha 'Abdallah comes out against the traditional marriage customs prevalent in Saudi society. Traditional arranged marriages, she writes, are like a loveless business transaction contracted by the families and imposed on the couple, who are often immature and unready for marriage. The problem is exacerbated when the couple tries to cement the marriage by quickly having children, she says. She argues that, when a marriage is unhappy, divorce is a legitimate option and is often the right thing to do, not only for the married couple but also for the sake of their children. Sustaining a failed marriage is not a sign of success, and divorce in these cases is better for the children than living with unhappy parents, she adds. She also criticizes Arab and Muslim preachers and sociologists who oppose divorce, and who tend to justify the husband's position in case of a conflict between the husband and wife.

Maha 'Abdallah (source:

The following are translated excerpts from her two articles.

Forcing Unhappy Couples To Stay Married Turns Them Into Innocent Victims

In her September 30 article, focusing on the topic of divorce, Maha 'Abdallah wrote: "In the non-distant past, people who decided to marry generally did so in order to meet [some] need or address some want: physical, social or image-related, each person according to his needs. This stemmed from an unfortunate lack of social awareness, and even became a cultural [norm]. Is it reasonable or human to expect an 18-year-old girl to take such a decision or agree to it? Or perhaps they helped her to decide, when she was not yet mature enough?! Things are even worse when it comes to the decision to get pregnant, so as to stabilize and cement the marriage, as society [demands], a decision for which [the girl] pays a social price.  

"The fury of some preachers over the option of divorce, and their negative statements about it, as though whoever choses [this option] has lost his faith, is not surprising. By their very nature, these preachers cannot stand losing control. As far as they are concerned, [even] if a man comes to the final [conclusion] that he does not want his life partner, he must [nevertheless] stay with her and take an additional wife. That is the conclusion that follows from the culture of slavery that is entrenched among them. Some [of these preachers] even came up with [the practices of] misyar and misfar marriages, [1] so it is difficult to assess how serious [their] position is, when it is based on a system of completely unreasonable considerations!

"Nor do I understand the angry position of sociologists on the decision to divorce. I noticed something strange [in the position of] a well-known doctor of sociology… when he listens to problems of couples. If the husband complains about his wife, he advises him to be firm with her, or to threaten that he will divorce her or take another wife, better and more obedient than her. But if a wife complains about her husband, he tells her: 'You will never be a good wife as long as you keep complaining. Be patient. Men are like children, so they naturally make mistakes.' This is a puzzling [position]. 

"The majority of sociologists [whose opinions] we hear adopt this gender-biased stance, and I believe that they are influenced by the preachers. I have never heard or read about any Arab sociologist who said that divorce enables a better life for both sides, or is a legitimate right, just like marriage, or that, if the couple has children, they will not be better off seeing both their parents [remain together and be] miserable. 

"There is no point forcing [people] to stay together, for this may cause worse problems and exact a price from innocent victims. Better separated but happy parents than parents [who remain] together but are miserable. [The option of] staying married without wanting to and [the option of] getting divorced are both bad, but is it not better to choose the lesser evil?  

"Divorce is a good option, even a very good one, despite the difficulties it poses. If the decision to marry was a mistake, the solution is to divorce, for marriage is not an inescapable curse!

"We must understand that, as people gain awareness and understanding, their positions and wishes change. Remaining with someone who was forced upon them and whom they do not want can expose them to psychological damage that can pass on to the next generation. Staying together [in these circumstances] is not a sign of a successful marriage, but only indicates that one or both sides are willing to sacrifice [themselves].

"A relationship [of marriage] is not just a partnership between two people and a friendly agreement to help [one another in performing] the tasks and [meeting] the needs of life, and call it love! Such as position is naïve and unrealistic… Being a life partner means giving up some liberty. [One must ask oneself:] Are you ready for it, [considering that] all your emotions will be dependent on this decision? It is more complicated than you think. Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread."[2]

The Traditional Arranged Marriage Is A Loveless Material Transaction

In her October 13 article, about marriage, 'Abdallah wrote:

"A man saves money, goes to some [matchmaker] and says: 'I want a woman with a beautiful face and figure, who will be easy on the eyes and will satisfy me.'  So the search begins for a woman with these qualities, and when a suitable [candidate] is found, a meeting between the two is arranged before any agreement is made – because the man is entitled to make sure that the woman he is paying for with the cash he worked so hard to save indeed meets his requirements. If he has found what he wanted, the [marriage] contract and its clauses are finalized, and then the final bargaining phase begins… The two sides agree [to marry] without knowing each other, and decide on the terms of the contract in order to safeguard the rights of each. The contract holds as long as their interests converge…

"[Alternatively,] a man decides to marry, obtains money, and then asks his mother [to find him a wife] with the qualities that suit him. The two families agree [on the marriage] even before the bride and groom do, because only this traditional model of marriage is welcomed by society. Then they [apply] a religious approach, according to which [the intended bride and groom] must meet to determine whether they are 'soulmates'!

"[But] that is an obvious lie, because this approach is [actually] based exclusively on material aspects… They determine the price of the bride – accurate or approximate. The man pays the cost and the women provides her services in return. Feelings are not part of any stage of this marriage. It is more like a typical business transaction.

"Then someone comes along… and says that love comes only after living together. In saying this, he is [actually] referring to Stockholm syndrome… Does this disorder count as love?

"Marriage according to the traditional model is an inhuman custom. It is a cultural inheritance that is presented as Islamic… We must acknowledge that traditional marriage is not a contract between two people, but a marriage between two families. As a consequence, any problem that arises is resolved only by the families, and both partners accept [the families'] authority. How can a father allow a man to closely scrutinize his daughter [like an object for sale], in the name of traditional marriage? Why do agree to let ourselves and our loved ones be objectified? 

"If you want societies to perpetrate a crime without anyone challenging this, and [with some people] even defending it – [you need only] give it a halo of sanctity."[3]



[1]  "Misyar" marriage – from the word "visit" in colloquial Gulf Arabic – is a type of marriage in which the husband "visits" his wife but does not live with her or provide for her. A misfar marriage is a temporary marriage between a man sojourning abroad and  a local woman.

[2]  Al-Watan (Suadi Arabia), September 30, 2021.

[3]  Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), October 13, 2021.

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