Women in Saudi Arabia often face discrimination and violence, and the country’s “guardianship” system requires women to receive permission from their husbands to perform a host of daily activities.
Women also face obstacles when trying to obtain divorces. Islam allows men to have up to four wives at a time. A Worldfocus contributing blogger at the “American Bedu” blog speaks with a divorced Saudi woman now living in the United States for her perspective on polygamy.
Q: Your mother was a second wife. What was that like for you growing up? Did you and your siblings have any contact with your father’s first wife and children?
A: Yes, my mother was the second wife. We stayed in a different house, but same area, so I met Khala’s children regularly; also we go to school together. They are same as my brothers. We didn’t have much contact with Khala except when we went on trips or Eid’s or marriages. My step-siblings also came to my house with father sometimes. But my mother and Khala don’t talk much to each other. It was like any other family, I guess, except that my father had two wives.
Q: In your view, how accepting was your mother of being a second wife?
A: My father is from a well-known family. He was in a good position so when his sister/mom approached my mother’s father, they agreed, she has no choice. This is what I hear from her. She is sad always but initially, she says, it’s tough and then she adjusted by praying a lot and accepting that it’s only Allah’s wish. She always told me never to become anyone’s second wife.
Q: Because your father had two wives, two families, do you feel this impacted on the amount and quality of time he spent with you?
A: Father was busy so he didn’t spend [time] with us children too much except maybe vacations and holidays, on a daily basis our mother only took care of us a lot. I wish he had only one family, some days he comes home, but [the majority of time] he spent in Khala’s house as that’s where my grandmother also stays. So yes, we missed him a lot. So many days we were alone and to be fair so many days Khala and my step-siblings were alone. I sometimes felt why have a father when he’s there only 50 percent at best.
Q: Growing up as a child of polygamy, how did it affect your own views of marriage? And what about your siblings, did any of them also elect to have polygamous marriages?
A: I know Islam permits having four wives, but I wish it were not so. I have seen my mother suffer and I have suffered; my mother was not very happy with her married life. When she was young she said she had dreams of marriage and they were all gone. I did not want to accept polygamy in my marriage but again Allah has his plans for us. One of my brother[s] and one step-brother has two wives. The others all have only one family. I wanted to put in my marriage contract that I did not want a co-wife but that did not happen.
Q: […] Tell us about your marriage. Was it arranged?
A: Yes, I had big dreams of studying to become a doctor, but that was not to happen. We got a proposal from a well-known family and my father does business with them also so it was arranged. I [told] my father I wanted to finish university and do some more studies, but he refused. I wanted to contact my two brothers — we were very close — but I couldn’t and they were not told also (since they both lived outside the country). My mother told me it is best not to go against the wishes of my father. […]
Q: What can you share about your own personal experience and feelings when your husband chose to take a second wife?
A: I was broken. WeIl, I could not accept that happily — all my life I did not want that one thing in my marriage and it had to happen to me. We were married for such a short time and he said he fell in love with her and wanted to marry her. If I could I would have left the marriage. I could not agree to polygamy and that’s when the abuse started. I wish I had the courage then to stand up to him, but there are no options, everyone tells you to work it out and accepts Allah’s will , but it was hard, his family knew how I felt yet they never saw my side, we had arguments about polygamy, his rights, Islam etc., and then always it would end with it being permitted in Islam and my disobedience and hitting. I did everything he asked just I couldn’t get to accept a co-wife. I prayed and I was no one to deny him his right but my heart did not agree. But he married again and she came to live with us. I cried to my brothers here and mom but unfortunately he had taken a second wife by then and they told me to pray and try to be a good wife, but did not support me.
Q: Was it easy to get away from your husband and obtain a divorce?
A: No, it was very hard. I don’t wish it on anyone. I was afraid to tell anyone about the abuse for the shame; I was not permitted to go on my own. Even if I did where could I go. Luckily my step-brother and his family had moved to Riyadh and he heard about my marriage from Khala (I thank her for that). My father had suffered a stroke by then. My brother came to see me one day and saw my face all swollen –- my husband always never hits on my face but happened that time. [He] yelled at my husband, I think it was the first time a woman has questioned him and his faith […] my brother simply told my husband that he will take me to stay with them and in [the] future my ex-husband will have to deal with him. This caused such a bad rift in our family to this day we are all not one. After that it was a nightmare; I don’t know where to begin or end, but my other brother came from England and together they both paid a large amount of money and got me a divorce and also [a] visa to another country where my aunt/uncle stayed. From there I came to the U.S. and have since settled here.
For more, see the “American Bedu” blog.
The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.