Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Arab News: "Thirteen post-graduate female students are seeking temporary husbands so that they can fulfill a Saudi Ministry of Education requirement."

Believe it or not, I try to avoid Muslim-bashing posts. Let's just call this "interesting":
Thirteen post-graduate female students are seeking temporary husbands so that they can fulfill a Saudi Ministry of Education requirement. There is a lot in that sentence so let’s at least try to make things as clear as possible to those unfamiliar with the ways of the Kingdom.

The ministry has published a list of conditions and requirements that women who wish to go abroad on a scholarship must fulfill. The main one of course is that the women will have to be escorted — accompanied — by a male guardian. Many women were initially very excited about the possibilities of scholarships to study abroad; many of them had dreamed of such a thing for years. Their enthusiasm, however, quickly evaporated when they heard of the new requirement. What is interesting is how the women have taken the news of the requirement. At one time, the women would simply have accepted things and begun a hectic search for a guardian who could sacrifice several years of his life to spend as a baby-sitter and moral policeman. Now in the 21st century, the women are looking for a temporary husband to go with them since it seems they cannot be trusted to go alone. I wonder about Saudi women who go abroad to study at their own expense; they are apparently exempt from this requirement.

In a survey conducted by a Ministry of Education team, 20.9 percent of the women (387) said they saw no harm in entering into one of these marriages of convenience. (This particular kind of marriage is called “mesfar” and is designed for women travelers. The remaining 79 percent apparently accepted the requirement. It may be the only way most of them would have a chance to study abroad. However you look at it, we must be given credit for inventing something new — and the mesfar marriage seems to be gaining in popularity.

Seriously, doesn’t this send a worrying message to the authorities? That people are willing to go to any extremes to cheat the system? And wouldn’t such a state of insincerity on both sides — man and woman — indicate that maybe it is time to evaluate this particular situation and give women back their former freedom to study abroad? After all, many Saudi women have studied abroad without any male member of their family accompanying them. What is the reason for the sudden change?

A writer in Al-Watan newspaper put her finger on a sore point indeed when she said that the country’s system is taking away the individual’s power to choose and decide for himself. Even men in this equation cannot decide if they want to let their wives and daughters travel alone to study. The state’s permission is required. This is very similar to the requirement that forces a Saudi woman to get government permission if she wishes to marry a non-Saudi. In that case, it does not matter if her guardian approves of the marriage; it cannot happen without state approval. All of us know that people have developed all kinds of systems to get around these rules — which are not at all Islamic but spring rather from tribal customs and traditions. Cheating the system is certainly a possibility but what does that tell us about the relationship between the individual and the establishment? Just that you can do anything you want as long as you have the right cover. [...]
If only Religious Policeman was still blogging!

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