Saudi Arabia, a conservative Muslim country in the Gulf that follows the strict guidelines of Wahhabi Islam, has one of the highest rates of divorce in the world. At a rate of 127 cases per day, divorce rates have increased dramatically in the Kingdom.
An example of this can be seen in Jeddah, a major port city, where divorce rates have increased 50% since last year, according to a report by the Saudi Ministry of Justice.
“I think there are many divorces because arranged marriages are so widespread and they have a great probability to fail,” Daad Alhakam, 25, told The Media Line. “Also, this generation is irresponsible and does not respect the sacredness of the relationship of marriage.”
While some lament that young people today are too quick to divorce, others say that the increase is because women are starting to speak up if they are abused by their husbands. In the past, the stigma against divorce may have convinced them not to speak out.
For the whole country, in 2014, there were 33,954 divorce cases; in 2015, with roughly 133,000 marriage contracts, there were roughly 40,000 divorces. This year, there have been some 157,000 marriages and roughly 46,000 divorces, meaning that almost thirty percent of couples end up separating. In the United States, roughly half of all marriages end in divorce.
“The society and laws (of Saudi Arabia) prevent any kind of interaction between males and females (before marriage), so usually people who get married don’t know much about each other,” Jana, a lawyer in Saudi Arabia who asked that her name be withheld, told The Media Line.
Analysts do not know exactly why the rates are increasing so dramatically but, for the first time, many of these divorces have been initiated by women, despite stigma surrounding divorced women.
With a population of some 32 million, Saudi Arabia bases much of its legal system on Shari’a (Islamic law), which is grounded in the Qur’an, and on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, also known as Sunnah. Shari’a exercises jurisdiction especially in criminal, family, commercial, and contract cases.
According to Shari’a, men are allowed to practice polygamy and are permitted to have up to four wives at any given time. There is also no minimum age for marriage in the Kingdom.
While most women wait until after high school or university to get married, girls in the Kingdom can get married from the age of 13 and some are even married before they begin puberty, according to Alhakami. Many parents marry off their children for financial purposes and some men and women are still forced into arranged marriages by their families.
“Islam does encourage marriage between a man and a woman,” Alhakami said. “It regulates the urges and needs of humans to make families and bring children to life.”
Getting a divorce, however, is relatively easy for men in the Kingdom as Shari’a favors them.
“A woman cannot file a divorce, only a man can,” Jana said. “Divorce doesn’t cost a man anything.”
There are two types of divorce in Saudi Arabia. The first is Talaq, in which a man asks for a divorce. Saudi men are allowed to divorce their wives without any legal reasoning.
Historically, only a man choose to divorce a woman and once he has decided to do so he must recite the divorce call three times. Talaq, Talaq, Talaq is the divorce call. After saying that three times, or even sending it in a text message, the couple is divorced.
The other type of divorce is Khula, which is when a woman asks for a divorce. Saudi women are unable to obtain a divorce without the consent of their husbands, who remain their guardians throughout divorce proceedings.
Unlike their male counterparts, a woman must go to court to seek a divorce.
“Sometimes the only way a woman can get a divorce is by filing an extraction to give up all of her rights and pay him all of the money he had given to her (over the course of the marriage),” Jana said.
While divorced women are allowed to care for their children until they are between seven and nine, men often get custody of the children.
“The Saudi family law courts give fathers full-time custody over the children when they turn seven,” Ahmad said. “And, when they turn 18, boys can choose whether to live with the mother or the father but it is up to the father to let his daughters live with the mother.”
Despite the increase in divorce, it is still frowned upon in both Islam and Saudi society.
“Islam hates divorce. The Prophet Mohammed said, ‘the most hated thing to Allah is divorce,’” Alhakami said.
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