Saudi Arabia: Three Marriages to the Same Guy Without a Divorce

It’s not an easy or simple process for a foreign woman to travel to Saudi Arabia as the legal spouse of a Saudi man.  It took Abdullah and I three separate marriages and almost 3 years to receive the marriage approval and in our case, our marriage ultimately had to be approved by King Abdullah.

I smile though as I think back on the three different ceremonies we had during our short seven years of marriage together before he passed away.

The first ceremony was a traditional and private Islamic ceremony with the two of us and two witnesses.  The imam, following Arab tradition, insisted that my name be cited on the marriage certificate in Arab style with my first name followed by my father’s first name.  In other words, Carol Mike married Abdullah Othman Al-Ajroush.

Needless to say when we are starting our processing for our journey to Saudi Arabia we had a problem.  The name on the marriage certificate did not match the name on my passport or other important documents.  So, we had marriage ceremony number two.

The second marriage took place in our home in Northern Virginia.  Several of Abdullah’s colleagues from the Saudi Embassy were our witnesses.  The Imam from the Islamic Center of Washington performed the ceremony.  Not only did the marriage certificate reflect my full true and correct name, it was in both Arabic and English and witnessed with the signatures of Saudi officials.

Then, Abdullah was the one who insisted that we have a third marriage ceremony.  He wanted to be assured that our marriage was also legally recognized and recorded in the United States.  For our third ceremony, we had a private and lovely civil ceremony performed in our home.  My son and daughter-in-law stood up with us as witnesses.

Now when we arrived in Saudi Arabia, initially his family suggested another ceremony.  Thankfully, Abdullah persuaded his family that a “delayed” wedding party (reception) in honor of our marriage(s) would be more than sufficient.

Abdullah and I were both romantics so we took pleasure in celebrating each of our three individual wedding anniversaries annually.

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59 Responses

  1. (All the love from Saudi Arabia)

  2. Aww carol that’s so cute. We had 3 ceremonies too. Is 3the magic number :-) one Islamic, court and Hindu . I loved all 3. And the faboulous reception and pre-wedding beach party that f’s uncle and aunt threw. Glad you have such great memories. Keep smiling

  3. That must be the secret, Radhaa… the more marriages to your Saudi the more love!

  4. Hi Carol,

    How is it to be married to a saudi man? what are thier characteristic? is it true that most of them are sarcastic, arrogant and will not help you to do house work?..I just want to ask beacuse soon I will be going to saudi and If I meet a saudi man I dont want to close my mind and heart for hearing what I just heard from anybody that never meet a saudi guy.Thanks.

  5. 3 weddings = 3 honeymoons = blissful marriage :)-

  6. What an absolutely wierd caricature of Islam they represent . Where are all such requirements in Islam and as far as approval of the King,it
    was there in the primitive times when the bride was supposed to be in
    the first night with the King. I hope the custom is still not in place .

  7. did all these marriages have different dates? or was each of the backdated to the previous? i mean once a persons civil status is changed to married, can they really ask officially to re-marry the same person?

  8. @Elena,

    It’s difficult to put a Saudi man and his character in a box, as with any man. However you should not go to Saudi Arabia with the intent or hope of meeting a Saudi man to marry since it is illegal in the Kingdom to fraternize with unrelated men and women.

    But if one way or another you do meet a Saudi man, make sure to take the time to get to know him and about his family. That will give you insights to his character.

  9. Multiple weddings seems to be a consistent theme in the cross cultural marriage circuit. I have a Tajik friend who married a Korean and they had 3. I also has an American coworker who married a Singaporean and they had 3. Its interesting. I, as an Amerixan marrying a Brazilian, will probably have 2.

  10. My, my. American**

  11. yes; each marriage has a different date. The Saudi government used the date of our second marriage for the official processing but to my husband and I, the first marriage always remained to us “the true marriage” which first joined us together as husband and wife.

  12. @carol: and they didnt mind about the first marriage? i mean in order to have a second marriage, you need a civil status that says you are single, right? were they ok that your civil status said already married to the same man?

  13. I don’t why a lot of people who are/were second wives try to keep that on the down low… It is Islamic…

  14. @Gigi – our civil marriage was the last and final of our three marriages.

  15. Ok, so the first was informal islamic, the second islamic for Saudi with the permission and the final civil for the US :)

  16. kind of Gigi…we did not consider the first ‘informal islamic’ but when it came to processing, the authorities did!

  17. yes, different authorities have different requirements….it can be headache….by the way- did you have to convert to islam to receive the marriage permission ( sorry for asking)?

  18. A woman does not have to convert to Islam in order to marry a Saudi or gain permission for the marriage as long as her faith is “from one of the Abrahamic books” such as Christianity or Judaism.

  19. How romantic, married 3 times! Happy memories, Carol. That’s lovely.

  20. @carol: yes, this is what i also thought, but heard that in some cases, the papers of ladies that did not convert seem to take forever.

    Interestingly: after an approved marriage and children, can the wife take the saudi passport as a christian? does that happen in practice?

  21. @gigi – that is a good question in regards to getting a Saudi passport. I want to say yes but I’m not sure.

  22. I would also like to say yes ;) but somehow I doubt it

  23. Hope, do you think what you hear, read or see in Saudia is ISLAM..
    Verily second marriage by Islamic standard , though allowed in very special circumstance but is almost impossible to fulfill all condition . It is as good as prohibited , but what the wahabi saudi do practice is hardly Islam .

  24. My wife and I discussed a possible remarriage on our 25th. We arrived upon one viewpoint, considering certain Christian disagreements…
    We’d NOT repeat the same mistake twice.
    We’d just move on, with our now current 29++ years of marriage.
    Of which, we’re deliriously happy.
    Or REALLY unhappy with gravity… ;)
    Of course, our different faiths were of Christian origin, but the Roman Catholic Church refuses to recognize us, even after two children now grown. But then, I personally cursed a priest, in his own church, when he disparaged our marriage during my mother’s burial ceremony.
    He’s since been removed from that church, even money due to child abuse. But then, THAT is based upon familial experience and objection to OUR children being IN that situation.
    Of course, we’re young, my father, who initially objected is only 82.

    As for Islamic standard, the first wive MUST approve of the second (AS WELL as HER family).
    My ancient joke was to my own wife, that I’d “switch faiths” and marry another women.
    HER response was, “Like you’d find ANOTHER woman that’d put up with you”.
    Couldn’t disagree…

    Or as an elderly Qatari responded to me, when I asked about his other wife (he, giving us family discount after doing “The Lockhorns” number in his pots and pans shop. “I have not been *BLESSED* with a second wife.
    We BOTH laughed and mutually understood.
    In our ancientness… ;)
    Or more simply put, be together long enough, NOTHING is an insult, age is insult enough. We KNOW each other and can pick at our “bad parts” without open wounds.
    Indeed, my own wife of nearly 30 years now admits, I’m a PERFECT 10!
    On the Richter scale.
    Upon which, I MUST agree. Possibly a 12… ;)

  25. @ Carol: when you applied for your marriage permission, did you apply as single or married according to your first marriage?

    Also: if one in these circumstances were to divorce- after having both a valid civil and islamic wedding, which law would prevail?

  26. Gigi – We applied for the permission as married.

    I’m not sure about your other question on divorce. Of course in Saudi, Sharia law would apply. In the US I am guessing that civil law (US law) would apply. But I’m not an expert on this topic so I could be wrong…

  27. @ carol: in the case one applies for the permission as married ( like you did) why would you have to have a second marriage? Was the previous marriage upon application considered void by saudi authorities because of the name? or because it was conducted without the marriage permission?

    Divorce: I understand that there are a number of couples that have had both civil and religious marriages. Both are contracts from what I understand and in a number of occasions contradictory in their obligations. eg. an islamic contract allows for polygamy a civil doesnt.
    Thus if one has signed two contradictory contracts, which one prevails? Would the civil hold no validity in Saudi and the islamic no validity in the US?

    Dear Carol, I do not mean to ask personal questions, but just understand the proceedure. Thanks again for answering and proving this wonderful forum.

  28. Gigi, marriage is a purely state matter in the US, the federal government has no authority to regulate marriage under the constitution, therefore, it falls to the states, then to the local community (county/parish or even city/town if the state doesn’t regulate it).
    MOST other nations regulate marriage at the national level.
    As such, polygamy is only outlawed at state levels, indeed, Utah only was permitted to become a state after polygamy was outlawed.
    Now, when you go international, things get REALLY complicated.
    First, no law of another nation binds the US, as first the constitution is “king” above all laws, then federal law, then state, then county/parish, then local community. SAVE if a ratified treaty brings those foreign laws into force and even THEN, they must first be constitutional.
    I’m aware of no Saudi-US treaty that binds the US to recognize any Saudi laws or Saudi to recognize any US laws.
    Hence, a marriage here in the US isn’t typically recognized by Saudi when a Saudi citizen is married, unless one has permission or has the Saudi government recognize the marriage. This isn’t unusual, many other nations do the same thing.
    Now, for a contradictory contract, where things are not recognized in the US, the US state would not recognize it, either by voiding the entire contract OR by voiding things illegal in that state.
    For things not recognized in Saudi, things not recognized in Saudi are voided, save when exceptions are made.

    Now, when you go into things like Sharia law and contracts in the US, things get a bit funny. Believe it or not, Sharia law IS permitted in a contract, just as Judaic law is permitted, via arbitration, rather than civil courts, IF both/all parties agree to the same. IF the contract is constitutional and legal in the state and nation. There are Jewish Beth Din representatives and arbitrators who devote their lives to that small specialty here in the US and a few other nations. That doesn’t usurp the local/state/federal/constitutional law, it adds a layer to it to account for religious law of a particular faith. In theory, one could do the same with Sharia, so long as all decisions are first, constitutional, state and federal, then legal in the state, county and local community. Typical things that would be heard under such an arbitration would be marital matters, contracts, even interest payments (where some payments would be usury, but others not).

  29. @wzrd1 thanks for taking the time to respond. I really appreciate your answer and thoughts. There are indeed a number of things to take into account internationally indeed, that go far beyond the love of a couple. Nevertheless have a look at some of my comments and let me know your thoughts.

    you mention:

    >Hence, a marriage here in the US isn’t typically recognized by Saudi >when a Saudi citizen is married, unless one has permission or has the >Saudi government recognize the marriage. This isn’t unusual, many >other nations do the same thing.

    Discussing beyond saudi arabia and looking at international conventions:

    Usually what I know is this: if say a Spanish/French/Brazilian citizen gets their birth certificate and civil status ( as long as they are single :) ) ready from their country, then in principle they can marry anywhere around the world ( only residency laws restrict them) and then have their marriage recognised in Spain/France/Brazil. Basically that means stamping it through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the country they conducted the marriage. Additionally they can also have it stamped at the Spanish/French/Brazilian Embassy in that country if the country does not belong to the Hague convention.

    This is a basic principle for protection of family life, especially if they are children involved.

  30. @ carol

    Iin the case one applies for the permission as married ( like you did) why would you have to have a second marriage? Was the previous marriage upon application considered void by saudi authorities because of the name? or because it was conducted without the marriage permission?

  31. Gigi, consider the name change on the marriage certificate (the first one). In the Philippines, who don’t recognize divorce, that may turn into a bit of a problem. In Saudi, it can turn into a problem as well, as was mentioned in Carol’s story.
    Indeed, I’ve noted that first line employees and supervisors in Arab ministries seem to have a job to say no to any request, requiring one to make contact with a manager, whose job it is to be the hero and say yes. Fortunately, it was rare that I found one who had a hand extended for money.
    Some differences are cultural in the differences in doing things, some are odd laws (I’ve found zero dispute when I said, “Leave it to a politician to screw something simple up”, only agreement). One would THINK that things marital would be fairly simple, as it is a rather universal convention among humans, but very little is simple when dealing internationally.

  32. @Gigi, my husband was an official and to ensure no “blips” in the process, it was suggested to have a second marriage with the certificates in both English and Arabic rather than a third language. It made it much easier and smoother for the process. See, the marriage certificates need to be attested and certified by both countries (USA/KSA) and since the first marriage certificate was neither in English or Arabic it could not be attested and certified.

  33. @ carol:

    thus it is ok to apply for a permission while married and re-marry , right?

    What if you had children? Would it be suggested you marry again anyhow?

  34. @Gigi, per the regulations a couple is not supposed to marry without the approval in place. So what worked for my late husband and I would not necessarily work for others. It seems when it comes to Saudi and marriage approval, every case is different.

    Due to the ages of both myself and my husband when we married, children were not an issue so I can’t respond to that.

  35. @ carol:

    does this marriage permission require that the marriage is conducted islamically or would a civil marriage do?

  36. @gigi: Since Saudi Arabia is under Shariah law it is best to have an Islamic marriage when applying for permission….along with a civil marriage certificate (if there were also a civil marriage).

  37. @ carol:

    but would a civil certificate alone be rejected?

  38. @gigi: My husband is no longer available for me to ask so my answer is speculation…. Since a Saudi may marry a non-Muslim woman of the book, then I would think that a civil certificate would be okay….. but on the flip side, a Saudi can marry a non-Muslim in an Islamic ceremony without the woman needing to be Muslim.

    Maybe someone else can answer your question more definitively?

  39. Gigi, perhaps you could send an e-mail to the Saudi embassy and post the response here. That way we’d all know what the official position is of the Saudi government.

  40. @wzrd1 and carol:

    I think this link proves the point :)

    A civil marriage would do:

    http://www.oxfordtimes.co.uk/news/8937933.Saudi_prince_weds_in_Oxford_register_office/

    I was almost certain, because there is absolutely no saudi law that forbids people to marry in a civil registry.

  41. @wzrd1 and carol

    The only place that you cannot marry a civil wedding would be inside saudi arabia, where islamic law prevails- thus only islamic registries.

  42. [...] this date, 15 June, American Bedu and Her Prince had their second wedding.  This was the civil ceremony which was performed in the privacy of their Northern Virginia [...]

  43. [...] 30 September is not that far away and 30 September 2012 would have been 10 years since our “first marriage.”  Now I knew shortly after our first marriage, Abdullah was not the best person about [...]

  44. Amazing channel mashallah… In the case of getting married to a Saudi, may you include in the marriage contract you wish to get divorced in case he wants a second wife? How does this procedure go exactly? I thank you in advance. Keep the great work going this has been a very informative channel for me at this stage of life where im close to get married to a Saudi man.

  45. Dear Amora,

    You may include the stipulation in the marriage contract but since it is against Islam it is unlikely to hold up in the event he were to take a second wife as that is considered his right. That is something you will need to think about very carefully in your relationship. Nothing in life is guaranteed. But if you believe he is the man to be your husband then you also need faith and confidence in each other.

  46. Dear bedu,

    I do realize is is his total right to do so, but being a west European citizen does this make any odd difference? If, may God forbid he ends up considering having a second wife as an option in the future as he is now still is quite young and I really could not live with it, wouldn’t my embassy help me getting out and go back to my family in Europe and get a divorce I have contacted almost every Saudi embassy around here in Germany, Switzerland, etc but with no clear answer and this is so important to me… Hope you will be able to help me.

  47. Amora,

    If the two of you plan to live in Saudi Arabia, your citizenship will not matter. I suggest you use the search function on the blog to find other posts I have written about marriage, marriage contracts and more than one wife. I believe many of your questions will be answered.

  48. I thank you so much for the fast reply, as I’m new to this site could you please provide me with a link to these blogs?? I thank you in advance

  49. Amora,

    It is my blog: http://www.americanbedu.com

    In the upper right hand side of the blog you will see a search bar where you can enter key word searches.

  50. Amora:

    Put the clause in anyway, along with you get full custody of children and a large alimony to be paid. Have him set it aside in an escrow account and if he violates the terms of the contract on this reason it then is turned over to you. Ensure that the monies are held in an account outside of an Islamic country and if possible try not to live in an Islamic country particular Saudi. Whatever you do, do not allow him to choose the escrow company. You will want a well know company that is respectable. If he cares for you he would never take you to this country in the first place.

    Make sure that it is in an agreement that is both English and Arabic. In addition, ensure that he has a clause in there that states you are allowed to travel anywhere, obtain education, procure employment, without permission from him.

    Biggest thing is to not get pregnant for several years until you have a good grasp of if you will be able to make the marriage work. It is definitely easier to leave and pursue a better life if you do not have such a cultural weight stuck around your neck as well as children which can be used against you to confine you or keep you in constant fear of lossing them. Don’t count on anything from the Saudi Government as they will never help you as you will be a foreigner. In addition, most Western embassies will not assist either so it is incumbant upon you to have an exit stragedy should the situation sour or if he turns into Mr. Hyde upon entering an Islamic country.

    It is all nice and well to trust someone but let’s face it, Saudi’s are well known for deception particularly to women. So I would say for Saudi enter into it at your own risk but take as many precautions as possible beforehand.

    Next it is also your right to marry as many men as you like as far as I am concerned if he can marry as many women. This one way street is nothing but crap and women buying it is absurd.

  51. Thanks for all this advice, but am I actual allowed to put this clause on this particular issue? I mean I am not keeping him from having another wife I just would want to have my divorce and go back to my country In the worst case. There is trust , love and affection between us but still it’s better to make sure and no destructive risks are taken. Regarding custody I heard it is only for the husband to get it… Really what precautions could I take in order to leave that country in case something goes horribly wrong?

  52. Can you have such a clause put in – Yes. You can also have a clause that he would allow you to leave the country in the event the marriage fails.

  53. Are you sure they will be considered valid? However I must admit its not the most amazing way starting a marriage … I mean wouldn’t it just look weird me coming up with all these issues on a marriage contract that should is supposed to bind 2 persons in love together… How does this procedure actually go you have any experience?

  54. Amora, I personally chose to have no issues placed on the marriage contract I had with my husband but then again, we met and married late in life.

    You may have what you feel is necessary in the marriage contract. If you are in Saudi there may be difficulties in having anything enforced that is contradictory to Islam. Be sure to have a deep understanding of Islam, Saudi customs and culture and the traditions. Be confident in your relationship with your future husband. Did you do any research on past articles? I’d hate to think you are someone who is only asking questions or taking information for other purposes. That has happened before to Saudi bloggers. So, before you come back with more questions, let me know what you have read and learned.

  55. Bedu,

    I have undergone previous research and contacted several Saudi embassies in europe asking about rights however with no clear answer. Past stories are usual based on bad happenings which at this stage I really don’t want to read about, after all a bad marriage that results in bitter endings is not only the case in Saudi. I do love this man very much and being half Arabic makes things easier at the end of the day but Not with a Saudi background. My arab family is putting a lot of pressure on this marriage contract as Saudi have a bad reputation in our Arab society and this also is not making things easier for me. Because of this id rather have my sources coming from
    Western women with experience when it comes to this culture.

  56. then search my blog for there are many interviews on this subject.

  57. Amora ,
    yes you can put the clause in your islamic marriage contract, along with the dicorce stipulation and the alimony amount in it. I’m not sure if it’s enforceble in saudi, especially since every judge in saudi is diff, there’s no codified law and they do as per their interpretation, their mindset, their mood and a million other factors at that time :-) sad but that’s the way it is.

    You can have permission to leave the country ahead of time and i don’t remember what but there’s a form for it. also you can have a mahrem decided in case your spouse has something bad happen to him. you certainly do not want you life int he hands of someone next in line you don’t trust.

    Children are iffy, not sure how much you can protect them if something bad were to happen. get dual citizenships, and get some documentation int he marriage contract but again, situations and results are diff there is no set law.

    protect yourself the best you can, keep some assets outside the country and keep and exit letter always signed and hopefully you will be fine.

    Yes it’s hard to do this at the time of marriage, but as my husband and dad explained, it has nothing to do with trusting your relationship, you are protecting yourself fromthe unfair ( as we see it) laws of the country , it’s nothing personal.

  58. sorry to say this, but I have a hunch Amora may also be know as Summaya….

  59. Dear Bedu,

    This was my first visit to your blog and bein desperate to find out as much information as possible on the subject before getting married seems perfectly natural to me. Your website does include lots of valuable information however my asked questions were those related to legal issues that cannot be answered my an inexperienced individual easily. I appologize if I have offended you in any way that made you think back about a previous blogger that probably did so, but now that things are clearer to me there is no more need to ask unwelcomed questions. I wish you all the good luck with keeping up your website m3a salama wa Allah m3ak inshallah.

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