Saudi Arabia: What is the Impact if a Foreign Wife is not Muslim?

Many people will automatically assume if a western wife is married to a Saudi that she likely converted to Islam. However Saudi men (and actually all muslim men) are allowed to have wives from either the Christian or Jewish (Abrahamic) faiths. It is not required or mandatory that a western wife become a muslim due to marriage to a muslim. But what is the impact if a foreign (western) wife of a Saudi is not a muslim and living in the Kingdom? Is she treated differently? Is she as readily accepted?

There’s not a “one size fits all” answer and the impact will depend much on the woman, her Saudi husband and the Saudi family into which she marries. In most cases a foreign (western) wife will be more readily accepted if she is a muslim but then one can debate on whether a foreign (western) wife is ever truly accepted by the family into which she marries.

It is not unusual for a foreign wife of a Saudi who is not muslim to receive pressure from different fronts such as the husband’s family and other muslims with whom she comes into contact to convert. Some foreign Saudi wives simply converted to islam rather than face the familial pressure from the husband’s family or for fear of being rejected overall. As most are aware, this is not the reason why one should convert to Islam but I am pointing it out in that it does happen for the reason I cited.

If the foreign wife of a Saudi is not muslim it will also restrict her travel in the Kingdom. She would be unable to accompany her husband or his family to the holy areas in Makkah and Medina. Maybe for some that would not be a big deal but for others it could be an issue.

I do not have young children here in Saudi Arabia so I cannot comment if there is an impact with a non-muslim wife of a Saudi and her children. I am speculating that there would be much pressure for the children to be raised as muslims regardless of how strongly the non-muslim wife may view her chosen faith. In fact it is expected that any children born of a Saudi father are muslim and would be raised accordingly.

However it is all too easy to inadvertently assume and assume wrongly in Saudi Arabia what a foreign wife of a Saudi’s chosen faith could be. I believe it is fair to say there are degrees in which muslims practice their faith where some women are very comfortable and desire to fully cover and perhaps veil where other muslim (converts) may be comfortable maintaining the style of their culture such as not veiling or covering their hair. But chances are a muslim following these practices will likely be assumed to not be a muslim by the individual who may not know her. The first assumption will likely be is that she is Christian and married to a Saudi. Because she does not conform as the majority of women, even in spite of being muslim, there may be distinctions in how she is treated and accepted.

This post was written in response to the specific question from a reader on the impact if a foreign wife is not muslim. I believe I’ve thrown out some points and thoughts for consideration and discussion. Now I eagerly look forward to hearing your views.


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