How One Saudi Marriage Was Arranged


The groom was 25 years old and from a small town in Nej’d. His father had passed away and his mother was 72 years old. He was the youngest of a family consisting of several brothers and sisters who were all married. His dream was to finish University and start his own small business. As a result, he had no plans or intentions of getting married. His mother, on the other hand, feared that if she did not see her son marry before she passed away, he would either end up never marrying or perhaps engage in a misyaar marriage since he was so focused on wanting to establish a business rather than care for a family. So the mother began a search for a suitable bride for her son and ultimately arranged a marriage with a young university student. The son realized he could not contradict his mother’s wishes so resigned himself to the fact that he would have a wife and probably soon thereafter children.

He is now married. He has finished University and instead of starting his own business he is now employed by a company. After all, he is now responsible for taking care of and providing for his new wife. His new wife continues her studies at University. The young man readily acknowledges there is not yet a deep closeness between him and his new bride. They both “did their duty” and followed the requests of their respective families that they marry one another.

The young groom will occasionally see his friends from University. While he never speaks disrespectfully of his wife or his situation he is a strong advocate telling these young men who are not yet married to first follow their dreams, even if it meant challenging their parents’ wishes. The young groom remains disappointed that he did not get the opportunity to start his own small business. When his friends questioned him on why he could not still do so, his response was that he had to be able to immediately provide for a wife and found he now has no time or as yet, resources, which he can use for the necessary capital to have a business.

We hope that he will one day not only be able to recognize his dream of wanting his own business but that his arranged marriage will survive as well.

46 Responses

  1. Those two things are the best one could hope for, and that the marriage will not only survive but thrive. Since the children do often follow on quickly, his dreams will most likely be delayed.

    I often see the children of arranged marriages and some of their parents marriages have become harmonious and some not-like the 19 year old man whose father has been living in another country for 15 years, sends money and visits once a year for 2 not very harmonious weeks.

    It does seem amazing in this story that the mother/family wouldn’t find some way to accomodate his business plans and a betrothal, or something other than the current “sacrifice”.

  2. I don’t see why having a family can prevent someone from starting a small business.

    Unless he was planning to lose money on that business from the start. Which I doubt.

    And considering that his wife is in university, she can provide for herself for some time when she graduates until his business picks up.

  3. Mohamed S-agreed.

  4. He (actually both of them) could still start a business while working for the company. get it started, second source of income … it’s multitasking.

    If he has financial backing … his own business gets built in the off hours from his “day job” … wife can help and still do her studies, since there are no kids yet.

    Build it up, have the kids – there you have some ready made “employees”. (grin)

    You don’t give up the dream. Just dream via a different route and keep it alive, watered and sunshined.

  5. Susan-agreed. Let’s hope he reads this post and doesn’t have other impediments we are unaware of.

  6. Starting a small business often takes hard work and a lot of hours. And many don’t survive the first few years. At least that’s how it is here. Maybe it’s different there. I wish the young man could have followed his dream and married in his own time.

  7. Susanne430-agreed but some businesses (like consulting, tutoring, internet sales etc) don’t require alot of capital and can be built slowly while keeping “the day job”. Note to self:-)
    All marriages build over time and hopefully these two will accomodate each others desires and develop a good relationship.

  8. I suspect that much family pressure was applied to “conform” which did not mean having one’s own business. The new bride and groom are both from very traditional families where parents requests are not challenged. However let’s do hope over time that dreams are realized for both of them.

  9. my take on this, any savings he had to start up his own small business went towards the dowry, wedding, and living accomodation for his new wife. Most likely he started out with a little debt he is working to repay. Most likely a baby will pop up soon enough and majority of educated saudi women DO NOT WORK. if he started his own small business she would not work in the busieness at all.

    Thinking of an average saudi his income from working just out of university means his salary is low. So trying to start a business on it for majority isn’t feasible unless someone backs you and your loans are based on your income so if his is small , like most are, his business, like way too many now in saudi, wouldn’t survive. (we have family members who are small business owners so yea the statistics aren’t in his favor)

    Many see small busienss, unless you come from money, as a risk to big to take when you have a family. So there is probably more pressure on him to not start a business from his own family and from his inlaws. And that he looks at his wife as a fulilled duty isn’t going to help matters. I feel for him and her as well.

    Inshallah one day he could have a business but probably right now he feels it is too far away to be realized.

    so carol how far off am I??:)

  10. Do you believe in where there’s a Will, there’s a way?
    I believe as long as we have our ‘will’ there will be always ways (and not just “a way”)…..

    Some people are very expert in depressing themselves, and some people are very expert in elating themselves. It’s completely our choice to pick up which person we want to be.

  11. I assume the wife is studying for a reason…not just to pass the time…yes? In which case she should be considered a plus and helpmate in the small business endeavor rather than an unwanted obstacle forced on him by family pressure. They are in this together…as soon as both of them realize this little fact maybe the rest will be a bit easier.

  12. rightly put coolred, the wife is supposed to be a partner in this endeavour and not an obstacle/hindrance.I guess the solution so to say is dependant on the personality type as well, meek vs the bold and confident types, risk averse/risktaking types. In reality, I have seen that quite a lot of people here hold onto mainstream jobs, as also continue to do business ( maybe on the sly).

  13. Nzingha – you hit the nail smack dab on the head! While to many people anyone who is University educated equates a full partner with capability to work, that is not how it works in Saudi (most of the time). Don’t forget…in most cases, the education is free and for many women considered a chit which they add to their cache in regards to their “marriage marketability.” Sadly I know so many many women who have attended University and obtained degrees because that is their right and entitlement but never with an intent to apply it. In fact in some circles one may look at a Saudi woman in askance if she has not been University educated.

  14. I think Nzingha is right; I have a ”small business” and it’s very hard work, for very small pay. I could certainly not support a husband and children, and I don’t always turn a profit.

    Besides, what kind of person is his wife? He has to get to know her first. Maybe she will be a big asset to his plans in the future, maybe he will never be able to realise them.
    And coming from very conservatinve families I suppose the first baby is allready on the way, children are expensive, and babies are very time-consuming… etc. etc.
    I think people think too easily about starting a business, and too liuttle of the risk which are always involved.

    I think it’s very considerate of him to think of his wife and her comfort first, and sacrifice his own wishes for the time being.
    He must be a good man.
    Incha’allah he will have a good opportunity and succes later!

  15. I would say he is a good man and wants to fulfill duties and family expectations.

  16. So what kind of business does he want to start?

  17. Aafke, I agree with you one hundred percent. This situation reminds me of my father, when he was a young man, and displayed much talent in his field of business.

    He even had numerous opportunities to start his own business, and he wanted to, but he always put the needs of the family first. The nearly-guaranteed income from his employment won out over the ups and downs of a business start-up.

    Nevertheless, he distinguished himself repeatedly throughout his career, and did reap the fruits of his efforts within someone else’s company.

    Let’s hope our young Saudi can find an avenue to do the same, if he cannot see his way clear to make his own business.

  18. Susan – sorry but I do not have the answer to that question.

  19. Marahm,

    I am hopeful that the young Saudi will excell in the work he does.

  20. They’ll work it out. They’re a family in their own right now, albeit an extension of both his and her family(ies). While he may be feeling some peer-pressure from his friends and or disappoint in marrying without being an established business-owner, he’s working … that’s excellent in and of itself — that’s 90% as someone I know said to me.

    And yes, where there’s a will there’s a way. The last thing anyone should do is be a contributor to the feelings of remorse concerning the dream “delayed” … it puts unnecessary pressure on this new partnership and marriage.

    And marriage is a partnership. It’s not just someone to provide for you or pickup after you.

    It could well be, that the experiences, background, tenure, connections this young man meets along the way of his being employed in a company, prior to his establishing at whatever date, his own business, will in turn serve to better facilitate a stronger more effective business “know-how” and better situate him and his new family for life ahead.

    He has honored the wishes of his family and the loving concern of his mother, partnering with a spouse who is learning at university and will in turn become a “helpmate” to him — an he to her.

    It doesn’t matter what we’ve seen, it matters what we choose, often weighed oddly enough by what we’ve seen.

    If you’re at the crossroads, what do you choose? Based on what experiential and theoretical guidelines?

    You just knock it out, day by day, with a goal in mind – 2-year and 5-year goals with the understanding that things mess up from time to time. It’s how you get back on track for yourself and each other …

    They’ll work it out.

  21. @ khalid “It’s completely our choice to pick up which person we want to be.”

    I agree 100% which is why I’m a forever young plum 16 year old chick:)

    Bedu- I think it is hard for some to grasp that going to a university doesn’t = a career orientated woman in Saudi. I forget the percentages but overall in the gulf there is a high rate of university educated women (more so than men) and they are also some of the higher rate of non workers after graduation either by choice or failure to have enough job opportunities (especially in saudi)

    @ aafke inshallah your business will do well it is a hard way for so many. We have had many small business owners in the family have to close shop.. one after sooo many years of prospering and suddenly the demand for his products (fabric store) wasn’t as good as it used to be. And like many others shop after shop was closed down. Even my brother in the US struggles month after month just to pay bills. Not an easy choice at all.

  22. Nzingha – you and I are in solid agreement on this one.

    I appreciate everyone’s comments but do feel most are being made by very western perspectives not taking into account traditional culture and customs. Sure, exceptions can happen but in some of the traditional arranged marriages among conservative Nej’d families, duty will take place but that does not equate to partnership.

  23. Nzingha stated it…starting a business is hard, requires money (typically lots of it, to last for the months/years in which you will not be making money but investing in the business) and long hours. There is also a criteria to starting a business, and it involves more than just getting a business license…it involves you starting something you’re truly interested in (and hopefully something in which you have some experience), versus just starting “any ol business”. And, the chances of success (based on all of the stats) are against you from the start.

    A lot of people have to give up their dreams once they start a family. After my divorce from my first husband…I would have loved to pursue my creative dreams…however, I had a 3 year old son to take care of, so my main priority was getting a well paying job with great benefits, which i did…but that puts your dreams on hold (which is why now…I will not have any more children and I’m living my life for me). And, the average time it takes to start making money in a new business on average is 5 years.

    To me…in this poor couples situation…I’m smelling resentment, a 2nd marriage, possibly a divorce. That is pessimistic…but…it’s hard to feel forced into something and based on the advice he’s giving others…it’s apparent he regrets his choice to marry. And, besides obligation…there doesn’t seem to be anything keeping this couple together. But…it’s his own deal…he should have stood firm…now they both have to pay the price. I hope it works out for them.

  24. So many excellent comments.

    I do think that everywhere there are small businesses, designed to supplement the employed income, that satisfy the person’s business desires without becoming the main income, and which have a low start up cost. Certainly any business that is the main occupation and income source is very difficult, and here at least 90% close in 2 years without making a profit.

    Nzingha has given an excellent run through of what seems to be the Saudi norm, and hopefully this couple will find their way within that.

    The university degree as increasing marrigeability is a real phenomenon and an accurate description of the combined BA/Mrs that so many women try for. Some are required to do an MA/Mrs because of social norms or not yet finding a marriage partner. To quote a socially conservative male Arab Muslim doctor: “We think if the wife is educated the children will do well. I don’t care if my wife (a physician) works or not”.

    Some wealthy Moroccan men buy their wives a boutique to keep them amused without caring if they turn a profit. When it fails they liquidate.

    Some families have a family profession-business, medicine, law, accounting-an expect all members to follow in the same path, including within business whether they do well as a corporate employee or as an entrepreneur.

    Khalid-I really like the “where there is a will there are ways” as it most closely reflects my life experience, my philosophy, and professional recommendations of how to make a positive life. Choice is important, and withing limits one can choose one’s role in life-but within limits. A socially conservative friend of mine has partially sacrificed her romantic relationship to care for her ill mother longterm. It is a choice she had to make because she couldn’t live with herself if she hadn’t put her family and mother first. Hopefully the other relationship will survive or be satisfactorily replaced when she is freer to attend to her romantic needs.

    So much wasted education (in my career-minded opinion) in Saudi and elsewhere. Unfortuneately it also justifies giving educational and career priorities to men. Fortunately there are still many female professionals in the arab/muslim world, if not Saudi to show the way.

  25. American Bedu-great comment on culture and duty!

    Love vs honour vs duty are age old themes of literature and philosophy. As opposed to in the past, Western culture now privileges love, whereas others incuding Arab ones continue to prioritize (family) honour, and duty. The duties of husband and wife in Islam and in different cultures are very clearly spelled out and with les room for variation than in Western culture currently.

    Risking family honour by not fulfilling one’s family duties would be psychologically intolerable for most socially conservative and not so conservative Arab/Muslim/Latino/Asian people I know/treat. That is why my Central Asian friend lives with and administers to her mother, rather than marrying the man her mother hates-whom she continues to see on the sly even though she is well beyond her teens, a professional, and potentially financially independent.

    In my experience the reverse is also true. It is hard for non-Western men and women to understand a Westerner’s ability/need/desire to prioritize career over certain types of family obligations. Eg. My South Asian female student who cancelled an important presentation to meet her mother at the airport and settle her in. My Latina student who was struggling immensely to study fulltime, raise children, and take care of her ailing mother, with little to no help from her husband. A highly talented Asian male trainee who took a year off to move back to his small town and work as a GP to take care of an ailing parent. While some Westerners can and do make these choices, they are less likely to feel psychologically compelled to, more likely to find a different compromise, and less likely to be pressured into doing so.

    This can be incomprehensible to non-Westerners who feel the person should “take time off”, work more as a hobby, or drop everything for the day to attend to a family matter. It is also a source of potential Western employer/non-Western employee conflict. Ask me how I felt, as understanding as I am, when I discovered that my graduate student had cancelled a career-enhancing (for her) presentation that I had gone to considerable lengths to set up, and at the last minute had to do myself, because her mother was sick-which I later learned actually meant her mother was in town to get a second opinion for a non-urgent matter. From the Western perspective such a late cancellation would only be justifiable if the mother was on death’s door with no one else to attend to her.

  26. Very good examples Chiara to further illustrate and understand exactly the distinctions in western versus non-western culture.

  27. I think that a bit of a blanket assumption on the priorities of Western (otherwise known as American) priorities.

    Gleaning a selective sample and then propping it up as the majority of westerners (again, aka Americans). is inconclusive.

    The press does the same thing: 95% of Americans, although they fail to mention it is the 95% of the research sample. Yet, a certain mindset will accept this as being conclusively representative of the American (aka Westerners) train of thought, etc. “well if the press, etc. says so it must therefore be true”.

    Western society (aka America/Americans) has family values, not eclipsed by career demands. Rather than the barrage of vilification toward Western society being the great shaitan, ask a random sample of poor, low to middle class Americans (aka Westerners) and you may find the overwhelming reason why they are poor, low to middle class is because they put family first, rather than career.

    To say: “From the Western perspective such a late cancellation would only be justifiable if the mother was on death’s door with no one else to attend to her” is untrue, and further perpetuates a stereotype, a “profiling”, that if flipped, would neither be acceptable to other societies.

    We are not versus each other … at least in my thinking, by no means. To perpetuate a divide amongst humanity in order to control thinking, pit one or more societies/cultures/religions against one another toward a potentially nefarious ends, serves little in the actualization of the human being. Rather, it serves selfish and temporally isolationist goals.

    It seems to me …

  28. Well I had typed an epic, rather than just a long, reply to Susan’s comment, but the computer ate it, so let me try to reconstruct at least the most important parts.

    Wow Susan-what I thought I wrote, and what you read, not to mention what I believe and how it has been interpreted, are very far apart.:-)

    Of course, this is a blog, a high level one, but still not a peer-reviewed research journal, so the style is different. I, for one, try to indicate when I am summarizing from research, sometimes with links, or writing anecdotally from personal or profession experience.

    The examples given were just that, as American Bedu rightly perceived, examples-not social science research results subjected to quantitative analysis nor grand cultural anthropological qualitative/quantitative pronouncements.

    My own positions, lifestyle, and practice are very far from the “Clash of Cultures”; and, I use Western to reference Europe (with all its variants), North America (Canada and US), Australia/NZ, Latin America, and sometimes Israel and South Africa (eg. regarding medical institutions). In other words, where there is sufficient similarity of culture, and influences despite obvious differences.

    While I am hardpressed to find where I barraged the US with vilification, and I am far from seeing it as the great Shaitan, I do agree that economic status influences choices, but the post was about university educated people who are usually middle class (in the Canadian, not the American sense of the term, ie economically above working class). Still, the choices are coloured by culture and available options.

    With regards to the student with the non-dying mother, a detailled timeline and contextual explication would show that I was not exaggerating, and knowing the student, her decision was determined by culture, not laziness, evasiveness, irresponsibility, lying, lack of preparedness, or any other nefarious motive. Mercifully to American Bedu’s blog, I will spare us all such detail.

    I am happy to provide a flipped example where cultural differences impacted on the workplace. In Hong Kong a University colleague, from Latin America via Europe via North America (generalized to protect his/ her identity) had such academic political difficulties in the department that as he/she told me he/she was reading social psychology and behavioral organizational research on Hong Kong Chinese to try to understand how these difficulties and their unusual expression came about.

    As I tell/explain/argue to non-Western friends, relatives, colleagues and trainees, the family values of Westerners are no less than those of non-Westerners, and to “my Westerners” the work ethic of non-Westerners is no less than that of Westerners but their expression is sufficiently different to require cultural adaptation lest there be misunderstandings.

    Much better that the university publish a pamphlet on cultural differences in the notion of plagiarism than let a brilliant Masters student flambee her career (as told to me by the Masters student in question). Or that the manager assign another person from the same ethnicity to mentor an employee who is struggling to adapt rather than fire the same highly skilled person for irresponsibility, unreliability, insubordination, poor interpersonal skills, etc.

    Ah my original epic was so much richer in examples, but I shall close now with a sincere apology for any infelicities of expression that may have lead to misunderstanding, and in the hope that I have been clearer here. :-)

  29. Chiara,:) many times while writing on a website I’ve been through such experience — voila what I typed disappeared with no reason; the internet was hungry, perhaps, so it/she/he ate my texts:):):). It’s so frustrating indeed. As a result, I stopped using the web-base emails, and I started using my wonderful friend MS Outlook (Outlook Express, Eudora, lotus etc can do the job too). recently, I started typing my comments in Notepad (you can use any other text editor like MS word NoteTab etc in stead) Then, after I type it, I just paste it in the comment area. So if the internet wants to eat any texts in the future, I have a copy ready to be pasted again :)… I look forward to reading your epics in the future Chiara:)

    P.S. my apology if this comment is unrelated to the post.

  30. No apology needed. I’m sure you’ll do better next time. ; ) Brevity is an issue for me too

  31. It generally gets eaten due to universal causality. It can be the universes way of a gentle nudge …

  32. You see, just like it did now. I was being a smart ass and typed in the wrong email address, so my post is in the wait and see section. rofl

    (in regard to: “It generally gets eaten due to universal causality. It can be the universes way of a gentle nudge …”)

  33. Khalid-thank you, great advice-I’ll experiment-I’ve had two major text eatings today, and I am tired of feeding the computer! :-)

    Susan-thank you, luckily American Bedu has expressed her appreciation of long, though not yet epic, comments, and seemed to understand my original comment well! :-)

    off to see the wizard of MS Outlook:-)

  34. @Chiara, that was the short version???!!!???

  35. As a mother with one son already in his mid twenties (and daughters of marriageable ages according to certain cultures and traditions)- all I ask of him is that he not live with “coulda, woulda, shoulda” because if he brings those into those major things in life, he can very well ruin or taint them in some way.

    Our family motto “dare to live” like that of a celebrated explorer of the 20th century- is just to say that it takes more guts to live to the fullest in whatever endeavors than it does to sit somehwere to moan and groan.

    I have never pressured my children into the life turning decisions that marriage brings- because only they will know when they are ready…

    Hopefully when I am dead and gone; none of my children will say “I’m in this because mom insisted”- that would not make a peaceful bedfellow for me.

  36. Like I said, no apology necessary …:)

  37. Aafke-absolutely, when I say epic I use it in the literary sense of the term, think Beowulf, the Iliad, La chanson de Roland, El cantar del mio Cid, Orlando furioso, Os Luciades, Paradise Lost,

  38. Sorry premature submission (you knew it was too short, right :-)

    Byron’s Don Juan, Neruda’s El canto general, and Eliot’s the Four Quartets-all of which I’ve read, written on, and/or published on-but less poetic like.:-)

  39. Inal-very wise, but also culturally distinct!

  40. Indistinct- I would say because that is not what Latinos and those of Spanish/Arab lineage are “said” to adhere to… Indistinct because those are choices some assume are theirs to take and other assume they have no right to… If I were to poll my extended family-where ever they reside- I would say I am in the growing minority…

    I know what it is to marry out of choice and also married by arrangement- which to me was still a choice… Culture- was it heavily weighing in on my choices- no; not the first time nor the second time… As a Latina I would have had to marry a Latino, as a Mora I would have married a Moro- as a woman I married my biggest mistake and as a woman I married the man who turned out to be the love of my life. But in both it was a choice I made

    That is what I hope for my children- choice according to their God given right- not mine…

  41. I think we are saying the same thing differently. I meant distinct as in different that the main practice of the cultures you identified, putting you in “the growing minority”. :-)

    Fortunately culture is a component of life but not the only one.

    Glad it all worked out for you!

  42. That is a very typical marriage in saudi arabia and some learn to live in harmony with each other,,,but others cannot achieve it……
    Our divorce rate is now high, and unfortunately it is women that pay the toll.
    A girl that marries at 19,,,but due to irreconcilable differences with the groom has to divorce at 20, is highly likely that she will only become a second wife after,,,,divorce does still carry a ‘stigma’
    For others that may choose to continue, despite disagreements in characted, parallel lives will show their ugly heads: see ‘romantic liars in action’

  43. Thanks for your comment gigigirls.

  44. Gigigirls-excellent points. Thank you.

  45. well i think he should follow his dreams and what he wanted to do when he was done with his career instead of doing what their family wanted..thats the reason of why divorces beggins… Of course all parents want their children to marry and start a family but they have to let the choice for the (boy or girl) to choose with who and when they want to marry. Im a non- saudi but im arab muslim, and i know that sometimes parents brings the person they want for their son or daughter so they can meet n get engaged ..sometimes it works but sometimes it doesnt so if u really dont want that guy or girl u just say no n not get engage just to please ur parents because if u wanna marry someone is for life, share everything together, have children, and love each other, but if u dont have that ull always blame ur parents for choosing him or her for u.. thats my point of view and i really respect all the opinions ive read.,
    i met a saudi boy and we have now 3 years knowing each other, we share everything..he lives in usa for studying .. now in july hes goin back to saudi because hes oldest brother is getting married and her mom called him to tell that hes next to get engage and already talked with the family of the girl theyve choosen for him..he doesnt know what to do because he wants to finish his career get a job and then get married..but on the other hand he wants to please his family getting engage with a woman he doesnt even his mom wants him to go get engage n then he go back to usa while it pass a year n go back to saudi to marry the girl…i want to advice him but i was shocked when he told me all that..thay i really didnt know what to tell him so i just told him to follow his heart n do what his heart tells him n not what others want him to do..and to dont make any decision just to please someone else or cz hes next…that he has to remember that hes the one whos goin to be married and share with this girl…
    thats my opinion..

  46. Yasmin,

    It really is tough when one is torn between personal desires and the desires of the family. My observations are that Saudis will readily make huge personal sacrifices as an individual in order to please the family (mom and dad). And in many cases, a Saudi would rather make the sacrifice rather than bring up an issue (such as not really wanting to marry a particular person) than disappoint the family.

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