For centuries, marriage contracts and divorce certificates have played quite a significant role in the lives of many couples the world over. Arguably, it is said that marriage is not complete until a marriage contract is concluded. Such is the importance placed on these contracts so much so that Saudi women have begun using the marriage contracts as their own 'personal constitution'.
For Saudi women, marriage contracts not only protect their rights after marriage but also guarantee new brides the right to continue their studies, work, or own property. To them, marriage contracts offer independence and empowerment. They can only be equated to the Bill of Rights.
It is not difficult to see why this is so given that Saudi Arabia is largely a conservative country with many restrictions on certain fundamental rights and freedoms. It was not until last year in June that the Saudi government lifted the ban that had prohibited women from driving. The lifting of the ban has allowed Saudi women to use their marriage certificates to enshrine their right to drive. This new trend has emboldened Saudi brides with their contracts causing a frenzy on social media.
One groom told AFP that his bride, a member of his extended family in the eastern Al-Ahsa city, had used the contract to make him give up smoking.
Another case, which went viral on social media, was that of a woman who posted her contract on the internet. The contract prohibited her husband from taking a second wife, since Islam permits men to marry up to four wives. The soon to be husband has received significant backlash online for accepting the conditions. Many who criticised him were mostly men who felt that it was outrageous for his wife to stifle his rights by preventing from marrying a second or even third wife.
There are more women than there are men. If we are only restricted to one, what will happen to the rest? It is the reason why Allah has allowed us to marry as many as four as long as one can provide for them. Why do you follow man-made conditions over the Quoran?" said one user.
The various cases shared on social media reveal that any derogation from the conditions on the contract is grounds for divorce. While they are many husbands who support their brides' conditions and or stipulations citing their right to be independent, there are others who have begun to find ways to manipulate these contracts with conditions that the “wife will never work,” or that she must agree to live with his mother, senior cleric Adel al-Kalbani stated.
Some of the religious leaders argue that while the steps being made towards granting women more rights are laudable and seem groundbreaking, they have the potential to undermine traditional marriages in a society especially where the bride's conditions are considered as an insult or lack of trust for one’s husband.
In the past, society did not listen to women. Husbands would turn around and firmly say ‘No’. But now they are listening to the aspirations of women," said senior wedding cleric Abdulmohsen Al-Ajemi.
So far there are no official statistics regarding the marriage contracts.
It would appear that change is sweeping through the country albeit quite slowly. The fact that women can enjoy certain freedoms that many take for granted, such as driving, is something to be celebrated. It is however disheartening that despite being granted these rights and freedoms, they still have to incorporate them in their marriage contracts, Ideally, they should not have to but then again they are making the best from the cards that they have been dealt.
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