The 1926 Slavery Convention described slavery as "...the status and/or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised..." Slaves cannot leave an owner, an employer or a territory without explicit permission, and they will be returned if they escape. Therefore a system of slavery — as opposed to the isolated instances found in any society — requires official, legal recognition of ownership, or widespread tacit arrangements with local authorities, by masters who have some influence because of their social and/or economic status.
How could the above definition possibly apply to my life?:
1. I cannot leave my house without my husband’s permission. If I did and my husband wanted to exercise his “power”, he can have the police bring me back or even imprison me where Muslim women in other countries would only have to contemplate incurring divine punishment in the afterlife.
2. As a Saudi woman, I am not allowed to travel without my husbands documented permission. Even if escorted by my father, brother, uncle, son or other Islamic mahram, once married my husband’s permission is still requisite and I would be prevented from exiting the country without it.
3. If I had a less than understanding husband, I may feel compelled to provide marital “services” to him a legally recognized minimum of several times a month, or he could be granted a divorce from me where Muslim women in other countries would only have to consider “divine” punishment for refusing her husband without a good reason.
4. Even if I were to pursue my Islamic right to request a divorce from an unhappy marriage, I would have to get past the following hurdles as a woman, alone without male family members inside the country:
· I’d have to make contact with a male lawyer who is not a male relative of mine and therefore, I’m limited with the kind of contact I may have with him. At this point female lawyers are prevented from arguing in court.
· I cannot drive myself to meet with my lawyer or even to the court in order to pursue obtaining a divorce from my husband.
· If I did manage to get there, I’d have to deal with entire legions of men who are unaccustomed to dealing with a woman as most send their brethren to represent their interests.
· I’d have to pray that the judge appointed to my case truly tried to follow the Sunna and not a misogynistic, cultural version of Islam. Even if I were never wronged by my husband but simply didn’t like him leading to my being discontent, I should be granted a divorce if requested.
· I do not have access to official documents, which are obtained my husband, including those vital to everyday transactions such as the “family card”. Although legally, to my understanding, a law was recently passed allowing women to procure them, most women would send a male family member to do it (which is not an option for me).
5. I cannot even report the birth of my child and register his/her name.
6. Legally, the house I live in is not mine and I have no rights whatsoever to it. Even if I contributed money to it, unless my husband was kind and loving enough to add my name as partial owner on his own accord, it’s entirely his house. Upon divorce or death, I could be homeless if his relatives or children wanted to claim their portions (much larger than mine) as their rightful inheritance. This potential eviction would be delayed fortunately, until my youngest child reached legal adult age.
7. Although I’m a citizen, because I am foreign-born and don’t have anyone (male) in the country from my family to be my “guardian”, upon divorce those few rights I have as a Saudi woman to remain in the country near my children could be revoked with my citizenship and I’d be sent packing, childless, back to America where my father lives. (See Carol’s blog for more on this)
8. If I ever did need to dig up male family members to represent me, these are my options:
· I wait for 15 more years for my son to grow up and represent me.
· I make a couple more sons as backup in case the first one isn’t willing.
· I find my estranged scam-artist half-brother from my father’s second marriage who lives in America, who I can’t tolerate and who’d attempt to milk me dry for every riyal I have.
· I contact my other half-brother from my father’s first marriage on another continent who despite being a kind man who would no doubt help me out in desperate times, I can no longer communicate directly with because I’ve forgotten his language for the most part.
· I put my ailing, elderly father on a boat from America. He can’t fly because the pressure may cause him to have another stroke.
At this point I’d like to reassure my readers that these are NOT the circumstances of my life at present or anyone I know. Also, most Saudi women will live their entire lives without any/most of these list items every affecting them. Not every Saudi man is out to flex his muscles and exercise his legal “power” over his wife. I could cite several examples of women with similar circumstances to my own within my social circles who’s houses are in their names or who are bequeathed their “husband’s” house despite their being housewives and not contributing to it’s purchase (my MIL), as well as women who rule the roost. What pains me is that if the Devil took over my husband, these could be some of the potential results.
Many commenter’s may be keen to point out several items which are part of Islam and to which I’m subject to being a Muslim woman such as, not leaving the home without my husband’s permission. When living outside of the country, and being a believing woman, I “police” myself. Since my husband respect’s my judgement as a mature and intelligent woman, I have my husband’s understood and implied permission to do the errands I need to do during the day (FYI to non-Muslims: this doesn’t mean I have to go to him every time I step one toe out the door). As is customary between married couples around the world I say, “I’m running to the store before I pick up the girls, see ya”. He returns the same courtesy and doesn’t just wander out the door without giving me an idea of where he’s going and/or saying bye. If there were a conflict of interests, this would be dealt with between ourselves without the possibility of legal intervention.
Although I usually try to keep things a bit upbeat on my blog, there are times I feel the need to throw my own little pity-party. For all the good things in my life I say Al-Humdulillah (thank God) and pray for God to keep me safe and protect me from the above listed items. For any men who are reading this list and nodding their heads in agreement thinking, “yeah, this is the way it should be”, I’ll leave you with these messages:
From the Prophet’s (PBUH) last sermon:
O People, it is true that you have certain right with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.
From the Quran:
Lodge them (the divorced women) where you dwell, according to your means, and do not treat them in such a harmful way that they be obliged to leave. (Surat
Narrated Abu Huraira, God's messenger said: "The believers who show the
most perfect faith are those who have the best disposition and the
best of you are those who are best to their wives." [Tirmidhi]