Many women living in the Kingdom told Saudi Gazette they struggle for years to attain khula (the Islamic right of a woman to divorce or separate from her husband under certain circumstances).
Many cases of women seeking khula are related to child custody battles and their struggle to achieve their Islamic right to separation from their husbands.
Most expatriate women said they are scared to file for khula as they subsequently suffer from the social stigma attached to it.
According to Shariah law women are allowed to seek a divorce from their partners, as it is the right of a wife to seek a release from her marriage even if the husband refuses to agree.
After divorce, the husband is responsible for paying for the children’s education and looking after their financial needs.
Nahla Mustafa, a 32-year-old Saudi counsellor, said: “Many people do not know that God has given women more rights than men.
“My ex-husband is supposed to look after my children, but he does not. That is not Islamic.
“The only downfall is that after divorce, children live with the mother until they are seven years of age, at which point boys can choose which parent they want to live with while girls usually live with the father.”
Women in the Kingdom seek the help of courts, as they have to file their petition first to lawfully seek divorce, although khula can be granted if three people are present.
Shahla Darfar, a 34-year-old Saudi social worker, said: “Most khula cases are referred to the court, as the judge first attempts reconciliation between the couple, but in case no amicable solution is found, then the woman has the right to seek divorce immediately.”
Darfar said most cases are usually postponed and women tend to suffer in the process.
She added: “My sister Salma has been trying for months to settle her dispute in court and receive the rights given to her by Islam.
“But I think they delay the matter hoping the couple gets back together and trust me most women lose hope completely, give up the fight and settle for the sake of family or children.”
Many couples living in the Kingdom going through a divorce dispute over child custody and paying back the mahr (dowry) to the husband.
However, the Qur’an said: “And it is not lawful for you (men) to take back (from your wives) any of your ‘Mahr’ which you have given them, except when both parties fear that they would be unable to keep the limits ordained by Allah (e.g. to deal with each other on a fair basis).
“Then if you fear that they would not be able to keep the limits ordained by Allah, then there is no sin on either of them if she gives back (the mahr or part of it) for her Al-Khula (divorce).”
Saba Hani, a 45-year-old Indian businesswoman living in Jeddah, said most men do not honor the Islamic laws related to khula or divorce and emotionally blackmail women using their children.
She said: “In the Qur’an, Allah says, ‘So when they have reached their prescribed time retain them with kindness or separate them with kindness, and call to witness two just ones from among you (65:2).’”
Hani said Islam gives women their freedom to make life choices.
She said: “According to Islam we are supposed to separate with kindness.
“My husband till now refuses to acknowledge my right to khula.
“I filed a case here, he was called but he did not show up, so they delayed the court hearing.
“I just never went again because I was so angry. I waited for six months and went to India to try there.
“I was running between five courts in Hyderabad and realized it is even harder to get a divorce there as a woman.”
Hassan Zuhaib, a 38-year-old Saudi lawyer, said the law always has loopholes but it is true that people should never give up a fight to achieve what is fundamentally their human right.
He said: “Women give in too easily to family pressure. When the husband does not show up for a court hearing, they refuse to wait around and fight for it.
“Most of my clients come back bruised, some even pregnant because their husbands have used that as a barrier for them to moving forward or even considering khula.
“So I can only advise women to be strong and fight for themselves because nobody else will.
“As far as the father is concerned, if he is not paying the dues he is liable for, you can always contest that.
“Women can file a complaint about non-payment of child support from her ex-husband and can claim payment.”
Leena Mirza, a 32-year-old Pakistani accountant living in Jeddah, said she has been fighting a losing battle with her family for over 10 years to allow her to divorce her husband.
“If Allah said it’s okay, who are you to say it’s not? Will you contest His word?”
She said many South Asian families believe khula is a negative step and discourage women from pursuing it.
“My mother and brothers have advised me not to file for khula.
“My mother starts crying and has had many anxiety attacks since I told her I have an unhappy marriage and wish to seek khula and come home.
“She sent my brothers over to warn me that I would never be able to remarry and it is best I live with my current husband and children if I want to go to heaven.”
She said the East’s mentality differs greatly from the open mindedness in Saudi Arabia and Islam.
“I feel like my people are living a different reality.
“Women who seek khula are generally disliked and not respected as much as a woman who chooses to live through a bad marriage and say it is for Allah.
“But I believe God is wiser than men and has made it easier for women to seek independence and live their lives with dignity.”