I liked the concept of arranged meetings for the purpose of evaluating potential marriage partners. Even though the meetings were stressful, they cut through a lot of crap that the American system of dating ensures before getting down to business. The flip side was that partners did not have much time to evaluate situations or personalities. They couldn’t really get to know each other before marriage.

“Oh, no! If people got to know each other before marriage, NO ONE would get married!” said an Egyptian friend, during a lively discussion comparing the cultural practices of finding a mate. I laughed, but lived long enough to learn the wisdom of her words.

My American friend– the one married to the Egyptian shiekh who had an Egyptian first wife –asked me to write a letter explaining what I needed in a husband. Her husband wanted to start a project to bring couples together for marriage.

I wrote the letter, indicating that these were my requirements:

1. The man must know English and Arabic.

2. He must not smoke cigarettes.

3. He must not already be married.

4. He must be educated with at least a bachelor’s degree.

5. He must want to move with me to the United States.

Somehow, my letter ended up with a Saudi man, a smoker, the owner of a small vegetable market who had a wife and children, and did not know English. He was looking for a second wife. The sheikh gave him my letter. I have seldom felt more discounted as a woman, or insulted as a person.

The grocer couldn’t read my letter, of course, but he remembered a loyal customer, an Egyptian man who bought fruits and vegetables every week, and who knew English. He asked this man to translate the letter.

Both men knew instantly that I was not a suitable candidate for becoming anyone’s second wife, but the Egyptian man recognized that he did possess the qualities I was looking for, so he contacted me, and we married after five months of whatever kind of courtship we could manage in Riyadh at the time. We moved to the United States after six years of marriage, and stayed married for six more years.


19 responses

  1. It’s so wierd how your letter found its way into the hands of the first Saudi man who had none of the qualities you were looking for. And that your future husband translated it and made the connection with you! It was definitely fate playing its hand.

  2. If I could I would grab Serendipity by the throat and choke the life right out of it…pfft!!! Dont get me started on the “everything happens for a reason” crap…hard to swallow from where Im standing.

  3. Thank for such interesting and varied responses! “The wheels of Qadr in motion,” is a concept I consdered from the very start of my marriage, but by the end of it, I was more inclined towards choking “the life right out of it…” attitude.

    The psychoanalytic antropologist Ernest Becker is famous for his theory that the primary death anxiety of human beings is responsible for all sorts of defenses and beliefs, religous or otherwise, amidst which the concept of Qadr would fall.

    The phrase “man as meaning maker” describes the fact that all of what we do is attached to some sort of meaning. We act more out of a sense of meaning than a sense of instinct, as animals do.

    The theory sounds good, but so does religion, which, of course, would fall perfectly into the theory. Far be it from me to pronounce one or the other postiion as ultimate truth. I like to use both attitudes in reconciling the incongruent aspects of my life.

    Therefore, I can still believe in the Wheels of Qadr, even though my husband and I are now divorced. How do I know that the marriage– as well as the divorce– was not “meant to be”?

    On a related note, I was told by a psychic, many years before I went to the Kingdom, that I would be involved with a man, a non-American, who had two daughters. I didn’t believe the prediction, of course, and I forgot about it until well after I had married the non-American with two daughters.

  4. I liked your cut to the point list of 5 requirements, You reminded me of Saudi men looking for a wife, they usually have a list of requirements, in their cases, they or their help agents -the sisters or mother- never yield for any deviations from the list or taken less seriously as happened with you…I too don’t like the concept of everything happened for a reason or fate, the resaon -whatever it was- may take longer than our life time to be revealed

  5. Whatever our ideas, thoughts, likes and dislikes, Qadr is a reality. However, the true essence of divine predestination is beyond human understanding…

    I do find comfort in the fact that every thing – good and bad – happens for a reason. A great narration to that effect:

    The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “How wonderful is the affair of the believer, for his affairs are all good, and this applies to no one but the believer. If something good happens to him, he is thankful for it and that is good for him. If something bad happens to him, he bears it with patience and that is good for him.” [Muslim]

  6. Interesting. I thought you were headed towards “speed dating” but it seems as if you had a proper courtship, and some happy years before the beginning of the end.

  7. Chiara…speed dating? lol at the rate marahm makes new posts…Id say there isnt much she takes on with undue haste…ha ha

  8. LOL–the speed dating is just to meet someone or many someones–then you could have as long a courtship as you like, and keep us posted (at a leisurely rate) along the way! 😀 😀

  9. Pingback: Bloggers Panorama « Saudi Alchemist

  10. I recently came across your blog and got so hooked I read all the way back to the beginning. Your writing is truly beautiful. I wonder if you’ve ever got anything published because I’m sure you could.

    And what a fascinating life you’ve had so far. I wonder if you’ve thought about a post on how you came to Islam? I would love to hear that story.

    Looking forward to more!

  11. Welcome, Sarah, and thank you so much for your generous comment! I will definately post on how I came to Islam. I’ve been busy lately, and hooked on other people’s blogs, so my own blog languishes! I really must get back to regular posting, and yes, I do publish from time to time. Thanks, again.

  12. Amazing! My first thought was…. what was she think! But as the marriage has lasted 6 years you must have made the right decision. Best of luck to you, at least you are in USA where you wished to be.

  13. Thank you, Glennis, and you are right: What was she thinking? I asked myself the same question, and came up with a good answer or two. Sometimes, when we think to ask ourselves (and answer!) those questions, we learn something about ourselves.

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