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Saudi Youth Committed to Rules, But Some Lust for Romance

Saudi Arabia's courting ritual does not just involve avoiding rejection but danger as well. Young Saudis must reject romance, or risk arrest, flogging, and dishonor to one's entire family. An in-depth New York Times article on love's rules in Saudi Arabia paints a picture of youth not seduced by daring rebellion, but committed to adhering to conservative Muslim society, at least in appearance.

In Saudi Arabia, unmarried men cannot enter shopping malls populated with female shoppers. A young woman out and about by herself, as well as her absent male relatives, garner the disgust not just of the elders but of the youth that see her, too. Strangers set up by their families in arranged marriages are not allowed to see each other until their wedding party. A while back, the religious police jailed a woman for a co-ed Starbucks run.

Despite the respect for these traditions, the youth do sneak in a few romantic text messages here or there. If they are going to break the rules and secretly date, young Saudis make sure to protect their families' reputation. For example, one couple hired a matchmaker to arrange a phony introduction to help explain to their parents how they met.

Do traditions like these lead to a stronger family life in Saudi Arabia? Is it inefficient to make the youth put so much energy into avoiding the appearance of romance, when they are actually dating in secret?


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Saudi-girl Saudi-girl 8 years
Excuse me all but you are judging things that you don't know what they are based on. first of all, the way we get married is not always by being "scorned" nor that we can't see the men we are going to be married to until we are married!! The daghter should be asked whether she wants to be married to this person or not. Also the boy and girl are supposed to see each other at an engagment date befor the widding to make their choice. IF some families don't act according to these rules, e.g.forcing the girl or prohebitting the boy from seeing the girl befor the marriage, it is wrong and the girl can till the man who marries the couple that she is not ok with it and her problem will be easly solved, and these problems rarely happen. It's not that we don't have love or romance we have religion instead that fills our lives with love and joy. And you should know that love may come after marriage and I'm really sad that you can't experience that. one last thing I want to comment on is the line that says: "unmarried men cannot enter shopping malls populated with female shoppers." That is not entirely true or how else would they be able to buy their cloths and stuff!!! The truth is that some malls do not allow men who are not accompanied with at least a woman to enter the mall. And that's for many cultural reasons not because they don't want femails to be around mails. It's really wrong that you judge other cultures or religions or even countries without knowing the basic reality behind everything. It shows lack of civility by your people. Thank Allah we are not judgmental like you. Finally, I just want to add that I am gratful to Allah that I am Saudi and that I'm not one of you. Sorry if said it in a bad way but your comment made me angry. I will be happy to clarify enything else to anyone. You can E-mail me on this address
moxierain moxierain 9 years
That is just sad. I would hate to ever cover up myself from head to toe. So thankful to live in the United States and to have the freedom to live my life as I wish.
hartsfull hartsfull 9 years
Janneth, hahaha :sneaky-evil: I love smiley abuse! :evil: ;)
austerity austerity 9 years
On topic: as some others before me have said, there is merit to having family and relatives pick out a guy for you, but I don't know why the government should be punishing people regarding what seems to me are 'family matters'. But Zeze! I really liked your comment. Thanks for pointing out that arranged marriages are NOT FORCED by default. Some Eastern cultures just have a rational, forward-looking system that matches people together. At a young and passionate age, there's a risk that we may follow our *BLEEEP* when it comes to finding a mate and soon find that this wasn't quite the real thing. We may make this mistake several times and even end up marrying--> divorcing in the process. That's why there's some merit to systems like the 'arranged marriage' that make sure you're getting a good guy (who may be hot to boot ;) ) but most of all is from a good background and has the 'non-romantic variables' that, whether we like it or not, do matter later on in married life. Education, good job, future plans etc. etc. to name a few. In some cases, the couple do get to meet and hang out. Engagement periods are common enough in which the couple gets to know each other before getting married. Importantly, this gives some leeway to break the engagement in case you find you're really not right for each other (without having to go through a divorce). The idea is that your parents and family know and love you better than anybody else and want to make sure you are settled well. If you have decent parents, nobody is going to 'force' you to do anything. Interestingly, living in Western society, I see many girls and women of my age (and slightly older) finding it kinda hard to 'get settled'. In real life, but also just figure from some of the posts on this forum. 'Is this the guy?' 'Is this a keeper?' 'Is he really interested in me or does he just want sex?' 'I should be having a long-time BF by now, but how? Whom? Where to look?'. I think that's where some cross-cultural learning provides insight. It can really help if that stuff is somewhat thought-through for you. That's the weak point in the Western view of love & marriage IMO. At the same time, you have to be intrigued by that special someone, whom you hope you'll grow to love deeply. And for that to happen, you do need to go after that initial spark that your parents are really not going to sense out for you :P. So society needs to grant you the freedom to go out on your own to find that person, without the price of stigma. Dating and the like, sex if you want (although that's where most conservative societies draw the line). What Western society has nailed about marriage is that it's also a loving, passionate bond between two people who ultimately need to be happy together. Systems like the arranged marriage take care of the 'society' and 'rational' part of marriage (i.e. your marriage as an alliance rather than a relationship), but much less of the 'personal' side of it. Bottom line: as usual, different cultures overdo some things and underdo the others. Fortunately, there're others who screw up just the opposite way, so we can continue learning from each other :)
janneth janneth 9 years
I am so grateful to live in a country where both men and women can use (and even abuse) emoticons whenever they choose.
hartsfull hartsfull 9 years
:) Oh that's a great story! Again, though I wasn't saying arranged is so bad. American parents disagree and agree and set their kids up all the time. My mother has finally agreed on my choice. Phew! I was also saying it's the fact that the gov't is involved that we (and I don't think it's just Americans) are so *gasp* with. The fact that it is such a crimianl thing is awful. I can't imagine if I would be jailed or my son be jailed simply because he spoke to a girl. Otherwise, I'm all for live and let live. :)
MartiniLush MartiniLush 9 years
Hartsful, good comments! I was thinking about this: "Afterall, not only did you choose your husband, but your husband chose you." while grocery shopping (LOL!) and realized that we totally did NOT choose each other! In fact, we would never have gotten together if our friends hadn't played match-maker - even after our first date, we were both like "nope, not for me" and our friends were like "you guys have to give it a go for a month, you are great for each other!" So we relented (honestly, my picks had been horrible so I figured, what did I have to lose?) and well, I guess we grew on each other! We were married a year and a half later (with his family approval of me) and here we are! So, my marriage was sort of arranged, if I think about it - well, orchastrated, more like! :-)
MartiniLush MartiniLush 9 years
ZeZe,I totally understand your point and was actually trying to support it with my post. Sorry if that didn't come across...
zeze zeze 9 years
"although many people who practice this claim it is religious. Many people, no matter what their religious affiliation is, practice arranged marriage and separation of the sexes" ML; I agree, and honestly I have no problem with cultural values of some people. I know a few Indian-Americans who had arranged marriages (which are VERY DIFFERENT FROM FORCED marriages) and they are very happy. Honestly, I think western culture and "eastern" culture could learn from one another. The "arranged" part if it is your parents suggesting and arranging meetings for single folks after investigating the habits, education, family, etc.... and making sure they are good people. One of my friends even told me she loves knowing that her family supports her marriage to the level that they do because in her culture family is so important. The problem I have is when gov't comes in and forces things people, forcing them into their culture/religion. Places like Lebanon for example still have marriages where cousins and aunt and uncles play match makers and arrange people, yet the gov't does not say you can't have coffee with this person or you can't walk around in a mall together. Again, if some families feel that is inappropriate (such as my Indian friends), I am 100% for giving them the freedom to run their family on the values they like - what I am 100% against is the government telling them what those family values should be and that is why I can not stand the Saudi gov't who I feel uses these strict rules that are not founded in religion and might not be founded in culture (since they are forced upon people we don't know) in order to control people and retain power and money. sorry, I rambled, I hope you understand my point :)
MartiniLush MartiniLush 9 years
ZeZe, I agree - this is a CULTURAL, not a RELIGIOUS restriction, although many people who practice this claim it is religious. Many people, no matter what their religious affiliation is, practice arranged marriage and separation of the sexes.
zeze zeze 9 years
The Saudi gov't are the biggest hypocrites. Them, their daughters, their sons don't live by someone else's moral codes. I am fine with it being just different and not wrong if this was a product of personal family values and religion/culture - but this is not. People dont have the right to choose how they behave in Saudi Arabia, and many of the restrictions are imposed by the government are not part of Islamic Sharia law. This may be surprising to a lot of people but arranged marriages and not being able to talk to or see the person you marry beforehand are not a part of Islam. In fact forced marriages are considered void with the sin of non-consensual sex on those who force the victim into the marriage. These restrictions are all a product of greedy powerful men who need to keep people under their thump by keeping people ignorant and obsessed with following gov't made rules rather than thinking about the civil rights and liberties they could have even within their religion.
hartsfull hartsfull 9 years
Ok, sorry one more thing because I think this might make a better point. :shrug: "I know many women in such marriages that are wildly happy, and others who are miserable. I can say the exact same thing for american women. So, who's right??? Who am I to say??" I would say, Who you are to say, is someone who wants to make choices for yourself, and not someone else make them for you. Someone else being, your family, society, the police, the gov't. Afterall, not only did you choose your husband, but your husband chose you.
hartsfull hartsfull 9 years
I mean, wrong for us in that it's not what we want for ourselves. NOt a judgemental wrong. :)
hartsfull hartsfull 9 years
Again, no one is saying it's wrong. We are just happy to be able to think and say, it's wrong for us. That is what the big deal is, I think.
hartsfull hartsfull 9 years
ML, very true. I have friends also of the same customs, who live here and not their native country. The difference is our gov't isn't regulating this custom. It is the families choice to continue it or not, if they live here. My friend was betrothed to a man that she decided she didn't want to marry. She was scorned by her family, and that was the worst of it, here.
MartiniLush MartiniLush 9 years
I am an american married to a muslim from SE Asia. In his culture, they arrange marriages and follow many of the same "courting rules" discussed in this article. While it seems strange to me, I have to say, even people from his country BORN and RAISED here do things this way - they think WE are the crazy ones. It is an interesting perspective. Having viewed things from both sides, I guess I would say that I wouldn't label this stuff as "wrong" or "right", just DIFFERENT from my culture's way of doing things. I know many women in such marriages that are wildly happy, and others who are miserable. I can say the exact same thing for american women. So, who's right??? Who am I to say??
hartsfull hartsfull 9 years
And still, even looking at the mistakes of my country, I am STILL very happy and greatful for being born here.
gabiushka gabiushka 9 years
"I am so happy I live in the United States where I as a woman can do what I please and do not have to have someone with me at all times" This country is so funny; keep looking at the mistakes of others instead of their own...very USA.
Shopaholichunny Shopaholichunny 9 years
syako syako 9 years
welcome, you are.
stephley stephley 9 years
Sy, you are an emoticon goddess!
raciccarone raciccarone 9 years
You all flaunt your emoticons with such callousness while we, the emoticonless must toil in our own simple italic and bold world. Thank you syako for expressing what I am unable.
syako syako 9 years
From: Rac To: Steph wise, you are :yoda:
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