Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Our abandoned kids abroad: A father’s story

“You are siding with women! Like they are all angels, and we are all monsters. The truth is in between. Justice is in the balance.” A reader of my last column “Our secret marriages abroad: Broken hearts, neglected kids” (Oct. 16) complains and tells me his story.

During his studies in the US, he fell in love with a Columbian girl. She was all he wished for in a woman. Smart, pretty, cute and exciting.

They talked about marriage, but he never made any promises. “We would dream about eternal union, review challenges, and play with the idea, but our reality, as lovers, was not based on the condition of marriage,” he explained, showing me messages exchanged between the two confirming this understanding.

According to an email sent to him during a school vacation, the woman was thinking about converting to Islam and studying Arabic. In another, she asked questions about Saudi traditions and hijab, in case they decided to marry and live in Saudi Arabia. In a third she was wondering what her family and church would say if they knew about her relations with an Arab-Muslim boyfriend.

It was clear from what I read that they agreed not to have children during their relationship. “I was to return home and check if marriage was at all possible. She remained Catholic and liberal. This was a no-go with my family. I wouldn’t mind the first, but being liberal in a conservative society would never be accepted,” he said.

“Six months before my graduation, she invited me to a romantic dinner in a seaside restaurant. Then after dessert, she suddenly announced: ‘Love! I am pregnant!’ Now that was an earthquake! I could hardly breathe. Suddenly, I was going to be a father! She made it much more difficult to marry. Even if I were to get my family’s and government’s approval, how could I explain the child?

“I almost failed my exams. I did manage to take care of her during the pregnancy, though. On my return to the Kingdom, I left her with all I had in my savings, plus the car and apartment. I only promised her to try to persuade my family. So, when I reported my failure, she shouldn’t have been so surprised and angry.

“She calls me a heartless father and lover. But we had an agreement, and she broke it. In law this is called “entrapment”. In the last couple of years, she has tried everything: complained to the Saudi Arabian embassy, told my friends, wrote to my family and now has put the story on the net.

Of course, she didn’t mention our agreement or her breaking it. The blame is all on me! Tell me where I went wrong, and what I can do?”

I told him that Muslims should not be involved in such relationships. If he intends to marry, he should get all the required permission first. Marriage is a holy institution which is not to be taken lightly. Yes, the woman appears to have entrapped him and broken her promise, but it could have been an accident or a desperate act of love.

“Now,” I told him, “you are faced with the consequences of your mistake: a poor child who needs his father and a woman who would do anything to have her beloved back. The right thing to do is to go back and solve the issue.

If you cannot marry her, at least you must acknowledge your child, and agree on custody, support and access arrangements. One thing you cannot do is to attempt to escape and ignore the issue.”

Another story that broke my heart was that of a Filipino domestic worker who was shipped home in disgrace. She was pregnant with the child of the family’s oldest son. Yes, she seduced him, but the young man should also bear some of the responsibility for unethical behavior.

The young man fell into a depression knowing he had a baby in a faraway land. He left university and went to work as an airline steward in the hope that he would meet her in one of his travels and be able to reconnect with his child. The last I heard, he had not.

Temporary and secret marriages are leaving many women with broken hearts and neglected children. Without proper documentation, they cannot even prove that their marriage was legal. Too many children are left without fathers or even a family name. This is so unfair and sinful.

We must take this phenomenon seriously and discuss it at every level – religious, academic, governmental and non-governmental. The Shoura Council should take the initiative and lead the way.

Apart from all the Saudi men who travel overseas, this tragedy is being multiplied as more and more students are sent abroad. Now is the time to fix a problem which has been neglected for too long. We cannot afford to ignore it any longer. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Saudi prisoners abroad: Are they all victims?

 sympathize with the families of Saudi prisoners in Iraq and pray that Allah hastens their release. But what puzzles me is that if they are all innocent and had nothing to do with militant groups or illegal associations, why didn't they enter the house from one of its legitimate doors? Why didn't they go through the official points of entry at the border, stay at hotels, use taxis and public transport, and do what normal visitors, traders and tourists would do?

Besides, what kind of business or tourism is there for young men in a country that is going through a civil war, a country whose own people are emigrating and seeking refuge in neighboring countries like ours?

I could understand it if the visitor was of Iraqi origin or married to an Iraqi. But in some cases we have young men who cannot explain their business in Iraq, how they entered, their financial sources and the identity of their hosts. Some do not even have passports, let alone permission from their family or government to visit Iraq. In such cases, my questions leave me confused and reluctant to accept the claim that these young men were kidnapped and are victims of a sectarian war and hatred or political pressure and bargaining.

While I support the efforts to have them released by providing them with a good legal defense, allowing them to fulfill their prison term in their own country, seeking a pardon for them or an exchange of prisoners, I do not approve of crying foul and pretending that they were all innocent and were victims of evil conspiracies.

While we reject Egyptian media campaigns to turn the case of Ahmad Al-Jizawee from a criminal to a political issue, and we argue that advocates have declared him innocent before learning the outcome of the investigation or court hearings, it is not befitting that we commit the same sin when it comes to our prisoners in Iraq, Lebanon, America and elsewhere.

It is the duty of the state to defend its citizens by providing them with the best legal defense and assuring them a fair trial, and then following up after the verdict (if it was fair and in accordance with the laws of the host country) to seek a pardon or a transfer to complete their sentences in the Kingdom. And if this is not possible, our embassy should keep an eye on the treatment our citizens receive in prison and follow up their legal cases, including making appeals and requesting parole and early release for good conduct.

These are a citizens rights when involved in legal issues abroad, but emotional campaigns for the release of prisoners and the use of sectarian, religious and political appeals and arguments in terrorist and criminal cases are not acceptable when used against us and should not be used by us against others.

What can families and sympathizers do then? The only valid option is supporting diplomatic and legal solutions rather than engaging in offensive campaigns.

At the same time we urgently study the phenomenon and seek an effective resolution. Behind these enthusiastic youth stand religious extremists who have filled them with hate and anger and then have encouraged them to travel abroad to engage in wars worldwide. These extremists take advantage of every emotionally charged issue.

As they once ordered young people to fight in sectarian wars in Iraq and Lebanon, they are pushing them to go to Syria, today, and maybe tomorrow to Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, if we do not put an end to it.

Why do parents have to pay for this religious chaos, while the instigators call for jihad from the luxury and safety of TV studios in Dubai, Beirut and Europe, and from the pulpits of mosques, hotels, women?s clubs and the Internet, and while their children enjoy security and prosperity in their villas, schools and universities. Then, when the young men they have sent to foreign lands get caught, they call it a war against us and declare that it is a sectarian, racist and political issue! What a sham!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Our Secret Marriages ِAbroad: Broken hearts, Neglected Kids

I can’t forget Christina. During my graduate studies in the US, I had a Web page entitled “Saudi Arabia: The Land of Islam”. An American woman contacted me via the site and told me her story.

At an early age she was put in an orphanage. An American family adopted and raised her. She married a good husband and had two wonderful children. Her life was perfect until she learnt a certain fact about her life.

Her parents revealed that she was not their biological daughter. They did not know who her real parents were. Orphanage rules prohibit telling adopting families and biological parents about each other. 

Christina set out to find the truth and years later she finally found it.

A birth certificate in the orphanage archives told her that her father was a Saudi student from a prominent family, who could not face his parents to get their approval to marry a foreigner. His family already had plans for him.

Another search led to her father in Saudi Arabia, who was now an important figure. He refused to acknowledge her. Some members of her Saudi family were more accommodating. The Saudi Arabian embassy tried to help, but the father was adamant.

The third journey was spiritual. After extensive research about Islam, Christina became a Muslim. As a result, she had to divorce her Christian husband.

An understanding and kind-hearted man, he did not mind her and his children’s conversion to Islam, even though he regretted the separation. He has supported her truth-finding journeys to their final conclusions.

Christina kept her first name, even as she joined the local Islamic center and participated in its classes and activities. She, however, adopted her Saudi family name.

Years after I left the US, the Internet joined us again. Christina has achieved a lot in her life and has raised fine Muslim-American children. I am proud of her.

Like Christina’s, there are many heartbreaking stories. Loving souls were left behind, sometimes with children. Communication was cut and questions went unanswered.

Before Facebook and other social networking sites existed, it was much harder to discover the whereabouts of missing loved ones. 

I have tried through my limited network to help, but few cases end happily. 

Even when found, many Saudi men refuse to reconnect. They are already married with children and are afraid to rock the boat with shocking revelations and complicated commitments.

Such stories are not limited to Saudi students or only happen abroad. Many marriages and love stories take place all over the world and at home.

Saudi travelers to Egypt, Morocco, Indonesia, India, the Philippines and other popular destinations marry and befriend young local women, father children, and then leave without a trace.

Pregnant maids in the Kingdom are shipped back home without any legal rights or financial support. 

The Saudi government has made efforts to publicize abroad the fact that Saudi men are not able to marry foreign women unless they first receive government permission. However, there are many foreign women who are not aware of this regulation.

Embassies try to help desperate mothers and children, but even with legal documentation, if husbands and fathers do not cooperate, not much can be done.

This cannot be accepted. Our children, like the Olympic Filipino-Saudi swimmer, Jasmine Alkhaldi, and their mothers are the victims of such crimes of negligence. We should have laws and regulations in place to deal with such issues.

Funds should be set up to support the victims in case where fathers are dead or cannot be found. Children must have the rights to the full benefits of citizenship, in addition to due parental support and inheritance.

The Shoura Council should take the initiative and lead the way to a fair, compassionate and honorable resolution of this issue. Saudi Arabia, the Land of Islam and the Kingdom of Humanity, deserves no less!