Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Our secret marriages: A Qatari story

“I hope my daughters will marry Qatari or Arab Gulf (GCC) nationals, so maybe they can help their brothers when I die of my sickness,” an Italian-American woman who was married to a Qatari citizen wrote with regard to my last three articles about the secret marriages of Saudis to foreigners.

Charlotte met her ex-husband when he was studying in the United States. 

They fell in love and got married when she became a Muslim. After her second child, he returned home to announce his marriage.

His prominent, rich family, of Iranian origin, got him to marry a cousin in three weeks time and refused to acknowledge Charlotte and her children or let him support them and prevented him from returning to the US. 

He surrendered. He accepted!

“It is sad that it is so easy for men to abandon their children and wives.

You would have to cut me in a million pieces, and put those pieces in the four corners of the Universe to take me away from my children. And even then, I would find my way back to them,” Charlotte said.

“I don’t know how some people can do this. How do they pray, fast and go to Haj, when they have neglected the most sacred bond in humanity? And the sad thing is that I still love him, and cry over him anytime I hear his name. 

This is one of the hardest letters I have ever written. I want to say in your column, please, that this abandonment destroys lives, and breaks hearts for generations to come.”

Charlotte never gave up on her husband. She loved him. She needed him.

“I had to beg the American government for food stamps and rent. It was so shameful for me. I wanted to die. And I am glad my father, who became a Muslim at the end of his life, was dead so he did not have to witness that.

“My family made fun of me, and told me to divorce him, but I loved him. It hurt, but I accepted that he took a second wife, if he would only treat me as an equal.

“She was living like a queen, and talked to me a few times, laughing and telling me that he was her husband and would not be coming back to America, and what did I want? Did I want her to cut him in half?

“He was telling me to be mature and not be upset that she had more than me. 

I shut up because I loved this man more than my life. And I kept with my religion, and left my family to move to a city with all Muslims. I wanted my children to grow up Muslim. And every day I cried myself to sleep, not knowing what happened to my life.”

Charlotte finally divorced her Qatari husband, remarried a Lebanese, and had two more children, but he was abusive to her and her Qatari kids. She divorced him and decided to fight for them.

“I had written to presidents Reagan, Bush senior, Clinton, Bush junior and to Qatari officials, but no one would help me to get him to pay for his children, and he had stopped taking my calls after I divorced him, in 1996,” she said.

Finally, she wrote to the Qatari Emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, in October 2000, and he was her hero! His office told her that the father of her children had died in 1996, but she could bring them to get their Qatari passports, and live in Qatar.

She went, received some compensation, became Sunni Muslim, and is working now to support her children’s education. Her late husband’s Shiite family never liked her. They hated her more after she changed her and her children’s sect. Her main worry now is that she will die of her illness and leave her children behind facing an unfriendly family.

Still, Charlotte acknowledges that some Gulf citizens are being targeted by opportunistic foreign girls.

“God bless all those children that have been abandoned, but also in fairness, I have seen women who pretend to like Islam or become Muslim only to get a rich Saudi or Qatari to marry them. Or they don’t want to live in the Gulf, but they want the man’s money. That’s why many families do not accept foreign women,” she said.

We started this issue with Saudi stories, but it seems Gulf citizens are involved, as well. Since we are moving toward some sort of Gulf union we should discuss the issue on a larger scope.

We should also learn from each other’s experience. The Qatari government’s handling of Charlotte’s tragedy is honorable. However, we need rules and regulations to manage the entire matter in cooperation with concerned governments.

We should also have an extensive awareness program for our students and travelers. The GCC should lead the way!

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