The consular bureau at the U.S. Department of State from the mid-1990s until 2000 distributed a document titled “Marriage to Saudis,” offering straight-talking advice to American women contemplating tying the knot with Saudi men. As Martin Kramer describes what he calls “a minor classic by an anonymous diplomat”:
It is remarkable for its undiplomatic and anecdotal tone, so distant from the department’s standard bureaucratic style. For prospective spouses, “Marriage to Saudis” constituted an official tutorial in Saudi culture; for others, it served as a fascinating example of practical anthropology, school of hard knocks.
Here is a choice excerpt:
the Saudi-American relationship virtually always blossoms in the States, in a climate that allows dating, cohabitation, children out of wedlock, religious diversity, and a multitude of other Islamic sins which go unnoticed by Saudi relatives and religious leaders thousands of miles away.
American citizen wives swear that the transformation in their Saudi husbands occurs during the transatlantic flight to the Kingdom. There is the universal recollection of approaching Riyadh and witnessing the donning of the black abayas and face veils by the fashionably dressed Saudi women. For many women, the Saudi airport is the first time they see their husband in Arab dress (i.e., the thobe and ghutra). For those American women reluctant to wear an abaya (the all-encompassing black cloak) and for those Saudi husbands who did not make an issue of the abaya prior to arriving, the intense public scrutiny that starts at the airport—given to a western woman who is accompanying a Saudi male—is usually the catalyst for the eventual covering up. Since the overwhelming majority of American citizen wives never travel to the Kingdom prior to their marriage, they are abruptly catapulted into Saudi society.
That document comes to mind in light of the Vatican’s release of Erga migrantes caritas Christi (“The Love of Christ Toward Migrants“), an 80-page booklet issued by the Pontifical Council for the Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. Despite its affectionate title, the document includes a warning against Catholic women marrying Muslim men. Here is the key passage:
When, for example, a Catholic woman and a Muslim wish to marry, … bitter experience teaches us that a particularly careful and in-depth preparation is called for. During it the two fiancés will be helped to know and consciously “assume” the profound cultural and religious differences they will have to face, both between themselves and in relation to their respective families and the Muslim’s original environment, to which they may possibly return after a period spent abroad.
If the marriage is registered with a consulate of the Islamic country of origin, the Catholic party must beware of reciting or signing documents containing the shahada(profession of the Muslim belief).
In any case, the marriage between a Catholic and a Muslim, if celebrated in spite of all this, requires not only canonical dispensation but also the support of the Catholic community both before and after the marriage. One of the most important tasks of Catholic associations, volunteer workers and counselling services will be to help these families educate their children and, if need be, to support the least protected member of the Muslim family, that is the woman, to know and insist on her rights.
It’s remarkable that, multiculturalism notwithstanding, such institutions as the U.S. government and the Vatican are warning women away from inter-religious marriages. (May 16, 2004)
Dec. 1, 2005 update: Cardinal Camillo Ruini, president of the Italian Bishops Conference and a right-hand man to Pope Benedict XVI, issued a statement yesterday on behalf of the conference, warning against Catholics marrying Muslims. “In addition to the problems that any couple encounters when forming a family, Catholics and Muslims have to reckon with the difficulties that inevitably arise from deep cultural differences.” He also noted that it is usually a Catholic woman who marries a Muslim men, that usually she converts, not he, and their children tend to be brought up as Muslims. Further, if an Italian woman marries a Muslim immigrant and they move to his country of origin, her rights are “not guaranteed in the way they are in Italy or in other Western nations.” Such marriages, the statement concluded, should therefore be discouraged.
Dec. 26, 2005 update: Stephen Fumio Hamao, a Japanese Catholic cardinal, wrote in 2004 about the “bitter experiences” of European women who marry Muslims.
Aug. 23, 2007 update: The Kamil Internaltional Ministries Organization of Raleigh, North Carolina, has published a tract, “Why Women Should Not Marry Muslims?” It begins by contrasting verses from the Koran and New Testament:
“Husband, beat your wives and deny them sex.” (Koran 4:34)
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her.” (Ephesians 5:25)
It then goes on to offer a stark “Preview”:
Because our country receives people of all nationalities, cultures and religions, you may meet and develop a relationship with a Muslim man. He may be especially attractive because of his dark good looks, education, financial means and the interest he shows in you. You may be excited that you have found the ‘tall, dark and handsome man’ you have been looking for. His sweet words and attention may blind you regarding the influence of his Muslim religion and culture. Because we have freedom of religion, he may agree that you can keep your religion and you may think there will be no problem with such a marriage. Do not be deceived and become a victim of his religion which has very oppressive rules regarding women’s status and rights. Such a marriage will cause you great heartache.
The rest of the tract consists of quotations from the Koran and the Hadith, followed by various counsels:
Do not be naive and become a victim. Very often there is a motive behind such a marriage. While you may be in love, a Muslim man could just be using you to obtain legal immigrant status and citizenship. …
You must be warned that Islam is more than a religion; it is a way of life, a complete code of the 7th Century pagan Arabian culture that Muslims want to force non-Muslims to adopt. If there is ever a dispute between you and your Muslim husband, he only needs to travel to a Muslim country and Islamic law, which favor men, would apply. …
The Muslim’s mind is ingrained with the teachings of the Koran and his Muslim culture which favor men. It does not matter whether he practices Islam or not. …
Becoming a Muslim’s wife would mean you are sacrificing your freedom. …
If you hope to have a successful married life, consider finding a Christian man. …
If you are married to a Muslim, never even consider giving up your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ under any situations.
June 25, 2008 update: But not all the advice against intermarriage is directed to non-Muslim women. AKI reports today that, in response to the growing number of Moroccan women who are marrying European men, Sheikh Mohammed al-Tawil of Fez, Morocco insisted in an interview with Al-Arabiya television that marriage between Moroccan women and non-Muslim European men is unacceptable. “This kind of marriage, between Moroccan women and European men, is forbidden by the Koran and the Sunna. A Muslim woman may not marry an unbeliever while a Muslim man may marry Christian and Jewish women.”
If the European men convert to Islam, that changes everything, he went on; then, Moroccan women may marry them. “Islam only requires two witnesses for someone to be able to convert and [then] such a marriage is valid.” But this is not to be undertaken lightly: “If a European then decides to abandon Islam, Muhammad’s words apply to him: those who renounce their own religion must be killed, as they are apostates.”
Tawil’s position represents classic Shari’a but it contravenes the 2005 reforms of the Mudawana, Morocco’s family law, which eased the way for foreigners to marry Moroccan women. Indeed, almost 6,000 such marriages were registered in Morocco in 2007 – about six times as many as a decade earlier and more than the number of Moroccan men who married foreign women that year (which was just over 4,300).
Dec. 1, 2008 update: Asked about mixed marriages, Mariano Crociata, the new secretary-general of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, replied that they
are not encouraging, because with the passage of time there is often a return to [the spouses’] cultural, social, religious, and legal origins, with sometimes dramatic consequences, which the children pay for.
Jan. 14, 2009 update: Another cardinal weighs in, this time the head of the Catholic Church in Portugal, Jose Policarpo. He advised Christians to respect Muslims and to learn more about Islam. But he said warned Portuguese women from marrying Muslim men: “Think twice before marrying a Muslim, think very carefully. You can get into a whole lot of trouble, and not even Allah knows where it might end.”
July 17, 2011 update: A group called The Organization for Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land, going by the abbreviation Lehava, is “defending the daughters of Israel” on the country’s beaches. As Yediot Ahronot explains:
According to the organization, many Arab men are posing as Jews, courting and harassing the beautiful women. In response, a “coast guard” aimed at fighting the alleged phenomenon has been set up.
In recent weeks, Lehava members have been handing out dozens of leaflets to Jewish women on the beaches of Bat Yam, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Caesarea and Eilat, asking them to maintain their Jewishness and not to give in to the non-Jewish men’s appeals.
The organization decided to do something after receiving complaints from many women who claimed to be harassed by non-Jewish men on the beach. “Last year we discovered that there are many gentiles arriving at the beaches, but not in search of the sun or water,” said Benzi Gopstein, one of Lehava’s leaders.
“Due to the multiple complaints,” he explained, “we decided to promote a campaign at the start of the bathing season this year in order to prevent situations in which girls discover that the ‘Yossi’ they are dating is actually ‘Yusuf’, prevent sexual harassment and assimilation.
“The volunteers handing out the leaflets are all seculars, as the religious public only visits segregated beaches, which don’t have the Arab problem. We’ve also started distributing a clip on Facebook and YouTube and we hope the girls will open their eyes. … We turn to the girls with a plea: ‘There are enough good Jewish men you can go out with’.”
Aug. 6, 2013 update: This slight blog has over 11,000 comments on it. One sent today, “Learn from my mistakes and do not get involved with a Muslim” by a woman who calls herself “Another Idiot,” sums up the consensus of the thousands who have written in:
I would strongly advise to any non-Muslim woman NOT to get involved with a Muslim man. They will NEVER change, no matter how Americanized they seem. Their culture is too ingrained in them. They might want to be Western and they might live a Western lifestyle with their wife but once you have kids EVERYTHING will change.
Nov. 22, 2014 update: For a verse version of the same conclusion, read “Those Egyptian Men” by a woman who lives in Canada.
June 28, 2015 update: Four years later, more news about Lehava (see above, July 17, 2011): It now haunts nightlife venues and hands out to women up to 5,000 sweets a night accompanied by a postcard that says: “My sister, I am thinking about you, I feel you. You have a pure Jewish soul! Don’t get lost, don’t go with Mahmoud. He’ll start by being sweet and then he’ll start to beat … reaching out to help you, Lehava.”
Oct. 2, 2018 update: The 19,000 comments on this page mainly present non-Muslim women’s unhappy experiences with Middle Eastern men. But few can match the misery of Leatrice Malika DeBruhl-Daniels – she was arrested as a result of her romance with Nadal Diya and faces a federal charge of obstruction of justice – as recounted in the Washington Post, “NCIS special agent told lover he was target of a terrorism investigation, prosecutors say.” (NCIS stands for Naval Criminal Investigative Service.)
Oct. 16, 2018 update: The Israeli political party Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi) posted campaign ads in the town of Ramle showing a young woman in a black hijab (a Muslim head-covering) against a backdrop of two white candles, wine, and a wine cup (items used at the start of the Jewish Sabbath); the implication is that the woman converted from Judaism to Islam. The text on the poster then calls for votes to prevent this from happening: “Hundreds of incidents of assimilation in Ramle, and nobody cares. Tomorrow it could be your daughter. Only a strong Jewish Home will keep Ramle Jewish.”
Daniel Pipes (DanielPipes.org, @DanielPipes), president of the Middle East Forum, has researched immigration and Islam in ten European countries during the past year.