American Women Marrying Saudi Men


Professor Gabriel Sawma


Students of Saudi Nationality come to the United States for study. Many of them marry American women with no experience in Saudi Arabia’s family law, and have no idea what they are getting into in marrying someone of a different culture. Quite often, the Saudi students convince these women to convert to Islam, and then have American Muslim children who must follow Islam. Some of the marriages are very strong and good, but the majority of them are not, and they fall apart under the impact of extreme and difficult shock of social and religious life of Saudi Arabia.

When the marriage breaks up, American women naturally want to take their children with them and leave Saudi Arabia, but they find out that they cannot get an exit visa without permission of the husband, even though they and their children are U.S. citizens. This author has worked in Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries, and handled many cases involving custody of children in the region.

The Religious Effect

Islamic religion dominates all aspects of life in Saudi Arabia. This includes government policy, cultural norms, and social behavior. Islam is the only official religion of that country, and public observance of any other religion is forbidden throughout the kingdom.

Women are prohibited from driving cars or riding bicycles on public roads, or in places where they might be observed. Women and men are not free to congregate together in most public places, and a man may be arrested for being seen with, walking with, or traveling with, or driving a woman other than his wife or sister, or mother, or daughter. Also are forbidden of playing music, or dancing in public, mixed swimming, public showing of movies, and consumption of alcohol.

Religious police, known as mutawwa, are empowered to enforce the strict conservative interpretation of Islamic codes of dress and behavior of women, and in many cases, they harass women who do not cover their heads or whose clothing is insufficiently concealing.

Saudi Arabia Does Not Recognize Dual Citizenship

Children of American women born of marriages with Saudi men lose their U.S citizenship while in Saudi Arabia. This is due to the fact that Saudi Arabia will not recognize dual citizenship. Saudi government considers the offspring to be solely Saudi citizens because they were born to a Saudi father. While in Saudi Arabia, Children born of Saudi men and American women will be considered Saudi citizens only.

An Exit Visa is Required to Depart Saudi Arabia

A U.S. citizen married to Saudi man should be aware of the fact that she must have permission from her husband to depart Saudi Arabia with the children. This is true even if the woman and her children are U.S. citizens and even if the husband is not a Saudi Citizen. The U.S. Embassy can intercede with the Saudi government to request exit visas for adult U.S. women, but there is no guarantee that visas will be issued. Obtaining an exit visa without the consent of the male guardian, takes many months, if it can be obtained at all. The U.S. Embassy cannot obtain exit visas for the departure of minor children without permission from the father.

American Women Who Marry Saudi Men May Lose Their Children After They Return to Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is not a signatory to The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, nor are there any international or bilateral treaties in force between the United States and Saudi Arabia dealing with international parental child abduction.

American women who travel to Saudi Arabia are subject to the jurisdiction of Saudi courts, as well as to Saudi laws and regulations. This hold true for all matters including custody. Parents planning to travel with their children to Saudi Arabia should bear in mind that the U.S. government cannot help an American woman whose children have been abducted by their father.

Saudi Arabia Does Not Recognize U.S. Court Custody Orders

American women marrying Saudi men should keep in mind that, in Saudi Arabia, custody decisions are based on Islamic law, and that Saudi Arabia is not party with the U.S. to any extradition, judicial assistance or child abduction treaties. Additionally, Saudi law does not recognize U.S. court orders, including child custody and divorce decrees, which are consequently unenforceable in Saudi Arabia. An American mother, whose husband has abducted the children to Saudi Arabia may not be granted an entry visa to the kingdom to see her children.

A child born anywhere in the world to a Saudi father is generally held to be a Saudi citizen, Muslim, and eligible for a Saudi passport. In many cases, the Saudi Embassy will grant passport to children born in the United States of an American wife and a Saudi husband.

American Woman May Find Her Husband is Married to Other Women at the Same Time

Like any other Muslim majority country, Saudi Arabia allows a Muslim husband to have up to four wives at one time as long as he can support them and treats each equally, while a woman may have one husband at a time.

Under Islamic law, a Muslim man is allowed to marry a Christian or Jew without having to change her religion. But a Muslim woman cannot marry non-Muslim man unless he converts to Islam.

Non-Muslim Women Marrying Muslim Men Cannot Inherit

Under Islamic law, which is the law in Saudi Arabia, a non-Muslim woman is not allowed to inherit from her husband. Daughters receive only half the amount of inheritance awarded to their brothers.

Testimony of Women in Courts is Equal Half of that of Men

Under the Islamic law of Saudi Arabia, the testimony of a woman does not carry the same weight as that of a man. The testimony of one man equals that of two women.


DISCLAIMER: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.


Gabriel Sawma is a lawyer with Middle East background, and a recognized authority on Islamic law of marriage, divorce and custody of children, Hindu marital disputes in U.S. courts, and Iran divorce in USA.

  • Professor of Middle East Constitutional and Islamic law,
  • Expert Consultant on Islamic divorce in US Courts and Canada,
  • Expert Consultant on Hindu divorce in U.S. courts,
  • Expert Consultant on Iranian Shi’a divorce in USA,
  • Expert Consultant on Islamic finance.

Admitted to the Lebanese Bar Association; Associate Member of the New York State Bar Association and the American Bar Association.

Prof. Sawma lectured at the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) in New York State and wrote many affidavits to immigration authorities, Federal Courts, and family State Courts in connection with recognition of Islamic foreign divorces in the U.S., Hindu divorces, and Iranian marital conflicts.

Taught Islamic Finance for MBA program at the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom.

Travelled extensively to: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Syria and Palestine.

Wrote many articles on Islamic and Hindu divorce in USA, custody of children in the Middle East and Central Asia; and on abduction of children to Muslim countries;

Speaks, reads and writes several languages including Arabic, English, French and others.

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