This is a true story that revolves around a Saudi student who went to the United States to work on his MBA. He was accompanied by his wife and two children, a daughter aged eight and a son who was six years old. The family initially settled in Richmond, Virginia not far from where the husband had to pursue his studies.
It was not long after that the husband's abusive nature towards his wife began to manifest itself. Initially it was verbal abuse, but it wasn't long before it turned to physical assault. On more than one occasion it caused bodily harm.
The wife's cry for help during such times would invariably draw the attention of their Saudi neighbours, who would try to intervene and play the role of peacemakers, appealing to the husband to refrain from such violence towards his wife.
After completing one semester at his present institution and to avoid what he felt was the bothersome meddling of his Saudi neighbours in his private affairs, the husband then moved his family to an isolated house in a suburb in a city in Ohio where he had enrolled in another university for the remainder of the term. The change in location however did not provide any relief to his forlorn wife.
The verbal abuse and the physical battering continued, only this time there weren't any sympathetic neighbours around. After one such incident where he had left her in pain, she called her father and brothers in Saudi Arabia, only to be told that she had to sort this out with her husband, and that a wife had to put up with her fate, whatever it was. Alone and desperate, it was then that she mustered up enough courage to call the local police.
Within minutes, five police patrol cars were around the house. After the cops were satisfied that this was indeed a case of domestic violence and the husband was an unrestrained abuser, they decided to take him into custody. They also moved the wife and children to a nearby hotel where they would not be isolated.
As the wife could not drive and had no means to sustain herself, the next day, the police arranged for one of the patrol cars to take the children to school and back. They even arranged with the social welfare services to provide food, some spending money and other necessities for the family while the husband was being held for questioning.
The Saudi mission in Washington soon arranged for the bail of the student who was ordered by the police to stay away from his wife and children until the judge had made his ruling. The wife was advised to appoint an attorney to represent her interests. When she found out it would cost over $6,000 (Dh22,020), she simply broke down. She had no money, her family back home was unsympathetic to her requests for help, and she did not want to lose her children.
Two attorneys who happened to be in the building upon hearing of her plight volunteered to fight her case. The trial affirmed her allegations of abuse and the judge granted her request for a divorce from her husband and full custody of her children.
The social services soon moved the family to a small house in a pleasant neighbourhood. Her children were exempt from paying tuition fees. Soon after that, helping hands arranged a job for her that paid her $3,000 per month, enough to sustain herself and her two children. Based on her request, her visa was then changed to immigrant status to enable her to obtain US citizenship if she so pleased.
Saudi cleric Ayedh Al Garni, once a hardliner now turned reformist, had sometime back written a piece titled I wish I was American on the plight of this particular Saudi woman caught in an abusive marriage and far away from home. He contends that what the Americans practise are the principles of Islam that somehow we choose to ignore in our own country.
In his piece, he expresses surprise that the codes and ethics ingrained in their laws are so similar to the doctrines of Islam. He refers to the many cases in Saudi Arabia involving domestic violence that are so often ignored by families or social services and the plight of abused women is swept under carpet or dusted away, contrary to what is practised in that non-Islamic society.
Some 1,400 years ago, Omar Bin Al Khattab, the second of the four khalifas (Caliphs) of Islam upon hearing of domestic abuse by a husband went with his sword to the culprit's house and rescued the hapless woman, threatening the husband to straighten up his ways or else! In a land that gave birth to Islam, one wonders where such people are today. And are such noble deeds only to be found in America?
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.