A woman from Saudi Arabia has lost a legal battle to marry the man of her choice after a court backed her family. The woman, a bank manager from the region of Qassim who is not named, was supposed to marry a teacher, but her family objected because he played the oud (lute), a popular Arabic instrument, which made them “religiously incompatible.”
The playing of music is considered haram (forbidden) by some in Islamic societies but the oud has a long-standing tradition in the country’s cultural scene. Saudi Arabia also holds public concerts where Arab and foreign artists perform.
Despite this, the brothers of the woman did not give her permission to marry the teacher, citing religion.
In Saudi Arabia, under its system of guardianship, adult women must obtain permission from a male guardian — usually a husband, father, brother, or son — to apply for a passport, travel outside the country, study abroad on a government scholarship, get married, or even leave prison.
To fight this, the woman filed a lawsuit against her brothers. A court in Qassim ruled in favor of the woman’s family where the judge said, “Because the suitor plays a musical instrument, he is unsuitable for the woman from a religious point of view.” An appeals court upheld the verdict making it final.
Abdul Rahman Lahim, the lawyer representing the woman said that the man had not been given the chance to defend himself before the court and that the judgments "established serious principles."
Since May, several women's rights activists have been fighting against the guardianship system. Many of the activists have been imprisoned by authorities in an attempt to crack down on dissent.
Prominent activists Loujain al-Hathloul and Eman al-Nafjan, who both campaigned against Saudi Arabia’s driving ban on women and for an end to male guardianship, are reportedly among the group of at least nine women who were arrested. In August, it was reported that a prominent Saudi female activist Israa al-Ghomgham would be the first woman to be executed in the country for her activism.
The country lifted the guardianship system for women drivers where they now do not have to seek permission from a male guardian to drive.
Three months after lifting of the ban against women drivers, Saudi women are preparing to compete on Bahrain’s Formula 1 circuit. The initiative is called “Yalla Banat” or “Let’s go, girls!” The event will be held in mid-October and it will be the first of its kind in the region.
Amidst a crackdown, guardianship and denial of rights, women of Saudi Arabia are finding creative ways to protest the patriarchal culture. In September, scores of women joined an online campaign #SolidaritywithTaraf where they removed their niqab (face veil) and hijab (head scarf). The online movement is one of the most recent in a series of protests in Saudi women's fight to be recognized as equal to their male counterparts.