BEIRUT

Living

Online matchmaking a hit with Saudi couples

RIYADH: In ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, where the sexes are strictly segregated, traditional matchmakers face tough competition from blossoming marriage services on social networks.

More than 200 Twitter accounts and dozens of other forums on the Internet offer services for Saudi men and women seeking spouses, angering matchmakers like Um Sami who sees it as “organized prostitution.”

“Social networks undermine our work and everything they offer is virtual: They use nicknames and they are not reliable,” said Um Sami, an elderly woman and well-established matchmaker from the Red Sea city of Jeddah.

For her, many of these websites are “fraudulent” and some are even an organized form of prostitution.

“Marriage via online platforms is 100 percent doomed to failure,” she said, stressing that only her traditional matchmaking method can lead to a successful marriage.

For matchmakers like Um Sami the business has flourished by word of mouth. Families ready to marry off their offsprings contact her with details about their children and provide pictures which she carries around with her on rounds to match candidates.

But her job is not a simple one because, as she says, there are many different types of weddings that can be contracted in Saudi Arabia, from the traditional unions to unconventional ones by Western standards such as the “misyar” marriage.

A misyar – or “visitor’s” marriage – is one in which couples live separately but can meet up when they want, usually for sexual encounters.

It is allowed in Sunni-powerhouse Saudi Arabia but couples who choose to go that way will keep it a family secret shared only with the matchmaker.

In a traditional union sealed with the help of Um Sami, the bride and groom each pay the matchmaker around 2,000 riyals ($530).

But the fee for a misyar wedding is much higher and usually starts around 5,000 riyals – with the man alone having to foot the bill while his spouse continues to live in her own home.

Misyar is often the marriage of choice for polygamous men as well as divorcees and widows in Saudi Arabia, where extramarital relations are strictly banned and punishable under rigid Islamic laws.

A couple caught having sex out of wedlock in Saudi Arabia is sentenced to stoning and lashes, and unmarried couples who dare share a meal in a restaurant or spend time together alone risk being arrested.

Human rights activists and intellectuals have slammed misyar marriages as a form of “legalized adultery.”

Offers to help seal both traditional marriages and misyars are rife on the Internet. The website khtabh.net allows men and women to post their requests.

One message reads: “Misyar marriage wanted immediately in Riyadh ... and the matchmaker or mediator will be offered a big reward.”

Candidates are also asked to give personal details, including their marital status, monthly salary, education and a brief description of who they are and what they look like.

A man wanting to marry has posted a request on one such site for a “tender, quiet, good humored and plump” wife.

A woman from Riyadh with special needs said she was 23 years old, “pretty, blind, fair-skinned. Willing to marry a normal, nonsmoking man even if he is polygamous as long as his first wife is informed.”

Both online matchmaking sites in Saudi Arabia and matchmakers frown upon more unorthodox forms of marriage such as “misfar” and “misyaf” marriages for men who travel frequently or spend each summer abroad.

“There are so many offers which one finds tempting to try, but my friends have warned me against certain websites that can be traps,” said 20-year-old Amjad Ismael.

Many online matchmaking services ask for a deposit upfront, he said.

Abu Mohammad, a 40-year-old who is already married and is looking for a second wife, said he has had a “bad experience” with online matchmakers.

“They are not serious. They try to take advantage of people contacting them, especially if they are married,” he said. “I have now decided to go back to the traditional matchmaker to ensure confidentiality.”

But younger people still prefer social networks as a tool to tie the knot “because they are an easy way to get to know each other,” said sociologist Abu Bakr Baqdar.

“In the past, people got to know one another through families and neighbors,” he said.

Young people are now looking for “less traditional means to meet away from their families’ interference.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 15, 2013, on page 13.
Advertisement

Comments

Your feedback is important to us!

We invite all our readers to share with us their views and comments about this article.

Disclaimer: Comments submitted by third parties on this site are the sole responsibility of the individual(s) whose content is submitted. The Daily Star accepts no responsibility for the content of comment(s), including, without limitation, any error, omission or inaccuracy therein. Please note that your email address will NOT appear on the site.

comments powered by Disqus

Advertisement

FOLLOW THIS ARTICLE

Interested in knowing more about this story?

Click here