This article was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 25/02/2011
A study by Saudi Arabian social researcher at the University of Umm al-Qura, Dr. Mahmoud Kisnawi, claims that 60 percent of Saudi Arabian husbands financially exploit their wives.
The study argues that many working wives allowed their husbands to take advantage of their salaries, under the pretence of ensuring family stability, despite the wives religious and legal right to her complete salary.
Dr. Kisnawi confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that 60 percent of husbands utilize their wives salaries to enter the real estate market or complete the construction of a home, without taking into account the needs and desires of the wife. He added that this phenomenon contributed to the increase in divorce rates in Saudi Arabia.
Kisnawi added "in some cases, husbands have demanded that their wives provide them with large amounts of money so that they can complete the construction of their home. However these husbands may be deceiving their wives and want to complete construction in order to marry a second wife, with this [second] wife living in the home bought by the first wife's salary. This causes psychological trauma to the [first] wife and causes her to lose her trust in the sanctity of marriage, and as a result she would [therefore] seek separation and divorce."
Dr. Kisnawi told Asharq Al-Awsat that the issue of what happens with a wife's salary remains a thorny issue in Saudi Arabian society, and has contributed in the increase in divorce rates. He added "many wives perceive that their husbands are stealing their rights with regards to their monthly salary, and this causes [marital] problems, often forcing the woman to submit to her husband in order to protect the integrity of the family and the welfare of her children."
Dr. Kisnawi also told Asharq Al-Awsat that the majority of men today who are looking to marry would prefer for their wife to work. This is because a wife's salary allows the husband either to financially exploit her, or, for the husband and wife to cooperate with one another and financially build a stronger future together. Kisnawi said that 40 percent of husbands have this kind of relationship with their wives, whereby they first obtain the wife's consent before utilizing her salary.
For her part, Maha Yousef, who is a working wife, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the issue of husbands financially exploiting their wives salaries is today a major reason for divorce. She revealed that her own marriage had lasted for 25 years, before ending in divorce when her husband decided to marry a second wife. However she clarified "his [second] marriage was not the primary reason that I asked for a divorce, but rather due to the manner in which he [financially] exploited me and convinced me that by paying money to complete the construction of a house we owned, this would guarantee my future and the future of my children."
However she added "after he finished financially exploiting me, and the house was built, he decided to marry a second wife, and for this second wife to live in the house that I spent my life working to finance. This caused me emotional and psychological trauma, and I saw that divorce was the only solution that would end this crisis, and return a portion of my dignity which was ripped away by the father of my children."
As for the Islamic jurisprudential view of this issue, Sheikh Mohamed al-Nujaimi, a member of the International Fiqh Academy, said that the majority of Muslim scholars believed that a wife has complete freedom to utilize the money and property in her name as she liked, without needing the consent of her husband.
He added "the wife's salary is considered part of her wealth which she owns and which she has a right to, so she may utilize this as she sees fit so long as this is religiously permissible. This corresponds with Islam's honoring of women, because women's financial obligation [to their husbands] is not the same as husbands to his wife. This is one of the beautiful things about Islamic Shariaa Law."