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First Saudi Marriage Bureau

RIYADH, 29 May 2005 — On a small street in Al-Yamama District, a small office has broken the social norms in Saudi society, which once was limited to family connections and matchmakers.

The office sign reads, “Abu Khalifa for General Marriage Services.” Owner Faisal Khalifa Al-Rajih says one of main reasons behind creating such an office is to bring two people together in marriage — one of the most sacred bonds in Islam.

“We sought the permission of the Grand Mufti in Saudi Arabia who blessed the idea and gave us the green light,” he says.

The office’s task is to connect a man who is seeking marriage with available families with daughters who are available for marriage.

“We have been opened for two months so far, and so far, with the grace of God, we have been able to get 10 guys and girls together in marriage,” he says.

Asked how the process starts, Abu Khalifa says that a man first comes to the office to register and fill out an application. On the application, he states his full name, job and title, birth date, social status, marital status, tribal or non tribal preference, expectations for his wife and his nationality along with a recent photo.

“Currently, we’re only accepting Saudi applicants,” says Abu Khalifa. “We then take the application form and contact the families who are listed with us by one and one and show them the application to see what their response is,” he says.

“Currently, we have more than 40 Saudi families from the Riyadh area who are registered with us and are seeking our help in getting daughters married.”

As Abu Khalifa explains, no money is sought from the families registered with the office. “A small amount of SR200 is sought from the male applicant to register with us. After our search begins, he is no longer required to do anything. We contact him when a family has agreed to meet him.”

Once a family examines a man’s background and accepts him, a meeting between them is arranged. The office then coordinates with the man to set a date when the official “khutba” (engagement) will take place, when the man sees the girl according to Shariah law.

Tribal customs that preclude the man and woman seeing each other before marriage are precluded. “Seeing the girl in engagement is stated in our religion,” said Abu Khalifa. “Both the guy and girl have to see each other before deciding to tie the knot or not.” If the girl and the family agree, another date is set to write the bond of marriage (Akd Al-Nikah), in which a religious Sheikh writes the official deed for the state and the couple are announced as husband and wife.

“All matters, such as the amount of dowry and any other conditions set between the male applicant and the girl, are discussed directly between him and her family. We do not interfere in such matters,” he said. If and when the marriage deed is written, the male applicant agrees to pay the office SR2,000 for its services.

“Of that amount, SR1,000 is paid off to our female agents who work with us. They are the ones who visit the families with the application form and sit with the mother and daughter. They are also the ones who coordinate with us when to arrange the date for the meeting and bring to our attention any other details about which we might be concerned,” he said. “Currently, we are seeking 40 Saudi men who want to tie the knot.”

He says the ages of girls available for marriage range from 16 to 28. “Most of them are high school graduates, but we also have a couple of families registered with us who have spinster daughters that have completed their higher studies.”

Asked if the office accept demands for “Misyar marriages,” which is a new trend in the Kingdom where the woman stays at home and does not move into the man’s house, he says that such sort of marriages are not widely accepted by the families dealing with the office. Many young Saudis are interested in the new service.

“Many Saudi guys rely on the office to choose their brides as some say they don’t trust their family’s choice, or they would rather seek a wife on their own terms. Others have moved to Riyadh and want to settle down, but due to the conservative nature of the province, they don’t know any families here and seek our services.”

He says the job is not all that easy. “Sometimes I get calls at 2 or even at 3 in the morning on my mobile from people who want to get married. I don’t tell anyone ‘no’ and ask them to visit our office to complete the registration form,” he said. “Our job does not stop at helping two people tie the knot. We follow up their cases even after marriage to seek that everything is smooth,” he says. As for the time a man waits to hear from the office regarding the response from families, he says it takes about 10 days.

Abu Khalifa says he hopes to open other branches in the capital and in the Eastern Province and then the Western Region.