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UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Top religious leader calls for restrictions on marriages to foreigners

August 28, 2010 |  8:23 am
Mn-dubai17_ph1_0499914787The leading Islamic scholar of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai's Grand Mufti Ahmad Bin Abdul Aziz Haddad, appears to be deeply concerned over the growing numbers of Emirati men that are marrying foreign women.

His solution: Curb mixed marriages and impose restrictions on Emirati men that are marrying foreign women. In Haddad's opinion, Emirati men should only think of marrying a foreign woman as a last resort.

"There should be very specific circumstances for when such marriages are allowed,” Gulf Arab media reports quoted Haddad as saying at a recent discussion forum in Dubai on the issue.

“Such as when a man is too old and cannot find an Emirati to marry him, or when he wants to take a third of fourth wife for certain reasons and no Emirati woman agrees to do so.”

A proposed law regulating the marriages of Emirati men to foreign women is already in the pipeline and up for review by UAE lawmakers. Among other restrictions, the proposed legislation stipulates that the wife must be Muslim and Arab, that the age difference between the husband and wife must not exceed 25 years, and that the couple must be free of sexually transmitted diseases.

In addition, under the proposal, a man would have to obtain permission from the Ministry of Interior if he wants to marry a foreign woman. 

Emirati women's marriages to foreigners are not under scrutiny for now since only Emirati men are permitted by law to pass on his citizenship to their spouse and children.

According to a new survey from the Dubai Statistics Center, nearly 31% of all marriages in the first half of this year were between Emirati men and foreigners. That constitutes a 16.7% increase in such marriages since 2006.

It is, however, not immediately clear what kind of foreign women the men are keen on marrying. A representative from the Dubai Statistics Center, Ali Abdel Kader, couldn't provide Babylon & Beyond with specific information on nationalities Emiratis are marrying. But he suggested that a significant number of them could be women from other Arab countries, such as Jordan, Syria and the North Africa.

Haddad has called for the issuing of a more precise definition on what kind of foreign women Emirati men should be allowed to marry. He approved of Emirati men marrying Muslim, Christian, and Jewish women, but not women of other religions.

"The concept of a ‘foreign woman' must be defined. You have foreign women who are people of the book [belonging to divine religions] such as Christianity and Judaism, these women are not forbidden to be married to. But women who do not belong to these religions are forbidden to be married to," the Dubai-based English newspaper Gulf News quoted Haddad as saying. 

Speculations vary on the reasons for why an increasing number of Emirati men are marrying outside their nationality. While Abdel Kader attributes the increase in mixed marriages partly to the large influx of foreigners in Dubai, others believe one of the main reasons is avoiding arranged marriages.

In some cases, it could simply be about saving money. Dubai's police chief, Gen, Dahi Khalfan Tamim, who also spoke at the forum suggested that Emirati men shy away from marrying Emirati women to escape high wedding costs and the showy extravaganza that is sometimes involved when marrying a local gal. Some Dubai weddings leave deep dents in wallets, costing up to several hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"Many Emirati men cannot afford the extravagant expenses that the Emirati bride or her family might require," he said. "I address parents with this message and tell them that they should avoid these superficialities and look at marriages as a method to bring two people together instead of an excuse to show off."

That more and more Emirati men are marrying foreign women is alarming social researchers in Dubai for another reason: the growing number of young and single Emirati women.

Jamal Bah, who is the head of the UAE-based Arab Family Organization, estimates that more than 30,000 Emirati women of marrying age are currently single.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photo: Dubai's female diversity on display in one of the city's shopping malls. Credit: Kamran Jebreili / The Associated Press