Saudi Arabia: Muslimah Writers Alliance Petitions King Abdullah to Stop Forced Divorces

Muslimah Writer's Alliance
"Say 'No' To Forced Divorce - 'Yes' to Reforms" online petition campaign launched by women activists against forced divorce
Muslimah Writers Alliance (MWA), in support of women throughout the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and in protest of an appellate court ruling in the Eastern Province that threatens to adversely affect Muslim women worldwide, announces the launch of its "Say 'No' To Forced Divorce - 'Yes' to Reforms" international online petition drive. The petition addresses King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz on the issue of forced divorce and the need for reforms relating to women's rights.

A January 28, 2007, appeals court decision in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, threatens to set a precedent delivering a major setback in eliminating tribal and gender bias against women in Arab and Muslim societies, unless King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz agrees to forward the case to the Kingdom's High Court.

The original legal action resulted in the forced divorce of Fatima and Mansour Al-Timani. Filed by Fatima's half-brothers after the death of her father, the petition claimed that Al-Timani misrepresented his tribal affiliation (or social status) when he sought permission to marry Fatima. Al-Timani denied the charge, and in the single court appearance Fatima was made aware of, she adamantly declared to Justice Ibrahim Al-Farraj, that she did not wish to be divorced from her husband. Their attorney, Abdul Rahman Al-Lahem, has since requested that King Abdullah intercede in the matter. "The High Court is the only legal establishment that can overrule the appeals court if it finds the ruling contrary to the Shariah," Al-Lahem told the Saudi Gazette.

"On learning that the appellate court upheld the July 20, 2005 lower court ruling, obtained absentia, forcefully divorcing Fatima and Mansour Al-Timani on the basis of his alleged lower social status, there was no doubt in my mind that Muslimah Writers Alliance would join in petitioning King Abdullah to reverse this travesty of justice," stated MWA director, Aishah Schwartz.

Schwartz added, "In August of 2005, just seven days into his reign, King Abdullah pardoned three jailed dissidents who had plotted to assassinate him, and was subsequently applauded for having lived up to his reputation of being a 'staunch supporter of reforms and being close to the people'." "And yet, a blind-eye seems to have been turned in the case of Fatima and Mansour Al-Timani. Fatima has spent the past seven months caring for her infant son in a prison out of fear that if she returned to the guardianship of her step-brothers, they would immediately move to have her remarried to a man of their own choosing," Schwartz continued. (Women of any age in Saudi Arabia require a legal male guardian, or mahram, who could be either their husbands or other male relatives.)

Schwartz further stated, "By sending Fatima and Mansour Al-Timani's case to the High Court, King Abdullah has an opportunity to show the world that he is, indeed, committed to reforms reaffirming the God-given rights of women set out in true Islamic teachings." "Repealing local, tribal, and socially backward man-made, convenience-based, gender biased laws, is a moral obligation we must strive for on behalf of Muslim women world-wide," Schwartz concluded.


The petition calls for corrective measures and guidelines to ensure rejection of future, frivolous and non-Shariah compliant divorce cases brought by parties other than the husband and wife. The petition also calls for re-evaluation of the laws pertaining to guardianship of competent, adult women.

"Every signature on this petition is critical considering that reports indicate there are already approximately 19 known forced divorce or annulment cases pending judiciary proceeding," stated Schwartz.

In September 2006 Muslimah Writers Alliance launched an online petition drive in protest of a proposal outlined in a report compiled by a committee of scholars at the request of King Abdullah. The proposal, set forth as a plan to eliminate the prayer area for women within the mataaf (circumambulation area around the Holy Kaaba), was met by a global chorus of outrage. The MWA Grand Mosque Equal Access for Women Petition brought international attention to the matter, and by its eleventh day the deputy head of Grand Mosque affairs, Mohammed bin Nasser al-Khozayem, announced to the press that, 'The presidency (committee) [has decided to adopt a second proposal, which is to expand two special places for women's prayer, in addition to the one that already exists.'

Margot Badran, author and a senior fellow at the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., called the collaborative effort, 'The most striking example to date of Muslim women collaborating in global protest and one that authorities could not ignore.' [MWA Press release, Feb. 14, 2007]