Middle East

Saudi woman 'barred from marrying man who played musical instrument'

File image showing a man playing an oud (4 January 2017) Image copyright AFP
Image caption The oud is an ancient Middle Eastern stringed instrument

A Saudi woman has reportedly lost a legal battle to marry the man of her choice after her family objected because he played a musical instrument.

Relatives of the woman, a bank manager, refused to allow her to wed the man, a teacher, saying his oud (lute) playing made them "religiously incompatible".

A lower court backed that view, and its verdict has now been confirmed at appeal, a lawyer and local media say.

Some people in the conservative Muslim state say music is "haram" (forbidden).

Despite that, Saudi Arabia has a distinctive musical tradition - in which the oud features - and public concerts by Arab and Western artists are permitted.

The case of the bank manager and teacher came to light over the weekend, when Saudi lawyer Abdul Rahman al-Lahim discussed it in a video on Snapchat.

He said a woman from Unaiza, in the Qassim region, had asked him two years ago to file a lawsuit against her brothers because they had refused to give their permission for her to marry a man who "once played the oud and so was not considered religious".

A court in Qassim had ruled in favour of the woman's family, he added. The newspaper Okaz cited the judge as saying: "Because the suitor plays a musical instrument he is unsuitable for the woman from a religious point of view."

An appeals court recently upheld the verdict, making it final.

Mr Lahim said the man had not been given the chance to defend himself before a court, and that the judgements "established serious principles".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mohammed Abdu, one of Saudi Arabia's most popular singers, has performed in public

The woman told Okaz that she was still determined to marry the man, who she described as "very pious and with a good reputation".

She will ask the country's "highest authorities" - an apparent reference to the royal court - to intervene.

Mr Lahim's video sparked a fierce debate among Saudis on social media, with some people condemning the authorities for stopping a couple wanting to get married but failing to prevent forced marriages in the kingdom.

Under Saudi Arabia's guardianship system, adult women must obtain permission from a male guardian - usually a husband, father, brother, or son - to apply for a passport, travel outside the country, study abroad on a government scholarship, get married or even leave prison.

Since May, several women's rights activists campaigning for the guardianship system to be abolished have been detained as part of an apparent crackdown on dissent.

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