'Marry in haste repent at leisure' for young Dutch Moroccans

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

Abdel Shakur no longer sees any meaning in life. Since he and his wife divorced four months ago, she has moved to another city and refuses to let him see his children, in what he says is an attempt to blackmail him. Abdel Shakur, who is 42, is just one among hundreds of cases of divorced Moroccans living in the Netherlands.

Mohammed Elamrani 

Abdel Shakur moved to Holland in search of a better life than the one he left behind in Morocco, where he worked as a teacher. His conditions there were intolerable, and the desire to set out for Europe never left him.

After arriving in the Netherlands, Abdel Shakur decided it was time to marry, “why not marry a good village girl from home ?,” he thought – so that’s what he did. “ I said to myself she’s the kind of woman I like,” he explains, without actually meeting the woman he was to wed. And so he dived into the relationship without taking the time to get to know his bride.

Abdel Shakur is not the first man – nor will he be the last - to be dismayed by what he discovers after diving into marriage. Thinking back with regret, he says: “I was not aware that this ill-mannered girl had all these complexes. I decided to marry her because I was overwhelmed by her beauty, only to discover that she is not familiar with fatherly love. Her father was a dictator in the house, which is why she hates men generally. Her only concern was to have children and then live with them without a man.”

No understanding
“I did all the cooking and took care of the children, and she did whatever she pleased without even consulting me. If I ever brought this up, I knew we would have a horrible day ahead. Time and again, she went to the police to file false complaints against me, building up a record of lies. This way she could force me to divorce her and leave the house,” Abdel Shakur claims.

Making assumptions
Just like Abdel Shakur, many young Dutch Moroccan men are enthusiastic about the idea of marrying a woman from Morocco, because they assume she will be more obedient to her husband and conform to traditional customs.
However, such marriages often lead to nothing but regret and a divorce. The women may be docile and compliant at first, because they are not familiar with their new environment. But once they taste freedom, they adopt other, more modern habits just like women of Moroccan origin who have grown up in Holland.

Limited marriage
Thirty-year old Hasna has a very different story to tell: “I married at the age of 18, when I was a university student in Morocco. When Ahmed asked for my hand, I accepted after hearing his words and promises. But once we were husband and wife, I found myself with a husband who doesn’t know anything about romance or married life. Marriage to him is limited to eating, drinking and sex,” she says.

“He would wake up in the morning, go to work and would not return except to eat. Then he would go out once more to play chess and cards with his friends. Once home, he would go to bed immediately because he was tired,” Hasna explains. “I was always asking myself what my role is in this man’s life was” she adds.

Hasna was thinking “more about her son than myself,” and did not want to “ruin the family,” so she allowed this situation to continue for six years. “I told myself to be patient,” she says.

No solution
Hasna tried to talk about the way she felt with he husband, but to no avail. “He would always give the same response: “You have enough to eat and drink, you lack nothing, not even blessings.” Hasna would answer that she did not get married to eat and drink, and that she was better off in her father’s home. “In the end, we decided that divorce was the best option.”

Short-lived marriages 
Abdel Sami’, the marriage celebrant at the Moroccan consulate-general in Amsterdam, told RNW that divorce has increased sharply in the Moroccan community in recent years. “It is regretful that some marriages do not last more than a couple of months,” he says.

“What astonishes me”, he continues, “is that young women in Holland, unlike in Morocco, marry of their own free will, without the slightest coercion, because they live in a country of freedom, respect and choice. And yet, the divorce rates are high, especially among youth who have not yet grasped the real meaning of marriage.”

It sems then, that little understanding of each others’ culture, especially between couples raised in different countries, can lead to divorce. Moroccans living in and outside of their homeland shape their lives differently and have different ideas about what marriage means.