A mother who lives in Saudi Arabia lost custody of her four-year-old daughter after a judge ruled she was “too Western” to raise the child.
Bethany Vierra, a 32-year-old American student and yoga teacher, moved to the Islamic kingdom in 2011 to teach at a university, CNN reports.
After divorcing her Saudi husband, she fought for custody of their four-year-old daughter, Zaina.
However, her plan backfired and she was denied custody in July after a judge described her as being an unfit parent for reasons that she described as simply coming down to her being a Westerner
“The mother is new to Islam, is a foreigner in this country, and continues to definitively embrace the customs and traditions of her upbringing. We must avoid exposing (Zaina) to these customs and traditions, especially at this early age,” wrote Judge Abdul-Ellah ibn Mohammed al-Tuwaijri in his ruling.
In statements submitted to the court, Vierra ex-husband’s attorney used her social media posts as evidence to prove she lived a un-Islamic lifestyle.
In translated court documents, a summary of accusations against her includes the fact that she had gone to US festival Burning Man, which is characterised as “the world’s strangest festival” where attendees “appear in crazy clothes and stay awake all night dancing and surrounded by people wearing only shoes made of fur, or drinking drugs (sic) or cold drinks.”
According to the judge’s notes, counsel for her ex-husband also accused her of maintaining social media channels “full of nudity, intermingling of the two sexes and a lot of things and actions contrary to our religion and customs and traditions.”
In court, Vierra deemed her ex-husband unfit to being a parent and accused him of being verbally abusive and using drugs.
Her ex-husband has denied the accusations.
In July, the judge ultimately granted custody of their daughter to her Saudi grandmother who lives with Zaina’s father.
“The fact that the father is residing with his mother is likely a temporary situation,” wrote the judge.
“Knowing that it is in men’s nature not to stay at home and not to honour/fulfil parental role themselves.”
For now, the child is staying with Vierra as she has until Sunday (local time) to appeal the judge’s custody ruling.
However, Vierra’s parents told CNN that there is a warrant out for her arrest after she missed a child visitation from her ex-husband that they claim their daughter didn’t know about.
They also say that she has been banned from leaving Saudi Arabia for the next 10 years, though they were not able to provide further detail on the reason.
“She wants to have the rights to go and come. She used to have that right,” says Vierra’s father.
He said a judge also warned his daughter not to talk to the media.
Posting on her personal Facebook account last week, Vierra recounted the ordeal.
It was hard enough when the judge heard all the injustice and abuse that Z and I had endured over the years, yet still…
“It was hard enough when the judge heard all the injustice and abuse that Z and I had endured over the years, yet still ruled that I was unfit to parent simply because I am a Westerner,” Vierra wrote.
“There aren’t many things I do well, but being mother to Zaina is one thing I know that I was divinely designed to be.
“She’s my everything, my purpose, my sidekick and my joy. I’ve raised a beautiful, intelligent and healthy baby girl — and I’ve essentially done it alone.”
Vierra detailed her experience as a mother, describing how she stayed at home to raise Zaina for three years and then returned to work to support her financially after her ex-husband quit his job.
“I dropped my life, my dreams, my dear family, my incredible friends, my best years, and my beautiful country just to invest in Saudi to keep her near her roots and Saudi family,” she posted.
Recounting her PhD and masters degree in Islamic studies, Vierra explained: “I fought to bridge the gap and prevent Westerners from damagingly stereotyping Saudis, to defend and help the world relate to and humanise Islam.
“I fought to defend this country to the world, I fought to invest in this country. And yet, here I am.
“The judge’s ruling destroyed us. Zaina overheard the lawyers telling me that one of the reasons she was ruled to be removed from my custody was her being fluent in English — and not speaking Arabic well.
“She ran into my room hysterical, clinging to me and protesting that she DOES speak Arabic!!!
“For 73 minutes she clung to me, counting from one to 10 in Arabic on repeat while crying.”
Vierra went on to detail how her daughter has suffered mentally, as had starting wetting the bed, having nightmares, and crying every time she leaves the room.
“For the last year throughout this massive injustice of a legal battle — I have found myself at rock bottom, only to find myself being forced beneath whatever waste is under those rocks at the bottom of it all,” she said.
“Facing my abusers in search of justice while still they get immunity in a court of law — they commit crime after crime and walk away unscathed.
“What is my crime? Doing a handstand? Not being Saudi? Not covering my body while I was on vacation in the United States of America?
“This judge’s ruling deems the majority of the billions of people in the world unfit to parent a child.
“The judge’s ruling is far from sharia law that would protect my rights as her mother to be with my young child until she reaches the age of maturity, it’s far from international treaties that have been signed and ratified by Saudi Arabia (CRC & Cedaw) vowing to protect children from abusive environments and me from discrimination under the law.
“It’s far from the vision and direction that this country has vowed to go and I’m at a loss for words.
“Last night, I found out that the Saudi Ministry of Justice has placed me on a 10-year travel ban. Ten years! There’s also an arrest warrant out for me because since the custody ruling was issued, Zaina didn’t attend visitation sessions.
“I was confused about the change in rulings. Nobody informed me visitation should be ongoing regardless of the change to custody, not a single message or warning from Mawadah, the place that normally facilitated visitation.
“Frankly, I don’t have 10 more years of tolerating such injustice and ugliness left in me and frankly, I’m already living in prison.
“Only problem now is, Zaina is now being dragged into this prison with me.
“Zaina deserves better than this.
“Please don’t take my sunshine away.”
US citizens abroad are subject to local laws, and Saudi Arabia operates under strict sharia Islamic law.
Just this month, women in Saudi Arabia were granted the freedom to travel abroad without male permission.
Mum loses custody of her daughter for being ‘too Western to raise the child’