Posted By Veiled Muslimah on/at 5/17/2008 01:45:00 AM

Assalāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāhi Wabarakath,

There was a recent article in New York Times in a 'series of articles examining the lives of youth across the Muslim world at a time of religious revival' called 'Love on Girls' Side of the Saudi Divide'.

The article gives an inside into the lives of Saudi Women and girls, their way of life, the gender segregation, the face-veil and the hopes and dreams of these girls.

Here is an excerpt:

The separation between the sexes in Saudi Arabia is so extreme that it is difficult to overstate. Saudi women may not drive, and they must wear black abayas and head coverings in public at all times. They are spirited around the city in cars with tinted windows, attend girls-only schools and university departments, and eat in special “family” sections of cafes and restaurants, which are carefully partitioned from the sections used by single male diners.

Special women-only gyms, women-only boutiques and travel agencies, even a women-only shopping mall, have been established in Riyadh in recent years to serve women who did not previously have access to such places unless they were chaperoned by a male relative.

Playful as they are, girls like Ms. Othman and her friends are well aware of the limits that their conservative society places on their behavior. And, for the most part, they say that they do not seriously question those limits.

Most of the girls say their faith, in the strict interpretation of Islam espoused by the Wahhabi religious establishment here, runs very deep. They argue a bit among themselves about the details — whether it is acceptable to have men on your Facebook friend list, or whether a male first cousin should ever be able to see you without your face covered — and they peppered this reporter with questions about what the young Saudi men she had met were thinking about and talking about.

But they seem to regard the idea of having a conversation with a man before their showfas and subsequent engagements with very real horror. When they do talk about girls who chat with men online or who somehow find their own fiancés, these stories have something of the quality of urban legends about them: fuzzy in their particulars, told about friends of friends, or “someone in my sister’s class.”

Although the author tries to present the article in a neutral light, there is obvious bias in it. The Women and Girls are portrayed as being oppressed and suppressed and some of the comments that were left by readers were filled with ignorance, hate and were very insulting.

Sad how backwards and sad the society is over there

— David g, Houston

It's humanizing and relieving to understand that, despite the severity of their oppression, these women still have joy and desires. But I guess in the NY Times, like in Saudi Arabia, boys stories come first.

I have a dream that someday we will have a Christian church built in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, where men AND women are sitting side by side as equals and no one is wearing a veil of oppression.

— chris, new york

With restrictive lives like this, where nothing is left to individual initiative, it is no surprise that Saudis, and Arab Moslems in general, have contributed so little to the intellectual accomplishments of the world.

— Jim S., Cleveland

These young women are such perfect examples of the Stockholm Syndrome--the captives identifying with the captors. This is one of the saddest articles I have read in a while.

— brendan, nyc

The comments just show nothing but the ignorance of the people. Contrary to popular belief not everybody wants to live or likes living the 'Western way'. One needs to live in a conservative Muslim Society and needs to understand the religious reasoning behind certain situations to truly understand why some people live/dress/act the way they do.

Gender segregation and modesty is greatly emphasised in Islam. Women-Only beaches, libraries, parks and other such places within the Muslim World are a blessing, especially for those of us who practice Hijab/Niqaab and these Countries cater to the needs of its Women. A lot of people, usually Non-Muslims cannot conceive why Muslim Women would choose to wish to cover their face, or even their heads and body with Hijab. It has a religious and spirtiual connotation to it, and one must be part of a certain society and familiar with particular religious values to understand the reasoning behind it.

In the sea of ignorant comments that were made, there were a few which came from reasonable people:

Great story, great topic, very well written - an objective view on a world few of us are familiar with.

While many of us westerners are shocked or outraged at what we see as a severe aspect of Saudi culture, it is alas theirs, not ours. It is funny how so many Christians here are quick to pass judgment.

How can a citizen of a country that worships the likes of Paris Hilton be so quick to judge what is or is not immoral?

— poliko, Tbilisi

I really liked this one because it really hits the point. 'How can a citizen of a country that worships the likes of Paris Hilton be so quick to judge what is or not immoral?'

And that is the truth! Why are people, who live in a society which is extremely materialistic and where adultery, incest, fornication, same-sex marriages and other such happenings are the norm even thinking about passing judgement on other people? Who made them the higher authority on how people should behave, live and act?


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American Muslima Writer said...

Who made them the higher authority on how people should behave, live and act?

WE DID! Ugh it's horrible but since EVERYONE "looks up to" USA as the Top nation of the world. They think they can just spout anything out and we treasure it. They think they have say on who should do what, where, when and how. And WHY!
I'm American so i understand the inside of mainly a lack of knowledge about "other" cultures even those who live among them they are ignorant of. They think since they are so well off and living in "the greatest land" they have the reasoning to say these things It's pathetic.
Now I've lived in Lebanon and UAE and have really got a taste of "other" cultures and I love it better than usa. Their twisted idea of freedom is the freedom to be sinning everywhich way satan allows. Where we are struggling to avoid all sins. So of course there is culture clash. I think the article though was moderate of it's take on Saudi culture but i think more could be said about WHY they love having women only malls.
Good topic sorry to vent too much

Amel said...

salam sis,
oh yes i remember reading this article in "times of india(TOI), mumbai"
n i was so outraged but then it is a habit of the TOI to write all wrong about muslims, n sister there have been blood boiling articles written about (read against) muslims surprisingly most of them have been written by muslims.
well people become so judgemental at times , i mean without even knowing the beauty of islam these "commentators" give their commentry.

Veiled Muslimah said...

Assalam Alaykum,

AMW, Lol, it's okay, You may vent as you please. I agree with you hundred percent. About being moderate on Saudi, yeah I felt that too, that there was atleast 'some' action on their part to make it slightly more acceptable compared to the usual trash we get on the Media about Muslims.

And Women-Only places are a blessing. ;)

Amel, welcome to my blog. :) I agree, people have the tendency to write to trash about Islam. But alas, no matter how much they plan and spend their wealth and time to speak out against Islam, the light of Islam will never be blown out, Alhamdulilah.

Amel said...

sister i just love reading ur blog n just stumbled upon it n loved it, alhamdulillah.

Amal said...

I am a muslim , and take islam seriousley , but I think the way suadi is is absolutely redicolouse! woman only shopping malls?! were the hell did they get this from ? they make islam look really ugly . Suadi men are famouse for treating their woman like crap , I also think suadi gives the worst look to islam in the world , yet they think they know everything . Their extreme , and due to their extremism , a lot of suadi woman do not practice islam properly and neither do the men .

Veiled Muslimah said...

Assalam Alaykum Amal, :)

I can understand your sentiments. Maybe to those of us who have never experienced it we can't imagine, but I think we shouldn't be so quick to judge. Women-Only malls are a blessing, simply because you can shop around even without the whole male-mehram thing, besides Malls are where the most fitna takes place.

Saudi Society has it's own wrongs, just like every other society, but saying that all of Saudi is bad, is a huge generalization. I don't think we should be so quick to judge. I know Saudi girls who are masha'allah very nice and practicing.


Amal said...

walkum wasalam , I am sorry but I have to disagree with you , number one , the shopping mall is fitnah for man and woman , not just between the sexes , but also the dunya . I hardly go to the shops I notice every time I go , I suddenly want things and see how all of these things look nice and I can not have it. It takes you away from allah .
Islam is quran and sunnah , being extreme with segregation cuases sexual tension . Extremism makes islam ugly . Suadis mix islam and culture too much . Which is what makes me feel so angry .

kaalimaat said...

well you are being oppressed if you cannot enrol your children in a school without a man, you cant renew your passport, you cant give consent for a simple operation in the hospital for you or your children, you cant enrol yourself in a course, i can go on all day. its oppression which is causing many social problems like sodomy and unhealthy sexual urges and the only thing keeping the status quo is the oil.

Veiled Muslimah said...

Sure there are evils in society, like there are how in every other society. But people often over look the good of these societies and the reasonings behind them.

A Muslim said...

Assalamu alaikum. Very interesting article and the ensuing discussion. I grew up all my life in Saudi Arabia and I had quite a bit of access to the Saudi ethos (unlike other non-Arab expatriates who grew up there, I learned Arabic fluently, I never lived in a gated compound for foreigners, I worked in a factory for 2 summers with young Saudis, I used the public transportation extensively, etc.).

1. The kind of hubris and arrogance you see in Americans passing judgement on Saudi Arabia or other Muslim societies is the kind of arrogance and hubris that Muslims spout too. It is a commonly-shared among Saudis that they are the most correct Muslims in the world in their aqeedah, for example. Other Muslims judge Western societies as totally debased because all they get to see of the West in their own countries is immoral films, pop culture, etc. So, this affliction is not particular to the Americans.

2. The women-only establishments which are being talked about (sports clubs, swimming pools, malls) are very few. I do believe they are a blessing but let's not hold up their paltry existence as a proof that women don't have it rough there. I lived in Jeddah (a city that is huge and considered more liberal than Riyadh) and there were so few swimming pools for women (usually in expensive hotels, some times are set aside for women, but the membership fees are exorbitant). The reality is that common access has been taken away from the common woman -- only the woman with money can redress this lack of access.

3. Kaalimat has made a good point. I have seen it first-hand that lack of avenues where energy can be used in a good way has resulted in a situation where people have turned to evil ways of relieving their energies.

4. There is a huge social problem right now there with people doing all kinds of crazy things, esp. with access to modern technology. If you want a whiff of this, just read on a daily basis. This is an English-daily published in Saudi Arabia and I have been reading it daily all my life. Fathers abusing young and grown-up daughters; young men constantly driving around and ogling at any woman (even if it is a nikabi -- I am not making this up); girls doing crazy things in front of webcams without showing their faces; the list goes on. And of course, the issue of male-male sodomy (consensual and forced) must not be denied.

5. One of the comments that was posted on the NYT website that you cite as being filled with hate and ignorance points at a very real issue:

With restrictive lives like this, where nothing is left to individual initiative, it is no surprise that Saudis, and Arab Moslems in general, have contributed so little to the intellectual accomplishments of the world.

I would only modify the above to read "... so little to the intellectual accomplishments of the world today."

This is very true. Let me elaborate. In Saudi Arabia, every thing is taken care of (except of course having opportunities to cultivate the mind) by the state with its huge coffers (until recently, at least -- now even the coffers are dried up). The citizens there have grown up but not really. I don't mean any slur here. The application of Islam is very top-down enforced. I used to find it surprising that why young Saudis and Kuwaities when they come to US stop coming to masjid and do all kinds of crazy things. But I have been thinking about this for a decade and it is no surprise. When things are held together by force, as soon as you remove the force, things fall apart. Those brothers who are regularly masjid-attending here in US, many of them tend to have this approach where they can only offer the money. I have heard so many times comments like "why is the masjid not having any activities for youth. I can get the money if that is the problem". When they are told the money is not the problem, but we need somebody who has ideas to just do it, you don't find too many able to plug that hole.

Overall, I have a deep attachment to Saudi Arabia because that's where I grew up. It is sad for me to see that the way things are headed there for a while. Alhamdulillah I am beginning to see some positives coming out of this too. When i grew up there, I didn't know about any of this -- not because it wasn't there, but it tended to be pushed under the rug. For example, the things being reported in ArabNews couldn't be reported just 10 years ago. But now with this filth being open to public knowledge, I see the society is waking up and being less hypocritical. Many young Saudis are coming up who are being self-critical of their society while still having their feet firmly planted in Islam (there are also those young Saudis who want to take Saudi society to a secular direction). It will take time, but insha'allah Saudis will start reforming their society.

Sorry for the long post.

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Location: Dubai - United Arab Emirates.
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