Friday, November 23, 2012

Saudi Arabia Tracking Women: The Real Story

My latest piece was published by, addressing the media outrage over a "SMS" tracking system; I argue the SMS system doesn't change much and it is nothing new, and this international outrage should be directed at the oppressive guardianship system still in place in Saudi Arabia.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

One Being Born with the wrong reproductive parts to travel alone...

All the recent rage on theSaudi  guardianship laws (LOVE rage on this subject) reminded me of one of my own stories:
I found myself sitting alone in the back of a taxi on a late Friday night in Saudi Arabia, it was the end of my weekend and I was on my way from the West coast city of Jeddah to a small village in AlBaha where work was awaiting me the next morning.

Very few flights left from Jeddah to AlBaha, especially on the last day of the weekend. It would have been most economic and practical for me to rent a car and drive it myself (having done my high school years in the USA, I was a fully capable driver at 15 years old). However, due to the driving ban on women in the Kingdom, the only option left for me to make it to work in time the next morning was to hire a taxi to take me the 4 hour drive. I hired a taxi driver my friend knew and trusted. We passed through most of the checkpoints undisturbed, however about 30 minutes out from my home by the campus where I worked; we were stopped by the poilce.

They didn’t seem concerned with the taxi driver; but with the women sitting alone in the back of a taxi. Two of the police officers at the check point directly came around the car and opened my door. Without greeting me and with a condescending look one asked me directly where my husband was. His face grew even more concerned when I replied that I was not married. The second police officer chimed in and asked me where my father was. I replied that my father worked in America; and the first police officer barked “So your brother! Where is your guardian?”. “I’m my own guardian”, I replied with confidence. “Oh no no no, they both shook their heads, this is a big problem.” One officer took my ID and put it in his chest pocket, and told me to come with them.

I sat alone in the back of their police car watching them for about two hours while they sat and chatted, drank some tea, smoked their cigarettes, laughed together, and finally interrogated the taxi driver and let him go. Finally frustrated and tired I got out of the car and started walking, “What are you doing girl?” one officer yelled at me. “I’m walking home”, I replied without looking at them or stopping, “I have work tomorrow morning and I won’t be late because of your non-sense.” None of them dared touch me to stop me. So I continued walking as they scurried alongside me trying to convince me to stop.  In their panic one officer asked me where I worked, I replied, and he took my ID out of his pocket and looked at my name. Something seemed to click in his mind, he stopped to call someone on his phone chatted with her briefly and ran to catch up and handed his cell phone to me with a smile. I stopped, confused, and took the phone. A girls voice came on, “Professor” she said with affection, as I recognized her voice we started laughing together. The police officer who took my ID was her husband, she was about 8 months pregnant and I had always been extra understanding of her situation in class. Her husband handed me back my ID. He instantly transformed from angry police officer to overly-kind; making sure to tell me how much he and his wife appreciated me. He and the other police officers seemed to quickly ignore the fact that I had been travelling without a guardian and they drove me the rest of the way to my home. The Saudi guardianship law was brushed aside, as I had a wasta, which every Saudi knows can put you above the law.
What would have happened to me that night without this connection; I have no idea. But as someone who’s grown up travelling and living throughout Sub-Saharan and North Africa, the USA, Europe the Middle East and Asia; someone who’s survived a revolution, supported myself financially, someone who’s flown a plane, shot a gun, driven a tracker, who jet-skiis and bunji jumps; EVEN without all these experiences; I certainly do NOT need a male guardian.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

On Being Shia in Saudi Arabia

Thank you to the Gulf Institute for Publishing my Research on the Shia minority in Saudi Arabia:

What Saudi Arabia Doesn't Want The World To Know

What Saudi Arabia Doesn't Want the World to Know: My piece published by Muftah:

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Damaging Effects of Homogenization

Many in the American public have been cringing at the mention of Islam since 1979. With the Tehran US embassy hostage crisis, the average American citizen was for the first time hearing about how "Islam hates America" on a daily basis through the media. In this particular situation, America was for once the "victim" in an international crisis. News channels began counting the days (from 1 to 444) that the Embassy employees were being held, and high rations of daily media coverage kept the American public intune with the hostage crisis in Iran. This was the first introduction of many of the American masses (not merely the educated) to Islam.

It can be argued that the average US citizen didn't have much of an opinion about Islam pre-Hostage crisis, which is definitley not the case today. The American perception of Islam only got worse after 9/11, and though we seemed to have a moment of light with the start of the Arab Spring, it continued to plummet down the drain following the recent anti-American protests in response to the "Innocence of Islam" film.

The Muslim population in the United States is significant at around 3 million, however it is a very small minority in the entire population that is well over 300 million. Muslims don't even make up one percent of the American population. With that being taken into consideration, it is safe to say that the average American citizen has not come into contact on an intimate level with many Muslims, if any; not within the United States and most definitely not overseas, considering only one-third of the American population even possess a passport.

Therefore opinions and perceptions of Islam in America are often not from experience, but mere speculation, leaving popular media to govern the American opinion of Islam. Media - as it is not an academic resource, is often politically motivated & searching to shock - has managed to homogenize Muslims into one group. Homogenization is an extremely dangerous manipulation tool. Upon the homogenization of a certain group of people it becomes extremely easy to demonize what they stand for, though in reality this usually differ greatly from one member of the group to the other.

The damage of homogenization of diverse peoples can be put into a larger perspective by looking from another aspect.  Some Muslims too have homogenized "The West" into one simplified, negative entity. The "Innocence of Islam" film clip was a perfect example of this. An independent film made by a small number of  individuals in the USA, was the necessary spark to set of a few Muslims on attacking US government buildings. There were even protests outside of German government buildings overseas in response to this film. "The West" has been so homogenized for a few that somehow there are those who act on the presumption that the German government represents a few low-budget film makers nobodies from California. Brilliant.

Do you see how this can be a damaging problem on both sides?

I have lived and grown up in some very diverse cultures of the West, The Middle East, Asia, Africa; and in Christianity & Islam. No two people that I have met have been the same. In the case of Islam, the societies that I've lived in all have a very different definition of the Same religion; from Senegal to Tunisia to Saudi Arabia you can find complete contradictions in both Islamic orthodoxy and orthoproxy.

In my own experience, I've noticed that culture tends to rule over religion (for those who practice it). God - although religions teach his spirit is constantly present - is naturally hard for humans to grasp. God as the creator, can be very difficult to relate to, difficult to understand, and difficult to see at work on Earth. Thus, it is human nature to try to understand God within our own human contexts - this often implies that we look and understand God through our own cultural lenses. In the case of Islam, this has led to many cultural practices being deemed Islamic, though they may not have any roots in the religion itself. Often it is the culture and traditions of Muslims that define Islam to onlookers, and not the religion itself.

Another part of the problem of the homogenization of Muslims comes from within the Muslim community itself. There exist large, influential and powerful groups within the community that have a serious inability to deal with diversity. Though, the Quran itself allows for it:
To each of you We prescribed a law and a method. Had God willed it, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To God is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ. (Quran 5:48)
The most simplest way to understand this passage, is that not all of us connect to or understand God in the same way, and that's actually how God intended it to be. We may have petty disagreements now, but the passage assures us He will bring us together and work out the issues one day in the future. Take into consideration as well, that this is not a verse addressed to only "the believers of Islam", it extends out to all humanity, and surely we are diverse in belief.

There are those in the Muslim community itself who - through sectarianism, excommunication (takfir) and with rigid interpretations and lack of understanding - would also like for the Muslim community to be homogenized into one simple definition. Many Clerics have merely created a bubble where the "righteous struggle" within Islam is preoccupied with the hair on a woman's head, whether or not she still has her hymen, and making sure men are being "manly enough". All the while serious human rights issues and injustices are being ignored, though this is strongly in contrast to the spirit of Islam.

Both Americans and Iraqis have had to sit and ponder the painful question: "Why are our innocent people being murdered for something they had nothing to do with?"
My answer: Tragic homogenization.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The House of Al Saud: In Over Its Head?

In stories and books about the establishment of the Nation State of Saudi Arabia, King Abdul Aziz, the founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is romantically portrayed as the noble leader  who "united" the tribes of Arabia. "Unite" seems an odd word to teach the masses, as history has shown most who establish control of a region do it through scheming, betrayal, politics, and lots of blood. The man was a  great conquerer, he should be recognized as such. I do not wish to praise or condemn his character - however I cannot argue with the fact that he was a man willing to sweat and get his hands very very dirty to get the job done.  His time was a much different generation, living within the harsh desert climate of Arabia – pre-oil boom and pre-convienience; a time that many Saudis argue were much harder times; but times that they say where one could found more quality, morale, drive and ethics within the community.  

The Sudairi seven, his seven sons from wife Hassa Al-Sudairi have managed leadership of the Kingdom between themselves, however, many have passed on, and more are elderly and sickly, and their time on Earth is surely very limited. Their generation saw a different Saudi Arabia than the one we know today, and was still very much in contact with the previous generation (the one of their father) who was used to living in the harsher times in Saudi Arabia. The late King Faisal responded to American oil threats during the 1973 oil embargo with: “We can go back to the desert and live off of dates and camel milk, but what will you do without oil?” This response worked at the time, because King Faisal’s was also a generation who needed to know how to survive, how to get their hands dirty, and how to "control" a nation, much different than the ones to follow.

The “house of al Saud” has grown, and its youth are now very disconnected from the harsh Arabia of King Abdul Aziz. They are used to a hefty allowance, lavish lifestyles, with so many people around them sucking up that few have to deal with real conflict outside of their family circles and most don’t know how to deal with it; some murder, some get crazy drunk, some sniff cocaine, some get prostitutes, some get arrested, some give "good blow jobs"…but all no longer remember a Saudi Arabia without McDonalds, cars, money, Air Conditioning, and airplanes; and none of them had to get sweaty to have any of it. Theirs is a generation who may not be able to handle running the population of whom - I would argue - has greatly surpassed them.

 It used to be only the royals and major elites that could travel overseas to study. Only these elite few – already in control and to some extent free of many of the strict restrictions of Saudi society - got to taste the “freedom” taught in western schools and universities. Now a massive portion of Saudi students have been exposed to a world where leadership is not recognized by family name, and where ordinary people are encouraged to constantly question everything and think critically. This was once a message only the elites were exposed to, and with the King Abdullah scholarship, this door has been opened for a massive number of young Saudi men and women.

 The Ottoman Empire, Mohamed Ali’s Egypt, and the Qajar and Shahs of Iran all went through extensive reforms in their nations as they began to notice discontent– all plans included sending large number of students overseas to study – many of these students ended up being the very same students who would return to their countries to contribute to the fall of these regimes.

Saudis are being educated within the Kingdom and outside the kingdom. Even Saudis within the Kingdom have been exposed to large number of foreigners who have have been invited in to work. They have seen the difference in lifestyle, they have been exposed to different ideas through books, movies, TV, internet (Saudi Arabia in the last year was by a landslide the country that experienced the most growth on Twitter). All these technologies opening the outside world to Saudi (to some extent) are at each individuals access, allowing for each Saudi citizen to have a window to a different way of thinking and to form their own personal experience with the outside world, something that wasn’t possible for the majority of even the most previous generation.

The last generation tried for change, women tried to take to the streets in a driving protest in order to demand their rights and were met with brutality, Qatifis took to the streets around 30 years ago to demand rights and were met with brutality, prisoners piled into jails and were tortured for wanting simple reforms. They may have failed to reach their exact goals – but they definitley ignited a spark – and many of these people have had children. Their children live in a different time, and their children are trying once again for the change in Saudi Arabia.

Protests are happening in the Kingdom now – from Qatif the Shiite center to Qassim the center of Wahhabism. The two most opposite cities in Saudi Arabia are both experiencing a common discontent with the way things are.

The generation who could perhaps say “we will go back to living on dates in the desert and camel milk” is in its last days in leadership, and the power is to be eventually passed down to the next generation of royals. The majority of whom have been pampered and remain severly disconnected from reality…yet they are the ones who are to rule those educated and globally-connected Saudi youth?

Between rampant poverty in a nation rich with wealth, to backward bureaucracy that forces everyone to run in circles before they can get anything accomplished, corrupt clerics who have deviated so far from Islam that many Muslims refuse to recognize it, to serious social issues (rape, sexual harassment, workers rights, etc) that are not spoken of, a Shiite and female population who have been mistreated and misunderstood for generations, to large amounts of people who have been thrown in prison for speaking out or wanting simple freedoms, and an educated youth who are beginning to challenge themselves to dream for the impossible….

The House of Al Saud has all the symptoms to an inevitable fall.  When? I don’t know, but I think I’ll be alive to see it.  

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pictures I've Taken over the Years

Dakar, Senegal 2009
Sinai, Egypt, 2012
The Nile, Cairo, Egypt 2012
Sinai, Egypt 2012
Ibiza, Spain 2012
Atami, Japan, 2012
Kyoto, Japan 2012

Al Baha, Saudi Arabia 2011
Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 2011

Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 2011
Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 2011
Carthage, Tunis, Tunisia 2010

Tunis, Tunisia 2010
Revolution, Ariana, Tunis 2011

Paris, France 2012
Paris, France 2012

Dakar, Senegal 2007
Washington State, USA 2012
Koutiala, Mali 2009

Chaing Mai, Thailand 2008
Washington D.C., USA 2009

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

An Abortion in Tunisia

Tunisia legalized abortion in 1973. It is avaliable without question, as long as it is done before the 3  month mark of the womans pregnancy by a liscensed physician in a hospital. It is the most progressive Arab nation by law, however, there is still a strong social stigma against abortion in the nation. This is one story, there are many more in different places around the world with different reactions. From the supportive Abortion clinics in the USA who offer free counseling
 to women who come in, to a woman I know in Saudi Arabia who had her maid perform an abortion with a bent hanger. Women of all nationalities and religious confessions make the decision to do this, whether its legal or not.

However we may feel personally about a procedure, it is one that is beyond difficult for women to endure in the first place – nobody likes the idea of doing it. It’s important to recognize that this procedure can haunt a woman, for life. At the end of the day, it’s a choice, one that every woman should have the right to make – and they know the consequences going into it, it doesn’t mean one is heartless or doesn’t want children, but sometimes, those choices and consequences are the better option to endure for a better life.
Those who feel opposed due to religious reasons, at the end of the day, if we don't give humans free will and the choice to do the right or wrong thing and deal with the consequences (much as God has done for us) then there is no way to get genuine love , belief, or actions. The women who make this choice, aren't doing it with joy. If you believe in any God of any relgion, I believe it is always taught that God is the judge (not humans) He is all merciful, and God knows his creations best. So why not leave any judgements you may believe need to be made, in hands of God, and do your best to support and give these women the love they probably need to feel.

It was October in Tunis. She was awaken from her sleep around two in the morning from a burning sensation in her breasts. She remembered how her friends used to complain about the exact feeling during their pregnancy. “Shit”, she thought quickly, but fell back asleep.
The next day she took a trip to the pharmacy, ashamed. She moved her diamond ring from her middle finger to her ring finger, so she would appear to be a happily married woman. She tried to hide her fear and remain calm as she stepped inside the Pharmacy in Nasser, a high-end neighborhood in Tunis.
The Pharmacist must have seen the panic in her eyes through her play-it-cool act as he told her quickly next time if she didn’t want to be pregnant she should use the morning after pill. He caught her off guard, she ignored the comment and left. The pharmacy was just one block from her apartment, but as she was walking down the street with the pregnancy test in her hand, panicked with thoughts and fear, she suddenly began to lose consciousness, and found herself laying on the street, she had fainted. She knew something was wrong.
She took the test, and it was instantly positive, no three minute dely. She looked at herself in the mirror for an instant, and in that instant she felt the most beautiful she had ever been. The way the hair fell on her face, the way her cheeks puffed out slightly, her breasts were plump, and a glow that came from her – she felt so feminine. Amazed that her body was capable to be pregnant, that if she did nothing and waited her belly may swell and she may be able to bring a human into the world.
It was the shortest and most beautiful moment in her 24 years, and the moment came harshly to an end. She sobbed, as she had never sobbed before. She no longer felt beautiful, she was alone, and it was not planned for. Her parents would disown her, her partners parents would disown her. Her boyfriend and her had been together for two years, and were planning on getting married. She couldn’t get ahold of him on the phone, he was taking an exam. Time was frozen, and she cried for two hours, alone in her bed. She wanted to lock herself in her bedroom, away from the world. But she had responsibilities, so she forced on a fake smile, and headed to work. She was giving one-on-one oral exams, her students knew her as bubbly and kind, and she had to play that role even though she was dying inside.
Every instant that went by she remembered she was pregnant. Though she wanted to clear her mind and feel at peace, she couldn’t forget. She sipped her tea, pregnant. She went to the bathroom, pregnant. She brushed her teeth, pregnant. She answered the phone, pregnant. She took a taxi, pregnant. Not a moment went by when she wasn’t, pregnant.
His reaction killed her more than the unexpected news of being pregnant. “we can keep it” she begged him. His instant “No” seemed like a scream, a thundering NO that echoed so deep into her soul and forced itself through her veins and into the very bloodstream that carried his child. In that moment, she knew somewhere deep down that the man whom she had planned on marrying didn’t love anybody but himself. But at the time she cared more about him then herself, or anybody else. She was frozen. His harsh “no” remained engrained inside of her.
He frantically called and found a doctor who would perform an abortion, and set up the appointment. She was frozen. Her boyfriend took her to the doctor, they found out she was a few weeks pregnant, and the Doctor gave her a pill to take the night before the abortion. “Do I need to take pain medications with it?” she asked. “No” he replied with confidence enough to convince that he had a vagina of his own and had already tried this pill, “it doesn’t hurt, it will just dilate you before the procedure, it’s nothing.” She was frozen. "How often do you do this?" She asked. "About three times a week" the doctor replied.
She went through the motions of being alive, breathing, eating, sleeping, working…but she was in survival mode, frozen, always remembering she was pregnant. She passed her time in tears, snapping from one mood to another; laughing was so much sweeter, but crying was so dark, and bitter.
The time came to take the pill, and prepare for bed to wake up the next morning to go to the Clinic in Tunis. She took the pill and retired to sleep. But never made it that far…
She ran to the bathroom, unable to move or reach a position that would be comfortable. As she ran in pain to the bathroom, her entire body began to feel hot and felt as though the blood was rushing from her head to her toes, and before she realized that she was in the process of fainting, she slammed hard onto the marble floor. Her boyfriend came running at the large bang. She woke up, her boyfriend was above her, panicked, and then the pain hit her all at once.
She screamed and cried in pain, she felt as though her insides were being crushed, and no matter what position she turned in attempt to escape the pain, she could not get comfortable – she went from freezing cold, to burning hot, and all the while her insides were under pressure. Contractions. Birthing contractions, they were. Her boyfriend had checked information online about the pill – it was well known that this pill caused two hours of contractions, and was incredibly painful. It was usually given with pain killers. She wondered, was the doctor that stupid, or did he mislead her on purpose? This would be the first of many similar questions.
As the contractions slowed down, she had more time to breathe in between each gust of pain. She had time to calm down, but was so exhausted by the end of the two hours that she didn’t want to think about going into the clinic. It was too late now, blood was dripping down the side of her leg.  Her boyfriend brought her some new clothes, and she struggled to stand. They headed towards the clinic.
It wasn’t horrible, but it was by no means nice. Though Tunisia was ranted and raved about for quality health care standards (in Africa), she would soon discover that there was nothing to rant and rave about here, besides their unprofessionalism. A nurse burst into the room, and looked at her over her glasses as if examining the girl. She started asking questions in Tunisian to the girl’s boyfriend. “’I can’t understand Tunisian Arabic, you did your medical studies in French, would you please speak French so I can understand what’s going on” the girl pleaded to the nurse. “Bloodtype. Whats your bloodtype?” The nurse asked shortly. She didn’t know. “Well, if one day you want to have a baby, if that’s something that you care about, you need to know your bloodtype for the baby”. The nurse seemed to be trying to repeat baby on purpose, assuming that somehow the girl’s position in the hospital bed meant she hated babies. The girl was too afraid and exhausted to comment back. Her fiery personality had been subdued.
A second nurse came in to give the girl an IV. The girl explained to the nurse that she had a fear of needles and a medical disorder that caused fainting. The nurse heard her, looked at her and shoved the needle into her arm as if to show the girl she didn’t care. The girl looked down at the IV as a single tear rolled down her face. Her boyfriend smiled at her. She was disgusted at him, he seemed so relieved at her demise. She knew his “helpfulness” was coming from completely selfish motives. He had never bought her a gift in all their time together, this was the first thing he offered to pay for, his first "gift" to her. She didn't want to look him in the eyes, but she needed someone familiar next to her.
A third nurse came in, to take the girl up to the room to have the procedure. She explained to the girls boyfriend he should wait in the room, and told him the procedure doesn’t take long. The girl climbed into a wheel chair, and the nurse wheeled her up to the room.  When they were in the elevator, there were a number of Tunisian men in with them. The Nurse turned to the girl, and asked her “Now what are you doing today?” She asked the girl. She was confused, “You mean later?” she asked. “No, I mean now, what’s the name of the procedure you’re going to do?” The nurse said it loud enough so that all the men in the elevator were curiously staring at her waiting to know why she was in a wheel chair and what she would do. The nurse knew exactly what she was going to do, as she had just explained the process to her boyfriend. She realized the nurse was trying to put her on the spot, she felt sick to her stomach and angrily responded “I don’t know the word in French”.
The nurse pushed her down the hall and left her for two new nurses. The girl was crying. One nurse looked down on her as if she was crying over spilt milk, “why are you crying?” The girl found no response, it seemed too obvious of a question to ask to the girl. “What? The nurse continued condescendingly, “This is your first time doing this?” The nurse gave her an unbelieving smirk. The girl nodded her head to respond yes, that this was her first time, though at this point she wanted nothing to do with any female in this hospital. A second nurse came over to her, “You’ll be fine.” She seemed much nicer than the other nurse. She tried to make small talk, asked her where she was from, what she was doing in Tunisia, how long she had been there. The girl responded to her questions, this nurse seemed kind. But when the girl responded that she had been in Tunisia for just 3 months, the nurse turned to the other nurse and said “only three months and she already got pregnant” in Arabic, thinking the foreign girl wouldn’t understand them. The girl understood and responded in French “I’ve been with him for two years, not just three months”. It was something she always hated about Tunisia, she preferred they treat her like shit if that’s how they felt, rather than putting on a fake smile, it humiliated her.
The anesthesiologist came into the room with a warm smile. He was a young and handsome, and in the midst of all those catty nurses, she wanted nothing more than him. He smiled down at her, and asked her if she was ok through her tears. He directed the nurses to get away from her, and to get to work. They mumbled and reluctantly went to prepare. He explained what he would be doing, cracked a few jokes, and told her not to worry or be scared. She smiled her first smile through tears. The other doctor came in, not Tunisian, he also was very kind to her. There were five female nurses who were on duty to help prepare her for the process, but they had done their best to break her down rather than support her, and for some odd reason she felt like it was these men who were supporting her. The doctor kindly did his best to put her at ease. The handsome anesthesiologist asked her to count down from ten. “Ten….nine…….”
She woke up. The nurses were chatting around the room. She turned to her left. Right next to her head on the table, the nurses had left the jar of blood from the procedure. The rest of the room was cleaned, but they left that right in her sight. They told the doctor she was awake. She was crying. The doctor came in, and seemed confused and angry to see the jar of blood on the table next to her head. He turned frustrated to the nurses and told them to be professional. They were instructed to leave and dispose of it. She cried. He looked at her, and simply said, don’t let them break you down, that’s all they want to do.
She knew it was socially unacceptable. But she didn’t expect that professional nurses could be so heartless and unprofessional. They did everything in their power to make her feel like dirt, to tear her down, and to try to make her ashamed. She already felt bad enough.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sheikh Mohammed Al Arefe: For the Sake of the Syrian People…Or for the Demise of Shiites?

The Saudi Arabian Sheikh Mohammed Al Arefe, often known to many in the West as the Sheikh who teaches Muslim men how to “properly beat their Wives” (, and to many Bahrainis and Saudis of the Eastern province as the Shia hater ( now has a new identity among many Muslims, as the defender of the Syrian people.

The Sheikh gave a rather moving speech ( after his visits to the Syrian border to work with refugees. In the speech he called on the wealthy to put their money towards the Syrian people, called on Syrians to rebel against Bashar Al Assad, called on the Army to leave the regimes side and not to shed innocent blood, called on the men present in the Saudi Arabian mosque to join the Free Syrian Army, and called on Muslims to join and support the Syrian Believers in their Jihad against Assad, whom he loudly added “gets his support from the Persians, the Shia, the Villians and Hezbollah”
Al Arefe was never much of a supporter of the people of the Arab Spring, keeping much in line with the Saudi governments political positions. He kept mostly quiet during the Tunisian, Egyptian, Yemeni and Libyan uprisings, and was clearly quick to denounce the Bahrain uprising (Bahrain having a Shia majority with a Sunni regime). Yet the Sheikh seemed to suddenly develop a “revolutionary” spirit in light of the Syrian situation. All the while, people in his own country, in the Eastern province of Qatif were being shot down by Saudi forces. The major question is how could a man with such a hateful discourse towards the oppressed Shia minority in his own nation, suddenly turn into a humanitarian?
Al Arefe assisted in raising a large sum of money for the Syrian people, estimated at around 66 million dollars. The Sheikh faced some problems, as Saudi regulations require a license for such types of donations.  When Al Arefe was brought in for questioning in Riyadh, it is said he was called a “Kharajite”, a term in today’s context meaning one who rebels against the rulers. In response to this remark the Sheikh responded (In his own explanation):
“Rafidites (a vulgar term used to refer to Shiites) send Khoms – millions of their assets into Qum (The Shia Religious center of Iran) and Najaf (Shia Religious Center of Iraq) to support Bashar and their training forces that are sent to them. And when we raise money we are called Kharajites?”
Later he explains:
“I told the investigator: if we do not support the Mujahideen in Syria so they can win…Bashar and Iranian Rafidites will attack us, and right now they are looking for your baby’s head, to tear it away.”
Al Arefe reveals his own intentions and worry through his own account of his interaction with the interrogator. His major fear and goal in Syria seems not to be that innocent Syrian lives are being slaughtered and killed by the thousands, but he fears that Shia and Iran will attack in some way, and sees this as the perfect opportunity to fight the Shia of whom he so scornfully despises; a face much more fitting of the man with the hateful discourse, than that of the humanitarian.
Take his money Syria, and do all you can to help your people. But dear people, don't be fooled once again by a little Saudi money, into praising this man and claiming he is a humanitarian.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

To Saudi Arabia, in Defense of Qatif

My heart could not go out to Qatif and their lost martyrs any more.

 There are some places in the world you just fall in love with - for many it's Paris or London or Dubai. For me, it's Qatif, Saihat, Al Hassa and those cities of the neglected Shia minority in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia.

 Although the geography of Saudi Arabia's Eastern province is nothing magical or special to me, and it is almost always referred to in writings and articles as the "oil-rich" Eastern province. I honestly couldn't give less of a fuck about the Eastern province being "oil-rich" and will never describe it as such, because when I think of this place, I see so much more than oil, I see the people there.

Despite what many in Saudi's believe about the people in the Eastern province, it was the people of the "oil-rich-Shia-majority" Eastern province that made me love Saudi Arabia and put Saudi and it's well-being so deep inside of my heart and soul that I often feel closer to Saudi than my own nation of birth. It was those people who showed me the love of family, hospitality, honesty, and dedication to justice, God, and the greater good of humanity, and made living in Saudi Arabia bearable when the injustice and frustration became over-whelming.

The majority group, the group in power, the group of whom life is made much simpler for in Saudi Arabia is inarguably the Male, Sunni Saudi nationals. However, all over the Muslim-majority nations it is apparent that there is a general dis-regard for Shia, it differs from Morroco and Bahrain to Malaysia, but it exists in some form in every Muslim nation. (Iran being the exception - as it is a Shia state - also important to note that the Sunni minority in Iran are also very oppressed, which is so wrong, but this is another story)

The point is - the clear under-dog in the Muslim-majority region are the Shia. This situation being much more complex and frustrated in the case of Shia in Saudi Arabia, mostly due to the discourse of Ibn Wahhab, and his ideology being adopted as "Saudi Arabia's Islam" and it's impact on the general public.  However, it is so important for the people of Saudi Arabia- Shia, Sunni, Sufi, Salafi, Atheist, Agnostic and the likes - to understand the difficulties that years of oppression can put on a minority group. The very recognition that there are particular prejudices and discrimination against the Shia in Saudi Arabia - can create a different and better Saudi Arabia. Those who deny the problem exists, only make the problem and division in the nation stronger.

My Post-Graduate research was on the situation of the Shia in Saudi Arabia. I had the opportunity through gracious and helpful friends - to sit down and interview a number of Shia in Qatif, Hassa and Saihat, and through their connections I was able to correspond with many more. The results of those interviews are tragic, but what was shocking was how such tragic and sad myths and beliefs about the Shia flow out of their very mouthes, with such normality that it is clear that it is not just one generation that has been impacted by such oppression.

Humans all have the desire to be understood and empathized with. Anyone from the majority-power group (in this case the Sunni in Saudi Arabia) who honestly desires to see a better Saudi Arabia, to see less of a divide between Shia and Sunni MUST make a major effort to understand the position of the minority group (the Shia) and make an effort to see the Shias situation from a Shia perspective, not as told from people on the outside. Then and ONLY then, will progress come. Allow a Shia to tell you their situation - dont let a Sunni cleric on television or a statement from the very government who has kept them silent and away from power for generations to tell you about the situation, beliefs or sentiments of Shia in Saudi Arabia - go directly to the source.

What does the source have to say? My research showed that 100% of those Saudi Shia I interviewed in 2011 and early 2012 said they had experienced discrimination from Saudis based on the fact that they were Shia, 100% of Saudi Shia responded that there was not equal access to jobs for Shia and Sunni in Saudi Arabia, 100% of Saudi Shia responded that they didn't have quality public services (Universities, Mosques, Hospitals, etc) in comparison to other Sunni majority cities in Saudi Arabia, almost 96% responded saying that they believed the majority of Saudis didn't consider them to be Muslims, they listed myths and myths that they had heard Saudis say about Shias beliefs and practices, they had countless numbers of tragic stories of discrimination.

Whether or not one believes their difficulties are true is secondary - the fact of the matter is you have a population that feels isolated and discriminated against, and that many of them are dealing with this feeling on a day to day basis.

The untrue myths about Shia in Saudi Arabia are amazing, and so sad. From they pee in your food, to they will lie to you and stab you in the back (which could be true for any human being), they all serve Iran, they have bizarre forbidden sexual practices and orgies, they have a different Quran, they have tails and on and on and's all bullshit, and it just takes a simple effort to learn or understand that can kill these myths. It must be done, and I honestly believe that one who humbly seeks knowledge walks in the light of God and can inspire, and even save lives.

I beg of the Saudi majority to make an effort to understand and humanize the Saudi minority in the Eastern Province; learn their history, their beliefs, their practices, and their general sentiment and feelings. You will find no two people of any nation, or religion are exactly alike - so keep in mind talking to one Shia is not enough, and they should not be homogenized as they are just as diverse in belief and practice as any other religious group - make an effort to understand.

To me, land belongs to no one person, we didn't create the Earth or its land - and almost all borders and nations were created through murder and oppression - the nation-states we know today mostly manipulated and created by corrupt colonial forces. No one government has a God-given RIGHT to land, or to control their population and what they say or do. I pray for freedom of the people from the USA to Iran to Syria to China to Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan to Japan and everywhere in-between. At the end of the day - we are more similar than we like to believe, and in understanding these similarities and respecting these differences, we can avoid wars and unnecessary deaths of innocent people.

In the end, God be with those in Qatif; those going out to demand justice and their basic rights my heart and prayers are with you, and soon inshallah I will be standing next to you. To those being sent to Qatif as security forces - I pray that you will try to understand that you are the one with the gun, and that those standing on the other end of your guns are human beings - brave and courageous ones at that.

Monday, June 25, 2012

On Marrying your 'own' - which even the US Govt endorses.

Just a Rant...
People struggle to understand each other within their own household, their own language, their own culture, and nation. It’s difficult for us to understand each other in our own context, so what about the men and women who take on partners from different cultures or nations completely?

The more you travel, the more you see it. I’ve known Saudi’s married to Americans, Tunisians married to Brits, Japanese married to Moroccans, Senegalese married to French, Black Americans married to White Americans; the deeper one goes into each culture the clearer one can see the social stigmas and the pressures that are placed on the individuals who choose to date across borders, tribes, customs, and cultures; these stigmas come from both sides, as it appears to me the world loves when people stick to the status quo.
Before I moved to Saudi Arabia, I received an email that was sent out by the United States Embassy in Saudi Arabia, with a strong message – pleading its American women not to wed Saudi men. I was shocked to see an official message from the US government giving relationship advice to its citizens. Most of the message can still be found on the US governments official travel website: It’s more than 2,000 words and about four pages of “advice” to American women. In my eyes, rather than advising its citizens – the document ends up homogenizing the Saudi Arabian people, gives a very strong anti-Islamic tone, and oversimplifies “Sharia” law in a paranoid message that almost clearly tells American women to stay clear of Saudi nationals.
The message states that surely the American woman’s marriage will be doomed to her baring a daughter that is “naturally inclined to cover her hair and wear and Abaya”, God forbid her daughter will probably be a “devout” (they say it in SUCH a negative tone) Muslim who will “probably marry her first cousin”.
The US embassy also states that “In principle all Saudi men must marry Muslims or converts to Islam” (though this is not true in Islam). And that “Most (Saudi) husbands will not approve of a wife working outside the home”. They also end their message by stating that if the American ex-wife (because clearly that’s what they believe she will become) ever wants to visit her children (of which she will not have custody) in Saudi Arabia, the husbands second wife will probably become very jealous.
Fucking Hell. A Sarcastic Bravo to you, US government, Fucking Embarrassing.
Not only is the American government not supporting your cross-cultural doomed marriage to a “crazy Muslim”, but the culture in which you have married into often wants nothing more than to kick you out. {Quickly, I feel the need to give a serious Bravo to the Senegalese people. This is the one culture where although I know the cultural stigmas do exist, I have seen more acceptance and openness from old-to-young generations than anywhere else in the world to inter-cultural marriages (Though the visa-chasers are a definite problem – but that’s another story).}
I remember a blond woman telling her story how she was with her Saudi husband holding their baby while three Saudi girls were hitting on her husband right in front of her – she knew they were provoking her and stated she knew they wouldn’t dare do so if she had been a Saudi woman. My British friend in Tunisia dedicated four years of her life to her Tunisian boyfriend, who refused to take responsibility for her because his mother didn’t want him married to a foreigner. My ex-Fiance’s mother went on a “hunger strike” demanding that he not marry me – “the American national who would divorce him and steal his children” - but rather someone from her hometown (that he had never lived in). I saw a black American woman grab a white American woman’s husband’s crotch in front of her and tell her she “couldn’t handle this”. I know Tunisian women who feel justified in chasing and sleeping with married Tunisian men because “his wife is a colonist French bitch”. Or the simple statements – hopefully you’re girlfriend is Saudi, because you deserve “better than a foreigner”.
Well, Fuck you all.
My vision of love, understanding, equality and happiness goes beyond these small minds - these selfish women and my stupid US government whose small minds can see nothing beyond colors, lines, borders, stereotypes, appearances, etc. I know there are horror stories, but there are horror stories between people from the same city, the same family, the same tribe, the same everything. The more we try to divide the more ridiculous we look, there is strength in diversity. Even fucking science encourages inter-racial marriages as many diseases certain ethnicities are prone to getting can be wiped out in their mixed-race children. If that isn’t a fucking obvious sign from God, then I don’t know what other proof people need.
At the end of the day, people are just fucking people, and nobody is better than anyone else. There are shitter people than you, and better people than you – in every nation and color around the world.
Ladies, fucking hell, can we just support each other, rather than make it into some culturalistic , narrow-minded battle! Use your minds and vaginas wisely...
Rant Finished.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Sexy "Islamic" Subjects....

There are a large number of mediums that are used to attack and oppress women in various societies around the world. However, one of the most powerful and effective methods of control is invoking the name and authority of God to manipulate women into a secondary position in society. However we must ask, does the actual message of God align with the message of the men who claim to speak on his behalf?
I would like to examine (within the context of Islam) the issues of obsession with virgin wives, polygamy, and the veil; three issues that too often fall out of the control of us Muslim women, and into the control of manipulative men invoking “Islam”. Furthermore, it has been a reason that adds to the critical eye around the world towards Islam, often viewed as a religion that “oppresses women”.
Though there are a large number of obvious social, economic, political and psychological arguments against these three issues regarding women; many of those who invoke Islam, consider any source outside of Islam as invalid. Thus, I have chosen to keep the argument strictly based on the Quran – in order to show how many of the social realties within the Muslim community are in direct contradiction with the Quran. I’d like to argue that we women can in fact find peace and protection against this in the Quran.
Issue #1: The Virginity Obsession & Hypocritical Men
We’ve all heard of the paranoia over “breaking hymens” in Saudi Arabia, the threats for virginity tests in Egypt, the high number of hymen reconstruction surgeries in Tunisia. So where does all this vagina madness come from? The easy answer is from the men who obsess over having a lovely virgin wife (or at least a wife whose vagina “appears” to be untouched).
From Saudi Arabia, to the MENA regions “proud example of women’s rights” Tunisia; women’s sexuality is constantly being put at the mercy of men. Women are held accountable for their sexual past, however most of the time, men are not. In a survey taken last fall of Arab-Muslim men, 87% of the men who admitted to being sexually active still insisted that their future wife be a virgin.

Before we go to the Quran, I feel that it’s important to begin with the fact that the model for Muslims; The Prophet Mohammed’s (Peace be upon him, his family and companions) first wife was a widow quite beyond his years, and most definitely NOT a virgin. He kept her as his one and only wife until her death and he loved her dearly.

If this 87% of men still feel they are beyond the example of our Prophet, what about the examples offered in the Quran referring to this exact issue:

"Let no man guilty of adultery or fornication marry any but a woman similarly guilty…such a thing is forbidden to the Believers” (Quran 24:3)

This verse quite simply states, that if a man has been sexually active outside of marriage, he should be wed with a woman who has also done the same. Thus, the man who has had sex, in Islam, has no right to demand a virgin wife. It’s quite logical - a woman who has strived to keep herself saved for marriage deserves a man who has put the same effort into abstaining. And a women who is not a virgin, does not deserve to be shoved aside by a man who has done the same, it’s simply hypocrisy. In case any men think this verse is not enough, read on in your Qurans a few more versus and you will find another verse to clarify:

“…women of purity are for men of purity, and men of purity are for women of purity” (Quran 24:26)
Furthermore, the issue of maintain virginity is almost always attributed to the woman, and not the man. But the Quran makes no distinction between the importance of one gender being held accountable over the other, though pre-marital sex is not allowed before marriage – there is no message of the necessity of a woman to be a virgin to be “wife-material”. It in facts recognizes that this isn’t reality.
If men think they have the “right” to call on women for virginity tests in the name of Islam (a procedure that any doctor with half a degree could tell you is not an accurate association with virginity), then we women should shut them up by invoking our rights to do virginity tests on the men as well. I’d love to see how many of those men would ever agree to sit down for a lie detector test to see if they still had their purity. The fact of the matter is it’s clearly ridiculous, and has no basis in the Quran.
Men & Their Wives: Polygamy

Yes world, we know you hate polygamy, we do too. But it is important to know that polygamy is not traditionally a “Muslim problem”. It was not introduced or created by Islam, polygamy was already a cultural norm for pre-Islamic societies including among the Jews, Christians and polytheists. However, common practice at the time was to have an unlimited number of wives at one time, so the one verse in the entire Quran talking about polygamy restricts it to four wives, an improvement (for back then).
There is only one verse in the Quran where polygamy is directly mentioned. The revelation was understood to be given to the prophet after the battle of Uhud where many men died leaving behind wives and children who were in the need of protection and care:

If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two or three or four, but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one… (Quran 4:3)
The verse does not command polygamy, encourage polygamy, or declare it an absolute right of men. Rather, it is permitting polygamy based on very specific circumstances. Polygamy is conditional on whether the husband can be just to his wives, however, if one cannot be just and treat his wives equally, he is only allowed to marry one. Polygamy wasn’t intended to be a social norm or right, it was merely an exception to the general rule of monogamy based on certain circumstances relevant to the population at the time.

In examination of the condition of being just among all wives, the Quran states later:
Ye are never able to be fair and just as between women, even if it is your ardent desire…” (Quran 4:129)

Reading this verse with the previous verse about polygamy, may show that polygamy was discouraged by Islam. It can be put in a very simple three step understanding; First, if one can be just and fair among women, then you can marry up to four wives. Second, if one cannot be just and fair among women, then they may marry only one. Third, one is never able to be just and fair among women. Therefore, a logical and very literal conclusion based on the reading of the Quran would be that men should only marry one wife. 
Aside from the Quran, another primary source is within the examples and actions of the Prophet. Many argue that since the Prophet Mohammed lived a polygamous life, then polygamy is permissible. The simplest way to contest this argument is to go back to the Quran. Surah 33:50 states:

O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those whom thy right hand possess out of the spoils of war whom Allah has assigned to thee; and daughters of thy maternal uncles and aunts, who migrated (from Makkah) with thee; and any believing woman who dedicated her soul to the Prophet if the Prophet wishes to wed her – this is only for thee, and not for the Believers (at large).

This verse is addressing the number of wives that the prophet has, so again we are in the context of polygamy. It appears that the Prophet, though he is to be taken as an example, was an exception to the rule as well, thus the last sentence, stating that “this (referring to the marriage to many women) is only for thee (the Prophet) and not for the Believers at large”. A literal reading of this verse, can lead to a conclusion that the practice of polygamy - although done by the Prophet - was not intended for the Believers.
Furthermore The Prophet’s daughter was married to Ali ibn Abu Talib (Peace be upon him and his family). It is said that a man approached the Prophet asking the prophet if he could wed his daughter to Ali as a second wife. The Prophet refused, saying that anything that pains Fatima, would also pain him; and thus recognizing the fact that a second wife for Ali would hurt Fatima, and the Prophet himself. If the Prophet didn’t wish for his daughter to be wed to more than one man, then men should respect this wish, as the Prophet is at times called the father of believers.

Polygamy is painful for women to endure, and it’s been justified for centuries in the name of Islam from this one verse, however, further speculation in the Quran doesn’t seem to support it. The Tunisian state was the first country to ban polygamy and make it punishable by law, the legal code was in reference to these very passages stating that it was impossible to treat more than one woman equally. The new Tunisian government after the revolution has protected this law, and countries in the region who permit this practice in the name of Islam should re-evaluate their policies and move forward in the direction that Tunisia took in the mid-twentieth century.

Covering our Beauty: The Veil
I do believe that the definition of modesty varies from one person to the next, I both fully support my sisters who choose to cover in any way they choose, but I also fully support my sisters who choose not to cover.

First and foremost, the veil must not been seen as a sign of oppression by on-lookers. Though there are tragic cases of injustice where women don’t feel free to expose their hair or faces due to shame from a society; there are also a large number of women who choose in the name of modesty to cover themselves proudly. Many feel empowered by the niqab or hijab, as they feel it forces society to focus on their person rather than their sexuality. Veil bans (such as in France) are merely another way to try to control what women wear, and to revoke the veil in the name of feminism or human-rights is a back ward argument. Rather, those of us who enjoy the right not to wear the veil should be supporting those of us who choose to wear a veil. Society needs to stop telling us women how to dress – whether that be to wear more, or wear less – the power to choose should be in the hands of the women themselves. That means defending both sides – veil or no veil.

Similar to the issue of polygamy, there is only one verse in the entire Quran addressing the issue of women’s dress. Seems ironic that these two verses get so much attention in the Muslim community and around the world – yet they make such a small portion in the word of God (the majority of Quranic verses focusing on the beauty of nature and signs of God).
The verse is as follows:
Verse 24:31:

“And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and orniments except what must ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms”
It should be noted that the portion “lower their gaze and guard their modesty” is also addressed right before this verse in 24:30 – to the men. The men are also told to lower their gaze and guard their modesty (and it appears before the verse telling women to do the same). Thus the Qurans message of modesty and lowering gaze is not merely a message for women but for men and women, and men before women. As much as our community would like us to believe that women must cover their entire bodies because men cannot control themselves more than women – the Quran says otherwise. Both men and women are recognized as sexual beings with desires – thus – both are told to lower their gaze and guard their modesty – implying it is something we choose. If a man believes that a woman is improperly dressed, he should “lower his gaze” or look away, as is advised by the word of God. His mind and modesty is in his own control, it is not the fault of the woman if he allows his modesty or his eyes to wander.

Secondly, the verse says that women should “draw their veils over their bosom”. Traditions in pre-Islamic Arabia (derived from ancient poetry, statutes, and historical accounts) mention that women often wore robes that hung loosely and that the breasts were often displayed. (The verse affirms this by addressing the issue) There is even mention of an ancient tradition in Mecca where women would show their breasts to warriors before they went to battle for good luck. The only thing made clear by this verse, which is accepted by most societies in the world is that the breasts are something that should be covered in public. None of us are debating this issue, rather we focus on the face and hair – two things that just aren’t mentioned in the Quran.
There is debate over what the “veil” in the verse refers to, and how it should be worn. Some say that at the prophet’s time the “veil” was merely hung loosely around the neck (as a scarf) in case of bad weather – the veil would be used to protect the face from sandstorms, but otherwise hair wasn’t covered. This is debatable, but worth taking into consideration. It’s clear that faces weren’t covered – as this provision was made for the Prophets wives in Medina after they had faced harassment and ridicule – but again it was made clear this was a law only for the Prophets wives and not the rest of the believers.
The veil has been worn by both men and women pagans, Christians, Jews, Muslims, polytheists, etc. Though the Quran is clear that women should be modest, it doesn’t give much definition of what exactly “modest dress” is, as much as people would like us to believe. Also, these were suggestions made in the Quran using the phrase “they should”, not the phrase “they must or they will burn in Hell” like we often hear.
To My Fellow Muslim Women: Find your own definition of modesty and comfort – and wear it. Don’t let anyone force you to wear what you don’t feel right wearing (be it more or less). After all, outside appearances are not important – it’s the heart that matters.
I’ve seen prostitutes drink and dance the night away and throw on their Abaya and niqab and go out on the street the next day. I’ve also seen women swimming in Bikinis who were virtuous and modest and did amazing things in the name of God, but chose not to cover. At the end of the day, it’s not up to us to judge or decide, merely to allow people the free will to choose. We don’t do what we do for society – we do it for God, and we should be free to make that choice.
Though it’s easy to try to blame Islam for the problems in the Muslim community, the Quran just doesn’t put unfair expectations on women like many men of the Muslim community have.
To the Non-Muslims:  Don’t think we women are fighting a purposeless fight because you believe our religion is futile. Many of the problems we face are not at all rooted in the Quran or in Islam, but in corrupt clerics and powerful men who would like to control us. We need all the support we can get to weaken the argument of men who invoke Islam to oppress us, because at the end of the day, their arguments are merely man-made.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A party in the K.S.A.

I was sitting in a living room in Taif, but couldn’t help but feel like I was in a club.  I was half asleep at 4am, while Khaleeji music blasted and Saudi girls dressed in diva short dresses and obnoxious high heels swayed their hips back and fourth with glasses of vodka in their left hands and cigarettes in the other. The men would jump in and out on the dance floor, sometimes dancing with each other, and other times grabbing a girl and playfully spinning her around. Although 'mixing' of the sexes was forbidden, they cast what Saudi considered socially acceptable far aside for that evening.
My friend Mohammed tapped me on the shoulder and laughed as he pointed out a couple making out passionately on the couch. I looked at them with sleepy eyes, but enough to make out that it was the police officer we met from earlier that day, who now had a beautiful Saudi girl sitting on his lap in his arms. We knew he had a wife and children, and this woman was definitely not his wife or the mother of his children.
They ran out of alcohol, my friend Mohammed came up to me, “the dealer is coming, you wont get in trouble, can you go out and grab the vodka for us”. I laughed, I was the only one in the room who didn’t drink but I understood why they were afraid. I supposed it was better for me to get deported than them be jailed for god knows how long. “He’s coming in a black suburban, when you go outside to the car just reach out your hand with this money, but DO NOT look at him. He handed me a wad of riyals. It’s super important that you don’t look at him ya azizity.” I giggled to myself, I felt like I was walking out to do some major drug deal, all for a little bottle of alcohol, something that could be bought in most of the world by 18 year olds. I followed his instructions, walked out to the black suburban, turned my head away and reached out my arm with the equivalent of 100$ in my hand. I was fighting myself back from laughing out loud as the whole process just seemed so silly to me, and I suddenly felt the money pulled away and a bottle slide into my hand. Right as my fingers gripped around the bottle, the car quickly sped off.
I sat for a moment in the middle of the street. I looked at the bottle wrapped in a shopping bag in my hand, and I giggled to myself, I couldn’t believe the trouble they went through to get this little bottle, and it was only 15$ in America. I heard Mohammed shout a whisper to me, “ya bint! Get in here”. I looked up and snapped back into Saudi reality, and I walked into the house.
It stunk of cigarettes and dancing, they had disco lights and an excellent sound system.  The girls were flirting and dancing up on the men, and as the house was empty they were to stay the night. I told Mohammed I would go to sleep. I jokingly asked him which girl he liked. And although he had danced and laughed with all of them he said “Ohhh, I don’t like these kind of girls, they are sluts”. Typical, I thought, though all these men were participating and doing the exact thing the girls were, only the women got the negative label. I shook my head, and was too tired to make a comment, though I usually wouldn’t miss such an opportunity.
I retired to the bedroom alone and locked the door to my room. I slept in peace, except a few knocks and bangs on the door which I ignored.  I slept through the booming of the music in the living room down the hall. I woke up once, I heard the call to prayer and an argument going on outside my room with the booming music still continuing. It cut out in silence while the rest of the fujr call to prayer continued. One guy made them turn off the music while the Athan was on, I knew they stopped music during the Athan out of respect for God, but I had to giggle to myself, despite all the things they were doing that they believed to be “haram”, they still managed to keep some degree of religious tradition – while drunk at a mixed party. Oh Saudi, I thought to myself, and fell back asleep.
I woke up early the next morning. To my surprise, the sun was up and the music was still going. I unlocked my room and walked out down the hallway, I heard giggles and turned and saw two of the girls I saw the night before in bed moving under the sheets, as they heard me walk by they turned around and giggled and yelled “good morning”! I saw the police officers head pop up and he gave me a guilty (but very happy) smile. I faked a smile back, and said “asshole” under my breath. I moved on. I walked into the living room to say my goodbyes, a few people were still dancing in the middle of the living room with drinks in hand and a few others were passed  out on the couches. I walked by the door, and a few of the girls who were wearing short tight dresses with their breasts popping out, were changing their heels to flats and putting on their abayas and adjusting their niqabs to properly cover their face. I giggled again. One girl looked at me, she still had one sparkly high heel on, and her abaya was open to reveal a dress that more looked like a tight t-shirt that had to constantly be tugged on so her underwear wouldn’t be seen, she was tying the niqab around her head, and as I looked at her she smiled back with an understanding smile, as if to acknowledge that she knew it was odd to be covering up after last night. “We’re not hypocrites Habibity” she said, “in order to be a Hypocrite, you have to have the ability to make a choice.” I smiled, “Don’t feel you need to justify anything to me.” I replied. She smiled, and hugged me and kissed me on the cheeks.
Her and her friends were now covered from head to toe in black, I escorted them out. The other two girls walked out with their boyfriends who were in their boxers with messy hair and they kissed their girlfriends goodbye. I walked out with them onto the driveway, I saw one of the girls walk up to the Indian driver who was parked safely within the gates of the house so nobody could see women coming out in the morning. She put her pointer finger in his face and said with a scold, “if you tell baba where you had to come to pick us up, Wallahi I will get you in so much trouble!” He backed up frightened, “no, no madam, don’t worry it is not my business. I am saying nothing, nothing.” She jumped into the back of the car satisfied and they waved goodbye. I had lost track of which one was which, as they all looked the same covered in black. I looked at the guys waving goodbye, they looked back at me. “Did you guys have a good night” I asked. They gave me a huge smile, and I laughed with them.  “Well, your girlfriends are nice”, I said to them. “laaaa ya binty”, they said with shocked sarcastic voices “these are not nice girls, they are like prostitutes.” “Well,” I replied, “more innocent is the sinner who is victim of the system then the oppressor who keeps the system alive.” Ahmed looked at me with a smile that showed he got what I meant, then he gave me a friendly pat on the head – as if he found my remark cute yet insignificant.
“This is Saudi ya bint, this is Saudi.” He finally said.