Monday, May 31, 2010

Blue Harbour exhibition in Riyadh

Good news for all the ladies in Riyadh, there is going to be another exhibition for women only, held at the Mercure hotel near Granada mall. Starting today May 31st to 1st June.
The exhibition is called "Blue Harbour" and its themed Excellence first. It is a chance for saudi women from all around the country to come advertise and promote their own companies and form new connections. Most commonly women will have their own designs of abayas, jalabiya, evening gowns and other clothing for sale. There is also jewellery designers, catering companies, perfumeries, and wedding service companies.I really enjoy going to these functions, the women are relaxed, friendly, smiling and most of them are very beautiful, mashallah! I just enjoy watching the women in their normal clothing, just like in any big city around the world. Doesn't feel like KSA at all because you see so much uncovered women at a time! Most women will remove their abayas and hijab and will be dressed in stylish trendy clothing, usually with an arabic twist to it. Their thick long hair will be let down or made up in pretty hairdos.

I've found lovely abayas, jalabiyat and jewellery from exhibitions like these. The last one I went to was in Nayyara and it was a wedding exhibition. There were many talented ladies selling their designs.
THE blue abaya is from an exhibition. Exhibitions are a good way to follow the latest trends on abaya fashion.
Clothes on display are top quality, fabrics are luxuriuous, and so are the prices sometimes! But it's worth it. The quality of these abayas has no comparison to the ones you buy from stores. Each one is hand made and detailed.
A jalabiya is kind of like a thobe or a long kaftan dress, like the pics they can vary from the simple comfortable "at home" dresses to sparkling, embellished and embroidered fashion statements worn to parties.
It's worth going and something a bit different to do in Riyadh even you dont intend don't to buy anything, just walk around and browse the shops and have a taste of arabic coffee, dates and chocolates while you're at it. Enjoy!


Friday, May 28, 2010

Camels-Miracles Of The Desert

Camels, the animals designed specifically to survive in the harshest of environments-the desert.Every single detail of the camel has been carefully designed and constructed to perfection.
It is one of the few animals specifically mentioned in the Quran:

"Have they not looked at the camel - how it was created?" (Surat al-Ghashiyah: 17)

A patient of mine recently gave me some freshly milked camel milk to taste and mentioned all the health benefits that it has.  It was so good that it inspired me to find out a little bit more about this amazing creature! 

Camel Anatomy
Numerous anatomical and physical adaptations have allowed the camel to survive the incredibly harsh environment of the desert. Heat storage within the body of the camel, selective brain cooling, fur, concentrated urine from unique kidneys, adaptions in the respiratory system, special physical features, unique blood consistency and hormones all serve as important characteristics for the camel in terms of thermo-regulation.

The camel actually increases its own body temperature during the scorching heat of the day. That way it minimizes water loss from evaporation. In the night it cools its body temperature down 7 degrees Celscius, saving almost 5 liters of water this way.
To protect the brain from overheating, the camel has an 'airconditioning" system installed.

The extreme survivor
The camel can survive up to eight days in 50-degree temperatures without eating or drinking-circumstances that would kill a human in 36 hours. It usually drinks 4 times in the summer and only one in the winter! Most of the time the camel is in a state of dehydration, but when it gets hydrated its physiological system quickly adapts to the massive change in body volume.
When the camel does find a source of water it stores it up. Camels can drink up to a third of their body weight of water in ten minutes meaning up to 130 litres in one go.

What's in the hump?
Contrary to common beliefs, the camel doesn't actually store water in the humps, but they consist of about 40 kg of fat!  Concentrating body fat in their humps minimizes heat evaporation and creates and insulation throughout the rest of their body. When this tissue is metabolized, it acts as a source of energy and yields more than 1 g of water for each 1 g of fat converted through reaction with oxygen from air. This process of fat metabolization generates a net loss of water through respiration for the oxygen required to convert the fat.

Special features
The camel's red blood cells have an oval shape, unlike those of other mammals which are circular. This is to facilitate their flow in a dehydrated state. These cells are also more stable in order to withstand high osmotic variation without rupturing when drinking large amounts of water. WOW!

The kidneys of the camel of course play an important role in water conservation.They have a special shape being able to produce very concentrated urine and thus increasing water retention. The concentration of the camels urine is higher than seawater, it resembles syrup in consistency. This also enables the camels to drink salty water without problems. Also the levels of hormones responsible for water levels significantly increase in the dehydrated camel.

Most of the food sources in the desert are dry and thorny so the camel’s digestive system has been created according to these harsh conditions. The animal’s teeth and lips are constructed to enable it to eat even sharp thorns with ease. Its stomach, which has a special design of its own, is strong enough to digest almost all plants found in the desert.

How camels survive in sandstorms
The eyelids of the camel protect the animal’s eyes from dust and grains of sand. However, they are also transparent and that enables it to see even with its eyes closed which would come in handy in the midst of a sandstorm. Its long, thick eyelashes are created to prevent dust from getting into the eyes.

There is also a special design in the camel’s nose. When sandstorms blow, it closes its nostrils with special lids. The nostrils are also designed to reduce loss of water through respiration with a unique cooling system and nasal passages that are able to absorb water that passes through them.

The camel’s feet are specially created for the desert so that it doesnt get stuck in the sand even if  its carrying hundreds of kilos loads on its back. The animal’s wide toes stop it from sinking in the sand and function just like snowshoes. Its long legs keep its body away from the burning heat of the desert floor.

Protection and perfection
The camel's body is covered in thick, hard fur. This protects the animal both from the burning rays of the sun by reflecting the heat and from the desert chill in the night which can go below zero.
Some parts of its body are covered in thick protective layers of skin that comes into contact with the ground when it sits on the scorching sand. This prevents the camel’s skin from burning.

These thick layers of skin are not calluses that develop over time; the camel is born with them. The equivalent to a human baby being born with thickened skin on the soles of its feet! This special design brings out the perfection of creation in the camel.
The thickened skin cannot be explained by the logic of the theory of evolution That and all its other extraordinary features reveal one evident truth: That the camel was specifically created by God to help man survive in the desert.

Camel in arabic actually comes from the word beauty. Arabs have known the curing affects of camel milk and urine (yes URINE) since the times of Prophet Muhammed who advised people to use it to treat certain illnesses like liver diseases and rashes. Recently scientists have proven this to be a fact. Camel milk on the other hand is especially beneficial for type1 diabetics, helps the digestive system, is cholesterol free, rich in vitami C and it even tastes good!

Read more on the health benefits of camel milk and urine here:

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Science & Islam and the existence of God

The following is a very interesting and thought-provoking Dialogue between an atheist Professor of Philosophy and his Muslim student regarding the existence of God.

"Let me explain the problem science has with God.", The atheist professor of philosophy pauses before his class and then asks one of his new students to stand.
Professor: "You're a Muslim, aren't you, son?"
Student: "Yes, sir"
Professor: "So you believe in God?"
Student: "Absolutely."
Professor: "Is God good?"
Student: "Sure! God's good."
Professor: "Is God all-powerful? Can God do anything?"
Student: "Yes"
The professor grins knowingly and considers for a moment. "Here's one for you. Let's say there's a sick person over here and you can cure him. You can do it. Would you help them? Would you try?"
Student: "Yes sir, I would.
Professor: "So you're good...!"
Student: "I wouldn't say that.
Professor: "Why not say that? You would help a sick and maimed person if you could in fact most of us would if we could... God doesn't."
[No answer]
"He doesn't, does he? My brother was a Muslim who died of cancer even though he prayed to God to heal him. How is this God good? Hmmm? Can you answer that one?"
[No answer]
The elderly professor is sympathetic. "No, you can't, can you?" He takes a sip of water from a glass on his desk to give the student time to relax. "In philosophy, you have to go easy with the new ones."
"Let's start again, young fella."
Professor: "Is God good?"
Student: "Er... Yes."
Professor: "Is Satan good?"
Student: "No."
Professor: "Where does Satan come from?"
Student: "The student falters. From... God..."
Professor: "That's right. God made Satan, didn't He?"
The professor runs his bony fingers through his thinning hair and turns to the smirking, student audience. "I think we're going to have a lot of fun this semester, ladies and gentlemen". He turns back to the Muslim.
"Tell me, son. Is there evil in this world?"
Student: "Yes, sir"
Professor: "Evil's everywhere, isn't it? Did God make everything?"
Student: "Yes"
Professor: "Who created evil?"
[No answer]
Professor: "Is there sickness in this world? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All the terrible things - do they exist in this world?"
The student squirms on his feet.
Student: "Yes."
Professor: "Who created them?"
[No answer]
The professor closes in for the kill and climbs into the Muslim's face. In a still small voice: "God created all evil, didn't He, son?"
[No answer]
The student tries to hold the steady, experienced gaze and fails. Suddenly the lecturer breaks away to pace the front of the classroom like an aging panther. The class is mesmerized. "Tell me, he continues, How is it that this God is good if He created all evil throughout all time? The professor swishes his arms around to encompass the wickedness of the world. All the hatred, the brutality, all the pain, all the torture, all the death and ugliness and all the suffering created by this good God is all over the world, isn't it, young man?"
[No answer]
"Don't you see it all over the place? Huh?" Pause. "Don't you?" The professor leans into the student's face again and whispers, "Is God good?"
[No answer]
"Do you believe in God, son?"
The student's voice betrays him and cracks. "Yes, professor. I do"
The old man shakes his head sadly. "Science says you have five senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. You have never seen God, Have you?"
Student: "No, sir. I've never seen Him"
Professor: "Then tell us if you've ever heard your God?
Student: "No, sir. I have not"
Professor: "Have you ever felt your God, tasted your God or smelt your fact, do you have any sensory perception of your God whatsoever?"
Student: "No, sir"
Professor: "Yet you still believe in him?"
Student: "yes..."
Professor: "That takes FAITH!"
The professor smiles sagely at the underling. "According to the rules of empirical, testable,
demonstrable protocol, science says your God doesn't exist. What do you say to that, son?
Where is your God now?"
The student doesn't answer.
"Sit down, please"
The Muslim sits...Defeated.
Another Muslim raises his hand. "Professor, may I address the class?"
The professor turns and smiles. "Ah, another Muslim in the vanguard! Come, come, young man. Speak some proper wisdom to the gathering"
The Muslim looks around the room. "Some interesting points you are making, sir. Now I've got a question for you. Is there such thing as heat?"
Professor: Yes, the professor replies. There's heat.
Student: "Is there such a thing as cold?"
Professor: "Yes, son, there's cold too."
Student: "No, sir, there isn't"
Professor: The professor's grin freezes. The room suddenly goes very cold.

The student continues. You can have lots of heat, even more heat, super-heat, mega-heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat but we don't have anything called 'cold'. We can hit 458 degrees below zero, which is no heat, but we can't go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold, otherwise we would be able to go colder than 458, You see, sir, cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat we can measure in thermal units because heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it"
Silence. A pin drops somewhere in the classroom.
Student: "Is there such a thing as darkness, professor?"
Professor: "That's a dumb question, son. What is night if it isn't darkness? What are you getting at...?"
Student: "So you say there is such a thing as darkness?"
Professor: "Yes..."
Student: "You're wrong again, sir. Darkness is not something, it is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light but if you have no light constantly you have nothing and it's called darkness, isn't it? That's the meaning we use to define the word. In reality, Darkness isn't. If it were, you would be able to make darkness darker and give me a jar of it. Can you... give me a jar of darker darkness, professor?
Despite himself, the professor smiles at the young effrontery before him.
"This will indeed be a good semester. Would you mind telling us what your point is, young man?"
Student: "Yes, professor. My point is, your philosophical premise is flawed to start with and so your conclusion must be in error...."
The professor goes toxic. "Flawed...? How dare you...!
Student: "Sir, may I explain what I mean?"
The class is all ears.
Professor: "Explain... oh, explain..."

The professor makes an admirable effort to regain control. Suddenly he is affability itself. He waves his hand to silence the class, for the student to continue.

"You are working on the premise of duality", the Muslim explains. "That for example there is life and then there's death; a good God and a bad God. You are viewing the concept of God as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, science cannot even explain a thought. It uses electricity and magnetism but has never seen, much less fully understood them. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing. Death is not the opposite of life, merely the absence of it"
The young man holds up a newspaper he takes from the desk of a neighbor who has been reading it. "Here is one of the most disgusting tabloids this country hosts, professor, Is there such a thing as immorality?"
Professor: "Of course there is, now look..."
Student: "Wrong again, sir. You see, immorality is merely the absence of morality. Is there such thing as injustice? No. Injustice is the absence of justice. Is there such a thing as evil?" The Muslim pauses. "Isn't evil the absence of good?"
The professor's face has turned an alarming color. He is so angry he is temporarily speechless. The Muslim continues.
"If there is evil in the world, professor, and we all agree there is, then God, if he exists, must be accomplishing a work through the agency of evil. What is that work, God is accomplishing? Islam tells us it is to see if each one of us will, choose good over evil"

The professor bridles. "As a philosophical scientist, I don't view this matter as having anything to do with any choice; as a realist, I absolutely do not recognize the concept of God or any other theological factor as being part of the world equation because God is not observable"

"I would have thought that the absence of God's moral code in this world is probably one of the most observable phenomena going", the Muslim replies. "Newspapers make billions of dollars reporting it every week! Tell me, professor, do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?"

Professor: "If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, young man, yes, of course I do."
Student: "Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?"
The professor makes a sucking sound with his teeth and gives his student a silent, stony stare.
Student: "Professor, Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor, are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you now not a scientist, but a priest?
Professor: "I will overlook your impudence in the light of our philosophical discussion. Now, have you quite finished?" the professor hisses.
Student: "So you don't accept God's moral code to do what is righteous?"
Professor: "I believe in what is - that's science!"
Student: "Ahh! SCIENCE!", the student's face splits into a grin, "Sir, you rightly state that science is the study of observed phenomena. Science too is a premise which is flawed..."
SCIENCE IS FLAWED..? the professor splutters.
The class is in uproar. The Muslim remains standing until the commotion has subsided.
Student: "To continue the point you were making earlier to the other student, may I give you an example of what I mean?"
The professor wisely keeps silent. The Muslim looks around the room.
"Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen air, oxygen, molecules, atoms, the professor's brain?"

The class breaks out in laughter. The Muslim points towards his elderly crumbling tutor, "Is there anyone here who has ever heard the professor's brain... felt the professor's brain, touched or smelt the professor's brain?"
"No one appears to have done so", The Muslim shakes his head sadly. "It appears no one here has had any sensory perception of the professor's brain whatsoever. Well, according to the rules of empirical, stable, demonstrable protocol, science, I declare that the professor has no brain!"

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Attacks on western women outside Kingdom mall!

I would rate Saudi-Arabia as one of the safest countries I've been to. Crime rates are very low and security forces are present everywhere, I've never heard of violent attacks on westerners during the time I've lived here. The only thing to worry about has been the traffic!
However during the past week, there has been attacks on western women occuring next to the main entrance of the Kingdom Mall. So ladies in Riyadh be aware and watch out for expensive jeeps full of teenagers!

What happened is a western nurse from the hospital I work in was attacked about a week ago outside Kingdom Mall, she was waiting for her driver at the main entrance, there is a ramp that goes up from Olaya rd to the entrance of the mall. There are security guards present, they usually tend to the traffic so it doesnt get jammed up. Apparently she was waiting for her driver to arrive when a car full of young saudi men (teenagers) drove up and started shouting at her. They got out of the car and started kicking her, she then ran down the stairs to Olaya and took a regular taxi. The guys followed in their 4X4 and forced the taxi to stop on King Fahad rd. They pulled the woman out of the car and started kicking and hitting her in the middle of the street! The driver did nothing to help her, and this was going on while people were just watching! Luckily a saudi man came to her rescue and the guys drove away. To my understanding they have not been captured by the police, nor did the security at Kingdom do anything to help the woman..She was brought into the hospital and alhamdulillah she is ok now.
The other incident involved a group of expat women arriving to Kingdom at the same entrance. While they were exiting their van a group of young saudi men arrived in an expensive jeep and started shouting at them to get out of Saudi-Arabia and at the same time threw large rocks at the women!One of them got hit badly and started bleeding from her head. Yet again the security or men standing around did absolutely anything to help! The security didnt even call the police let alone an ambulance for the wounded woman. The guys drove off and I am amazed how they managed to escape since there is always so much traffic on Olaya. The woman was taken back to her compound to get stiches on her head.

There has been numerous other incidents involving young saudi men in expensive jeeps (I would ASSUME Hummers) verbally harassing women outside Kingdom mall. Is this the same group or just random, nobody seems to know. But it looks like its best to avoid that entrance at least or exit from the Ladies only section upstairs.

I'm surpised they are targeting this mall which is owned by prince Alwaleed bin Talal. Its full of high end stores and frequented with upperclass saudis, royals as well as expats. The third floor is womens only. You would assume this mall wants to keep a good clean image, but it looks like the security isnt doing anything to prevent these attacks. So please be alert, and if you see any kind disruptive behaviour report it to your embassy so we can know if there is something more serious going on! I would advise women to wear headscarves for your own safety!

My question is: Where is the muttawa when women REALLY need them??
Why didnt bystanders help? Where they too afraid?

Inside Kingdom Mall

Thsi issue was also discussed on and americanlawyerinsaudi-blog and american bedu:

I just wanted to add that I feel this shouldn't imply all saudi teenagers or saudi men are evil women harassers. These things happen everywhere around the world. By these things I mean harassing minorities. It happens in western countries all the time. It just seems to be so OUTRAGEOUS to westerners if we are being harassed by muslim men. But if its a western man harassing a muslim woman, its not a big deal really.

Some examples that occured this spring from Finland: A gang of boys aged 14-15 throw rocks at a muslim woman when she is on her balcony. They are driven away, but return to throw more rocks and shout at her later. They are not arrested because they are under aged according to Finnish law, thus not responsible legally for their actions!

Another upsetting occurence: Muslim women get smashed between bus doors on purpose by the drivers in Helsinki. The drivers are given a warning.
I will add the link when I find the news headlines for the above.
So these couple incidents at Kingdom mall are rare and in general western women do get treated with courtesy in Saudi-Arabia! I cannot unfortunately say the same when it comes to treatment of Muslim women in Finland..

Monday, May 24, 2010

Muttawa Encounters

As I promised on a previous post, I will share some experiences my friends and I have had with muttawa.
These are all real situations that have occured within the last 3 years in Riyadh.

My first encounter with the muttawa was at the Janadriya heritage festival held once a year on the outskirts of Riyadh. It's a huge exhibition area that displays saudi culture from all over the country, and this was womens only day. While we were exiting the festival area, there was a muttawa squad at the gate checking that all exiting females had covered their hair. For what reason-I have no clue since only wome were around! So I was wearing a hat like this(that day was hot and women were selling them in every corner):

My hair was covered! But the muttawa insisted I take it off and wrap my scarf around my hair. I asked him, so you want me to expose my hair then? He didnt know what to answer, he just repeated like a robot: you must cover you hair!I still insisted it is covered but after my friends got somewhat uncomfortable I decided to obey him. So I removed my hat let my hair fall open and wrapped the scarf around my head, which actually left more hair visible. Make your own conclusions to what his real agenda was.

In Granada mall, its school vacation time 10 am and we are shopping in a group of three girls. There's alot of teenaged Saudi boys and girls around. We spot the muttawa, they are in a group of 3 muttawas accompanied by two policemen. Thats means trouble, that means they can arrest us! At the time I didnt cover my hair and had forgotten to take my "in case of muttawa scarf" with me. So I quickly tried to find a shop to go buy one. Too late, they already had spotted me! They started following me around and into shops (even lingerie shops), shouting cover your hair! I pretended not to hear and kept searching for a scarf to buy. Finally I found one, put it on and they were gone, so I then removed it again. Later we saw four teenage girls running as fast as they could with the same muttawa running and shouting behind them! It was hilarious, the girls hadnt covered their hair and their abayas were OPEN! Wow how courageous of them. I assume they were about 14 years old. They ran out of the mall into their jeep and werent caught.

In Faisaliah mall: four western girls are having dinner at the family section of the food court which is surrounded by walls and there are no men nearby. Two muttawas come in, the older one is wearing the Harry Potter cape making him look more intimidating to the girls. Muttawas immediately head to the girls in the middle of their meal and ask them to cover. They ask why? Answer: Because you are in Saudi-Arabia. The girls feel baffled, why are they being disturbed while eating alone in a quite corner in family section, obviously sitting there for privacy. In their own language they decide to go in the ladies room, not to cover their hair and just wait for them to leave to continue the meal in peace. But muttawa follows them and waits outside the toilet until they come out.

In Panda: a western couple is grocery shopping. Muttawa comes up to the wife and tells her to cover her hair. The husband gets upset and challenges the muttawa, how dare they speak to his wife in that manner?They have no right to address her or to even glance at her. Muttawa leaves her alone.

In Kingdom mall: A western woman who is Muslim but chooses not to cover her hair and her Saudi husband are shopping. Muttawa approaches the woman: cover your hair! Says to husband: pray that Allah will forgive her! Saudi husband replies: No YOU pray that Allah forgives your behavior and for her want to wear hijab one day, otherwise leave her alone it's her decision!! Muttawa leaves the scene.

Also in Kingdom mall: western man runs into his female colleague from work outside a shop, they start chatting. Muttawa approaches them, asks them are they married. They ignore him. Muttawa starts beating the man on his legs with his stick. Western man looks at muttawa in a bad way and continues talking to colleague. Muttawa whips the western man even harder with his stick. Western man grabs the stick from the muttawa, throws it over the edge down to the first floor and continues conversation. Muttawa leaves the scene to retrieve his stick and does not return.

In Hayat mall: Western man is shopping, it's prayer time and the shops close. Two muttawas approach him and ask why he is not praying. Man replies because he isn't Muslim. Muttawas then drag him forcefully into the shopping malls mosque, and make him stand in the back the whole time watching the other men pray.When the prayer is finished they let him go.

A young western woman  goes to get take-out food with two male colleagues after work. They drive to the shwarma place and the men go out to get the food. Usually she would wait in the car but this time she decides to step out. Her hair is not covered and she has left her handbag in the car. Muttawa drives by, spots them and starts questioning them, how they know eachother and why they are together. She would have been fine if she had only took the bag with her to show her ID and say she is just walking around. The muttawas don't speak english and she doesn't know what's going on. So they are all shoved in the muttawa GMC and taken to the police station. The woman is interrogated and made to strip to her underwear in front of the female staff who are all laughing at her and demanding she strip naked. Nobody speaks english and she still doesn't know what is going to happen. She is given clothing to change to, and only then she realizes that they are putting her in jail! So she ends up spending two nights in jail, until her sponsor comes and gets her out. Its Ramadan so there's obligatory fasting for everyone. There are many other women in the large prisoncell crammed together lying on dirty floors or benches. Some women are crying, some even have small children with them. Alhamdulillah nothing worse happens to her and she gets out of jail because of influential sponsor.

Entrance to Janadriya festival area on womens only day.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Women driving in saudi soon? Inshallah!

Driving instructor

Saudi-Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from driving. There is in fact nothing in the saudi law that literally prohibits women from driving, nor does it come from Islam. Recently on Saudiwomans weblog, she translated an article about how to start implementing women driving in KSA from Alriyadh newspaper.

In the article various men have been interviewed regarding why are women prohibited to drive, and what would be in their opinion the best way to start allowing females to drive. They asked a Legal Counsel, Bandar bin Ibrahim Al Muhrij who had this to say: article thirty-two of the traffic laws states that “any person is prohibited from driving a vehicle before obtaining a driver’s license as is required in accordance with the provisions of this law”, and based on this text, the word “person” contained therein is not limited to the male without the female, indicating that the fact that driving licenses are issued exclusively to males is not supported by any document from the traffic system and its laws.

So banning women from driving is purely acultural issue. Actually, women were allowed to drive in Saudi some decades ago before the scholars suddenly realized its another way to control women haram and banned it. So it hasn't always been forbidden.Why are the scholars so insecure, do they think the women would run away if they could drive?

Commonly used excuses (mostly by saudi men but EVEN some women!) for justifying the ban on women driving:

-Women have other things to do like cooking, cleaning and taking care of kids.

Well I wonder how ALL the women in the rest of the world who are allowed to drive have time to do both !?
Actually if women could drive here they would have MORE time to spend with kids and at home. Now their time is consumed by waiting for their drivers or fighting with taxi drivers or getting lost with foreign drivers who barely speak a word of Arabic or English.

- Allowing women to drive will increase traffic jams because all women of the family would want their own cars and would want to drive.

Now this is just plain stupid. Just think about it. At the moment there are hundreds of thousands women who have to be taken to school, university or work every morning. To hobbies, shopping, friends houses etc in the evenings.. The driver takes them, drives back home, goes to get them again and returns home. Now isnt that always 4 trips, versus the 2 that woman by herself would take? Would the woman perhaps drive two cars at a time? Where is the logic? That's LESS traffic and cars. The woman could also take her sister, mother or whoever in the same trip. Also from what I've heard from Saudi women, not everyone would want to start start driving in the very beginning or possibly ever, or would want their own car. They are just too afraid, and no wonder because the traffic here is horrible!But lifting the ban would ease the traffic jams despite that. That takes us to the next excuse:

-The traffic in Saudi is so bad and dangerous women couldn't handle it

But why is the traffic so bad? Because its all men! Men are to blame for majority of accidents in all studies conducted around the world, plus have most speeding tickets and violations. If women were allowed to drive the traffic would be better for sure, women abide to laws more and are more cautious. This is a well known fact and supported by statistics from around the world. Many of the employed drivers in KSA are foreigners who don't care about abiding to Saudi laws. Also it's not rare to see 10-15 year old boys driving around with their fathers or brothers. So even they are seen as more competent than adult women.

If she was a boy, she'd be driving daddys jeep!

-its not safe for women to drive because men will start harassing them and chasing them with their cars
Well is this the womens fault?!Why cant the police handle the harassers? Thats a new job for the muttawa then, protect women dont harass them!They could even make a squad that specifically targets crazy young male drivers. Muttawas like to point the finger at the woman, she is at fault, she is being a temptress behind the wheel! The poor saudi men are at their mercy! Men simply cannot handle themselves, therefore, ban the women from driving is the solution.

-females cant drive because they must wear face cover, which prohibits them from seeing well enough to drive, hence subjecting them to dangerous situations

First of all women can see perfectly well with the facecover (niqab). There are niqab wearing driving instructors even in U.S. And if these scholars really think women cant see well enough with niqab and it subjects them to danger, then why are women supposed to wear it in the first place? How can they see well enough to cross the street, or which GMC or jeep they should hop in thinking its their husband or driver (a mistake would lead to haram mixing!!). How do women even go about their daily lives shopping, studying and working with it? How is a female surgeon supposed to see what she's doing, if the niqab blocks her view? Isn't that a more serious issue then? This is a very lame excuse.

Inshallah the ban on women driving will be lifted soon, it really effects negatively the whole Saudi society. Men suffer from it too, brothers, husbands and fathers have to constantly drive their female relatives around or worry about them being driven around by strange men. Women have to be in a small space with a strange man which is viewed as haram in all other situations in KSA. Only that should be enough to stop the ban. The drivers are usually from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh, they speak poor english/arabic, can have violent driving style, might even harass the woman, make all kind suggestions, they might be chain smokers, wear way too much cologne, most often don't know where you want to go, and are usually late themselves yet get upset if the woman is 2min late..This is everyday reality for women in KSA.

The article however gives hope, because it has now moved the discussion from WHY cant women drive to HOW can we stop this madness..many good suggestions and I remain hopeful.

My suggestion is, lift the ban in phases. First let the women with international driving licenses drive, saudi or non saudi. They will be the most confident and can handle the road hooligans. Increase traffic control policemen in busy street areas (employ muttawas to chase after the men who disturb the women).
When the worst is over, allow married women to drive. Phase three everyone else who wishes to.
That way when the young saudi girls take to the streets the worst hooligans are already used to seeing women driving.

What do you think, how should it be implemented?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The beautiful desert!

                                          The Edge of the World

The desert, its just rocks and sand right? How can that be beautiful? Well there are many opinions and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but to me the desert is just a magical, peaceful place to be.

The scenery can be so different from place to place. From escarpments like "the Edge of the World" outside Riyadh, seemingly never-ending sand dunes in differnet colors, green Wadis like mirages to savannah-like areas with free roaming camels and acacia trees..
The best thing about going to the desert is the absolute silence. No cars, humans, birds, animals making sounds. Only you, your thoughts and the nature, and the presence of God is somehow more apprehensible. The beauty of it just so overwhelming!
Easily accesible, just about 20 min drive from Riyadh are the Red sands, a beautiful area of red sand dunes surrounded by majestic mountains. This is a popular place to rent quadbikes to explore the area.You can rent them for an hour at a time, and women can drive without abaya no problems. Just be careful of sudden holes, I've fallen couple times off the bike!Or maybe I was going too fast :) Theres nice areas around there to have picnick and enjoy the sunset.

I love to go camping out in the desert, the nights are beautiful, if the moon is full, the scenery becomes somehow otherworldly, you might feel you are on a different planet :). And the silence of the night is so intense. You can watch the live show in the sky, just lay down and look up to the stars, it seems its possible to touch them!
The best time to go for overnight camping is in the cooler months like February and March, although that is also sandstorm season. October and November are good too. In the coldest months the temperature can drop below zero in the night, and in the hottest months it wont go below 40 even at night!In the colder months you'll need at least a sleepingbag and some extra layers of clothing.

Another interesting activity I enjoy is fossil-hunting. Saudi-Arabia used to be a part of the bottom of the ocean over 50 million years ago! Finding a seashell thats 100 million years old is just amazing! There is an area around Khurais where you can find sharks teeth, 50 million years old. There is for example tiger sharks teeth, which are quite similar to the ones that roam the seas today. What happened to the evolution theory there?
Seashell fossil

A Desert Rose is made of gypsum crystals in connection with sand that crystallizes in a unique rosette growth pattern. They look just like roses! The crystals are formed when high tides bring seawater into the desert and the water becomes cut-off from the sea and evaporates, eventually causing salt deposition and crystal formation. To find Desert Roses you have to dig about half meter deep.

Real desert flowers found in Thumair

The desert has surprisingly lush vegetation, especially on a rainy year you will find many flowers and green areas. Some places like red Sands actually form lakes in the rainy season.
Another favorite activity of mine is horseback riding in the desert. This photo is from Dirab where they have a extensive area you can explore on horseback. And of course what would the desert be without camels!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Saudi culture and visiting the sick

Since my last post showed a rather negative side of saudi culture, this post will display one of the many positive sides to the Saudi way of life.
Visiting the patients in hospitals is a very important thing here, it stems from Islam and its teaching to visit the sick.

A patient in saudi hospital is rarely ever left alone. He/she will almost always have a "sitter" staying in the room with them. These sitters are family members, they might be a son, a daughter, a mother or father, a grandson/daughter, aunt or uncle, brother or sister. The most important thing is the patient is never neglected and left alone, he or she will always be looked after by the family. The family might also provide a paid sitter in addition to family members.

As a westerner this came to me as a surprise, a very positive one of course! In western countries like my home country, sadly patients rarely have visitors, they might come on weekends only,or only on holidays if patient is for example in elderly home. Some of these people might have been forgotten in these elderly homes with absolutely no relatives visiting at all..

It would be considered a disgrace and great shame to put ones parents in an elderly home here. Elderly homes do not even exist!There is no need for them, it is an honor to take care of ones parents and have them live in your home.
The sitters take care of all the basic needs of the patients. They will help them eat, even feed them if they cannot themselves, they will assist them to shower and to toilet, and anything else the patient needs. I think this is just awesome! The families here are so close and its amazing to see how dedicated they are. For example, I would bet you no average western man would "babysit" their very ill, possibly demented, bedridden mother. Would a western man change her diapers, feed her, turn her in bed, rub her feet, read her books or recite Quran/read Bible? The average saudi man on the other hand would NEVER say a bad word or get irritated if the mother is demanding, forgetful or confused.
In the Quran there is several verses stressing kindness towards parents, here is one " dutiful to your parents, if one of them or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor shout at them but address them in terms of honour.(Quran 17:23)
Type into Google "kindness to parents" and all the top 10 results are from Islamic sites :)

And how about a husbands dedication to his ill wife? They will go through anything to please their wives, they truly are great husbands. This also comes from Islam, the prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said "the best among you (men) are the ones who are best in treatment towards their wives."
The elderly patients will be the most respected, they might have great great grandchildren visit them!
Children are much valued in saudi culture and family sizes are often large, I've come across parents with 17 children!The more common amount is around 6.

A patient might have many visitors at a time, sometimes so they fill up the whole room. They will bring tea or arabic coffee, dates, chocolates, flowers, cakes, pastries etc to offer the patient. When other relatives come they are then served to those sweets also. Sometimes the whole family will eat a meal together in the patients room. You might even see them sitting on the floor on a carpet eating and chatting. Saudis are the most hospitable people I have ever met. They will always invite the nurse to have a cup of tea or coffee, to have taste of the foods, and will generously give chocolates and other goods, even if they are poor they will want to give you something.

Often the visitors will come in groups of either men or women, and they will visit the patient separately, although if they are close relatives they will go in together. Sometimes when many women visit at a time the whole room will smell like their lovely perfumes, or they might even burn some bukhoor inside the room (mind you it IS forbidden). Bokhoor is a kind or special wood that is slowly burned and the smoke smells really good. This is also used as a welcoming gesture to guests.

Ive been lucky to have met many lovely saudi families and become friends with some.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Meet the Saudi Religious Police

As you might have heard, the streets and shopping malls of KSA and especially Riyadh are patrolled by the "religious police" commonly known as muttawa. Their officially called the Hai'a and they work for the Committee of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. There are around 3500 religious policemen plus thousands of volunteers also known as freelance muttawas.
Here is a brief humorous guide for newbies in Saudi to understanding more about what muttawa actually are.

How to spot the religious police on the streets? How are they dressed?
They will be wearing white thobes that do not pass ankle length. The Big Boss might be wearing a golden-brown Harry Potter-style cape on top of the thobe. They will surely have a long beard and a ghutra (the head cover that resembles a table cloth to some) without the black igal on top. They usually roam in groups of two or even more to gain more intimidation factor. Muttawa usually have a stern, even scary expression on their faces and I have never seen a smile. Muttawas might carry a stick to beat a woman's or man's legs if behaving improperly or dressed immodestly.

How do muttawa get around? Are there any warning signs that they are approaching?
The Hai'a mode of transport are white GMCs with CPVPV logo on the side. The cars have megaphones on the roofs. During prayer times squads will be patrolling the city reminding people to pray with a very loud "haya al salah"  heard from the speakers. Another way to know is if you are a western woman and an angry looking man in a thobe is shouting at you in a loud voice to cover your hair. That would be a muttawa.

Here are the muttawa headquarters in Riyadh and a very brave woman who is not covering her hair and is exposing her forearm!

What is the job description of a muttawa?
Muttawas don't actually have an official job description. There has recently been talk in the media about the importance of having one following some very unpleasant and even violent actions taken by religious policemen. On their official website it is stated their duty is to "preserve Muslim society by guidance and good example". Muttawa seem to improvise as they go, acting as sort of  performance artists sometimes.
Most common duty of a muttawa is telling (sometimes shouting) women to cover their heads or hair. If the women under scrutiny are Saudi they will be asked to cover their faces or eyes depending on how much the woman is already covered.
If a muttawa squad encounters a woman and a man together under suspicious conditions, such as riding in the same car or shopping together, they will request to see a marriage license. If the couple does not have it, they will be taken to the station for questioning and interrogation. The police must be present in order for the Hai'a to actually arrest anyone.
Their duties also include blacking out haram figures from womens magazines (cleavage, legs, arms)blacking out women from inflatable swimming pool packages and basically wherever they find pictures of uncovered women. Hai'a might raid stores for haram goods such as music CDs, stuff that resembles crosses or other religious symbols, Barbies without abayas and forbidden books like Harry Potter and the atrocious Winnie the Pooh which features a piglet!The Horror! The confiscated items are brought on display at the yearly Riyadh Bookfair.

Here is an example of how dedicated the muttawa are sometimes:

How can one become a muttawa?
One way to become a member of the Hai'a is to commit a crime and get a jail sentence. While in jail,  it is good to memorize the entire Quran and become known as a "Hafiz". That way the sentence will be shortened, and once the convict is out they might be given a chance to practice the newly learned skills from jail in public by joining the Hai'a.

Here's another work of madness, uups I mean prevention of Vice of course!

Why do muttawa do what they do?
That is a very good question. There are some members that give the whole Hai'a a very bad reputation by harassing women in particular and going to extremes and resorting to violence. Muttawa are not popular among either locals nor expats coming to Saudi.
The picture given of Islam to foreigners is questionable and distorted because Islam teaches "there is no compulsion in religion" and that "to each their own religion and deen". Forcing people, especially non-Muslims to act and look like Muslims is certainly not what was done during the times of the Prophet Muhammed.

I have to be fair and admit I have met a few very polite, highly educated and well-mannered muttawas. I would even go so far as to saying they were perfectly gentleman-like in their conduct. They presented themselves in such a manner that it left a positive, interesting and good-intending picture of Islam.
So I guess we should never judge the book by its covers..Or in this case, the religion by some of its followers!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

What is Islam?

What in fact, is Islam, what does it teach, what do Muslims really believe? Most westerners (including myself previously) won't know the accurate answers. Or they have a picture of Islam created by biased western media. They were taught according to modern western religious studies in school that Islam is a violent religion. I know now that some of the main, most important points were (deliberately?)left out to give Islam a negative image. The image is unfortunately very wrong and distorted.

Some common misunderstandings westerners have of Islam/Muslims:

-Islam is a religion made up by a man called Mohammed.. (pbuh!)
-Muslims bow to a black meteorite in Saudi-Arabia
-Mohammed wrote the Quran
-Muslim women are treated as slaves and forced to cover in thick black clothes by their husbands
-Allah is a god created by muslims (astaghferallah!)

These are only some of the many quite ridiculous perceptions people have. Im not sure if the majority of muslims are aware how western people percieve their religion.

In short, Islam is the belief that there is a God, only one God, there always has been and always will be. God in arabic language is Allah, today arabic speaking Christians use the word Allah too. Allah is not a different, "made-up" god, it is in fact the same only God Christians and Jews belive in.. These three faiths are called "the Abrahamic faiths". What this means is, all three are eachothers succesions, with the same roots. The basic belief system is the same.
Think of it as a metaphore of a tree of life. Judaism is the trunk of the tree, Christianity is the branches, and Islam is the leaves and flowers :) The roots are the same. Without Christianity and Judaism, the tree will not grow leaves and blossom, and the leaves will not survive if they dont get water from the trunk and branches.

God created the earth, the heavens, and everything in it. He sent prophets to humans of all nations and times, beginning from Adam, to Moses, Jesus and the last of prophets Muhammed. The prophets were sent to teach people the right way to live our life, the path to follow to be succesful, in this life and the next one. Their message was always the same. During the course of time men, culture and environment changed and distorted the original message. What purpose would God have created us for if He didnt let us know of Him and of our purpose in life? That in my opinion would just be illogical.

So Muslims believe in Jesus(pbuh)? Yes they do indeed. This is usually a great surprise to westerners/ christians. Wonder why they "forgot' to mention that to us in western school? Oh and also they forgot to mention that Jesus actually predicted his follower will be Mohammed, and this can be found in the Bible! And in Virgin Mary, Angel Gabriel and John Babtist too? If they would have let people know these things in western schools, I bet it would make people more curious and inshallah some would start finding out and getting interested in Islam. But thats not what the church wants of course.
The difference in how muslims view Jesus is that he is a Prophet, not a son of god! Jesus never taught that he is to be worshipped. It cannot be found anywhere in the Bible, on the contrary the Bible refutes this over and over by saying there is only one God. Jesus always emphasized: pray to God, trust God, it is God who makes these miracles, not me, I am just a human being. It was only after his death that the doctrine of the "Holy Trinity" was invented. The Holy Trinity, as a formal doctrine, was adopted by the Council of Nicaea only in 325 CE. It was a political move which went against the teachings of Jesus himself.

Mohammed (pbuh)was the last in the line of messengers, he was sent to ALL nations, to all times. Not just to arab people, the message is universal. The allegation that Mohammed wrote the Quran is just silly, because first of all he was an illiterate man! So how would he even be able to? And there are many facts in the Quran that have been proven to be scientifically correct only in modern times. So how did Mohammed know 1400 yrs ago for example; how the universe was created from nothing and then from gases and that it continues to expand, the sun and the moon float in orbits, that all living things came from water, how the human embryo develops (only seen by microscope) or how the earth is protected by the ozon layer? Just to mention a few of the hundreds of geological, astronomical, anatomical, biological or chemical scientifically proven facts mentioned in the Quran.

Regarding muslim women covering and veiling, most westerners tend to think the husbands are forcing the wife to cover. This could not be farther from the truth! Muslim women choose to cover for modesty out of their own will and respect for their bodies. This is such a broad and complicated subject I will have to write a separate post on it altogether.

This is just a very brief general description of Islam in my own words, I hope it would erase some negative images of Islam.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Riyadh To Do Guide

I often hear people complaining or boredom and lack of activities in KSA, especially here in conservative Riyadh.
Yet I for some reason am always short of time to do things!
Of course it depends alot on yourself, how active you are in trying to find things to do. It IS more difficult here, but it doesnt mean that theres "nothing to do".
I ask these people, well what did you use to do back home on your freetime then? Often they'd reply: go to cafes, bars or nightclubs, restaurants, friends homes,the gym, shopping..Well you can do all of that here too! Although I'm not going to publicly post where all these activities might be, by asking around you will find quite easily if you're an expat and interested in some of those activities ;)

As an expat in KSA you will have more variety of activities than locals, depending on if you're male/female. By more variety I mean expats can get into all western compounds, that have all kind of activities ranging from dance classes, language courses, theme days for families, rugby or soccer matches, concerts, etc etc. Embassies also arrange concerts, art exhibitions, national days, and parties. The problem is you must know someone to get into these places, and security is high of course.

As for cafeterias and restaurants, the choices are endless, and that will be a topic on its own.I will only mention my favorites: Brazilian restaurant Il Terazzo in hotel Faisalia, outside terrace with open oven bbq overlooking Faisalia tower!Or Sitta shams -the ultimate arabic food experience, the restaurant is huge and even has its own parkinghall and elevators. Romaizan is the best the compound restaurant which offers tasty food and drinks in relaxed atmosphere. Dont miss having "High Tea" at the Faisaliah tower Globe. Expats often take off their abayas and the atmosphere is relaxed. Upstairs is the more intimate Cigar Lounge for romantic evenings :)

the shooting range at Dirab Golf club

Tahlia street boasts cafeterias and restaurants one after another. You can walk around the 'boardwalk" and see really nice cars driving by! Ferraris, Hummers, Porsches..The downside is that if you're a lady you will attract alot of attention, so best you walk with your husband or in a group of friends and just ignore the eager beavers.
For men there is numerous terraces you can sit outside and enjoy the warm evenings. Unfortunately at the moment I dont know of any that allow women to sit outside..they are all single male sections :( Although I have on couple of occasions spotted some women sitting with their husbands.
EDIT: 3rd floor Centria mall Lenotre cafe has an outside sitting mixed sitting area!

Theres plenty of male only gyms all around town, but female only is a bit more difficult to find, but they do exist. There is one in Almultaka center, Yibreen spa, Almanahil inside DQ (diplomatic quarters)to name a few. There's also a walking/ running track that goes around the DQ.
If you want to start golfing there are many good places to get started and have lessons like the Intercontinental right in middle of the city has a golf course. Also Riyadh golf club and Dirab golf club have courses, the Arizona compound has their own course too! Dirab also has polo and horsebackriding. It requires membership though..

Females are allowed to golf and even drive golf carts in saudi :)

There are places just outside Riyadh about 20-30 min drive away where you can rent quadbikes for couple hours and drive on the dunes. Yes women can drive them too :) My favorite is Thumamah area, on weekdays its almost empty, you can have the vast desert to yourself, but dont get lost!Weekends it packed with young saudi men, who sometimes get a little too carried away when they see western women driving around. On the way to Thumamah you can pass by the camel souq and haggle on one of the 1,000000 Saudi riyal camels.

The Red Sands area west of Riyadh along the Mecca highway is aa beautiful place to go just for the scenery. Also possible to rent quadbikes there.
There are numerous other desert treks and picnicking spots around Riyadh, but again I will only mention my favorite Rawdhat Khuraim. Once you get there you will not believe you're in Saudi-Arabia, its so green!Its about an hour drive from the city, on the Dammam higway then take the Remah rd. It's a huge green area with trees and a small stream flows through it during the winter motnhs (if its rained).

Then theres alot of historical sites to explore around Riyadh, like the ancient  City of Old Diriyah. Its a historically interesting site to visit including the famous Salwa palace. During 1745, a strong Islamic reform movement took place over here. Besides this in the past the old city of Diriyah was also considered to be the largest in Arabian Peninsula. However, in the first part of 19th century Turks destroyed this city and afterwards Riyadh captured it. Walk amongst the ruins of mud and brick built houses, palaces bath houses and mosques. Best visited in cooler months.

The summer heats are a good time to visit The King Abdul Aziz Historical centre it's located near the Masmak fort in Dirah area. It includes a remodeled mosque, the old original Murabba' Palace with main Diwan renovated as "living museum", the "Memorial Hall" on the outlines of an old courtyard house, a modern exhibition hall for the car collection,  the new Al-Dara main lobby and multipurpose hall, a documentation center with a separated men's and women's library each, an art gallery and a large internal garden.
Nearby and definately worth a visit, The National Museum will take you a good three hours to walk through. I went on a bachelors only evening, but they still let us girls in, so I guess they are not too strict about the visitors genders.
During June 2010 there is an exhibition on King Khaled in a separate building. The whole area is surrounded by parks, waterfalls, fountains and picnic areas. It's especially nice to stroll around in the beautiful evening lighting. It's possible to walk to the now restored old water tower, there is a restaurant on top with nice views of the city. The whole Historical Centre area covers some 360,000 square meters!

Just a stones throw away is the Haia's aka muttawas headquarters next to the the infamous "cho-chop- square. The area is called Dirah, there is a clocktower next to the huge souq area.You can spend hours wandering around the antique, gold and carpet, abaya, souvenir and furniture souqs of Dirah, haggling and having endless cups of tea with the shopkeepers. Most of them are Afghani and have interesting stories to tell.

For families with kids, (small or grown-up) you can go to various theme parks and amusement parks on the outskirts of town, just make sure its singles/families/womens only day accordingly :) Most of them are situated along the Thumamah highway.
Theres many parks for picnicking around central Riyadh, although most are for families only.Theres also a man made river/lake area on Sitteen street where you can rent peddal boats and have picnic in the cottges. Snow world on King Abdullah rd is a smaller version of Dubais inside winter wonderland. They dont have a large skiing slope but you can play in the snow and have fun with your kids!

And when it comes to shopping, new shopping malls seem to be sprouting like mushrooms after the rain :D
One of the newest is Riyadh Galleria which has a nice little river and fountains among cafeterias in the middle.
Most of the biggest malls (Hayat, Granada, Faisalia, Riyadh galleria) have huge entertainment areas for children, the noise is overwhelming though!Alot of families will leave the children there with nannys or their older children to look after while they go shopping. Some even have iceskating rinks and rollercoasters!

For a very different experience visit the huge sheesha cafes on Damman highway. The biggest one is over 10000 sqm and fits 2000 people at a time!if you're a football fan go on a match day and the place will be packed and the atmosphere is fun and welcoming. This activity is mainly for males, but they do have family sections also

If you're into bowling, there's couple places around the city centre you can practise your skills. This seems to be very popular among philipino expats! Theres one in Khozama hotel next to Faisalia tower, one in the Intercontinental hotel and King faisal hospital has one too, but you would need to go as a guest of an employee.

Another popular family activity is rent your own "villa" or whole green area with football field, park, kids rides, swimmingpools and the likes. I dont know what they would be called in english..Like resorts where you can rent your own villa and private pool. Because saudi culture is private, they like to rent out these places for weekends for the whole family to join. Some people rent them for special occasions like birthdays. Its actually quite affordable and there is staff if you want to take care of catering and looking after the kids. In the Almarsa resort on Sharqi rd you can rent family villas, and the Wahat al Noor resort you can rent the whole place for a day and stay the night. Its a nice change for expats too if you are bored of your own compund!

This is a great chance to start or try out scuba-diving!Riyadh has two good diveshops, Blu Reef Divers and Desert Sea Divers. I f you are already a diver, explore the untouched Farasan Islands in southern KSA.
Every month or so there are women only exhibitions held at hotels or exhibitons halls like Nayyara and the Kingdom ballroom. I will post about any upcoming events, they are highly recommended by me :)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Why My Abaya Is Blue..

First of all what is an abaya? For those who don't know, it's the black "overcoat" or "cloak" some Muslim women choose to wear over their normal clothing when they are in public.

In KSA it is obligatory for everyone, even the non-Muslims and western women to wear it in public places. Actually I recently found out that there is no specific law that stipulates it is a MUST. And for sure it doesn't say anywhere it has to be BLACK.

The Saudi religious authorities have made the abaya compulsory for all women and the muttawa (religious police) will enforce this on all women. One interpretation of Islam is forced on everyone.
Yet the Quran states: "there is no compulsion in religion".

I really hate being part of the masses. Everyone looks the same here! In Riyadh most women cover their faces too, so these women are literally like black faceless blobs blending into the mass (no offense anyone!).

I want to feel more like an individual. I want to show other women its ok to be different, there's nothing to be afraid of. Women can show their personality with how they dress, and still be modest. There's nothing wrong with showing some personality!

I hope slowly change will come to Saudi and women won't be so worried about what others and the muttawa will think..I don't believe this is what God intended. That all women (and men) should look the same and cover their true selves! Back in the days of Prophet Mohammed men and women used colorful attire and the Prophet's wife Aisha wore red and yellow garments. Only very recently has black become the standard color of dress for women.

Also I think its a form of control from the Saudi government. It forces people into the same mold, it rules out individualism and change. There is only one accepted way of presenting yourself in public here in KSA. If you don't go by that people will see you as someone "gone astray", unreligious, western-influenced or even crazy!

My abaya is blue also because I feel like I'm different, I don't fit in any ready made category. I am Finnish and proud of my roots, but Saudi-Arabia feels like my home. I am a Muslim yet I would also describe myself as a feminist, which most people wrongly think don't go together. I'm also a person that does not accept everything that is thrown out there and believe all that is said in media. I always question and research things and think with my own brain. Reasoning and individual thoughts are often frowned upon by fellow Muslims which is why I feel I don't belong sometimes.
I am shy, but I have strong opinions and I am passionate in things I believe in..I'm not afraid to jump a bungy jumps, dive with whales and sharks or skydive, but you won't find me first in line for public appearances!

Maybe you could call me some sort of a rebel too. Wearing a blue abaya is my way of speaking out for women's rights in Saudi.