Saudi Arabia: Islam – A Closer Look

I wish to commend a woman from Saudi Arabia married to a Saudi and who has taken the initiative to help promote a new web site oriented to help dispel the fear of Islamophobia.

The site is: Islam – A Closer Look and has been produced by the group, Young Muslims Canada.

The international phobia of Islam and Muslims has assumed deadly proportions. This irrational fear is a worldwide scourge that is ruining people’s lives and livelihoods and causing normally decent people to develop fear and loathing of “the other.”  Study after study has shown that people with the highest levels of Islamophobia are those who know the least about Islam and have had the least interaction with Muslims.

Islamacloserlook.com is a project with a specific focus – to succinctly and creatively dispel common myths that are fueling Islamophobia.  Our objective is to break the cycle of fear.

A fully completed website would feature 25 videos addressing widespread misconceptions as well as 50 articles and various online and print resources for further study. The content would also be fully accessible through social networking sites such as FaceBook and YouTube.

Key sections of the web site are:  What is Sharia; Islam and Terrorism; What is Hijab; Muslims Good Citizens?; Honor Killing; Women in Islam; Who is Muhammad?; Islam and Muslims; Islamic Civilization; Islam and Jesus; Who is Allah?; and What is the Quran?

As the Holy Month of Ramadan draws closer it’s a good time for non-Muslims to review this web site and help dispel many of the fears and misperceptions of Muslims and Islam.

Saudi Arabia: Check Out the Middle East Experience

A new web site has been launched and it is one well worth investigating and bookmarking.  It’s the Middle East Experience.  The Middle East is an open source forum dedicated to the voices of today’s Middle East and issues.  It is one stop shopping for latest news, links, videos, book review and blogs that pertain to the Middle East region.

The Middle East Experience is where one can check daily for the latest on the Modern Middle East; Israeli-Palestinian Issues; Muslim-Christian-Jewish Relations; Featured Bloggers From the Middle East; plus a series of articles from well-known contributing editors with vast experience and expertise of the Middle East.

I am also honored to advise that I was interviewed by the Middle East Experience asking to share my views and perceptions about life in Saudi Arabia.  You can read the interview here.

Saudi Arabia: It’s Mango Season!

One of the benefits living in Saudi Arabia is the wide and versatile variety of fresh fruits and vegetables available from around the world.  June is a prime month in the Kingdom to enjoy the succulent mango.  A recent Mango festival in Jeddah featured this delicious fruit and all the various ways it can be served.

I was first introduced to freshly picked mangos when I was living in Pakistan.  A friend of mine had a large mango farm in Sind and when mango season arrived he arranged for crates of the most prime mangos to be flown to Islamabad.

The first time I ate a mango was what I was told is a very traditional manner.  I was given the mango and it was so ripe I was able to twist it in half, remove the large pit from the middle and then eat it fresh with a spoon.  After eating the fruit I then tipped each portion of the mango up to slurp up the remaining juices.  It was mango heaven!

In addition to serving mango naturally, it can be made up as chutney, sauces, pies, cakes, bread, muffins and more!  I had a chef in Pakistan who made the smoothest and creamiest mango mousse.

It is very common for Saudis who are in Pakistan to ship crates of mangos to their families in the Kingdom.  Fortunately, mangos are also readily available at the grocery stores in the Kingdom too.

Although not my cook’s, here is a recipe for mango mousse:   

Ingredients:

 

1/2 cup lime juice
Pinch of salt
4 lb Ripe mangoes
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tblsp unflavored gelatin
2 egg whites
1/2 cup heavy cream

 

How to make mango mousse:

  • Peel the mangoes, sliced the flesh off the seeds, and puree in an electric blender with the lime juice, being careful not to over -blend.
  • There will be 5 cup of puree.
  • Stir in the sugar.
  • Dissolve the gelatin in 1/4 cup hot water, cool, and stir into the mango puree.
  • Beat the egg whites with the salt until they stand in peaks.
  • Whip the cream until it is stiff.
  • Fold the cream into the egg whites, then fold this mixture gently into the mango puree.
  • Pour into a big size serving dish, or into individual dishes, and chill in a freezer for 2 to 3 hours, or until set.

Saudi Arabia: Building a Relationship With In-Laws

I always enjoy responding to specific queries from readers.  Most recently I was asked how does a foreign wife build a relationship with Saudi in-laws.

The answer is simple yet also complex.  It is simple in that I believe a woman should be herself.  After all, her Saudi husband fell in love with her for who she is.  Yet it can be complex depending on the outlook of the Saudi family.

If a Saudi family expected their son to marry a Saudi woman of their choosing, then a foreign wife may not be immediately or warmly welcomed.  It’s not through her fault that she may feel isolated and only time will allow the family to work through feelings of disappointment before they may be able to reach out and accept the foreign wife.

While the foreign wife should not attempt to make herself over into a Saudi woman, she should take an interest in the lives of her mother-in-law and sister-in-laws.  What mother-in-law can resist a new wife who only wants to make her son happy?

The foreign wife should be patient but not reticent.  Do not be shy or afraid to initiate conversation with her new female relatives.  Find out if they like to read or cook or have special hobbies.  Look for the commonalities that are shared between you.

Be willing to go shopping with them or visiting other relatives with them.  You may not be able to understand everything said if you do not speak Arabic but smile and demonstrate your happiness for being out with them.

Don’t hesitate to ask your mother-in-law or sister-in-laws for advice.  It flatters them and pleases them if the foreign wife wants advice on cooking, engaging and training a housemaid or best places to go shopping.

If you prepare a dish that your in-laws like but do not know how to make, surprise them occasionally by having the dish delivered to them for dinner.  Many times my Saudi sister-in-laws would send dinner to my husband and I which we appreciated and enjoyed immensely.  They were equally pleased when I’d send dinner or a special dessert to them!

Most importantly, be willing to listen when the in-laws speak.  Answer their questions forthrightly and with respect.  Let them see the love you have for their son or brother.  Last but not least, be patient.  Some relationships may take longer than others to form but the old adage is true that time overcomes challenges.

Saudi Arabia: Bears DO NOT Belong in Jeddah

 

American Bedu received the following email and information from a reader in Jeddah.  First I want to thank this reader for bringing the plight of the bear to my attention and second, I’d like to encourage American Bedu readers to sign the e-petition which will help get the bear placed into a better environment.

Please could I now ask you to help promote a petition that has been launched as part of a campaign to rescue a bear from a horrible pet shop in Jeddah. Activists have secured a new home for him in the UK at a wonderful centre, but the pet shop owner and CITES are not responding to requests to get the process moving. The bear has been held in the pet shop for many years and is fed a very poor diet of bread and kept in a concrete prison cell. People visit the shop and allow children to throw things at him and abuse him. The staff don’t have any training in how to care for animals – let alone a rare creature like this one. It is a terrible situation, which goes against all the teachings of the Koran as well as international animal welfare rules.

Many people will think that petitions don’t work – but a couple of years ago we used one as part of a SUCCESSFUL campaign to free a lynx from captivitiy in a pet shop.

So, please ask all your readers to spare 2 minutes to sign the petition:

http://www.change.org/petitions/release-bear-at-fayfa-pet-shop-jeddah-saudi-arabia-to-a-zoo-in-the-uk?utm_campaign=share_button_modal&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition

The link can be copied and pasted into a web browser. The above link also contains more information and details of other ways that people can help.

Here is a video that a young student has put together about the bear:

Anyone in Jeddah – please visit the bear and take him some fresh fruit!

Sign and share!!
Thankyou.

(An American Bedu Reader)

Footnotes:

Interested in animal welfare groups in KSA? Check these out:

People in Riyadh can contact OPEN PAWS www.openpaws.org/ also on Facebook

People in Jeddah should check out P.I.N. (Pets in Need) on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/24597253992/

Eastern Province: SAUDI PAWS http://www.saudipaws.com/

SPCA Madina (Society for the prevention of cruelty to animals in Madina) https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Society-for-the-Prevention-of-Cruelty-to-Animals-in-Madina-SPCA-Madina/221223597953359

Tabuk Paws – Voluntary Animal Welfare Network in Tabuk, Saudi Arabia:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tabuk-Paws-Voluntary-Animal-Welfare-Network-in-Tabuk-Saudi-Arabia/103130283088743?ref=pb

Note to all Brits: the quarantine laws in the UK have now been relaxed (from 1 Jan 2012), so you can now adopt a pet and take it home very easily! See http://www.defra.gov.uk/wildlife-pets/pets/travel/quarantine/ for more details.

Saudi Arabia and Witchcraft

While today movies about zombies and vampires seem to be the rage, in Saudi Arabia witchcraft remains a serious issue.  So serious that if an individual is found guilty of witchcraft or practicing sorcery, the punishment is death by beheading.

Just last week, Saudi national Mareeh bin Ali bin Issa al-Asiri was found guilty of witchcraft.  According to an official statement, he was found in possession of books and talismans from which he learned to harm God’s followers.  There was no further information on what kinds of books or talismans or what kind of harm he intended to inflict (or had inflicted).  But what we do know is that he was executed in Saudi’s Najran province.

In all seriousness though, how deeply does Saudi Arabia believe in witchcraft and sorcery?  I’m sure to many this sounds so dark ages and something you expect from fairy tales.  Well, let me assure you, the charge of witchcraft is taken so seriously that the religious police (aka Muttawa or Hai’a) even have an Anti Witchcraft Unit and sorcery hotline.  The unit was established in 2009 and responsible for apprehending sorcerers and reversing the detrimental effects of their spells.    

The Anti-Witchcraft Unit was created in order to educate the public about the danger of sorcerers and “combat manifestations of polytheism and reliance on other Gods,” the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.   

The belief in sorcery is so widespread in Saudi Arabia, that it is even used as a defense in criminal court cases. In October 2010, a judge accused of receiving bribes in a real-estate project told a court in Madinah that he had been bewitched and is undergoing treatment by Quranic incantations, known as ruqiyah, a common remedy for the evil eye.

There is no legal definition for witchcraft (Saudi Arabia doesn’t have a penal code) or specific body of evidence that has probative value in witchcraft trials. Instead, judges have wide latitude in interpreting Sharia law and sentencing suspected criminals.

According to well known Saudi lawyer and human rights activist, Waleed Abu Al-Khair, “The punishment is always beheading for anyone found guilty of witchcraft.”

Foreigners in particular are often the targets of sorcery accusations because of their traditional practices or, occasionally, because Saudi men facing charges of sexual harassment by domestic workers want to discredit their accusers.

The most prominent witchcraft case came in 2008, when a Saudi court slapped a death sentence on Ali Sabat, a Lebanese television personality on a religious pilgrimage to Medina, for making psychic predictions on a Lebanon-based satellite channel. Sabat’s lawyer told NPR that the Saudi religious police arrested Sabat after recognizing him from television and pressured him to confess to violating Islam if he hoped to return to Lebanon (his confession landed him a beheading instead, though the Saudi Supreme Court eventually freed Sabat after ruling that his actions hadn’t harmed anyone).

Saudi Arabia: I’m not a Muslim. Can I host an Iftar?

Ramadan, the holy month of fasting from sunrise to sunset, is less than a month away.  During that time, all Muslims who are able will fast without food or water from sunrise to sunset.  As a result, iftar, the breaking of the fast at sunset, is an important time and occasion.

Iftar is also an occasion that Muslims and non-Muslims can experience together.  Many Muslims are happy to share their iftar with a non-Muslim.  But, can a non-Muslim host an iftar for a Muslim friend or family?  Absolutely!

A Muslim would likely feel honored to be invited to an iftar on their behalf by a non-Muslim.  Such an invitation is a beautiful way to build bridges and further understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims.

However, there are some key ground rules a Non-Muslim must know if planning to host an iftar dinner.  First and foremost is that timing is critical.  While non-Muslims may be accustomed to Muslim friends showing up late for activities, iftar is the one occasion guaranteed that a Muslim will be punctual if not a few minutes early.  Therefore, it is imperative on the non-Muslim host to have iftar ready at the exact time the sun is setting.

The iftar should first begin with dates, Arabic kawa, vemto and water.  Remember, your Muslim guest has gone  throughout the day with no feed and water so you want to offer some quick substance which will provide energy and quench the thirst.  The dates, Arabic kawa and vemto can all be found in any Middle Eastern grocery store.

To further set the appropriate mood while breaking the fast, have the dates, Arabic kawa, vemto and water set out attractively on a tablecloth on the floor.  Be sure to have little bowls with water for rinsing fingertips and small bowls or cups for the pits of the dates.  Arabic kawa should be served in the traditional small cups.  Vemto can be served into a standard juice glass whereas water can be provided from the bottle.

Some Muslims will want to excuse themselves for prayer after the initial breaking of fast.  It is helpful if the host knows in advance which direction is Makkah.  While the Muslim guests pray, the next course of iftar can be readied for serving.

Speaking from my Saudi family’s tradition, the next course would be a simple soup such as a dahl soup or lentil soup.  After all, when one has fasted all day you want to replenish the body gradually.  Arabic salad and small plates of pickled vegetables can also be served either with the soup or with the main course.  I also would have several varieties of sambosas served with the soup too.

The main course(s) during Ramadan can vary depending on the time of the year and how hot or cold it is.  Favorite Ramadan meals include jeerish and garcan.  A baked chicken with rice and French fries would also be appropriate.  In my Saudi family we’d usually have no less than two main courses from which to choose.  Baked chicken also went well with lasagna or a baked spaghetti casserole.  The main meal would also have sides of vegetables and bread.  During Ramadan, it is also common to serve main dishes using lamb.  

After the main dish has been consumed it will probably be time again for prayers.  While the Muslims pray, the non-Muslims can prepare for the after dinner tea and dessert.  During Ramadan tea is served usually a little sweeter than typical and piping hot.  It can be accompanied by a dessert of baklava or cheesecake or any other favorite Arab sweet.  A local Middle Eastern grocery store will offer fresh baked sweets during Ramadan.

American Bedu encourages non-Muslims to reach out and host an iftar for their Muslim friends.  I can be emailed directly at admin@americanbedu.com for specific advice.

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