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. 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:   



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:

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!!

(An American Bedu Reader)


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

People in Riyadh can contact OPEN PAWS also on Facebook

People in Jeddah should check out P.I.N. (Pets in Need) on Facebook:

Eastern Province: SAUDI PAWS

SPCA Madina (Society for the prevention of cruelty to animals in Madina)

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

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 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 for specific advice.

Saudi Arabia: Why are the Toilet Habits so Different?


I receive enough private emails with queries about toilet habits that I realized this topic does merit a post of its own.  I am going to write about what I have personally seen and observed and hope that helps to shed some understanding or enlightenment.

   To begin with, one will find traditional Western style toilets and Eastern style toilets in Saudi Arabia.  The Western style toilets may or may not have a toilet seat, particularly if it is a public toilet.  Whereas, the Eastern style toilet is also referred to as a “two stepper,” and a male or female must squat to relieve themselves.

There is no guarantee that a Saudi washroom will have toilet paper.  The Eastern (or Saudi) way for cleanliness after having used the toilet, is to cleanse with water.  The water may come from a bidet, a small hose attached conveniently beside the toilet or with a pot filled with water and kept beside the toilet.  Depending on the individual’s coordination and style of spraying or splashing the water, the toilet seat and floor can become quite wet.  It’s not uncommon for a Saudi washroom whether public or private to have a drain on the floor to collect the spillage of water.  Most of the Saudi washrooms whether in a private residence or public will have a small squeegee in the room in order to collect and push the water to the drain.

The second part of a Saudi washroom has to do with preparing for the daily prayers.  Muslims are required to perform wudu prior to each prayer.  Wudu is making oneself clean for prayer.  This is not only ensuring that private places are clean but also washing the hands, feet and face.  Some Saudis will turn on the shower or the bathtub to clean off their feet but others will use the washroom sink to clean all of their body.  Whichever is chosen, this can also result in water generously applied and splashed over the body area being cleaned and many times create more pooling of water on the floor.  

For someone who has not been exposed to these customs it may seem the opposite of cleanliness.  It is true that if a washroom floor is not mopped up after pooling of water, the washroom can take on a musty smell and be more susceptible to germs and bacteria.  This is found more often in public washrooms.  In private homes, the family or domestic help will ensure that the washroom remains clean and dry.

It is not uncommon for many Saudi homes to have a pair of bathroom sandals right outside of or inside the washroom door.  This is done as a consideration for anyone entering the washroom.  

However, if a Saudi visits a new place and needs to use the washroom to either take care of nature or prepare for prayers and the washroom used is perhaps in a foreigner’s home or in another country, the Saudi may not be aware of how different his or her practices are from someone else.

Some Saudis will find the Western way of only using toilet paper to cleanse oneself to be unsanitary and unclean.  Actually, after living in Saudi Arabia, I personally found that I liked having a bidet to wash first and then use toilet paper to dry off.

Saudi Arabia: A New House of Al Saud


When the death of a leading Royal takes place such as the recent death of  Crown Prince Nayef or the earlier passing of Crown Prince Sultan, the Royal family is very good at circling the wagons in an impenetrable force of privacy and solace.

The Family has little time to grieve the loss of a loved family member because at the same time they have to appear united, calm and firm that the Kingdom remains under the Al Saud control and impervious to external threats.

The legacy of today’s Saudi Arabia began in 1902 when 22 year old Abdulaziz ibn Saud led a group of 50 armed men from Kuwait and in a daring night ride, seized control of Riyadh from the tribe of Rashid.

It was not until 1912 when ibn Saud inaugurated the Ikhwan (brethren), a religious brotherhood of neighborhood tribes and tasked them to conquer the rest of Arabia in the name of Wahhibism that ibn Saud’s power was seen as a governing force.

After this period, ibn Saud developed alliances in regions of the Kingdom through marriages or in some cases, pardons.  Additionally, ibn Saud realized that the Ikhwan were spiraling out of control and defeated them at the battle of Sabila in 1929.

In September 1932 ibn Saud formally declared himself the King of Saudi Arabia.  By that time he had sired 44 sons, 35 of whom survived him after his death.

Towards consolidating his role and leadership, ibn Saud assigned only his sons to government roles further cementing the dynasty and legacy of Al Saud.  Ibn Saud spread his family throughout the Kingdom in order to extend his control.

Passing of the Kingdom began its path from brother to brother.  It was not always a smooth and tranquil process in the early history.  For example, in 1964 Crown Prince Faisal challenged his brother Saud’s ability to adequately lead Saudi Arabia.  After a showdown between Saud’s Royal guard and Crown Prince Faisal’s National Guard, Saud ultimately abdicated and went into exile while Faisal took charge over the Kingdom.

Faisal’s reign as King came to an abrupt end when he was assassinated by a 26 year old nephew in 1975.  Faisal’s death came as a double shock when it was learned a member of the family was responsible.

With Faisal’s death, Khalid came to reign. This again assured that leadership was overseen by one of the many brothers.  Khalid has a reputation of being less focused of a King and preferred to defer key issues to his brother, Fahd, the Crown Prince.  Key events during Khalid’s reign included the fall of the Shah of Iran and the 1979 seige of the Grand Mosque in Makkah.

During this same period, Abdullah, today’s present King, became the Commander of the Saudi Arabian National Guard.  This is also the same time when Khalid seemed to be plagued by ill health instilling rumors there would again be changes to the throne.

Due to Khalid’s ill health, discussions took place during which Crown Prince Fahd planned to appointment Abdullah as Crown Prince after the death of King Khalid but only if Abdullah were willing to give up oversight of the Saudi Arabian National Guard.  Due to the power held with oversight of the Saudi Arabia National Guard, Abdullah rejected this proposal.  The Saudi Arabian National Guard personnel are recruited from tribes known to be loyal to the Al Saud family and guard the key infrastructure and oil sites throughout the Kingdom.

Khalid died in 1982 and as expected, Fahd became King.  Abdullah then became Crown Prince.  However, the dynamics which had taken place with the attempt to take control of the Saudi Arabian National Guard from Abdullah left him with a distrust of Fahd and some of his true brothers.

Fahd’s health began to deteriorate in 1995 and Abdullah began to take over more of the leading responsibilities.  However, rival princes aiming for the throne denied Abdullah any legitimacy to the title.  Finally, in August 2005, Fahd’s death was announced.

Abdullah became King and appointed Sultan as Crown Prince.  However, unlike those before him, he did not appoint a second deputy prime minister.  It is widely believed this move was made to block the Princes of the Sudairi  lineage from the throne.  Furthermore, in 2006, Abdullah established the Allegiance Council which could confirm a new Crown Prince and confirm a new King if either became incapacitated.

On succession, the King relies on other Princes to confirm his position by swearing an oath of allegiance.  Concurrently, the ulema must also declare the new King an Imam.  This dual approval further authenticates the close relationship between the House of Saud and Wahhabism.

Abdullah remains King and Salman has now moved to the position of Crown Prince.  This leaves the following senior princes to be viewed as future contenders given their positions and lineage:  Mitab, Abdulrahman, Ahmad, Sattam and Miqrim.

Today, with Abdullah in his late 80’s and Salman in his late 70’s there remains concern on how long either Royal can remain in good health.  If either’s health fails, would one be replaced with yet another ailing brother or would a provision be made allowing succession to skip to the next generation thereby offering a younger Royal who can keep the Kingdom in a position of stability.

The sons of King Faisal such as Saud, Khalid and Turki are recognized as competent leaders.  However, these men are also plagued by health issues, particularly Prince Saud who continues his position as Minister of Foreign Affairs with zest in spite of the Parkinson’s Disease which has ravaged his body.

The other key group of Princes to consider are the sons of Abdullah, Sultan, Nayef and Salman.  One could easily say Prince Mitab, Abdullah’s son, has been groomed for the future role of King since he took over control of the Saudi Arabian National Guard in 2009.  Who he has the Guard has control and loyalty.

Other names which arise as contenders to the throne are Prince Bandar bin Sultan and Prince Alwaleed Al Talal.  Neither of these two princes has a Saudi mother yet they are both credited with foresight and modernity.

Saudi Arabia’s key leadership is facing a transition at a critical time in history.  The younger generation of Saudi Arabia is prepared to take a stance for social changes in the Kingdom.  Saudi Arabia also faces the continuation of the Arab Spring around its borders and at a point to form new strategic alliances.

This is a new era of relationships and alliances between Saudi Arabia and the world.  It will be imperative for Saudi Arabia to ensure a period of consistency and stability among its highest leadership in order to retain consensus in the Kingdom.


Saudi Arabia: Understanding the Saudi Home-Stay

photo of Saudi Students from Oregon State with their host family (google images)

Part of the experience that is offered to the Saudi student who is studying abroad in a foreign country is the opportunity to participate and live in a “home stay.”  A home-stay allows the student to live with a family while he (or she) has English language training or other academic studies.

The home-stay is a great opportunity for the Saudi student to gain greater insights and have a richer experience in the host country.

However, in fairness to both the Saudi student and the home-stay family, there do need to be expectations and an understanding.  The Saudi student should know what can be expected from the home –stay family.  Will meals be provided and if so, are there set times or can the student “eat on demand?”  Does the student have carte blanche kitchen privileges?  Is the student expected to clean up in the kitchen after meals?  Is the student allowed to smoke in the house?  Who does the student’s laundry?  Are laundry privileges included?

These may seem like simple questions yet remember that many of the Saudi students are not familiar with how households may run outside of Saudi Arabia.  Most of the young students have likely come from families which have domestic help.  As a result, they have no clue about preparing or cleaning up after meals, doing laundry or having to maintain cleanliness of their own room.  Like a young child, they may need to be shown and trained on simple chores such as changing sheets and making up a bed.

In some Saudi homes the bathrooms are not as typical as in the Western world.  Some may not have a typical Western toilet but a simple “two stepper” instead.  Many Saudi washrooms come equipped with either a bidet or a small hose attached near to the toilet.  Because it is not typical for a Saudi home to naturally have toilet paper, the individual cleanses themselves with the assistance of the bidet or hose.  The student may not understand if using toilet paper how much is too much to throw in the toilet.  Other Saudi bathrooms may not have a bathtub with shower.  There may simply be a shower head in one corner of the bathroom with no separation and the water flows freely on the floor to a central area with a drain.

To help avoid costly misunderstandings the home-stay family may want to have small signs posted in the bathroom or laundry room with do’s and do not’s.

By the same token, to make the Saudi feel more at home and comfortable, a home-stay family may want to equip the student’s room with a prayer rug and a Quran.  Any local Islamic Center, mosque or the Saudi Embassy’s Department of Islamic Affairs can assist and advise.  If the Saudi will take meals with the family then be cognizant that he or she should not eat any pork products or consume alcohol.  There will be exceptions to these rules since it is a fact that some students like to experiment with freedoms not found in Saudi Arabia.

The home-stay family should be prepared to answer many questions about life in the host country.  The questions can range from food to politics to religion to sex depending on how comfortable the student is with the host-family.  It’s pretty common for students to want to know why Western families choose not to have domestic help.

Saudis do value family and place the mother at the top.  Treating a Saudi student like a cherished and valued member of a home-stay family can be the start of a relationship that will last a lifetime.


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