To veil or to die, that’s the question

niqab-4

Yesterday a student at the women only campus of a Riyad university collapsed and died of a heart attack. Allegedly the male paramedics had to wait for an hour before they were admitted due to ”modesty concerns”

The student, now identified as Amna Bawazir was known to suffer from heart problems.

Okaz newspaper said administrators at the King Saud University impeded efforts by the paramedics to save the student’s life because of rules banning men from being onsite. According to the paper, the incident took place on Wednesday and the university staff took an hour before allowing the paramedics in.

king saud university

However, the university’s rector, Badran al-Omar, denied the report, saying there was no hesitation in letting the paramedics in. He said the university did all it could to save the life of Amna.

Professors at King Saud University are demanding an investigation. “We need management who can make quick decisions without thinking of what the family will say or what culture will say,” said Professor Aziza Youssef.
One staff member, who witnessed the situation, said paramedics were not called immediately. She said they were also not given immediate permission to enter the campus and that it appeared that the female dean of the university and the female dean of the college of social studies panicked. The staff member spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from university management.

Al-Omar said the staff called campus health officials within minutes of Amna Bawazeer collapsing and that about 25 minutes later they called paramedics.

The students insisted that the officials who refused to allow the medical team into the college on the pretext they were men should be held accountable for the incident.
”Islam is a religion that facilitates practices, and the religious rule, in exceptional situations, are relaxed,” some of the students told the daily. “We do not see any necessity that is more pressing than rescuing the life of a human being from imminent death.”

Amna Bawazir’s death sparked a debate on Twitter by Saudis who created a hashtag to talk about the incident.  Thousands of Saudis vented their anger online. In the debate, many Saudis said the kingdom’s strictly enforced rules governing the segregation of the sexes were to blame for the delay in helping Amna Bawazeer.

In 2002, a fire broke out at a girl’s school in Mecca, killing at least 15
girls. The religious police would not allow the girls to escape, actually chased them back into the burning school, because they were not wearing headscarves or abayas.

Petition: Save my life, then my Modesty
Read more:

Al Arabiya

ABC news

Gulf News

Saudi Arabia: Women are to blame for rise of harrassment

niqab-3

From a survey conducted by the King Abdul Aziz centre for National Dialogue it seems that Saudi  men believe women are to blame for the rising cases involving molestation of females on the grounds they are seduced by women’s excessive make up.
The findings were included in a survey conducted by the Riyadh-based King Abdul Aziz Centre for National Dialogue and involved 992 males and females.

The survey, carried by Saudi newspapers, found that 86.5 per cent of the men polled believe that women’s exaggeration in wearing make-up is the main cause of the rise in molestation cases in public places.

1

Although women are forced to be fully covered in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf region is also known for the fashion of a more ”expressive” style of make-up. Especially at weddings women indulge in very strong make-up styles. All humans, in all times and places, even our pre-homo sapiens ancestors, felt the need to express themselves with beads, shells and colour. This is actually the first manifestation of human artistic creativity.

Cave Painting, South Algeria
It is therefore only to be expected that when people are allowed no part of themselves to be visible except the eyes, then the human need to express oneself will be concentrated on the eyes.

Photo from Blue Abaya Blog

Photo from Blue Abaya Blog

About 80 per cent of the persons polled believe lack of deterrent penalties and the absence of specific anti-molestation laws are also to blame for the phenomenon
The report also said 91 per cent of the respondents, all aged above 19, believe another key factor is the “poor religious sentiment” while nearly 75 per cent said the problem is caused by lack of awareness campaigns and warning notices at most public places.

Emirates 24/7 News

Saudi Arabia: So Many Niqabs to Choose From!

 

I must first preface this post by stating that I rarely covered my head let alone wore a niqab while I was in Saudi Arabia.  There were only a few occasions when it was appropriate for me to wear a niqab.  I wore one but have to confess I did not like the feeling or what to me felt like obscured vision due to the niqab.  The reason that I am writing this particular post is in response to several queries I have had lately about the differing type of niqabs women may choose to wear in Saudi Arabia.  I am not an expert on the subject but will address it to the best of my ability.  I am really counting on those American Bedu readers who do wear the niqab to provide their comments on why they wear a niqab, what style they have chosen and why as well as how easy it is for them to see while wearing the niqab.

The niqab is the accessory which some Muslim women and many women within Saudi Arabia will choose to wear so that their entire face is covered from view with the exception of the eyes.

saudi niqab

blog.sunnahstyle.com

 

The most common style of niqab in Saudi Arabia and the one I wore when necessary is the niqab which covers the face and has a slit in the center for the eyes to show through.  This style of niqab did not necessarily come in a wide variety of sizes and as a result, the one I had fit poorly.  My eyelids and eyelashes would brush or rub against the eye slit and in turn irritated my eyes.  The niqab would either tie in the back around the hijab or in some cases you could secure it with Velcro strips.

newer niqab style

beduionprincess.blogspot

 

Another niqab which was rising in popularity prior to my 2009 departure from Saudi Arabia was the niqab which was worn from the nose down.  This particular niqab left the eyes unimpeded.  Some Saudi women will not wear this type of niqab seeing it as too progressive.  However, younger Saudi women and more open-minded Saudi women who still choose to wear a niqab prefer this version as it is more aesthetically pleasing and comfortable.

beudion niqab

examiner.com

Some women and particularly Saudi beudoin women may prefer the niqab that has a fabric line which separates the eyes.  Needless to say, this niqab would need to fit well for it could be quite annoying if the eye divider did not fall as it should centered between the eyes.

While the traditional niqabs are black, some women are starting to wear niqabs that are in a different color or have some type of decoration or appliqué on them.

But as I stated in the beginning of this post, I need to rely on the experiences of American Bedu readers to share with others on why they wear a niqab, what style they have chosen and why, as well as how easy it is for them to see while wearing the niqab.

Saudi Arabia/Yemen/USA: Yemen from the view of an American

Intro: My name is Katherine Abu Hadal and I am an American who has been married to a Yemeni man for nearly 4 years. We lived in Yemen for three years and now we live in the US, and this is a snippet of what life is like in Yemen from my perspective. I really do love Yemen, and I enjoyed life there very much. However, I also want to give you a well-rounded picture of what the advantages and disadvantages are of living there. You can find more about me at http://www.shebayemenifood.com, where I show people how to make Yemeni food in English and Arabic.

yemen 1

http://stevemccurry.com

 

Yemen’s beauty derives from its antiquity and the charm and grace of the people. Old Sana’a, Wadi Hadramout, and Jibla are just a few of the ancient cities which seem to be preserved perfectly in time. The odd-sized steps and the tiny doorways in many of these old homes are details which instantly transport one to another place and time. Yemenis recognize the value of the ancient heritage and these old homes are among the most prized and desirable. Sana’a is also known as Shem (Sam) city; Shem is the son of Noah and he supposedly founded the old city. As often happens, architecture mirrors its people, and the Yemeni people reflect a set of traditional and decorated values. Honor and generosity to guests are some of the highest esteemed values.  This generosity extends not only to fellow Yemenis or Arabs, but is often magnified for those deemed as “foreigners,” usually synonymous with “non-arabs.”

I first traveled to Yemen in 2009 as a student studying Arabic. I can’t say exactly why I wanted to travel to Yemen, other than I wanted to travel off the beaten path of the usual westerner travel agenda. Plus I wanted to learn Arabic and Yemen is (or at least it was at the time) supposedly one of the better countries to go to learn Arabic. Not long after I arrived, I met the man who would later become my husband. We would hang out with friends and slowly we got to know each other. It’s not the usual way for relationships to develop in Yemen, but Esam didn’t (and still doesn’t) care much for rules or societal pressures.

After some time, I just knew Esam was the man for me. He had known from the beginning and he was ecstatic that I had finally realized that too. It took a bit of work convincing each of our families, but I am proud and happy to say that my Mom absolutely adores Esam and his family also loves and respects me a lot.

Yemen is most often in the news for the drone strikes and occasional high-profile terrorist incidents. It’s often portrayed as tribal and lawless, not only by the west but also its gulf neighbors. The word tribe carries a different connotation when translated into Arabic, however, and I will attempt to explain to you a little bit about its meaning as I understand it. Tribes (qabail) are organized political structures in Yemen. They exist alongside and at the same time integrated with the official government which is a Republic. People in Yemen often associate tribal lineage with pride and a high social status. Tribes are very powerful because they have the ability to mobilize many people quickly and they also control financial or other resources. They have certain powers and rules outside the scope of the government. Former president Ali Abdullah Saleh exercised much of his power through tribal lines.   yemeni tribes

As far as how tribal power is exercised, it is neither through dictatorship nor coercion. Instead, it is a mutually beneficial relationship which is subject to change by either party. Tribe members have the responsibility to mobilize for a cause when required by the higher-ups. Tribal leaders, or shaykhs, have the responsibility to mediate between disagreements between tribe members as well as to be generous in hosting social events and feeding the less fortunate. Despite a shaykh’s higher social status, they cannot force tribal members into action if what they are requesting seems unreasonable, and Yemenis, like anyone else, maintain their independence. A north Yemeni who spent many years in Al-Jawf described tribal figures’ limitations in this way, “No shaykh can even tell a child what to do.” (North Yemeni as cited in Koehler-Derrick, 2011)

Not every Yemeni has a favorable opinion of tribes. There are those that associate them with the uneducated and oppressive social structures which keep the powerful in power and others down. They are opposed to these structures which favor social ties, bloodlines, and loyalty over formal education and merit-based rule. A Yemeni in Aden, a former British colony, was quoted in 2009 saying,

“Most of what we have is what the British built when they were here. We haven’t gained anything from unification,” says a former colonel in the PDRY army, voicing a common sentiment as he waves his hand towards a row of bleak buildings. “I would rather have had the British here for 400 years than be ruled by Saleh and the Sanhan [President Saleh’s tribe]…Now everyone who has any power is a northerner,” he says. “The young people here have no chance to find decent jobs because they don’t have the tribal connections required to get them.”  (Horton 2009).

Unemployment and economic strife are major problems in Yemen. My husband was from I guess what you might call a middle-class Yemeni family. They were not the richest or the poorest in the neighborhood and they lived comfortably. But middle-class in Yemen also translates to what would be below the poverty level in the US. If we lived in Yemen, there would be no way to really save and get ahead and also be able to travel on that kind of salary. As a foreigner with a degree and who spoke English and Arabic, there are more opportunities for me to find work, but there are still not a lot of jobs which would pay a salary comparable to what I would make in the US.

We know many Yemenis that travel to the gulf countries for work, especially Saudi Arabia. That arrangement has been threatened over the years, however, (the first was after the first gulf war) and now “Saudi Arabia, home to about nine million foreign workers, began the crackdown this year to boost the proportion of Saudi citizens in private sector jobs from the current 10 per cent.” (Gulf news, http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/yemen/yemenis-protest-saudi-deportations-1.1170624). Yemen does not possess the large oil reserves that its neighbors have. The bleak economic outlook combined with an explosive population growth and other factors such as lack of water has many analysts predicting an impending economic disaster for this country of nearly 25 million.

For all the troubles of Yemen, there are still things about it which makes it an easier county to reside in compared to the other gulf countries. I have traveled to Oman and Dubai and I have observed the hierarchy among the people, with westerners, Indians, Asians, foreign Arabs, and local gulf Arabs each in their own class with different rules which apply to them. Interaction between locals and guest workers is limited and can often be prejudiced. I have also read stories of foreigners married to Saudis who face discrimination and are not able to fit into Saudi society. In Yemen, I never once experienced this feeling as a foreigner. I was always welcomed into people’s homes as one of them. I also know many other foreigners (both arabs and non-arabs) who were also treated as such. To my disbelief, some people even mistook me for Yemeni. (Although I think it was a actually a way of being polite and giving a compliment)

yemen woman driving     Secondly, although Yemen is a conservative Muslim country like Saudi Arabia, it does not have the kind of religious policing which is present in Saudi Arabia. Women are allowed to drive in Yemen and many do. There is a social pressure to dress modestly, but I know many western women that don’t cover their hair or wear an abaya when they go out. Yemen is technically a republic which means that it has elections and is a democracy. Although it doesn’t seem to be a fully functioning democracy quite yet, it is one step ahead of the gulf monarchies in achieving a full democracy. People are not afraid to criticize the government or political leaders and there are several active political movements and parties.

Yemen has a sense of fierce independence and a long history which gives the country a kind of security, despite the signs of impending doom which are knocking at its gate. After all, Sana’a is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities of the world. If it has made it through the floods of Noah, I suppose it will make it through today’s challenges.

Below is a recipe for Yemeni shakshuka, which is a popular egg and tomato dish in the Middle East and North Africa. In North Africa, it is usually eaten with poached eggs but in Yemen, it usually has scrambled eggs and is made with green chilis so it is spicy. They also eat a similar shaksuka in Saudi and the gulf countries, but I am not sure exactly how it is different. Served with milk tea and malawah bread or Yemeni roti, it makes the prefect breakfast or quick dinner.

Ingredients

5 eggs

3 plum tomatoes, chopped (or uncooked canned tomato sauce)

1 chopped onion

1 green chili (more or less to taste)

½ tsp. hawaij

2 tablespoons oil

Salt to taste (about ¾ tsp.)

Ground black pepper

 

Directions

1.      Heat oil, onions, chilis, and salt in a pan and cook the onions until they are slightly brown.

2.      Add the chopped tomatoes, hawaij and black pepper and cook until the tomatoes are soft, about 5 minutes.

3.      Lightly beat the eggs and add to the tomatoes. Let the mixture cook until half-way set, about 3 minutes, then stir the mixture slightly to ensure even cooking.

4.      Serve with bread and tea!

 

 

Horton, Michael. (2009). The Christian Science Monitor.  Why Southern Yemen is pushing for secession.  Retrieved November 9 2011 from http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2009/1215/Why-southern-Yemen-is-pushing-for-secession.

 

Koehler-Derrick, Gabriel. (2011). A False Foundation? Tribes and Ungoverned Spaces in Yemen. West Point: Combating Terrorism Center

 

images:

yemeni tribes symbol:  yemenfox.net

 yemen woman driving:  yobserver.com

 

Saudi Arabia: Saudi’s First Flash Mob!

 

Other than the fact it is only men participating, this flash mob could have taken place in just about anywhere in the world.  It featured music, dancing and individuals having a great time.  What makes this flash mob unique, is that it took place in conservative Saudi Arabia where dancing and music are usually prohibited in public places.  Yet in this flash mob, you do not see a single member from the Ministry of the Protection of Virtual and Prevention of Vice (Muttawa) on site.  Instead, it is people who are all enjoying themselves and having a good time.  Yes; when panning to the crowd the women are wearing abayas but in most cases have not covered their face.  There are young men wearing shorts and many others in typical Western dress as seen in New York, London or Paris.  This event was part of a promotion for a company based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  While it may not be what some would view as a “traditional” flash mob, it is a flash mob Saudi style which was undoubtedly a success!

Saudi Arabia: Perseverance Pays Off – 2013 Riyadh Book Fair

Riyadh-book--fair-March-2013

arabnews.com

 

 

The Annual International Riyadh Book fair for 2013 is in process.  The Ministry of Culture and Information has made an effort to launch a web site specifically for and about the book fair.  Although the English version is sadly lacking in substance and information, it is a start towards progression.  However, the Arabic language version of site is much more detailed.

The show commenced on 05 March with its opening ceremony and continues through 23 April, according to the official web site.  Although according to an article in the Saudi Gazette, the book fair ends on 15 March.

Previous years one could expect the Riyadh book fair to be segregated and proliferated with the religious police.  The book fair would be surrounded by some controversy due to disagreements on some of the books presented.

However, 2013 can be seen as a year of forward progress for the book fair.  For example, this year:

  • Men and women were openly mixing in a public!  Of course not interacting, but sharing the same space.
  • At prayer time they didn’t close anything – people kept right on buying and selling while the prayers were broadcast.
  • It was very festive with the bright lights for the tv cameras and interviewing authors in the middle of the place.
  • No one yelling or trying to enforce women to cover up.  However, a female friend of mine who was present advised that 99.99% of women wore niqab, including her.  She was not comfortable being up close and personal with so many people and feeling  exposed.  She could blend in more and not have people looking at her by her decision to wear a niqab.

The 2013 Riyadh book fair will have over 250,000 paperback titles and offer more than one million e-books.  The book fair is one of the biggest cultural events in the Kingdom second perhaps to the annual Janadriyal festival.  Organizers anticipate more than two million visitors while the fair is in progress from both the Saudi and expatriate communities.

Saudi Arabia: The Story of a Saudi Bi-Cultural Woman

It’s a pleasure for American Bedu to have the opportunity to interview Sahar and have her perspectives as a Saudi female growing up in the Kingdom.

 

Thanks, Sahar, for allowing me to interview you and taking the time to answer these questions!

 Flag-Pins-Thailand-Saudi-Arabia

crossed-flag-pins.com

Let’s begin with a little bit about yourself.  I understand that you are a Saudi national, but what is your family’s background?  Are both your mother and father Saudi citizens?

Am a first born of Thai-Saudi couple , my father is a Saudi nation and my mother is a Thai national 

What has it been like for you growing up in Saudi Arabia but with a non-Saudi mother?  Have you ever felt at any time that you were not viewed as a Saudi?  Were you ever treated or received differently by your Saudi peers?

Yeas sometime when I was young since I used to be really weak at Arabic language and some of the life style are very different in my family than other one and (am sorry to say that) but when I was child I was trying to avoid any topic about my mom side , now as people are more open minded and more educated it became much more better   

Can you share with readers what a usual week is like for you.  Would you describe your life as a typical traditional Saudi life?  Why or why not?

It actually hard to say but I would say it not typical traditional Saudi life but it have a lot of traditional aspects since we live with my grandmother , as I said before the live style was so different from other , any one live in a multicultural family would understand that beginning from the perspective family to the food style are in way or other are different , sometime I view something as obvious and normally but others view it as strange or rather unique.

Where in the Kingdom is home for you?  Do you live with your parents or are you married?  riyadh houses

Riyadh is the home that embraced my memory , yeah I live with my mom and my grandmother ( from father side ) since my father passed away 

Speaking of marriage, if you are married, was your marriage arranged through your family?  If you are not married, do you expect or want your family to arrange your marriage?  Why or why not?

I think an arrange marriage is the obvious choice I see right now but I prefer if it was one I choose who have the same experience that I had

Do you consider yourself 100 per cent Saudi?

No

Do you travel often to Thailand to spend time with your Thai side of the family?

I was born and raised until the age of 5 after that we come to live with my father in Saudi since that we didn’t go back until recently and we are planning on doing regular visits  

People who never have the chance to hear from a Saudi woman often have many questions about them.  I’d like to ask you a few of the most common…

 

What do you like to do for fun and entertainment?

Gathering with family or friends, going out for shopping or restaurant sometime going camping in the winter

What kind of fashions do you like?  Do you listen to music?  If so, what kind?

I like more of cute or classic fashion and mostly I go with my own fashion – something that make feel comfortable- , in term of music I like soft rock or anything that have guitar in it 

traditional dress     How do you dress when you are out in public?  Ie, abaya, hijab and /or niqab?  Do you choose to dress differently if you are out of the Kingdom?  Why or why not?

abaya, hijab would be what I go with usually but when am with my father’s family they always ask me to go with niqab and I do so  , out of the kingdom I choose not to wear hijab but I dress modestly .

What are your views on Saudi women now being part of the Shura council?

It’s a good thing to make women part of that as everything need to even part to work well and I hope it lead us to better future .

What do you think are the most important issues for a Saudi woman and why?

That they are so dependent on men in most of the thing , they need to have more power in decision making .

On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest priority, how important is it for women to drive in Saudi Arabia?  Please explain your answer.

7 , some women doesn’t have a male that could drive them around and other have different way to go that one male can’t drive then all in so in the end they need to use a driver with much of people can’t afford  , why it is the 7 and not higher ?! because there is other face that are part of the problem and could solve the problem which is the lack of good or at all public transportation . 

Are you in favor of the mahrem system?  Is it in the woman’s best interest that she have a male mahrem?

In some case a think it is good thing but mostly people here misuse this system to have overall control of the women

Do you think many Saudi women who are not married have contact with men to whom they are not related?  Why or why not?  If so, how?

yeah there is , as for why not really sure but most of the case I have acquaintance with are teenage and want to try love as any other teenage in the world or it is just out of curiosity toward the other sex .

What are the top five places and things to do you think an expatriate or any visitor to Saudi Arabia should do?

makkah     if they are Muslim I would say the two holy city , if not there in some historical place in different part of Saudi most of them are in north and south but we have national museum in Riyadh and Old al-drayah when you can see the traditional old house of Saudi , the following link of some good site I have passed by I hope it come to help :

http://blueabaya.blogspot.com/2012/01/ten-amazing-places-to-visit-in-saudi.html

http://travelling-around-the-earth.blogspot.com/2011/01/top-tourist-attraction-places-in-saudi.html

http://www.hziegler.com/articles/historical-ancient-sites-in-ksa.html

 

In your view, do you think there is a wide gulf of understanding between East and West?  Why or why not?

Yeas the lack of information or I must say the correct information from both side and the way that the media present the other mislead a lot of people who do not try to look more and understand more about the other side

How can people of differing faiths, customs and way of life build better bridges of understanding with Saudis?

In my humble opinion if we want to understand other we should not view them in subjective way nether view them in our prospective we should view them in an abstract way  , we should ask more and try harder to go to their cultural root and understand it as culture make deep effect in people behavior and action .

Are there any additional questions or comments you’d like to add?

That was really good and interesting

I hope to read more of your good article and looking forward to read something about multicultural or multinational family of Saudi  

Thank you, Sahar.  It’s been a pleasure and honor to have the opportunity to ask you these questions.

It have been honor for me too to be a part of your site and if you need any further information in the future don’t hesitate to email me 

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