I always welcome the opportunities to interview individuals who have a connection or interest to Saudi Arabia on American Bedu. Aisha has graciously agreed to this interview and to share her experiences as well as her unique situation.
Thank you, Aisha, for agreeing to this interview. There are many questions I’d like to address with you. First of all, what is your nationality and where is your present location?
First, let me begin with “Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim” and say that I’m honored to share my story with your readers and am thankful for the opportunity to do so on your blog!
As for my nationality and location, I am American; I have a temporary residence in Egypt in order to be closer to my husband; however, I’m visiting on business in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
What circumstances brought you to Saudi Arabia?
There are a myriad of reasons for my stay in Saudi Arabia. Of course, my conversion to Islam plays a major role. I appreciate being in a country where I can wear niqab and my daughters can wear hijab without being out of place. I am so grateful to hear the adthan five times a day and it’s a blessing to hear my doctor say, “Bismillah,” before beginning any exam or procedure. The little things like this make Saudi more “home” to me than my own homeland.
My visa is related to my business. I lecture and teach natural birthing techniques. It is my goal to educate women in the Middle East and Africa about non-medicated natural birth and birthing consumerism. I also want to influence hospitals and doctors to recognize the importance of non-medicated natural birth.
In addition to that, my husband is Saudi and works in Riyadh. Of course our young sons are also Saudi, so this land is their birthright as well. We are still working on establishing our newborn daughter’s nationality, but she too should be registered as a Saudi soon, insha’Allah.
Everyone loves a love story. Please share with American Bedu readers how you and your Saudi husband met.
I was a brand new convert to Islam. I was full of questions and eager to learn. However, I lived in an area of California devoid of Muslims. I turned to the internet and eventually found my husband, patient and thorough. He became my teacher and my mentor. I was not looking to marry, but found myself enjoying the learning relationship for the sake of Allah.
During the course of our conversations I had confided in him that I hoped to move to Egypt with my children. I felt Egypt was a good choice as it was a Muslim country with good relations to the U.S. as well as a favorable monetary exchange.
One day he contacted me to invite me to Cairo. He had a business trip there and said he would show me around to see if it was really a place I could manage with my five young children. Although I trusted him, a trip to Egypt seemed impossible. However, after making istikarah, everything quickly fell in place. It was against all odds, but there I was, on my way!
We were not sure what was next. I lived in the States and he in Saudi, but we put our trust in Allah and with a leap of faith we married during that trip. It was not well planned, so there was no Saudi marriage permission in place; hence the rest of my interview.
How long have you been married? Do you have any children?
We have been married over four years now. Together we have three children ranging from three-and-a-half years to newborn. From my prior marriage I have five children ranging from fifteen years to seven-and-a-half. All eight children reside with us, alhamdulelah.
He also has four children with his first wife ranging from twenty-eight to fourteen years old. However, I’ve never met them, as he is unfortunately estranged from his wife and children.
I understand that you are facing unique circumstances in regards to the marriage approval process. Can you describe what the marriage approval process has been for you and your husband?
First, my husband took me to visit Sheikh Al Azhar in Cairo. He wanted me to officially document my shahada. Afterwards, the sheikh warned him of the great responsibility he had in “leading” me to Islam. He also advised that it was best for us to get married.
He told my husband to visit the Egyptian marriage notary (ma’zoon). However, they rejected to accept a marriage application because we are non-Egyptian and needed both of our Embassy’s approval documents (which was impossible to get as the Americans do not issue marriage permissions at all and the Saudis do not handle these permissions via their embassies).
Since we were unaware of the legal process and our time together was short, we turned to a lawyer. He offered to draw a legal Islamic marriage contract between the two of us and acted as my “wali,” since I have no Muslim relatives. The signing of this contract was conducted by a “ma’zoon” at his office. Our attorney assured us he would be able to follow-up and have the marriage attested and recognized within the Egyptian marriage system.
My husband knew he met all the requirements for the Saudi marriage permission, so he assumed he would have no trouble getting the marriage recognized once he returned to Saudi. At the time, neither of us realized how difficult it would be.
The Egyptian attorney took time, but delivered on his promise and had our contract attested and certified through the highest courts in Egypt. When it was finally issued, I was living in Egypt in order to be closer to my husband.
We were excited to finally get the legal recognition of our marriage and my husband used it to register our son as a Saudi citizen and to apply for our marriage acceptance in Saudi. To our dismay, the citizenship was granted but the marriage rejected.
Two years later, I came to Saudi for the first time to make Umrah. I delivered our second son during that visit and was able to stay for five months, alhamdulelah. After registering our second son as a Saudi citizen, he applied for an appeal of the rejected file. They would not accept the appeal application and instructed him to reapply. We felt confident that it would be approved this time as we had two Saudi sons and letters urging acceptance from a high Saudi Sheikh and a political figure. He took the file and attempted a direct visit with a prince at the Ministry of Interior in Jeddah. He was denied entrance to speak to the prince and the clerks took his case. Although the prince processed our application, the legal department denied it and I had to return to Egypt as my Umrah stay was expiring.
He is planning to reapply after we have our newborn daughter documented as a Saudi citizen. This is taking longer than usual because she was born in Riyadh at home. We are following the process for registering a home birth in Saudi, it just takes time.
To complicate matters even more, we have somehow misplaced or lost our original marriage court document. Thankfully, the birth registration department has our marriage on file from our two sons’ birth registrations. Our daughter’s birth registration is in process, so we won’t know until it’s over if that is enough to carry it through to completion.
In the meantime, we are hoping that the marriage approval process will similarly allow us to use the copy of our marriage document already in file. We are praying that now that we have a third Saudi child and have been married almost five years, that our marriage may finally be approved and my iqama issued.
Until which time, I am grateful to be able to visit Saudi (and my husband) on my business visa. I truly want to spread the passion for natural birth here. Of course, I also want to reside, with all the legal documents in order, with my husband.
How do you feel that your children have been recognized as Saudi citizens and have their own passports, yet the Government continues to disapprove your marriage prohibiting you and your husband to legally be together under one roof as a family?
It’s extremely disheartening. It’s sad that my family is separated based on nation of origin. My children need their father and I need my husband. His work is here. Our three young children have their rights to be here. I believe they also have a right to live with both their parents!
Have you been made welcomed in to your husband’s extended family? What is their reaction to the lack of marriage approval?
Masha’Allah, some of his family has been very generous, hospitable, and accommodating; others, not so much. Some of his family refuses to even meet me. I pray, with time, they will come around.
I’m not even sure if all of his family is aware of the approval issue. However, a few of the family members that have been accepting have also tried to find ways to help us with an iqama (residence permission). So far no one has any permanent solutions.
What advices have you been given towards getting the marriage approval rectified?
We are constantly told, “Just keep reapplying.” Of course finding someone with personal connections comes up a lot too, but we just don’t have that!
We are sincere in our marriage and just want to raise our family, intact, in their homeland. If any of your readers have any suggestions or advice, I’m open to ideas.
In spite of the obstacles and frustration due to the lack of marriage approval, you also provide a valuable service to women in Saudi Arabia. Please explain the type of work you are conducting in Saudi Arabia.
As I mentioned, I lecture and teach about childbirth. I am certified by the American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth® and I teach The Bradley Method® of natural childbirth to expectant couples.
Birth is an athletic event. Women must prepare physically, mentally, and emotionally. Like any athlete preparing for a big event, she needs a coach, someone to help her through. I teach husbands to serve this role for his wife (she can chose someone other than her husband, of course, but he truly has the most vested interest in the outcome).
I advocate for non-medicated natural birth and teach couples how to cope with labor and birth naturally. Barring any abnormalities, most women can birth without pain medication or medical procedures, IF they get educated and prepare themselves.
There are so many risks to the mother and baby when medications and medical procedures are introduced to the birth process. Allah made the perfect plan for our births; why risk introducing medical interference when it’s not necessary?
I am also honored to attend births as a labor doula. I assist the woman and her family throughout her labor and birth. I help her to cope with her labor and am there as a strong, confident advocate for her welfare. I work with her medical team to help her enjoy the best possible birth experience.
How much of a demand are there for your services in Saudi Arabia?
Since I arrived this trip, I have been busy with the birth of my own baby. Even so, I have received a ton of inquires, alhamdulelah. Not only that, but I’ve also been requested to meet with a very supportive midwife and head nurse at one of the biggest hospitals in Riyad. I’m looking forward to meeting many obstetricians as it is my goal to partner with open-minded obstetricians and hospitals in promoting natural birth and prenatal education.
In my short time here, I am excited that my first class is up and running and I have a few doula clients lined up, masha’Allah. It’s my sincerest dua (prayer) that with continued exposure I’ll be opening more classes soon.
It is my goal to also train interested Saudi and expat natural birth mothers to teach as well. With more teachers available we will be able to reach more expectant couples and truly make an impact on the birthing customs in Saudi Arabia and beyond, insha’Allah.
I’d also like to find a venue for lecturing to doctors, nurses, and midwives. I was fortunate to have found this opportunity in Egypt and expect to enjoy the same great success as I’ve had there, insha’Allah.
Do you speak Arabic? If not, how are you able to assist the Saudi women?
Unfortunately, my Arabic is limited. However, I’m learning. My husband is also trained to teach with me and serves as my translator for classes. It’s also comforting for the husbands in my classes to see him there as an example. It is my goal to have the material and workbooks translated into Arabic soon, insha’Allah.
Of course, I lecture in English, but doctors and medical staff usually speak English, so it’s not an issue.
As far as doula services, my experience in Egypt was only with non-English speakers. Somehow, birth manages to bring us to common ground and I was able to bond with and help the women, regardless of the language barrier.
Shifting gears here, how long have you been in the Kingdom? Did you feel you were adequately prepared for the change in culture and customs before arrival? What were the biggest changes and adjustments for you?
I was here for five months last year and have been here for almost three months this time. I think that living in Egypt first was a good stepping stone into the Saudi culture. Although still very different from American culture, Egypt is far more lenient than Saudi. I think it was a good transition for my older children too.
Of course, I left America seeking something different. I wanted to bring my children to a society where open, non-married relationships are not accepted and marriage is socially valued. I wanted a society with Islam as its base since I feel that a certain level of moral standard has been lost in American society.
I wear niqab by choice and this move was my choice; I was seeking this change. With all of that in mind I don’t feel there was any really big shock or adjustments.
However, I have to say it is a totally different lifestyle. I have never been so dependent on a man as I am here. I feel fortunate to have a caring, supportive husband, because without that, life here would be much more difficult.
What have you enjoyed most about life and living in Saudi Arabia? Why?
I think being able to wear my niqab without it attracting attention is the biggest blessing. Also, coming from Egypt, I totally enjoy the variety in grocery shopping! There aren’t many products that I miss from the States that I can’t find here, masha’Allah.
I am extremely happy in our neighborhood and am pleased that my children are making friends, masha’Allah. I felt very honored over the recent Eid holiday when we were presented with a good portion of more than one of our neighbors’ odh’heya (meat from sacrifice).
I home school my children so most of my time is spent in my home. So no matter where I am geographically located, so long as I can function and am happy in my home, I could live just about anywhere.
How have you changed (if any) since living in Saudi Arabia?
I would have to say that my preconceived notions or stereotypes about Saudis or life in Saudi has been washed away. I have come to realize that life in Saudi is not scary or backwards as most Americans would expect. I was shocked at the many modern malls and even American chain stores and restaurants. There is a lot more English (written and spoken) than I had anticipated and people are generally very hospitable and accommodating. I had also been very nervous about entering the country alone and was pleasantly surprised at how welcoming the immigration and customs process was during my last entry into Saudi without my husband.
Beyond this, I guess I’ve just become more dependent on my husband. In the States, and even in Egypt, I had more independence. Independence to come and go on my own as well as independence to conduct business, be it banking or government, without the assistance of a man. Being an adult woman, yet under the “guardianship” of a man is probably the biggest change any of us have to face.
Would you recommend other expatriates who may be considering a position in Saudi Arabia to accept or decline an opportunity? Please explain your answer.
Absolutely! I think Saudi Arabia is a very “livable” country. The infrastructure parallels that of the United States, masha’Allah. It’s not like going to Egypt where things are not as modern.
However, if I were speaking to a woman or a husband with a wife and kids, I would just warn that there is a lot of responsibility placed on the husband (or hired help) due to the lack of mobility for women. This is probably the biggest, single obstacle to overcome for women who are used to the freedom of driving.
Of course, for a non-Muslim, it may be more difficult to live here. There are restrictions on products, pork and alcohol for example, and activities, such as gender mixing, that makes life more difficult if one does not share the Islamic beliefs. Non-Muslim women should also realize that she will be required to wear an abaya (dark garment over her street clothes) anytime she is out in public.
What are your top five tips for new expatriates in the Kingdom?
Even though I know I am a foreigner here, I feel at home. I don’t really think of myself as an expat. However, I’d advise the following:
1. Gain some knowledge of Arabic language.
2. Accept that some things are just different here and emotionally let go of the phrase, “In my country we do it this way.”
3. Be more cautious of your children’s school. Even though Saudi is a relatively safe place to be, the standards for background checks of people working with or around children are nonexistent.
4. Be cautious about leaving your children alone with maids or drivers. These workers usually come from third-world countries and do not necessarily have the same moral standards, nor care for children that you have; whether it stems from ignorance or mal intent.
5. Even if you are not Muslim, do some research about Islam. Religion is a part of every facet of life here and if you intend to live in a country predominantly Muslim and ruled by Islamic law, you should be aware of the customs and procedures of the religion.
What about foreign women who have met a Saudi? Would you encourage a foreign woman to have a relationship with a Saudi? Why or why not?
I would not advise for, nor against it. I don’t feel nationality has any basis. There are good and bad Saudi men, just as there are good and bad American men. However, I’d be more inclined to endorse her marriage to a Saudi if she meets him on his turf, rather than hers. If she meets and marries him in Saudi, rather than in America, her chances of getting to know the “real” man are far greater.
What are the most important factors a woman should know if she is involved with a Saudi whether in or out of the Kingdom?
First, she should realize that at the root of every Saudi man is Islam, regardless if he is “practicing” his religion when they meet or not. She should know that his cultural upbringing was much more strict in terms of a women’s modesty, role in society, and the part that religion plays in every facet of his daily life. Even if he is “open-minded,” his religious and/or cultural differences are likely far from hers and his loyalty to them will probably kick in at some point.
She should also know that Islam does not allow “dating” or getting overly involved with a woman unless they are engaged first. If he “dates,” he is either untrue to his religion or allowing his foreign environment to temporarily mute his cultural and religious values.
A man in this situation is likely to tolerate certain behaviors in a girlfriend that he would not accept in a wife. This either means he won’t commit to his girlfriend or he will try to force her to change after they get married.
She should also be prepared to move to Saudi, even if he says he plans to stay in the States. She should also recognize that a move to Saudi will require her to give up some, if not all, of her independence and she may find herself in a very vulnerable situation. Assuming her Saudi man is truly open-minded and supportive, this should not be much of an issue, but what if it turns out he’s really not? Or worse yet, he dies and she or her children are left under the “guardianship” of one of his male relatives!
Unfortunately, woman who meet a Saudi man abroad often fall into the category of the many stories of women who meet and date their Saudi beau whilst in America and then find he’s a totally different man when he returns to Saudi. We’ve all heard the stories of how his Saudi values and strictness all come rushing back during the transatlantic flight!
I’d also caution her about religion. If she is not already wholeheartedly Muslim, chances are she won’t enjoy trying to live it for him. I’d be very leery of any Muslim who tells her that it’s okay that she’s not Muslim. Even if he truly feels he can accept her following a different religion, that feeling will most likely change the minute they have a child, or he tries to bring her home to meet his mother.
Of course, to avoid the problems I’m facing, she should be sure that he has marriage permission in place in Saudi before marrying him.
How can a foreign woman know that a Saudi is truly serious and not simply enjoying a relationship with no intention of commitment?
How can any woman be sure of this with any man? I guess I’ve addressed this somewhat in the previous questions. But I surely don’t recommend becoming intimate with a Saudi man she’s not married to. This is true of any man, actually. You know the saying, “Why buy the cow if the milk is free?!?” This would apply even more to Saudis since their religious and cultural standards of such intimate contact is much stricter than hers probably is, unless she’s already devoted herself to Isalm.
In closing this interview Aisha, I hope that you and your husband do receive that critical marriage approval so you have peace of mind in being legally recognized as his wife and can finally all live together under one roof.
Thanks so much for your wishes and I’d like to thank your readers for taking the time to “hear” my story.
Are there any additional comments you’d like to add?
I am honored that your readers have taken the time to read my story. I would like to invite them to visit my blog about natural birth as well as my Bradley® web page:
I’d love to hear from anyone who is interested in natural birth, be they medical professionals or the general public. I’m always honored to work with expectant parents to achieve the best birth experience possible.
I’d especially like to reach any medical professionals who would be interested in working with me to increase the rate of natural births in his/her practice. I’m looking for any assistance from within the medical profession to reach expectant parents or to provide a venue for lecturing to those in the obstetric field.
I also welcome any advice or help with regards to the marriage permission/iqama issue. If anyone knows of anyway to expedite this procedure, I’d be extremely grateful!
Mostly, I’d like to express my gratitude to you for taking the time to interview me and post this article. I am very impressed with your blog and it’s an honor to be featured on it.
In closing, I’d like to express my sincerest prayers for you, your family, and all your readers. May Allah’s mercy be for all the ummah, as from Him we come and to Him we will surely all return!
Filed under: abbya, America, Charity, culture, Dress, Economy, Entertainment, expat, expatriates, Freedoms, friendship, gender, hajj, Health, Hobbies, Interview, islam, pets, politics, relationships, religion, Saudi Arabia, Saudi blogs, Saudi culture, Saudi customs, Saudi education, Saudi Living, travel, Uncategorized, Women Issues | Tagged: abaya, America, blogging, culture, culture shock, customs, gender, gender issues, heritage, islam, Jeddah, KSA, marriage, Mecca, places, Ramadan, Relationship, religion, Riyadh, romance, Saudi, Saudi Arabia, Saudi culture, Saudi customs, travel, Umra | 62 Comments »