The Story of Moudy – My Saudi Arabian Mother-in-law

My mother-in-law graciously gave me permission to share her story towards providing a glimpse of traditional life and fostering understanding of Saudi culture and customs.  She is a gracious and beautiful woman in her 70’s with an open mind and purest of heart.  Her father was a career military officer.  During a posting in Najran he saw and fell in love with a bedu woman.  He quickly married her and soon thereafter she was pregnant.  However once his traditional Nejd family learned of his marriage to a bedu, great pressure was exerted and before his child was born, he divorced his wife.  The child, (Moudy) was raised by her mother until she was about 7 years of age.  Although when she was but 10 days old, her father was allowed to see his daughter.  Following Islamic law in the case of divorce, after Moudy turned 7 she was removed from her mother and placed with an Uncle and his family in Mecca.  The reason that she went to her Uncle instead of her father is because by this time, her father was posted to Taif but still unmarried.  The Uncle had several daughters, one which was also the same age as Moudy and namesake as well.  Naturally little Moudy missed her mother and told her Uncle she wanted to either live with her father or go back to her Mother.  Her father came routinely from Taif to Mecca so he could see his firstborn whom he cherished.  Eventually, when Moudy was 11 years old, her father remarried and finally she was able to live with her father.  By this time he was posted to Al Hassa.  It should also be noted that before leaving her Uncle’s home, Moudy did make a smooth adjustment and had a happy life while at her Uncle’s home too.  Moudy’s life continued to be with her father and from Al Hassa he was posted to Riyadh.  She enjoyed a traditional and contented life with her father, stepmother and stepbrothers/stepsisters.  There was never any dissent or distinction that she was different because she did not have the same mother.  She was well loved and cared for and had close relationships with all I the family.  Eventually her father retired from the military and moved to Mecca.  By this time, Moudy was about 14 years old.  During this period in Saudi Moudy was not required yet to wear an abaya.  She caught the eye of a young man who in turn approached her father asking permission to marry Moudy.  Her father liked the young man and found him to be very respectable and gave his permission.  The next thing Moudy knew is she was being taken to various souks and materials were bought and dresses were made.  No mention had been made to her of a wedding.  With little to no warning, she went from daughter to wife.  She was a spirited young girl and was not shy to tell both her new husband and her father “I don’t like this man.  I don’t want to be married.  Take me back to my father’s house.”  Her husband was a kind and patient man.  I should mention that he was in his early 20’s and quite handsome as well.  With his patience and kindness and with Moudy’s father telling her that her home was now with her new husband, they began to settle in to a routine, get to know one another and develop a strong bond of love and respect for one another.  She gave birth to the first of her ten children when she was 15 years old.  She shared how each time her new baby girl cried she would hold her and cry too as she had no idea what was expected of her as a mother.  Fortunately she had very kind neighbors in Mecca who taught her the basics of motherhood.  Nine months after giving birth she found herself pregnant again with her second child but this time she had more confidence and knew what was needed to take care of a young infant.  She and her husband had ten children and a marriage which lasted more than 40 years before her beloved husband passed from cancer.  Although she was never formally educated, she avidly watched world news, looked at the newspapers and magazines as well conversed with friends and family members on all subjects.  She was in her element caring for her family and her home.  She instilled strong values in all of her children.  Throughout her life she also maintained contact with her birth mother and subsequent half-brothers/sisters from her mother’s remarriage as well.


When speaking of her mother, she advised her mother was a true bedu woman from the desert.  Her mother, as a young girl, received the blue tattoos believed to signify beauty among women from that tribal region.  She remembers her half sisters getting tattooed when they were around seven or eight years old.  While living with her mother and before moving to be with her father, she recalls pleading with her mom and crying to get tattooed like the other women in the tribe.  But Moudy’s mom refused to have her tattoed explaining to her even at that young age that she was different from the rest of the tribe because her father was not a bedu.  She added that her father would not understand or accept if Moudy were allowed to be tattoed.


Although Moudy is now widowed she continues to maintain an active life.  She devotes her life and time to her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  She continues to be a wonderful storyteller and teaches everyone in the family about the family history, culture, values and specific family events.  As the foreigner in the family, she was the one who took me under her wing and presented me to the family thereby guaranteeing I was readily accepted and welcomed.  Moudy has so many stories and experiences as a traditional Saudi woman that one could easily write a thick book!  I extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to her for allowing me to share this segment of her story and her life.


*** Note The images are from a collection of pictures of Bedu life in the mid 19th century and are not of my mother in law or her tribe. It is included to provide a visual of the life style of Beduan tribes in those early days.


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