Saudi Arabia: Interview with American Convert Umm Adam


Umm Adam and I may not always see eye to eye on issues but at the same time we enjoy each other’s repartee.  She has kindly agreed to be interviewed and will share her experiences about herself, the decision to come to Saudi Arabia and what life has been like in the Kingdom for her and her family.

First of all, thanks for giving me the opportunity to interview you and ask you some questions about yourself, your experiences in Saudi Arabia and your own blog.

I’d like to start with your background such as where you are originally from and how long have you been in Saudi Arabia?

I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois USA. My family left the States 7 years ago. We did a brief stay in Bahrain and have been in KSA for over 6 years.

Please share the details which led to the decision of you and your husband to move from the United States to Saudi Arabia.  Was it a long decision making process?  Was it an easy decision?

Actually, it was a condition of our marriage contract. When I was introduced to my husband I expressed my desire and intention to make hijrah (migration for the sake of Allah). I was not interested in marrying anyone who did not desire to make hijrah. We were married for 3 years before we made hijrah. We had other obligations and a few obstacles in our way, but alhamduillah once Allah made a way out for us we eagerly accepted it. Of course it hurt to leave our loved ones behind and this is the only thing that saddens us about being away from home.

Was it an easy process for you and your family to relocate from the United States to Saudi Arabia?  And how much did you know about Saudi Arabia prior to your arrival in the Kingdom?

Alhamduillah, it was very easy. As I mentioned before, we first went to Bahrain. My nephew was attending an Islamic school in America and the Principle of the school called us one day to say that there was a business woman from Bahrain visiting and that she was recruiting (I have no idea what made him think of us, I’ve always thought that it was from Allah. Now that I think of it it may be because most of the students were from immigrant homes and at the time I believe we were the only non-Immigrant Americans). The same day we met with her and she made a job offer to my husband and also asked if we knew anyone else interested. Amazingly, as much as we hear others talk  of wanting to make hijrah, we only were able to find one other family interested in coming. To be fair, it was a short notice, because she wanted us in Bahrain in TWO WEEKS!

We gave away 3 cars and all of our other possessions, which wasn’t much and left with the clothes on our backs and whatever we could fit in our allowed baggage. Before leaving the States my husband had been to Saudi on two occasions. Once for Hajj and another time to visit Saudi friends. We knew that Saudi was the place that we wanted to be and considered Bahrain a foot in the door. We were not entirely pleased with Bahrain but were content. Still we prayed that Allah would make a way for us to Saudi Arabia. My husband has many Saudi friends and they would send visas to him to come visit on the weekends. While visiting he would get many job offers, but it was an American friend of his who is a biologist at the Water Desalanation Plant that got him the best job offer and the one that we accepted – masha’Allah.

move-cartoonWhat advice do you offer to other couples who may be contemplating the move from their home country to Saudi Arabia?  What tips can you offer to make a big move less stressful?

To be truthful, I don’t have much to offer as far as advice or tips. All, that I can say is to make your intentions good and once here if things are not as you hoped they were, than to keep renewing your original intentions. Also, try hard not to compare EVERYTHING with what you are use to. You left behind some good and some bad and you have come to some good and some bad. Perfection is from Allah alone. Keep that in mind and arm yourself with patience and gratitude and insha’allah you will be happy and content with your decision. Of course before that, you should first pray salatul istikharah (the decision making prayer). This helps one with not having regrets about their decision. Personally, if I make a decision without making istikharah first than I have only myself to blame if things to not go right. However, when I pray istikharah, despite if things do not go as I’d like – I do not regret the decision because I know that the good and the bad in it are from Allah and I am comforted by the fact that I consulted with Allah first.

What do you find that you miss from the United States?  And at the same time, what are you enjoying most about Saudi Arabia?

There isn’t much that I personally miss. The things that I miss most are for my children. I miss that they don’t have extended family. They will never know what it is like to spend weekends at Grandmas house (and I will never know what it is like to have weekend breaks…lol). Snow! They don’t know the joys of making a snowman or angels in the snow or what yellow snow is…lol! On the other hand they have no idea how painful it is to be frostbit, or to have your water pipes snowmanfreeze and burst, to be lifted up in the air and blown away (I’m from the windy city), to have to walk home from school in a blizzard (I survived the Blizzard of 79!) because the buses weren’t coming and neither were your parents – so it takes several hours for crying kids chained together to walk less than a mile home -with no visibility.

I think I like most the simplicity of life. The slower pace. I actually like not HAVING to drive. Of course I love living in the land of the Haramain (Makkah and Medinah) and in a Muslim land where the Muslims still appear as Muslims and where Islam is openly proclaimed and made easy to have as a way of life – if this is the lifestyle you want. I like that in Saudi I can have my cake and eat it too. By that I mean that after I married my husband, he would tell me that I wasn’t ready for hijrah. That I could not give up my standard of living. At the time I think he was thinking that I would want to run off to Yemen, because we were receiving word that you could go there and as soon as you got there a mud home would be built for you. He’s right, that would have been much harder for me to adjust to and Allah Knows Best. In Saudi, I can still have my indoor plumping, central air and heat, western restaurants and supermarkets. As well as a masjid on almost every corner, my children are native speakers of both English and Arabic (with both parents being American). If I get down, need a boost of faith, feel the need to get closer to Allah, or something happens that I really want to take to Allah – I can basically just jump on a` plane, drive in our car, or even take a taxi to make Umrah.

Generally speaking, it is not necessary to perform Umrah for the reasons I stated,one should resort to Almighty Allah at every time and place. Allah Almighty says: (And when My servants ask you concerning Me, then surely I am very near; I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls on Me, so they should answer My call and believe in Me that they may walk in the right way.) (Al-Baqarah 2:186).

However, it is said that performing Umrah serves as an expiation of sins committed between the first and the next Umrah. That just gives me one more reason to say alhamduillah for living in it’s proximity.

What has helped you in making a successful transition to life in Saudi Arabia and establishing a network of friends?

The INTERNET! Honestly, I often wonder how our ‘pioneer’ expats managed without it. Actually, I wonder how housewives and stay at home moms any and everywhere, managed before the invention of the Internet. I think the Internet has made life transitions easier (I don’t freak out and take my kids to the ER for everything…I google it. Well heck before the internet I was ‘looking up’ everything back then too) in a number of ways – not just living abroad.

Besides the Internet, I like to just keep things real, you know keep everything in perspective. I try not to get caught up in everything ‘wrong’ or different about life here. It was the same for me in the States. I didn’t get bent out of shape and report everything to CAIR. Life is bigger than me and the world doesn’t revolve around me.

As far as friends, I’ve had to come out of my comfort zone and for me that is the language barrier. This was actually not a conscious choice. The first 5 years here we lived in a` predominantly Saudi area, in the middle of nowhere. So my day to day dealings were with all Saudis and maybe anywhere to once a month to once a year I would get together with my American (married to Saudi friends). Even less, would I see other American-American families like ours.

I prefer that my main circle of friends not only just have the same common language (makes communicating easier) but we have other shared interest as well. However, that doesn’t stop me from sitting in other circles. I have 3 Saudi families that have basically adopted our family. One we are really part of the family/tribe and we are invited to everything big and small that they have. There are times when I really do not feel like dealing with the language barrier but I attend anyway and I’m glad I have. I would hate to have moved here just to be in an all Expat circle. I also have attended Quran Classes and Islamic Study circles that were not designed for non-Arabs. As frustrating as it was, I like how it opened me up and ideally would have immersed me in the language.

How long do you envision you and your family being in Saudi Arabia and why?

I made my intentions for hijrah. So my intentions are to be wherever I can be for Allah’s`sake for the rest of my life. If that is Saudi, alhamduillah. If it’s another place, alhamduillah. For now I am both happy and content with remaining here.

If there were anything you could change or disliked about Saudi Arabia, what is it and why?

Insincerity of the people. Unfortunately, it is deep rooted and ingrained (aaddy) in the culture. I am a ‘what you see is what you get’ type of person. I don’t put up fronts and so it is difficult for me to deal with people who are insincere.  However, it is normal and to be expected. Sometimes they mean well and others appreciate their ‘diplomacy’, I don’t. For instance, I often get invitations but am unsure if I am suppose to accept them, because I’ve been told that they really don’t mean it but because they are expected to be genrous and hospitable then they will extend a fake invitation and you are to know how to play the game (make up an excuse and then they will insist that you come so you beg them to forgive you and say that insha’allah you will visit another time. After a few rounds of this you agree to meet later insha’allah).

I’ve had well meaning people outright lie to my children in my face. Once, my daughter wanted to go to Baskin Robbins and I told her ‘no’. My Saudi friend told her that they were closed and that we would come back later. I was livid! I don’t lie to my children. i can say no…easy! Another time, a girl slapped my daughter on the school bus. I called the school and reported it. The next day my daughter came home and told me that the teacher pulled the girl out of the class and before the girl could deny it the teacher told her that she had seen the whole thing on a hidden camera. My other daughter is in 1st grade and here teacher uses this same technique to keep the children disciplined while she steps out of the class. I haven’t told my daughters that they are lying to them, but still…

The insincerity comes in the form of double standards and hypocrisy as well. These are traits that nobody admires and you would expect more from a people who claim to be rightly guided. Be that as it may, change comes from within first and then Allah will change the people. As much as I hate it, it is out of my hands. They will have to first recognize this evil trait that has become a characteristic of this society/culture and work on it themselves. The problem is since everyone does it (aaddy) it is almost impossible to realise that it is wrong even though it is officially taught in school, by parents, and known throughout the whole world!

Now let’s segue to you and your blog.  How long have you been blogging?  What prompted you to start your blog?

This past November was my blog’s 2 year anniversary! I never planned on blogging and actually thought blogs were stupid and only really opinionated people blogged. I then found myself commenting regularly on two blogs (Umar Lee’s and Tariq Nelson’s). My comments were so long they could have been blog entries. I was politely told that perhaps I should start my own blog and the rest is history (or archived)!

How do you feel your blog is making a difference and impacting the blogosphere?

bloggingI seriously doubt it’s made any difference or had any effect at all. The blog is called Soliloquies OF A Stranger (in other words I’m talking to myself…lol). It was basically written by me for me and is a healthy outlet.

How important is it for bloggers to blog about Saudi Arabia?

I’m not sure how important it is. I think it’s a great way for others to learn about a`land ‘veiled in mystery’ or whatever the cliches are used to describe the limited access to Saudi. I think that those of us who do blog about Saudi should be honest enough to tell the whole story and by that I mean explain your view point. I’ve seen single lonely men write about how miserable life is here because they can’t have a beer. I’ve seen women in horrible marriages paint all of Saudi as a God forsaken place because they are married to a tyrant. Unfortunately, all of that is disregarded in the readers eyes and they take the writers words as ‘the Gospel Truth’. I’m not  suggesting regulating the blogs but put a disclaimer up if you want to vent. That way people know this is a vent and slightly exaggerated. Or that you are a miserable person and so are your views and on the other hand you may be one of those overly optimistic-  glass half full people…say it! That way people know where you are coming from. I personally can’t imagine a better place to live, for my family, but i try not to be too euphoric about it. These are my experiences and not everyone will have the same exact experience. I am reminicent of elementary lessons – accentuate the positive – eliminate the negative 🙂

Do you think the international media does a fair and equitable job in representing Saudi Arabia?  Why or why not?

From what I hear and the little I have read – they don’t. I can’t really comment much about that because I do not follow them enough to have a valid opinion.

In closing, I want to thank you for taking the time to respond to my questions.  And is there anything else you’d like to add that I may not have asked?

You are welcome. No, this was sufficient.


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