Non-Muslims Go to Makkah?

Makkah and Medinah are the two cities in Saudi Arabia which you can say have a special protected status prohibiting non-muslims from entering their boundaries.  In fact, the boundaries are clearly marked so there should be no confusion to a non-muslim whether entering into the prohibited area.  So the question is, do any non-Muslims actually go to Makkah or Medinah?  The answer may surprise some of you for it is Yes.  But before jumping to wrong conclusions here, because unless one is a muslim one SHOULD NOT cross the boundaries, I’ll explain how this does happen.  And, some of you might be surprised.


Now I can only share what I know and there could be other cases or examples.  However the several cases in which I am aware of a non-muslim entering into the sanctity of Makkah are all at the personal invitation of a Saudi.  It seems that it is not unusual that in the cases of where a Saudi and non-muslim foreigner have become friends, some Saudis in turn have invited their friend to come with them to Makkah in order to better understand the rites of Islam and see the Grand Mosque (Haram).  Yes, these Saudis are aware that what they have done is prohibited and could have serious repercussions.  They probably also realize that as long as one conforms and does not do anything to stand out, he or she is unlikely to be challenged in either Makkah or Medinah if one is really muslim or not.  That would be rather tacky when you think about it, preparing to enter the Grand Mosque (Haram) and asked to show identification confirming you are a muslim.



One particular case brought to my attention highlights though the sensitivity and serious repercussions that could happen.  A non-muslim expat and a Saudi national worked together and became very close friends.  They both worked for a high profile institute.  The expat accompanied his Saudi friend to Makkah where together they performed the ritual of Umrah.  When back at work, the expat was sharing his experience of being able to see the Grand Mosque (Haram), what it felt like to go through the motions of Umrah and seeing the devoted (muslims) from all around the world.  Not surprisingly news of this trip made its way to a very senior official of the institution.  Both the Saudi national and the non-muslim expat were called to the executive offices.  They were both severely chastised on their poor judgment in violating the law, culture and traditions of Saudi Arabia.  The official reminded them that such actions can not only harm them as individuals but also the institution and its reputation.  Everyone in the institution received a warning on the consequences if anyone else were to even think of committing a similar act.


In another incident I had a non-muslim expat tell me how he accompanied a Saudi friend to Makkah and Medinah to perform Hajj.  It is not unusual for some Saudis to simply go and perform Hajj in an “informal” capacity; ie, not staying in the tent city with the other Hajjis but having their own independent program.  The expat was instructed to stick very close to his Saudi friend and “follow him.”  Similar to the expat and his umrah experience, the expat who “performed” and observed the rites of Hajj had similar feelings and emotions.


Neither of these individuals converted to Islam after their experience.  Although both felt they had an even greater appreciation for Islam and the dedication of muslims to their faith.

The Best of Bedu

I’m going to deviate somewhat from my normal way of posting about a particular topic and this time turn it over to YOU, my revered blog readers, to be interactive and be the focus of this particular posting.  I want you to tell me (and others) which has been your favorite blog posting and why!  I’d like you to provide either the title or link of the post and why you think it should be cited as “The Best of Bedu.”  And with your responses to this request I will be able in turn to create the “Bedu Top 10” posts.


So if you have been a regular “blurker” but not yet commented, this is time to make your viewpoint known.  And of course your responses will also help me to continue to keep this blog informative and interactive.


In advance, I sincerely thank you for your assistance and participation.  I look forward to your comments.

The Saudi Diplomat

When I was in the US foreign service and also even now, I continue to enjoy reading the State Department’s magazine.  This magazine provides interesting stories and interviews about diplomatic life, movements and promotion of foreign service personnel as well as very interesting reads on policy, cultures and customs.  Therefore I was delighted to learn that the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs also publishes its own magazine called the Diplomat.  It is published in English and is a very well done professional publication.  It is published under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Institute of Diplomatic Studies while actually published and distributed by Saudi Specialized Publishing Company.  The Diplomat always has a collection of articles of current interest, interviews, a feature on activities of a Saudi embassy and its mission abroad as well as occasional historical articles, editorials and other pieces of interest.  Not surprisingly the July issue featured the World Conference on Dialogue as its leading story.  I was also happy to see a detailed article on Madain Salah and how its designation as a UNESCO site will boost tourism to the Kingdom.

Online editions of the magazine are available for viewing and/or download at the web site of the Diplomatic Studies Institute.  I highly encourage everyone to visit the web site and peruse the magazine if you have not seen it before.  It is a good publication giving a nice general overview on differing aspects of Saudi Arabia.

Caught Between Two Cultures: Interview with a Saudi Man

The following interview is with a Saudi man who has graciously allowed me to ask him some candid questions about himself and his background.  While I do not want to interfere with his story and in his own words, he gives us a greater appreciation and understanding of what it has been like to be born of Saudi parents but raised in two very diverse and different cultures.


Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to interview you.  I think it is very helpful when we have the opportunity to exchange point of views and learn from each other.



To begin, please share a little bit about yourself. 

My parents are Saudi and I have lived most of my life between Canada and Saudi Arabia.  I have lived approximately 11 years in Canada and 11 years in Saudi Arabia, with the last year in South Korea as an English teacher. Coming to Korea is really what began my identity difficulties. Extreme double minority status really leads you to question your norms.



As one who has spent pretty much equal time in both Canada and Saudi Arabia, are there times when you feel that you are “more Saudi” and other times that you are “more Canadian?”  And can you please give some detail for the reasons of your response.

I feel boxed into one stereotype usually when I am in the opposite country. So I feel more Canadian in Saudi and more Saudi in Canada. I think it stems from a little bit of nostalgia but more importantly, the way I am perceived in both countries. I am always the foreigner, because I don’t completely “fit” in the norms of one country.


You have Saudi parents, but how did it feel after being born and raised in Canada, to go to Saudi Arabia?  Can you share your first experiences.

I was born in Canada and moved to Saudi Arabia when I was five. I do not remember much, but I remember I did not speak Arabic very well, I could understand it though. So I remember my cousins always laughing at me about the Arabic, and I guess it stuck. I was also held back a school year because of the lack of Arabic skills, even though I was in an International School. I was also one of a handful of Saudis in the school as well. In retrospect, that added to my feeling of being a stranger in Saudi Arabia, even though it was my family’s home.


Did you feel like you had a lot in common with the Saudis with whom you interacted while in Saudi Arabia after having been raised in Canada?

I think I might have alluded to the answer above. I was the always the “ajnabi” (foreigner). I really did not interact with too many Saudis other than my family and extended family. It is quite difficult to conceptualize these feelings when you are a child. Sometimes I did not understand what was going on, but I learned to get along and there weren’t too many obstacles. I wasn’t into Arabic music, unless I hung out with my cousins a lot, in which case I became into it. Children are pretty impressionable.


What were some of the biggest adjustments for you in coming to the Kingdom after having lived in Canada?  How well did you adapt?

I think the biggest adjustment for me, if memory serves me correctly, was the fact that now there were no girls around. I would say I dealt with it pretty well, I don’t remember any particular obstacles and I just accepted it. It was just the way it was. I think I also was a little too young to really deal with anything substantial. As I grew older, I spent my summers in Canada and the rest of the year in Saudi Arabia and that is when I started noticing and adjusting. To this day, it takes me about a week to get over the culture shock when arriving in Canada from Saudi Arabia or vice versa. I just need to switch mindsets. Just not being able to go outside for a walk and go to the movies or sit on a patio was something to move on from. I would say boredom was my biggest obstacle.


Where did you spend the majority of your time while in Saudi Arabia?  And as one who had lived outside of KSA for a long time, what did you notice about distinctions in the differing regions of Saudi Arabia itself?

I lived in Jeddah, and I am sorry to say I have not well traveled in the Kingdom, other than Makkah and Madinah.


How have you coped as an individual coming from a mixed culture and particular where the cultures are very diverse from one another?

Personally, I have been forced into questioning many things that seemed to clash in my head due to the different cultures. My parents associate Saudi Arabia as home, and I did too for a while. But I do not have one home. I care for Canada and its people just as much as I care for Saudi Arabia and its people and futures. I don’t think the coping is complete, but I learned that I cannot simply follow one group or culture. It is not a question of “which camp do you belong to?”. Therefore since I cannot associate myself with a nation or culture with complete devotion in the standard meaning of the word, I associate myself with principles. It remember Chris Rock once saying “ on some issues I am conservative, and on some I am liberal”. On some issues I have a Saudi mentality, and on some a Canadian mentality. It is still very confusing, because even though my Canadian mentality is more acceptable in Canada, it is still now a part of Saudi mentality due to my association of the place as my home. I hope that makes sense.



Has being brought up in two very different cultures given you an added appreciation when one thinks of the “Clash of Civilizations”?

I think it can more accurately be described as a clash of generations as opposed to a clash of civilizations. And I have never really ever been comfortable with that term because it brings an inherent negative connotation. I would prefer an encounter of civilizations. I think the negative element puts people of mixed cultures, who are increasing, in really difficult positions. For me, it is not a clash but rather an enriching of character. I can say some of the most interesting people I have met are those who are form different cultures but have another culture to build bridges and express and teach from both.


Based on your own experiences, what do you think may be some of the biggest challenges for an expat coming to the Kingdom for first time?

I think the biggest difficulty would be the increased number of things that are “illegal” and that you can be punished for, from things like driving or having a coffee with and unrelated female to having a glass of wine at home, and most recently, walking your dog or cat in public. These laws are comedic in the West, but it is important to understand that Saudi Arabia, like many other countries, is going through intense change and growth, which is frightening for many, and coping methods may seem quite absurd, but no nation is free from a history of absurdity at one point or another. It is important to be more aware of one’s own history before passing judgment on others.


How has being raised between the two cultures impacted on you most as an individual?

I think it has instilled and understanding for acceptance as opposed to simply tolerance. It is easier to accept differences, in opinion, in dress, in tastes, in what is considered decent and moral, etc. Ideas that make up my base of norms span a greater area, due to my “flexibility” when it comes to culture.


And if you do not mind my asking, how has being raised between two cultures impacted or influenced you in regards to traditions?  Can you see yourself more easily with a Saudi wife or a foreign wife?

That is a good question, and also the most pressing one for me. It is where my understanding needs to be translated to practice. I can see myself with a person from Canada or Saudi, because it is not the culture that I am looking for. There is a large emphasis placed on culture and tradition. I find it easy to accept people for their differences and am also fascinated by them. I can respect a person’s mind, their ideas, their thoughts, especially if they were able to question how environment has influenced them. Respect is a cross cultural norm, and via respect, a loving and healthy relationship can be born. Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle facing culturally diverse people is family acceptance and societal support. To me it is similar to inter-racial marriage, I do not see the problem, so why is it an issue?


What traditional cultures do you find yourself following from Saudi Arabia and why?  And of course, where do you see yourself following more western traditions and why?

The largest influence from western traditions that I carry proudly is religious tolerance, which stems from curiosity and understanding. Due to many factors, western traditions has put a lot of effort on critical analysis and thinking, which logically (at least for me) leads you to acceptance. It is unfortunate that the Saudi tradition has regressed from this particular aspect of life.

I think the Saudi tradition that I most follow would be the importance played in family and relationship ties, as well as the emphasis on generosity. My cousins are like my brothers and sisters, and my parents will always be my parents, no matter what happens. It saddens me sometimes to see my friends my western friends step away from that.


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

I would just like to say that being of mixed culture is not inherently of itself positive or negative. But it can be interpreted by the person in both ways producing a sense of loneliness and alienation. I think people of mixed cultures have the privilege and, more importantly, responsibility to act as the facilitators of cross-cultural communication. We can build bridges and erase a) negative stereotypes and b) from a unique perspective, improve both cultures by initiating discussions and dialogues that lead to self-improvement and awareness.


Thanks again for this opportunity.  You also give all of us much to think about in regards to the new meaning of “Global Citizen” and the impact today’s technology has in making all of us closer and able to share views and perspectives focusing on culture, customs, traditions, society and the resulting impacts!

Don’t Know What to Cook? How About Dhub – Traditional Saudi Beudion Dish

The Dhub is a spiny tailed lizard which lives in the deserts of Saudi Arabia (and elsewhere in the region). What some may think is a snake hole burrowed in to the sand might also be the home of a dhub.

According to the dhub are characterized by an elaborate suit of armour, consisting of a tail adorned with dagger-sharp spines and a head that would not look out of place on the end of a medieval battering ram. They are usually only spotted at a distance through the shimming Arabian heat-haze, which is a pity, for there are relatively few people who have had the chance to study the amazing mechanics and colours of the dhub from close up.

Despite their rather fearsome appearance, dhubs would not willingly harm anybody. They might snack on the odd insect as babies, but as adults they are strictly vegetarian with few exceptions, confining their diet to the meager pickings offered by desert plants. They have a very low metabolism that allows them to not only make the most of a low calorie diet, but to also go several weeks on end without eating anything. Dhubs will usually go through their entire lives without drinking a single drop of water; most of their moisture requirements being met by the rather dry and often salty plants which they feed upon. Dew, condensed in the entrances of their burrows, will also be utilised if it hasn’t already evaporated before the dhub wakes up (they are not early risers and most dhubs consider 8 a.m. to be the middle of the night).

Although dhubs are fairly low on the food chain, they are by no means an easy meal and it is a specialist predator that is capable of outwitting this spiky adversary. Not only are they difficult (and painful) to hold on to, but they are also fast and alert and will scramble to the safety of the burrow at the slightest hint of danger. Their biggest threat would come from above, with many eagles and hawks being more than willing to have a go at them. Foxes too, would take advantage of a dhub that had wandered too far away from its hole. The most specialized dhub killer is probably the black desert cobra (Walterinnesia aegyptica). These stealthy snakes are able to follow the lizard straight down into the burrow, where the dhub will be engulfed after a brief struggle against a powerful neurotoxin, a venom capable of killing a human. Monitor lizards (Varanus griseus ssp) will eat the baby dhubs. In fact these hardy reptiles will eat anything that moves and are not adverse to eating things that have long since stopped moving, even if that was days ago!

But what about normal people….or beudions of the desert? What is there view on dhubs? Well, if you get the opportunity to chat or better yet sit down at a fire with a true Saudi beudion, you just might find yourself getting served dhub! web site provided this interesting narrative on eating dhub: “Dhub is a delicacy among the Arabian bedawins in the peninsula, I was offered a chance to eat it and to tell you the truth, it tasted kind of like chicken. It has white meat. Is it healthy eating lizards I hear you yell? Based on Islamic teachings: “thou shall not eat flesh eating animals, thou shall eat grass eating animals.” Based on this alone, bedawins justify that eating dhubs isn’t such a bad thing. You can either boil it or roast it, I never tried frying it with oil. Most of the meat can be found in its armored tail.

One of the most popular ways to catch Dhubs these days is by hooking one end of the hose to the car’s exhaust pipe and hook the other end to the Dhub’s lair, and simply fill its lair with smoke, this causes Dhubs to exit their holes. It was proven to be the fastest and effecient way to catch Dhubs that hide inside holes, diging its hole is both time consuming and exhausting.”

Bon Appetite!

Eid al Fitr Shopping Tips

A lot of folks will hopefully have their Eid holiday shopping done by now. But for those who have not finished their Eid shopping, it will certainly be a challenge, comparable to the mad rush the day before Christmas for those who celebrate Christmas. Not only will the streets be packed with cars whose drivers all think they are related to Mario Andretti and driving crazily but the same tactics of pushing, pulling and shoving to be first in line or to be the one who grabs the last handbag that is the latest craze will be in full effect in the shopping malls too. For readers who are not familiar with Eid al Fitr, not only is it a signicant muslim holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan it is also a very lucrative and commercial time for most muslims also celebrate Eid by obtaining new special outfits, hence all the emphasis on shopping.

So how can one go out and about in Saudi Arabia to shop for Eid without feeling like they are getting ready to go out and battle? I can at least provide a few tips that may make it more manageable. First of all, try to go out during the daytime hours. Many of the malls are open from circa 1000 hours to about 1400 hours during the day before closing until nightfall when they will reopen. Since many residents of the Kingdom do switch their days and nights around during Ramadan, this is one of the more quieter times to be out and about. Secondly, plan your strategy. Know in advance where you want to go and plan your route accordingly to minimize the headaches of being out on the roads. And last but certainly not least, have cash on hand for your purchases and for any miscellaneous expenses. Particularly so during the month of Ramadan, the ATM machines quickly run out of available cash and it is also common for the bank networks to be overloaded making credit cards unusable as well.

First Gulf War Trivia…Did You Know?

That during the first Gulf war the Kuwaiti government fled to Saudi Arabia where it set up a temporary govenrment in the Sheraton Hotel in Al Hada (near Taif) until it was safe to return and resume running the Government in Kuwait?  Reference.


Not only did the Kuwait government operate from the Sheraton Hotel in Al Hada, but many embassies set up temporary locations there as well — to include the Saudi Embassy (Kuwait).



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