Saudi Arabia: Choose Your Battles Carefully

Saudi women are becoming more outspoken and visual for rights they seek.  But a country, such as Saudi Arabia with its steep pride and entrenched in its tribal roots knows how to manipulate and rule.  Anyone with a place or a desire for a new reform has to be equally cunning and thinking ahead. Sadly the example of a young distraught Saudi woman walking down a Makkah street without an ayaba or headcover did not think through her reactions.  Makkah is not the place where any woman should try and test such boundaries.  After all, Makkah is the location of the Haram and the Haram boundaries are clearly marked with the expectation that respect will be shown.


I realize that I was pushing boundaries during my time in Saudi Arabia but I like to believe I chose my battles carefully.  My boundaries were more oriented at preserving “me” as an individual rather than trying to dare change anything about a society in which I was a guest.  Yes; I took calculated risks which included some risks with the abaya. 


A woman can have more “leeway” whether she wears or modifies a look of her abaya in the larger cosmopolitan cities of Saudi such as Jeddah or Damman.  Seaport cities have more an influx of people and cultures whereas a conservative capital such as Riyadh or holy cities like Makkah and Medina have their own rules of conformity and expectations.

Yet back to the forthcoming article, it is clear that the rash decision of a Saudi woman to go out without an abaya was based more on raw emotions.  It’s too bad she had to go through an ordeal of an arrest with what was already going on in her life though.  But…that’s part of Saudi Arabia.


Woman held for walking without abaya

Defiant Saudi wife tells police head cover is symbol of backwardness

Published Sunday, June 12, 2011


Saudi Arabia’s feared Islamic police briefly arrested a national woman for defying local rules by walking in a public place without the traditional Saudi gown and head cover. The arrest made her even more defiant, when she branded the head cover a symbol of backwardness.

The 27-year-old Saudi wife was strolling at dawn on the sidewalk in the western town of Makkah when members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice seized her and took her to their centre.

Sabq newspaper said a Saudi man had phoned the Commission and told them about a woman walking in tight pants and white tops without her gown or head cover. The man said he was worried the woman might be kidnapped by men.

The paper said the unnamed woman told Commission members at the centre that she went to stay at her family’s house after an argument with her husband but that they refused to receive her and told her to return home.

“The woman said she then decided to go for a walk at dawn to have some fresh air and release her pent-up feelings and deprivation,” the paper said.

“She said what she had done is normal and that the gown and head cover are symbols of backwardness….she also told the Commission members that man had reached the moon and ‘you come and tell me don’t drive….don’t go out shopping…cover you face…be careful…etc..”

Sabq said the woman was later handed over to her family after she was made to write a statement not to repeat what she had done.



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