SAUDI ARABIA: On Being a Muslim Abroad

On Being a Muslim Abroad

Paris, 1989, on a playground. A young girl only a year or two older than I asks me, in French, “Where are you from?” “I am from Saudi Arabia,” I reply.  She asks me where that is. This happened to me frequently, and I couldn’t understand how children didn’t know where Saudi Arabia was! I knew where France was… Why shouldn’t they know where Saudi was?

Vermont, 1993. Camp Kenya. “Do you have an oil well in your backyard?” “Are you a millionaire?” “Do you live in a tent?” We indulged the questions at first, but it started to get a bit old. My cousin and I tried to blend in as best we could, without joining in on the conversations about boys and first kisses. While we obviously stood out, our novelty wore off quickly, especially when our answers to their questions were not as exotic or mysterious as the other children hoped.

1998, London, American University. “Oh! You don’t seem like a Saudi,” a fellow student exclaimed. “How many Saudis have you met?” I asked her. “None,” she replied. Another student remarked, “Wow, a Saudi woman studying graphic design in London! What a huge step for women!” I couldn’t help but be offended. ”Ummmm… my mother studied in Switzerland, is fluent in 3 languages and has devoted her life to women empowerment… Studying graphic design in London is no great feat.”

2000, London, American University. In response to the news of my engagement, one of my teachers called me into his office. “Are you ok?” he asked me. “Yes, why?” I replied. “Is it your choice to get married?” he asked. I was shocked by his question, so I replied, “Yes, it is. Why would you ask me that?” “I would hate for you to be coerced into something you didn’t want.” This is from a professor I had known for 2 years. In his classes, he knew me to be an opinionated, creative and confident woman. But apparently the cliches don’t shift.

September 11, 2001, London. At home. The phone rings. “Switch on the TV!” my cousin tells me. “What channel?” I ask. “Any channel,” she replies. We get a warning to stay home from University for a while, so my sister camps out in the living room in front of the news for days on end. “I am from Saudi Arabia,” is not longer greeted with curiosity and questions about oil wells in our backyard.

Watching the events unfold that day was horrific, devastating and gut wrenching. As a 21 year old college student, I felt society expected me to take responsibility or apologise, even though this act was so far away from anything I knew, anything I was raised with, anything I or anyone else I knew believed. I didn’t understand why these acts by these men changed people’s impression of me. “It’s me!” I wanted to shout.  I haven’t changed as a result of what terrorists have done. I don’t have a hand in this.

The cliche had changed overnight. ‘I am Saudi,’ was no longer only synonymous with, “I am an oppressed woman whose biggest ambition in the world is to buy half of Harrods.” It now also became synonymous with “I am a hateful person to be feared. I come from a country without a shred of good in it. I come from a country that breeds terrorists. Therefore I am sure to breed the myself. And my silence means I condone every terrorist act committed not only by a Saudi but by anyone claiming to be a muslim.” You may think this is a bit dramatic. I wish it was. It was very much black and white.

Looking at the world events in the last few months. Listening to the rhetoric coming out of the UK after Brexit and the US after the elections it is clear that nothing is ever black and white. Every country, every community, every family and every person has the capacity for both good and bad. I have lived my whole life knowing this. We were raised knowing this. That is why it is so difficult to understand when people paint a whole culture and country with one brush. I did not look at these situations and think, “That’s it! They hate us! They would rather see us gone.” Maybe I had the luxury of travelling to many places and meeting many people from different cultures. What I am certain of is that nothing and no one is perfect, what matters more is the effort people put into their betterment.

They have opinions about me, and about my people, but there is much that they do not see, that they do not know. Since September 11th Saudi Arabia has had dozens of terrorists attacks on its own soil targeting not only expats but Saudi civilians and law enforcement, as well as members of the government. The Saudi government has been actively fighting terrorism and has had many successes in this war against terror. Saudi Arabia has taken measures to regulate all charitable donations, requiring proper permits and security checks to ensure every donation is going where it is intended. The Saudi government recognised an underlying problem in our education system and has since changed the textbooks and method of teaching.

The Arab and Muslim world has lost many lives to extremist ways of thinking and terrorism. Likewise, the Arab and Muslim world has a great deal to gain by fighting the war of terror. We are together in this.

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Mama B. of Saudi Arabia. Photo credit to the author.

Mama B (Saudi Arabia)

Mama B’s a young mother of four beautiful children who leave her speechless in both, good ways and bad. She has been married for 9 years and has lived in London twice in her life. The first time was before marriage (for 4 years) and then again after marriage and kid number 2 (for almost 2 years). She is settled now in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (or as settled as one can be while renovating a house). Mama B loves writing and has been doing it since she could pick up a crayon. Then, for reasons beyond her comprehension, she did not study to become a writer, but instead took graphic design courses. Mama B writes about the challenges of raising children in this world, as it is, who are happy, confident, self reliant and productive without driving them (or herself) insane in the process. Mama B also sheds some light on the life of Saudi, Muslim children but does not claim to be the voice of all mothers or children in Saudi. Just her little "tribe." She has a huge, beautiful, loving family of brothers and sisters that make her feel like she wants to give her kids a huge, loving family of brothers and sisters, but then is snapped out of it by one of her three monkeys screaming “Ya Maamaa” (Ya being the arabic word for ‘hey’). You can find Mama B writing at her blog, Ya Maamaa . She's also on Twitter @YaMaamaa.

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Did you catch Orana Velarde’s post on @BabyCenter?

orana-velarde

As part of World Moms Blog’s collaboration with BabyCenter’s Mission Motherhood®, our World Moms have been writing posts on maternal health around the world. We have made it to the finish line, and this is the last and 24th post in the incredible one-year series!

Orana Velarde in Srilanka interviewed 8 mothers in Sri Lanka and discovered a diversity of new baby traditions:

“Recently, my family and I moved to Sri Lanka, an island country in the Indian Ocean, off the southeastern coast of India. I know, not your everyday, run of the mill motherhood adventure, but that’s my life!

Once here, it was not long until I began to wonder about the customs and experiences of the local mothers. Sri Lanka has four official religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. Every religion has different beliefs and ceremonies, which makes this land a very rich cultural experience. What was I missing out on? What would surprise me? So, I took to my local mother’s group to interview some moms, eight of them, in fact! The results were exciting…”

Read the full post, Sri Lankan baby traditions: Shaved heads, chanting and more!, over at BabyCenter’s Mission Motherhood®!

Thank you to BabyCenter for the opportunity to provide content on maternal health from around the world this past year, and thank you to all of our World Moms who participated in the series!

World Moms Blog

World Moms Blog is an award winning website which writes from over 30 countries on the topics of motherhood, culture, human rights and social good. Over 70 international contributors share their stories from around the globe, bonded by the common thread of motherhood and wanting a better world for their children. World Moms Blog was listed by Forbes Woman as one of the "Best 100 Websites for Women 2012 & 2013" and also called a "must read" by the NY Times Motherlode in 2013. Our Senior Editor in India, Purnima Ramakrishnan, was awarded the BlogHer International Activist Award in 2013.

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WORLD RELIGION: Fasting as a Baha’i

WORLD RELIGION: Fasting as a Baha’i

Fasting in Faith

Fasting in Faith

A little while ago, a news station in South Carolina (USA) had a story about a religion of which many people have not yet heard. It was about the Baha’i Faith. Although I was a bit surprised by the coverage, as I listened to the story it made sense that this Faith would be well accepted in South Carolina because of the Baha’i Faith’s main principle of oneness.

I should mention, I am a Baha’i; or I try to be.

On March 2nd every able member of the Baha’i Faith over the age of 15 years began a Fast. The Baha’i Fast occurs during the last month of the Baha’i year. This last month is called `Alá’. In our  year there are 19 months composed of 19 days each. The last month is `Alá’, which means “Loftiness”, and the first month (which is coming up in just a couple of days) is “Bahá”, meaning “Splendor.”

Right before the month of `Alá’ are four or five intercalary days, depending on whether or not it’s a leap year in the Gregorian calendar with which the Badi calendar works. This year, for instance, there were five days between the month of Mulk (Dominion) and the current month of `Alá’. The intercalary days are also called the Days of Ha and Ayyam-i-Ha.

Ayyam-i-Ha is a time to prepare for the Fast and it is also a time for gift giving and a more focused intent on service.

The Baha’i day begins at sunset, as the current day ends. As the Fast began on March 2nd, many Baha’is around the world gathered for a Nineteen Day Feast after sunset on March 1st. This is when the Fast actually begins. Before dawn on March 2nd, those who fast typically awaken to nourish their spirits and bodies through prayer and food. Between sunrise and sunset we are to abstain from all food and drink.

The physical portion of the Fast is to remind us of our souls and the soul’s connection and need for closeness to its Creator. Fast is broken at sunset with prayers and food again. Because the Baha’i Faith was born in Persia, many Baha’i communities break the Fast with similar items including hot tea; at least this has been my experience in Italy, Tanzania, and the USA.

The Baha’i New Year

This year the Fast ends on March 20th which means that March 21st marks time for the next Nineteen Day Feast, as well as the Baha’i new year: Naw-Ruz.

On Naw-Ruz most communities have a big party; usually the biggest of the year. There is no required dress to celebrate, as long as what we wear isn’t a cause of ridicule. People do still try to wear festive clothes and share festive foods. The communities that can afford to rent a big ball room or similar space have disc jockeys and other entertainment. Most communities that have children in Baha’i families organize in advance so that the children are a part of the entertainment during the Naw-Ruz party.

I have not yet been to a Naw-Ruz party in South Carolina, so I am looking forward to participating in this year’s festivities! Everyone is welcome there!

If you are a member of a religion, what is something special that you personally like about the religion?  

If you aren’t a part of any religion, what do you that makes you feel like you are developing your soul?

If you don’t believe in having a soul, what do you do that makes you feel like you are a part of all of creation?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Sophia. You can find her blogging at Think Say Be and on twitter @ThinkSayBeSNJ.

ThinkSayBe

I am a mom amongst some other titles life has fortunately given me. I love photography & the reward of someone being really happy about a photo I took of her/him. I work, I study, I try to pay attention to life. I like writing. I don't understand many things...especially why humans treat each other & other living & inanimate things so vilely sometimes. I like to be an idealist, but when most fails, I do my best to not be a pessimist: Life itself is entirely too beautiful, amazing & inspiring to forget that it is!

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SAUDI ARABIA: A Conversation with My Kids on Terrorism and Muslim Identity

SAUDI ARABIA: A Conversation with My Kids on Terrorism and Muslim Identity

Children of Mama B 600

Mama B’s 3 children and dog, Camden, on a stroll in the Saudi Arabian desert.

It occurred to me the other day that I have never talked to my children about terrorism. I actively try to make sure they don’t see the news or hear me talking about the world we are smack in the middle of. So I wanted to know what they knew, as a 13-year old and a 10-year old, about terrorism.

Below is the transcript of the conversation I had with my children a few days ago. To give you a little bit of background my son has moved this year to an international school with children from all over the world. So while being older he is also exposed to a lot of nationalities including Americans. My daughter goes to a Saudi school and is exposed to many Arab nationalities.

A Conversation on Terrorism with My Sons

Me: Who are the terrorists?

S: Da’ish (ISIS). They are people who claim to be muslims and to be killing ‘B’Ism Allah’ (in the name of God) but they’re just murderers.

J: Like in France they say, “I’m muslim! I’m muslim!”, and start killing people and now everybody hates us.

Me: Do you really think everybody hates us?

J: Yes.

Me: Like who?

J: The Americans.

Me: Why do you think the Americans hate us?

J: Because they are voting to kick the muslims out of America, and they won’t let us in if we go. I saw it on the news. (Apparently, I am not doing as good a job of keeping them away from the news or hearing about the news, as I thought.)

Me: Do you think all Americans feel that way?

J: Well Anya doesn’t… (Anya is my best friend in NY.)

Me: You know, saying that all Americans hate us is like an American saying all Muslims hate them.

J: That’s what I heard.

Me: Don’t believe everything you hear. The loudest voices are usually the ones saying the most controversial and hateful things. Good news hardly ever makes the news. You’ll never see a piece about how people are getting along and how the majority of the world wants to just live in peace.

S: Actually many people have a change of heart when that muslim guy was saying, “Hug me if you trust me.” He put himself in a vulnerable position. People could have punched him. People could have hurt him, but he trusted people.

(He is referring to the viral video of a man standing blindfolded in the middle of the street with a sign saying something along the lines of “I am a muslim, and I trust you. If you trust me, hug me” It was a very touching clip as so many people hugged him that day).

J: I worry mama that if we meet people and we get to know them and we liked each other but they didn’t know we were actually muslim then we tell them I feel like they won’t like us that much or something bad will happen… But what I’m most scared of is you know how they say they are muslim and they kill people? What if they do it to us?

S: The most people the terrorists are killing are muslims!

J: Mama I’m scared.

Me: Why do you think this is happening? What do you think they want?

S: They want money or world domination.

J: I don’t want to talk about this anymore.

I didn’t realise they thought of all of this, any of this, at all. Here, in Saudi, as is the case in most of the Arab world, we eat sleep and breath politics and news. It’s hard not to when it is happening all around you, live and direct, in your time zone and within earshot. So I really shouldn’t be surprised at all when my children are exposed to it.

Events of terrorism are causing so much confusion as my children cannot marry what these people are doing in the name of their religion to what their religion is actually teaching them.

Now they have to understand a world where the image of their faith is so twisted it no longer resembles anything they have learned or seen around them. And understand that they may be judged, and, yes, hated, by some people because of it.

My Own Childhood Experience

As children we were lucky enough to travel to Europe and America. We have always been stereotyped as “rich arabs”, despite the fact that we looked and acted very average. Or “loud arabs”, despite the fact that we were always soft spoken and respectful. Or “rude arabs”, despite the fact that my mother taught us the importance of manners because we learned that our religion is how we treat people.

At the age of 12 in a camp in Vermont I got asked if I had an oil well in my backyard, if we rode camels, and if we lived in tents. I said yes to all of those questions because it was funny. And I explained that in modern days now we live in two story tents. Everyone laughed.

Later that day at camp, one of the girls asked me in the bathroom if it was true that we cut off the genitals of men who rape women. She said she hoped it was true as her sister got raped, and she wished someone would have cut off his genitals. Pop went my little bubble right then and there. I remember hoping it was true. I, in fact, had no idea if it was or wasn’t. (It isn’t in case you are wondering).

In University, despite the fact that I was a Saudi young woman living in London and studying graphic design, when I got engaged I still got asked by one of my professors if I was forced to. Because I am an Arab woman they decided I must be an oppressed woman.

Generally, I grew up with people thinking I was filthy rich, oppressed, or backwards. But I never had people fearing me or hating me because of my religion. The stereotypes that my children deal with today are different and religious based.

As is the way of the world — the masses get punished for the deeds of the few. I see my little children, and myself, as ambassadors for our religion and our country. But I do resent the fact that my 10-year old daughter thinks that telling people her religion will make them hate her.

Have you had to talk to your kids about terrorism? Have you ever been discriminated against because of your religion?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by World Mom, Mama B., of Saudi Arabia. 

Photo credit to the author. 

Mama B (Saudi Arabia)

Mama B’s a young mother of four beautiful children who leave her speechless in both, good ways and bad. She has been married for 9 years and has lived in London twice in her life. The first time was before marriage (for 4 years) and then again after marriage and kid number 2 (for almost 2 years). She is settled now in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (or as settled as one can be while renovating a house). Mama B loves writing and has been doing it since she could pick up a crayon. Then, for reasons beyond her comprehension, she did not study to become a writer, but instead took graphic design courses. Mama B writes about the challenges of raising children in this world, as it is, who are happy, confident, self reliant and productive without driving them (or herself) insane in the process. Mama B also sheds some light on the life of Saudi, Muslim children but does not claim to be the voice of all mothers or children in Saudi. Just her little "tribe." She has a huge, beautiful, loving family of brothers and sisters that make her feel like she wants to give her kids a huge, loving family of brothers and sisters, but then is snapped out of it by one of her three monkeys screaming “Ya Maamaa” (Ya being the arabic word for ‘hey’). You can find Mama B writing at her blog, Ya Maamaa . She's also on Twitter @YaMaamaa.

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ALBERTA, CANADA: Lost in Translation…and So Much More

ALBERTA, CANADA: Lost in Translation…and So Much More

BoyInMosqueOn her visit to our home last October my mother had a lot of one-on-one time with my three year old son. While I was in the hospital giving birth to my fifth child, she was asking some serious questions. In this short period of time my mother came to a serious conclusion; her grandson doesn’t know about God. (more…)

Salma (Canada)

An Imperfect Stepford Wife is what Salma describes herself as because she simply cannot get it right. She loves decorating, travelling, parenting,learning, writing, reading and cooking, She also delights in all things mischievous, simply because it drives her hubby crazy. Salma has 2 daughters and a baby boy. The death of her first son in 2009 was very difficult, however, after the birth of her Rainbow baby in 2010 (one day after her birthday) she has made a commitment to laugh more and channel the innocence of youth through her children. She has blogged about her loss, her pregnancy with Rainbow, and Islamic life. After relocating to Alberta with her husband in 2011 she has found new challenges and rewards- like buying their first house, and finding a rewarding career. Her roots are tied to Jamaica, while her hubby is from Yemen. Their routes, however, have led them to Egypt and Canada, which is most interesting because their lives are filled with cultural and language barriers. Even though she earned a degree in Criminology, Salma's true passion is Social Work. She truly appreciates the beauty of the human race. She writes critical essays on topics such as feminism and the law, cultural relativity and the role of women in Islam and "the veil". Salma works full-time, however, she believes that unless the imagination of a child is nourished, it will go to waste. She follows the philosophy of un-schooling and always finds time to teach and explore with her children. From this stance, she pushes her children to be passionate about every aspect of life, and to strive to be life-long learners and teachers. You can read about her at Chasing Rainbow.

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