What brought this to mind is that recently someone in my circle of acquaintances committed suicide. Attending the funeral, no one, not a single person used the term suicide. They would mention things that were so obvious like that the departed sat her older sister down just a few days before dying and told her that she was saying her last goodbyes and asked her to take care of a few things for her after she passes away. A couple of months before she insisted that her husband divorce her and when her family demanded to know why, she told them because he is such a great guy and she wanted him to live his life. She also cashed all her savings and gave it to her kids and then sent them to their paternal grandparents. What they would say is that Sabhan Allah, she somehow had a premonition and knew!
Growing up, we were always told that people who commit suicide would spend eternity in hell because life, even our own, does not belong to us so we have no right to snuff it out. And there was a lot of emphasis on eternal hell and that suicide is just the same as murder. Now I don’t know if the eternal hell part is based on scripture or not and I don’t feel like finding out. But I do know that there is a saying from the Quran which essentially means that we should not put ourselves in the path of destruction.
All this background rambling because at the funeral I heard the mother of the deceased and a few others repeatedly say that well at least now she’s in heaven. She always was zahida (uninterested in worldly things). Maybe they knew deep down, but they didn’t want to think that their daughter and sister was being punished for eternity.
In general, Saudi society views suicide as deeply sad but not quite shameful. It’s better to have someone in the family who committed suicide than a daughter who elopes or a son addicted to drugs. People will gossip for about a month after the funeral and then everything will be shrouded in secrecy and never talked about as if the person who died never was born in the first place.
On death certificates, you rarely have suicide written on them. The family pressures the hospital and doctors probably think what’s the point in an insensitive truth.
Saudi suicides and attempted suicides can be categorized into three types according to gender and nationality of who commits them:
- Male non Saudi workers who come here on there own leaving there families behind in poverty stricken countries. Open any newspaper and at least once a week you’ll read about a worker who hung himself in his small living quarters. And if you’re reading Al Riyadh newspaper the column will likely be accompanied by a horrific photo of the whole thing. You would have to be a rock not to understand and empathize. These men come here in hopes of a better life and only find extreme loneliness, homesickness and for the unfortunate few employers who have no intention of paying them. On top of that they are openly treated as if they were something less than human.
- Saudi men. Most suicides committed by Saudi men are financially driven. They either lose huge amounts of money on the Stock Market and throw themselves from a highway bridge or they figure out that they’ll never be able to maintain a Saudi lifestyle and hang themselves. Saudi men have a tendency for public extreme methods of ending it all. In Yanbu there’s a tower notorious for the number of men who threw themselves from it. And one time at work I remember a colleague of mine coming in the morning obviously shaken. She told us that a man wearing what Saudis traditionally wear under their thobes threw himself into the high speed traffic right in front of her.
- Saudi women commit suicide after long bouts of depression. I know that in the press people write that it is because they are forced into marriages. But in my experience of middle class Saudi I have yet to come across anything as melodramatic as a woman being forced to marry someone she doesn’t want. Not to say that that does not happen, it’s just that when it does it’s usually in the poorer parts. However when it comes to my part of the Saudi neighborhood, you can see the signs long before the end. Women who are educated cooped up in villas with no purpose in life except to be the frill and fluffy component of the family. They don’t even have to clean up after themselves and then they finish their education and there are no jobs and nothing for them to do that would light up their passion or give them purpose besides finding something to chat about with their elderly mother over tea. They fall into depression, stop attending social occasions, surrounding families start to forget what that particular daughter looks like and then a year or two later there’s a funeral.