Dirty seven letter words

In Saudi, if you would like to be dismissed and have everything you write or say never taken seriously, all you have to do is to declare yourself a liberal or secularist. That’s it. You’re done. You might as well be screaming in a thunder storm.

However being called by someone else secularist or liberal is not as serious. People here throw these terms around like insults directed at others they disagree with. Liberal and secular are dirty seven letter words in Saudi Arabia. Youtube abounds with Arabic videos of extremist sheikhs stating that Muslims who adopt liberalism and secularism are infidels, donkeys, dogs, pigs…etc. My favourite is one in which a documentary showing beetles eating cattle dung is dubbed over and written commentary is added simply to say that liberals are like these beetles in infesting society with crappy morals.

There is no clear definition of liberalism and secularism in Saudi. However in a dichotomy they seem to be the opposite of being a God-fearing decent person. For example, Saudis who believe that sciences and math should be the focus of the school day and not Islamic studies get categorized as secular. If they think that the PVPV should be merged with the police then they most definitely have secularist tendencies. Any type of idea related to keeping up with the rest of the world is deemed secularism.  Insinuating that the ban on women driving goes against basic human rights, will brand them liberal. Liberalism in particular, bubbles down to nonconformity to the version of Islam that had its rules set in stone in the 1980s by Shiekh bin Othaimeen. To many Saudis, whose only view of the outside world is Hollywood’s version on their TV screen, these terms equal society’s decadence and widespread uncontrollable immorality. The very word liberal in Arabic is actually a loanword from English. So you can just imagine how it puts Islamic fundamentalists off. One time I was having tea with a distant older cousin and she told me that she had never been to Al Faisaliah and Kingdom Tower (major hotels and shopping malls in Riyadh) because she was told that ‘liberals’ go there. She was under the impression that this meant it would be like being in Europe and that unrelated men and women would sit with each other and chat openly. That they would dress in a Saudi version of sleazy. She said she did not want that influence on her daughters. She also said that sometimes she would ask to be driven by just to see the fancy cars and women with their faces uncovered. This is her impression of what liberals do and there are many in Saudi like her.

However the concept itself is not foreign in Islamic history. The three basic principles of Liberalism, equal rights, freedom of speech and tolerance are the very essence of what the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) taught those who lived in his era. Sadly in modern times it has been buried deep by the same people who prohibit normal interaction between men and women in the name of “prevention of sin” (سد الذرائع ).


Filed under Culture, Freedom of speech

15 responses to “Dirty seven letter words

  1. Great post, and the linked one too. Equating the “enemy” with vermin is common and one of the most reviled tactics.

    For some reason your relatives attitude reminds me of being in Iran and discussing with the Irani women at the conference about cross cultural medical ethics. I said something about Catholics having the same beliefs on somethings as Islam, and they all looked very pensively, and one said oh, yes the Catholics, we have heard about them. Not clear whether it was the Papal vision of greater purity, the American Catholic liberalism, “they used to be good until Vatican II” or the Reconquista of Islamic Spain/Al-Andalus by the Catholic Kings. Just a general impression that they had heard something and weren’t even sure themselves what to make of it.

  2. Funny how “liberal” seems to be a dirty word in so many places. Even here in the US, you’ll hear very conservative people use the term “liberal” as an insult, often complementing the term with some kind of dirty look.

  3. It’s wrong that people have the idea that anyone with liberal views is automatically immoral. I myself am a “flaming liberal” and I am proud of it. I find that the same issue comes up with the word “socialist.” The Social Security system in the US is socialist, but now people there have a problem with that word – go figure. Great post, Eman.

  4. DW

    I find it interesting that a couple of my friends on Facebook had “Liberal” as their political view, some of them what my experience with them make it an unlikely revelation to me. It seems that many young educated Saudis are on good terms with word Liberal however their stand can challenged by simple issues that might conflict with them about Liberalism.

    If you notice the language of conservatives increasing and more loud of recent. Its because they feel attacked and threatened they will raise their voice and try every cheap shot to keep their grounds..

  5. Immaturely Mature

    When do we stop seeing things in black or white? If you’re this, then you most definitely are that. They take one glance at you and start counting off the things that you are even when they’ve never met you: no face cover= liberal, corrupted and so forth.
    Then, they go to a gathering and criticise the “Saudi mentality” and how judgemental people are. We’re living in a whirlepool of contradictions.

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  7. There are two parties in Saudi, as we know.. One is Liberal, which was out of power for so many years, since the early of 60, when the Government, taken lots of them to Jail, some of them ran away to Syria and Egypt that time.
    The other part is the Moderate Muslim or which we call conservative! Who always since the Saudi established as Kingdom has the power and the ability to convince the Government in everything they want… a ward like haram or halal can easy hurt the Saudis and move something inside them.
    I think we MUST have sort of balance between both lines. Not to use the haram where it is halal, and using the Islam to control people mentality and not to be drunk in the middle of the street calling this is freedom.
    Yes Liberalism as a clear definition not really there in Saudi, but I believe educated people can sit together and find what it should between the two lines.

    Thanks Eman,,

  8. sameera

    All we need to do is follow the examples of Prophet Muhammad(pbuh)and we’ll realize that he was the most liberal person ever to be born on the face of this earth, he never forced Islam down peoples’ throats but attracted them towards it with the best and kindest of behaviour. He (pbuh)never judged people and if he (pbuh)saw a weakness in a person he would try to cover it up by not mentioning it infront of others. Why is it forgotten so often that ‘there is no compulsion in religion.’
    A person whose faith is strong should not feel threatened by an uncovered face,an independent woman or unislamic behaviour of others.
    Islam has clearly defined the roles of men and women in a society and if both respect and accept each others roles and rights instead of trying to be one up on the other this world would surely be a better place.
    What is liberalism but to respect people around you and learn to exist with them peacefuly with whatever beliefs they have, and if you want to bring about a change in their beliefs prove you are right with your actions not harsh hollow words. Isnt this what Islam teaches us?
    Islam was sent to bring people out of ignorance not to push them further back into it.

  9. Hello. This is kind of an “unconventional” question , but have other visitors asked you how get the menu bar to look like you’ve got it? I also have a blog and am really looking to alter around the theme, however am scared to death to mess with it for fear of the search engines punishing me. I am very new to all of this …so i am just not positive exactly how to try to to it all yet. I’ll just keep working on it one day at a time Thanks for any help you can offer here.

  10. Ammar

    Salams sister

    from the wiki: Liberalism first became a powerful force in the Age of Enlightenment, rejecting many foundational assumptions that dominated most earlier theories of government, such as the Divine Right of Kings, hereditary status, and established religion.

    If you believe
    1- that Quran is the word of God and it is AbSoLuTe,
    2- that islam is the only correct religion,
    3- believe in Sharia Laws,
    4- in the necessity to follow God’s orders,

    then you are not a liberal by definition

    Note that
    1- Quran has a predefined set of rules regulating the life of muslims
    2- Islam says others will burn in Hell if they don’t follow the correct religion after receiving knowledge (Iqamat Al-Huggah)
    3- that Allah is the one who knows best and his orders are absolute, sharia laws are part of that

    4- Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala is the one who created us and knows best about how we are to live happily, and die peacefully, and even rise again to go to Jannah

    Pray for me

    your brother in islam


  11. As a non-Muslim I agree with Ammar – Islam is a set of political and religious rules that are, so to speak, written in stone – hence a Muslim cannot be liberal.

    The problem, once again, is Islam: ask yourself why, in Saudi Arabia, people are not free to choose their own religion.

  12. What is so interesting to me is the understanding of liberal to the culture you live in. I read the post about the 80 yr old man taking a 12 year old as his wife….I couldn’t help but think that he would be mobbed and destroyed in my country for acting on that liberal socail view.

    The men are walking contradictions. They wash the outside of the cup that all can see, but inwardly they are filled with unspeakable rot.

  13. Lidia

    I’m wondering why Saudi people put the religion in every part of daily life.
    Why are they so religous? It’s a real feeling or just a culture?
    And also are they agree that laws are based on Islam?

  14. The popes and the rabbis love you!
    Move to the US and live w them. My offer still stands. I can even help you with a visa…

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