I love the part where he’s (not) pushing her on the swings. LOL!
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If you’re sick and tired of reading my posts on lifting the women driving ban, don’t go any further. I’m sick of it too. I truly believed that by now some sort of change would have happened. Around April there were all these strong rumors and alleged leaks that the ban would be lifted by September. October is almost over and nothing has happened except the fact that over the summer everybody was quiet in anticipation. Maybe that was the whole aim of all that talk and those articles earlier; so that the country could take a break from people like me nagging.
Over the break, instead of spilling my frustrations over the ban on the blog, I would daydream. Different scenarios would go through my head. Images of Saudi women rediscovering their capabilities and humanity, finally being able to move freely. And the wonderful practicalities of saving money on not having to import foreign men, put them up and pay them wages. Not having to pay for twice the gas because now you can park your car rather than have the driver go home. Not having to see a stranger’s shoulders tense up because of what music you play in your own car. No longer hearing about women forced to stay home or fired because of transportation issues. Stories about women paying most of their salaries to the driver, just so they could get to work would become part of our country’s collective memory.
Then the what ifs set in. What if they don’t lift the ban by September? What if they never lift the ban? What could I do? I could go all Ghandi, and starve myself until they do. I would document every day on the blog until finally I post something like: “no longer hungry…experiencing out of body sensations”. And still they wouldn’t lift the ban. Of course when I tell my friends this, they say “Eman besides it being silly, honey you’ve never been able to stick to a diet, not even for your wedding day. The only way you would starve is if you really couldn’t find food”. Sadly, they’re right. I can’t think of anything else though. So while I chop and sauté the perquisite onions (الكشنة) for all Saudi dishes, I ponder the questions of when it will happen, how wonderful it would be and what I could do to help it happen sooner.
I occasionally get Emails and comments from non-Arab people asking what they can do to help. Generally there isn’t much that can be done by outsiders as it’s my belief that sustainable change is only change that happens from within. However in areas where West collides with East there are things that can be done to either hurt moderate Muslims or help us.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an area that has a lot of impact on the growth and recruitment of terrorist Islamic movements. This is a previous post on how young Saudis come to hate the West as a result of it.
Now with the Park51 Mosque, things have come to a head. This is an area where you can help. To lump Islam as one single ideology and 23% of the world population as terrorists is a grave mistake. To fight Islam in general is the single best backing position for the West to take in aiding fundamental Islamists. When you don’t support people like Imam Rauf and Tariq Ramadan, then in effect you are supporting people like Osama Bin Laden.
When outsiders lump Islam into this one narrow interpretation that must be fought, they are playing their part on Osama Bin Laden’s world stage. Fundamental Islamists, from the nonviolent to terrorists all use the same effective argument to recruit Muslim laypeople. It goes along the lines of “see, see they hate us. They want to wipe us off the face of the Earth. Where is their freedom and democracy?”
They use as examples for this argument America’s support for Israel, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and discrimination against Muslims in western countries. The opposition to and cancellation of Park 51 looks like a future addition to the list alongside the burning of the Qurans in Florida.
Put yourself in the shoes of someone born in a Muslim country who only speaks the language of that country and who has never been anywhere besides that country. Your religious leader, your school teacher or any other person you might have reason to be drawn to tells you about the Palestinian plight illustrated with photos of maimed children and refugee camps. He then talks to you about the innocent civilians killed indiscriminately by American tanks and bombs. Iraqi women raped by American soldiers. He shows you pictures from Abu Ghraib. He talks to you about how Americans hate Muslims and illustrates about how thousands of Americans opposed the building of a mosque and how an American priest is going to burn the Quran. How would you feel?
Do Americans really want to feed into that argument? Islam is the second largest religion in the world, second only to Christianity. It’s not going away, you either help moderate Muslims or you feed into the fundamentalists’ view of the world. Who do you want to be proven wrong?
Shiekh Al Ahmed is no stranger to the issuance of anti-women fatwas. He has made it his personal mission to be responsible for every single Saudi female. He first came on my radar when he went on TV asking that the Makkah Mosque surrounding the Ka’aba be torn down and rebuilt so that there would be complete segregation between the sexes when Muslims visit the mosque for any reason including the annual pilgrimage, Hajj. Another incident is when he took a group of muttawas to the Ministry of Education to ensure that their new policy of allowing boys to enroll in girls’ schools until third grade would be stopped.
Now Shiekh Al Ahmed has a new mission, and you got to admire him for the bold move at least. In direct opposition to the King’s new legislation that no fatwas be made public unless issued or at least pre-approved by members of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, Sheikh Al Ahmed issued two fatwas on TV. And of course he didn’t disappoint, they were about women. His new pet project is to sabotage HyperPanda Supermarket‘s initiative to employ women cashiers. So he said on a program in reply to a caller that first of all it is haram (Sharia prohibited) in Islam for women to work as cashiers in places where men can be customers and secondly he said that it is not only Jaiz (Sharia acceptable) to boycott the supermarket but also mustahib (Sharia advisable).
The project has started on an experimental basis in Jeddah where currently 16 women are cashiers. If found successful, it will be expanded to absorb 2500 women cashiers all across Saudi Arabia. The application conditions for women according to Arab News are that they be Saudi, above 28 years of age, have a financial need, be a widow or divorced and stick to a dress code.
Shiekh Al Ahmed is calling on all ultra-conservatives to boycott HyperPanda and informed the PVPV that it is their right to file a lawsuit against them. He is arrogantly confident in his followers and the power they have that he says let’s give them a five day warning before we start the boycott. He says that he had called an executive from HyperPanda and found him to be stubborn and insistent in proceeding with employing women. He claims that their insistence is a sign that it is most likely an American supported and plotted scheme to westernize the country. However, my favorite part is when he says that ultra-conservatives from neighboring countries, like Syria, Egypt and Yemen, call him up to show their support and advise him not to allow what happened to their countries happen to Saudi Arabia.
I keep telling people that the more Saudi Arabia opens up especially when it comes to women’s rights, the more Islamic fundamentalist groups worldwide will too. It will have a dominoes effect on their approach and lifestyle. Because so many of these fundamentalists look to Saudi Arabia as the prime example as to how life should be lived. That’s why I’m going to do my part by supporting HyperPanda’s initiative. Although I’m a Carrefour regular since they are literally five minutes away, I will go the extra distance to buy my groceries from HyperPanda. I hope that others will do the same.
Getting to the Middle Ages is not about time machines, it’s a geographical issue. Why have dinner at a cheesy Medieval Times when you can get the authentic experience right here in Saudi Arabia. We got everything you want.
I came across this chastity belt at a museum and it got me thinking. A man that asks his wife to wear this is basically saying your morals and character are not enough; I have to dress you in something to protect you. And that is the same argument that is used in our modern times Middle Ages to get women to wear niqabs!
Then there’s the guardianship system over adult women, the sponsorship system, that’s not unlike a master/slave relationship, over guest workers and finally the cherry on top is the latest decision to limit religious ruling to a legislative body that is made up of ultra conservatives and their friends. Did I hear somebody say “medieval Vatican”?! No, no this is Saudi Arabia, we’re Muslims.
This new decree by the King is supposedly to protect Islam from embarrassing fatwas like the recent adult breastfeeding fatwa and the much more serious call to kill all satellite channel owners who broadcast sinful shows. But to the ultra-conservatives, it’s a miraculous bestowal of victory and return to power. Recently average Saudis got a glimpse of the inner workings of religious fatwas and how even seemingly conservative long bearded muttawas think it’s ok to enjoy music and that gender segregation is not Islamic. People (or what our religious establishment calls “commoners” العوام) started thinking and looking things up for themselves. And that’s where this new legislation comes in, a return to the status quo. However the optimist in me does not think it’s all bad. First of all it’s too little, too late. With internet and TV in almost every home, you can’t control who people listen to anymore. And secondly I’m hoping the whole thing is to appease the ultra conservatives in order to get them to pass something ultra liberal like …..fingers and toes crossed…..lifting the ban on women driving!?
I am currently on a family vacation in Italy but I had to post what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent my husband. Apparently they have a new service where they send the male guardian a text every time a “dependent” leaves the country. They don’t state which country the dependent left for but simply state that they did leave. My husband tells me he got the same text when I left for Germany. I am an adult woman that has been earning my own income for over a decade now but according to the Saudi government, I am a dependent till the day I die because of my gender.
Otherwise, I am having loads of fun. yesterday I met one of my readers, Carmen. we had espresso near the Piazza Navona and then she showed me her beautiful shop, Via Dei Banchi Vecchi. It’s a Rome showroom for her family’s handmade ceramics factory in the south of Italy. and she was nice enough to present me with a beautiful handmade ceramic sculpture. thank you Carmen. It was fabulous meeting you!
Check the next post for clarification on the wife-tracker.
Covering the face has been a highly emotional and politicized issue in the Muslim community for the past two decades. I have written about it before and called it the sixth pillar of Islam. It has become a false banner for Islamic piety. Islam is now reduced to a dress code. It does not matter if you lie, steal or slander your friends and neighbors, if you cover your face you are perceived by society as an untouchable religious God fearing person.
When I read that the ban has gone through the French parliament with an overwhelming majority, I was unexpectedly ecstatic about it. I don’t live in France and I don’t even to plan to visit anytime soon and yet it made me happy that women there don’t have a choice. Yes this is one area where I’m anti-choice. Covering the face is the very essence of objectifying women. With her face covered, a woman is reduced to an object that needs to be protected by a male guardian. For every woman who truly chooses of her own freewill to cover her face, there are hundreds if not thousands forced and pressured to by the religious establishment, family and society. Who would you sacrifice, that one woman who can manage to find God in something else or those hundreds, so that one can liberally choose?
The number of times I have heard Saudi women here, who are conditioned to believe that covering is an unquestionable issue, sigh as they watch uncovered women on TV and say لهم الدنبا ولنا الأخرة (they get the world and we get the afterlife). These are the women “choosing” to cover, brainwashed into living to die. I wish I had the power to take the choice away from them.
What are women covering from? They believe that the sight of their face will cause men to commit sin. Fitna they call it. And yet the places where most women cover their faces, like in Saudi’s central region, you can’t take a step outside your house without being harassed, it doesn’t matter if you’re 18 or 80. It’s much more dangerous to walk the streets of Riyadh as a woman than it is in New York. Hence what the face cover is protecting us from has proven to be the complete opposite upon implementation.
It doesn’t stop at face covering. The subtle difference between putting the abaya tent style over your head or leaving it like a cloak on your shoulders decides if you’re “asking for it”. In both cases the face is covered but in the first the shape of the shoulders isn’t defined and so it’s a more religious and respectable style. Covering the face escalates into such silly issues like the seductive powers of a woman’s toes. Isn’t it about time that men take responsibility for their actions instead of using the centuries old argument “she seduced me into it by not dressing properly”?!
How many public Islamist women figures (do they even exist?) do you know advocate face covering? The majority out there calling for it are men; Muslim men who brazenly stand there in Western clothes and with clean shaven faces and say it’s their religious belief that women should cover. Walk down Oxford Street London in July and see how many abaya swathed women with their niqabs are accompanied by their shorts wearing clean shaven male guardians. I want to take these men and shake some sense into them. I want them to consider the humanity we all share regardless of the genitalia we’re born with or the amount of testosterone in our bodies. Can they stand having their faces covered? “No but women are used to it”, they always answer when I ask them. “It’s their cross to bear for being so womanly and feminine.”
Well-meaning liberals and Human rights activists are trying to stop the French ban. They say it’s Islamaphobic and driven by the right-wing in a thinly veiled racist campaign. To them I say the old Arabic proverb خذ الحكمة من أفوه المجانين (take wisdom from the mouths of fools). If the Islam they are afraid of measures my piety by how much I hide my identity, then I share their phobia.
If there’s one book that I wish I could put into the hands of every Muslim woman who says that God wants her to cover her face and hand over her affairs to a man it’s this one:
It’s written by a Jordanian, Abdulrahman Omar Al Khateeb. He accompanied his sister and her kids to Makkah and the muuttawa there yelled at her “cover your face you hurma“! He had been thinking about the issue before due to how the face cover had been used against Islam in Western media but that incident was what got him working. He went back to Jordan and meticulously researched every argument that the muttawa used and showed it for what it is; political and fundamentalist propaganda.
10- Dahi al Ali
Designer with his own line called Kalima.
9- Samar Al Moqren
A controversial novelist and opinion writer.
8- Shiekh Mohamed Al Arefe
Although I might not agree with him, there’s no denying that this sheikh is handsome and charismatic.
7- Raja Al Sanea
So fresh-faced and young, no one could have ever expected that she could have produced the book Girls of Riyadh that was initially banned within Saudi Arabia.
6- Yaser Al qahtani
Famous soccer player with numerous endorsement deals including Gillette, Head and Shoulders and Pepsi.
5- Hisham Abdulrahman
Presenter and game show host with a fantastic sense of humor.
4- Saud Al Dosari
Interviewer and radio show host who just gets better with age.
3- Ebtihal Al Mubarack
Bold journalist and women’s rights activist.
2- Muna Abu Sulaiman
TV personality, past Goodwill Ambassador and currently works for HRH Prince Al Waleed bin Talal.
1- HRH Princess Amira Al Taweel
The wife of HRH Prince Al Waleed bin Talal.
It never fails to amaze me how in a country where women are only seen covered head to toe in black and get educated and work in mostly gender segregated institutes, and yet men are completely obsessed with them. The latest is a fatwa that originated in Egypt and was recently renewed by Shiekh Al Obiekan in a TV interview. He was asked if it was alright to breastfeed a grown man in order to be able to raise the segregation rule between a man and a woman and he replied with a yes! This was given major coverage in both AlWatan Newspaper and AlRiyadh Newspaper. But before I go into the details of the fatwa, some background information:
Breastfeeding is encouraged in Islam up to the age of two, after which the child has to be weaned. If a woman breastfeeds a child that is not her own, that child becomes her son by breastmilk and she and her daughters do not have to cover from him when he becomes an adult. However she has to breastfeed him before he turns two and it has to be five separate fulfilling sessions of breastfeeding. This is popular in Saudi Arabia especially among sisters because then they won’t have to worry about segregating their kids later. The cousins would be considered as “breastmilk siblings”.
It all began in May 2007 when an Egyptian Sheikh called Mohammed Atiya came out with a fatwa advising women to breastfeed their male coworkers if their job entails spending time alone together. Shiekh Atiya was quickly fired from his post at the Azhar University and the whole thing was swept under the rug. Until this week when Shiekh Al Obiekan, a royal judicial consultant at the Saudi Ministry of Justice renewed it all by replying to a question on a TV interview. He stated that in cases where a household needs an unrelated man like a driver to repeatedly visit the house, it is allowed for the woman of the household to breastfeed the stranger so he becomes a relative! The shiekh’s only condition is that the man does not drink directly from the woman’s breast but that the milk be pumped and then offered to the man in a glass. But this condition was revoked by another sheikh, Abi Ishaq Al Huwaini, who insists that the breastmilk must be sucked by the man directly from the breast!
The whole issue just shows how clueless men are. All this back and forth between sheikhs and not one bothers to ask a woman if it is logical, let alone possible to breastfeed a grown man five fulfilling breastmilk meals. As I’m writing this, I’m cringing at just the thought of it. I’m a huge advocate of breastfeeding and I’ve exclusively breastfed my three kids for at least six months each. Plus I’ve also done the “breastmilk sibling” thing for two nephews and a niece. Breastfeeding a baby is hard work and it takes a toll to be able to produce enough for a one year old, I can’t even imagine how much a thirty year old would need. Women do not produce breastmilk on demand, you have to have had a baby recently and breastfeed that baby daily or otherwise the milk will dry up within a few days. Also breastmilk is not that appetizing, it has the look and taste of skim milk, so not that many men would be able to stomach five meals of it. Moreover the thought of a huge hairy face at a woman’s breast does not evoke motherly or even brotherly feelings. It could go from the grotesque to the erotic but definitely not maternal!
In Riyadh Newspaper today there was a report on a 65 year old man who suffers from Hepatitis B applying for a marriage health certificate to marry an eleven year old girl. The staff at the hospital were shocked not only by the shamelessness of the man but also of the eagerness of the girl’s parents to finish up the paperwork so they can go ahead with the wedding. So they are knowingly subjecting their daughter to not only a pedophile but also a disease.
Some of the hospital staff apparently strongly disagree with the procedure and want to prevent the marriage but they have no power to. Marriage licenses are granted to hepatitis sufferers only after the healthy partner is aware and agrees but how can you expect adult consent and awareness from an 11 year old?!
If only there was a law that would put an end to this once and for all.