Tag Archives: Prominent Saudis

Prominent Saudis: Muhanid Abu Diya

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Muhanid is a 23 year old Saudi physics prodigy. He has 22 inventions under his belt, nine of which are patented, and he’s written three books. He first started inventing when he was in sixth grade. His most known invention is a submarine that can submerge itself underwater to depths lower than any other submarine in the world. Before Muhanid’s invention the Japanese held the record. Another invention of his is a pen for the blind. He is originally from the south-western region of Jezan and grew up in Jeddah. His father is a presenter on the Saudi broadcast channels.

In April of last year Muhanid was involved in a car accident on Al Ouraba street in Riyadh. At the time, he was a newlywed, he had just gotten married five days earlier. Unfortunately he lost his sight, hearing in one ear and a leg in the accident. And witnesses say that the loss of his leg was due to the slow response of the paramedics and later bureaucratic procedures at the hospital he was taken to.

As he was recovering, his wife would sit next to his hospital bed crying and he turned to her and told her that everything was going to be alright. Psychologists that saw him after his accident remarked that they rarely come across patients who were able to deal so well with what he had gone through.

Now Muhanid has beaten the dirt off and gotten right back up. He is currently sponsored by the Saudi Telecom Company and back to pursuing his dreams. He also speaks at local schools, urging students to go after their ambitions. My nephew attended one of Muhanid’s talks and he couldn’t stop raving about him. He says meeting him was inspirational and that Muhanid gave the students his Email and told them that they could contact him if they ever needed support.

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Prominent Saudis: Ms. Wajeha Al Huwaider

wajehaMs. Huwaider started off as an employee at Aramco with an occasional piece published mostly in Al Watan newspaper. She’s a divorcee and mother who had accompanied her then husband for studies in the USA and I believe that life there had had a huge influence on her.  Her presence as an activist snuck up on the Saudi government and the religious establishment until they finally resorted to banning her from all forms of Saudi media in 2003. On August fourth 2006 she took things into her own hands and single-handedly staged a protest by walking on foot with a poster demanding Saudi women rights on the King Fahad bridge between Bahrain and Riyadh. She was stopped and detained for questioning by the Saudi government for six hours. That same year she tried to get a group of Saudi women to organize a protest in the Eastern region where they would all drive cars. Unfortunately they backed out at the last minute. In 2007 she and three other women started a petition for women driving and they even went to the malls and the streets to get signatures. Three weeks into the petition they were able to gather 1100 that they then DHLed to the King’s office in Jeddah. However, what she is most famous for is the video last year in which she drove a car in the Eastern region of Saudi Arabia and at the same time addressed the King in a plea to legalize women driving. Many Saudis criticize her because they believe she is out to air Saudi Arabia’s dirty laundry in front of the world. I think that these people are not aware that she has extensively written about these rights in Saudi media and in Arabic and that she is currently banned from doing so. Her Arabic writing is emotive and seems almost like poetry. She definitely has a talent for it. But that sort of writing in Arabic when writing about anything outside of religion rubs our conservatives the wrong way. They can’t even take logic and science if it disagrees with them.

When I asked a group of my mother’s generation about her, they called her subversive, disobedient, and disloyal to her religion, family and country. They also felt bad for Huwaider’s parents. And a group of women of my generation didn’t know who she is and after telling them, they shrugged their shoulders. I guess they are more aware of whatever they are currently showing on MBC 4. I also asked my husband what he thought of her and he just frowned. I think he’s worried that there might be an inner Wajeha lurking inside of me, squirming to get out. Most likely she won’t be appreciated and celebrated until my daughter’s generation and only as long as a Taliban-like government doesn’t take over and execute her or throw acid in her face.  She told Turki Al Dakheel in a 2007 TV interview that she gets lots of hate mail with prayers that she contracts a deadly disease or at least gets her hand cut off. She also said that websites hosting her writing have been hacked several times.

Huwaider is a woman to be respected for her sacrifices. She had a stable life as an educated married mother and she sacrificed it for the women of her country. If you are interested here’s a link to a BBC radio interview she did in February.

What Huwaider is calling for in women and labour workers’ rights will never take root in Saudi Arabia unless a mass of the population calls for it. Why would the government rock the boat when the heard majority is happy with things as they are?

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Prominent Saudis: Mrs. Nora Al Faiz

Mrs. Al Faiz has only recently become a household name in Saudi Arabia. She comes from an average middle-class family from the central region in Saudi Arabia. She graduated from King Saud University in Riyadh in 1978 majoring in Sociology. She married Sulaiman Al Suwlai a year before graduating and later accompanied him for higher education in the USA where she went on to get a masters degree in education from Utah State University in 1982.  After returning to Saudi Arabia, she worked as a teacher in public schools for a couple of years and was quickly promoted to educational supervisor and then from there she moved on to numerous management positions in the field of education, most notable of which is head principal of the girls section at Prince Al waleed bin Talal’s Kingdom Schools. And the most recent was director of the women’s section at the Administration Institute in Riyadh. And I just have to add here that in her last post she truly made a reputation for herself and I have yet to come across any negative comments by people who have worked or studied under her. Also I myself, having sat at a few recruitment interviews, I find that the ladies from the Administration Institute always outshined the others in professionalism and skills.

What truly stands out about the appointment of Mrs. Nora Al Faiz is that even though she is highly qualified, everyone was surprised that she was chosen. Usually high profile women positions are reserved for members of the royal family or at least distant relatives. Some of my friends just assumed that Mrs. Al Faiz is somehow related to the royal family. Another issue concerning Mrs. Al Faiz that has overtaken the topic of her being appointed on forums and in social gatherings is the emergence of a photo of her with her face uncovered. The photo was taken from a book, Saudi Leaders, of which there is a digital version at:

http://www.leaders-saudiarabia.com/leaders_saudiarabia_az.php

 Some of the more outrageous comments that I saw is one at a women only forum in which someone started a thread urging all women to condemn the publication of the photo in newspapers on the basis that this will lead to girls looking up to an uncovered Saudi woman and ultimately Allah’s punishment of our country. Some of the ladies at these forums think that the photo is a passport photo that was stolen from Mrs. Al Faiz and published against her will as part of a conspiracy against Muslim women.

Today in Al Watan newspaper, there was an interview with Mrs. Al Faiz and the photos accompanying the interview were of her father, her sons and a baby granddaughter (everyone except the interviewee). The interview was impressively long and comprehensive. I’m only going to translate the parts concerning her stance on the publishing of her photo in local newspapers and a few other points. I would like to point out beforehand that the administration that runs girls’ education in Saudi is completely male:

Q. The sections concerning the administration of women is all male and they waited for you to visit as part of your introductory tour last Sunday but you did not pass by them.

A. I’ve never said that I would visit mens’ office buildings and I have no intention of visiting them because I am still a woman of this country and the blood that runs through my veins is Saudi. Saudi Arabia has guided us in not mixing with men. Men are my brothers and colleagues and with my hand in theirs we will carry out this journey together regardless if the man is above me or a subordinate. We have means through which we can carry on discussions such as closed circuit TVs. And we have a meeting today with managers and general directors through closed circuit and we will exchange on an intellectual level and not as a man to a woman. We will meet intellectually, cooperate and hold each others hands. Gender is an obstacle that can be overcome between men and women.

Q. How will meetings with the minister of education be conducted?

A. Through closed circuit TV as well.

Q. The building of the administration of girls’ education forbids the entrance of women even though it runs an administration which chiefly concerns women. If women need to have paperwork done they have to resort on asking a male relative or hiring a male representative, will this continue?

A. Now I’m the deputy minister and my door is open and accessible And Allah willing we will make it as easy as possible for people who need a service.

Q. We saw your photo on the first page of a newspaper with photos of other ministers, what is your comment regarding that?

A. The publication of my photo upset me immensely and frankly I don’t know where they got it from but they asked me several times and I rejected and it is well known that I am a Saudi woman from Najd and thus I wear a niqab. I will never allow the publishing of my photo in newspapers and I will not accept that it be put up anywhere. Regretfully however I wished that they had first asked me for permission and if I would have prosecuted them through the judicial system, I am sure that I would win. But I am forgiving. If it is possible, I would like to express through your good newspaper my absolute refusal to any form of photography published of me, but some things are out of my hands and Allah is above all and I hope that they will eventually find the true path.

Q. How did they get the photo?

A. I swear that I don’t know its source nor where they got it from.

Q. Did you speak to the newspaper and try to ask about your photo?

A. yes, and a lady from there came to meet me and told me that they would publish it again and I said no please and if you do, expect that there will be a reaction on the photo from me or the vice minister Faisal Al Moamer.

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Prominent Saudis: Sheikh Mohamed bin Saleh bin Othaimeen

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Sheikh bin Othaimeen was born in Onaiza, Al Qaseem region in 1929 and passed away in January of 2001. Qaseem is north of the capital and one of the most conservative parts of Saudi Arabia. It is said that his grandfather had a vision of receiving a torch from Bin Taimia, a foremost Islamic scholar, and the vision was interpreted that he would have a son or grandson that would be a great Islamic scholar too. I would just like to note here that Bin Taimia came before Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulalwahab and so even then the latter was not in the equation.  

 Sheikh bin Othaimeen is, to the highest degree, a respected  Sunni Muslim scholar. So much so that whenever I am in a discussion about an issue with a fellow Saudi, many of them treat the Sheikh’s word on the topic almost the same as if it was the Prophet Mohammed’s (PBUH). Saudis and other Muslims reading this will take offence but it is nevertheless true. It is easy to understand why though because Bin Othaimeen was genuine. He didn’t care about money or fame, he truly was devoted to teaching and studying Islam. So much so that while his own family lived in a simple house built the traditional Saudi way out of mud, he hosted a school of students who came from all over the world and paid them stipends. All that was expected of them was to learn the shiekh’s version of Islam.

His overall influence on Saudi legislation and day to day lifestyle is immense, especially in the central, north and south regions. Although other sheikhs were coming to the same conclusions that he made or at least agreed with him, he was the foundation for an Islam that is based strongly on pre-Islamic regional customs and traditions. He was so popular that the kings of Saudi Arabia visited him at his home.

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Another major trend that he helped set is the whole “the infidels are out to get us” ideology; a Western ambiguous “they” whose mission in life is to corrupt us and move us away from our Islamic lifestyle. I never could wrap my mind around this one because if I were a foreign government with interests in another country, I would rather have that country’s people living like monks or nomads and uninterested rather than aware and educated. That way the people won’t interfere with what the foreign governments are getting out of their fields. But to Sheikh Othaimeen our country’s resources were not as big an issue as the puritanical social and moral fabric of our society. Maintaining the status quo became a religious duty. Learning English was not to educate ourselves but to guard ourselves from the “they” infidels and to help us occasionally preach to the ignorant semi-Muslims and infidels.  

According to the Shiekh, anything that would look like an imitation of the West should be religiously prohibited, including clothing and general lifestyle choices. His ideology is the real reason why women are banned from driving. And his fatwas were among the first to use the gender mixing argument. Whether we like it or not his teachings still have a deadlock on our society. The only light at the end of the tunnel is that we remain stable for at least a decade while still being exposed to the world through all these new forms of media. Once society gets it through its head that there are no evil “they” out to get their religion, then they’ll be able to see the rest of the world with compassion and be open to taking their place within a more inclusive view of the world.

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Prominent Saudis: Rania Al Baz

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Rania Al Baz might be a prominent Saudi but is far from liked by Saudis. She used to work as a presenter on the Saudi national channel. In April 2004 she was seriously beaten up by her husband. After a photo of the aftermath was published in local media, sympathy came pouring in. Her hospital bill was taken care of by a member of the royal family. Her husband was duly punished and she was granted custody of her two sons. She also has a daughter from a previous marriage. There were people who raised doubts about why her husband got that angry in the first place. There were even rumors that she was on the phone flirting with another man when her husband came in. Lucky for Rania, the husband lost a lot of his credibility when he shot at his sister in Egypt and then kidnapped her in Lebanon for singing. This is a video of an interview that the couple did on an MBC program soon after the beating.

 Rania made a full recovery. She then was given jobs on Al Arabiya and then on the Lebanese channel Future TV. She lost some of her Saudi backing and fans when she decided to appear publicly without a headscarf. But generally she was on the right track up until her Oprah interview.  On that show Oprah interviewed women from all over the world, all of them positive representatives of their countries except for Rania. Everyone back here was justifiably offended. Why couldn’t they have chosen someone else; Mona Abu Sulieman, Dr. Salwa Al Hazza, Lubna Olayan, Dr. Maha Al-Mounif, Rusha Al Hoshan…etc. It’s like bringing in Natascha Kampusch to represent all Austrian women. Anyway if you want a complete rant on the topic, read this post.

If Rania had condemned the Oprah episode, then she could have gained back a little of what was lost. Even the journalist who arranged the interview was unhappy about how it was edited. Rania on the other hand issued a statement to local press that she was satisfied with the show and that Saudis should not be so sensitive. That coupled with a memoir, originally published in French, which portrayed her whole life in Saudi Arabia as one great big tragedy really pushed Saudis away. It seems as if she used her calamity as a ticket to victim-hood fame. If she had truly cared about the plight of Saudi domestic violence victims, she would have written her memoirs in Arabic rather then French. She could have done more interviews locally rather than joining the rest of the world in their Saudi bashing. Ideally, she could have taken advantage of the initial surge of Saudi support to start a hotline, association, or/and a center. Instead she chose to publicly take off her hijab and to be interviewed reportedly drinking and smoking. Rather than help other Saudi women in her position by raising awareness within the country, Rania willingly and purposely became the global poster-child for anti- Saudi Arabia and anti- Islam.

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Prominent Saudis: Princess Nora bint AbdulRahman Al Saud

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Princess Nora is the founder of Saudi Arabia’s sister. She was a year older than him, born in 1875. The photo above is of King Abdulazziz on the right and Prince Saud Al Kabeer (P. Nora’s husband) on the left.

She had great influence on King AbdulAzziz and historians write that she really urged him to leave Kuwait and try to get control of Riyadh. Afterwards she became one of his main advisors and he was famously known to say on several occasions “I’m Nora’s brother”. King Abdulazziz also gave his sister a role in raising his sons; whenever anyone of them did anything wrong as a child he would send them to their aunt for discipline. Dame Violet Dickson on meeting Princess Nora stated that she was one of the most important personalities of the Arabian Gulf and commented on how charismatic she was. John Philby was also impressed by the princess and commented that she was the first lady of her country.

She was known to be quite progressive and outspoken. When the telephone first came into the country many Islamic purists thought it was a tool of the devil but she supported its installation and told the people that it was an amazing device that they will not be able to live without. She was also a poet and had written several poems, the most famous of which is the one she wrote when her husband left her behind for travel. Princess Nora passed away in 1950.

A few weeks ago King Abdullah honored his aunt’s memory by naming the first university in Saudi Arabia for women only Princess Nora bint Abdulrahman University for Women.

This is another photo but it isn’t of Princess Nora but I still imagine it isn’t far off from what she would have dressed like. This is of Fatima Al Zamil who ruled Hail (a province north west of Riyadh) from 1911 to 1914. The photo was taken by Gertrude Bell.  

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Prominent Saudis: Sheikh Mohammed Al Arefe

Mohammed Al Arefe is the complete package. He is the Brad Pitt of Sheikhdom. Unfortunately he truly puts women in the toilet when it comes to their rights and humanity. His ideology is the typical close-minded outlook that Saudi society has grown accustomed to from its religious leaders, except when it comes to this particular religious leader, it almost seems like he has hypnotic super-powers. Even women will accept being told that they are less than men when it comes from his mouth. He is very charismatic. And I believe it comes across even with language barriers. This is a short video of him telling a funny story about his seven year old daughter learning her daily prayers.

Rough Translation: In the video he says that he is trying to encourage his daughter Jumana to pray. So one day he told her to pray the thahir (noon) prayer, she with resignation said ok. On his way back from performing Asir (afternoon) prayer at the mosque, Jumana opened the door for him and he asked her if she had prayed that prayer. She replied oohhh not again. Do I have to? But she goes and does it anyway. Then on his way back from the next prayer, the Maghreb (sunset) prayer, she again opened the door for him and immediately laughingly says OOhhhh you’re killing me with all this pray pray pray …

Some of the issues that he has raised was his objection at the first National Forum to the women who drove in 1991. That they should not have been allowed to resume work and influence other women, especially the participants who also happen to have teaching posts at schools and colleges.  He also proposed that a rule or law be established so that liberal women would not be able to take advantage of their jobs as teachers and lecturers to spread their sinful ideas. And that those teachers would be strictly instructed to teach what is in the books and not their opinions and views.

He is also extremely well-travelled. He hops from one country to the next giving lectures at mosques and even has debate type of sittings with priests and leaders of other religions. I attended one of his lectures at a mosque in Birmingham, UK. Of course he sat in the men’s section and women could only hear the lecture on the sound system. In the lecture he spoke about how to deal with teenagers that are raised in the west and have been westernized. Throughout the lecture he completely ignored women. He gave advice only to fathers and spoke only about problems with sons. As though mothers had no say or effect and there was no fear about daughters being westernized.

Here’s another video of him speaking on how to beat your wife. It already has English subtitles.

If only whatever changed Sheikh Salman Al Ouda would change Sheikh Mohammed Al Arefe it would probably be the last straw that breaks our ultra conservative camel’s back. With his huge following here in the central region, he is a man with a lot of power to either keep us on our crazy path or get us to see the light.

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Prominent Saudis: Sheikh Salman Al Ouda

 Sheikh Salman Al Ouda was born and raised in the city of Buraida in the Qaseem region north of Riyadh. He holds a PhD in Suna the prophet Muhammed’s (PBUH) sayings and actions.

The sheikh is really two persons in one; there’s the sheikh pre-prison and the sheikh post-prison. The pre-prison was basically a bin Othaimeen clone, same mentality and type of fatwas. And that’s not a surprise considering that he studied under him. He instructed followers to go to Afghanistan and Jihad in its most violent versions. A Youtube video has a copy of one of his audio lectures where he tells listeners that the only real way to spread Islam is through violence. He pretty much stuck to the norm for ultra conservative Qaseemi sheikhs. Then he deviated into Saudi politics and economy and that’s when he ended up in prison for five years starting in 1994.

Sheikh Salman came out of prison a changed man. You would think he spent his sentence in a western culture. His whole ideology took a 180 degree turn. Now he reminds me more of an Egyptian Azhar sheikh rather than one from Qaseem. My sister saw him in a mall in Dubai with his wife and kids. The real shocker is that his wife was wearing a niqab and her abaya was on her shoulders and NOT tent style over her head! That’s the Saudi equivalent of seeing a priest’s wife sunbathing topless.

That is nothing compared to the fatwas that he has come out with like discouraging Muslims from violent jihad and most recently he said on his show on the MBC network that it is alright to celebrate  personal holidays like birthdays and anniversaries just as long as you don’t call them “Eid”.  Now this is a biggie here. A sign of a true muttawa is that they only celebrate the two religious holidays and nothing else, not even the Saudi national day or the beginning of a new Hijri year. Last December, I threw my son a big party for his sixth birthday and all my in-laws boycotted it because they say it is Islamically prohibited. And that is typical for muttawas, so when sheikh Salman challenged that, there was a huge backlash in newspapers, on websites and even on Youtube. There you’ll find a video titled in Arabic the idiocy of Sheikh Salman Al Ouda in which they show him giving fatwas pre-prison and then giving recent fatwas that contradict his old ones. In many ways this has discredited him as a sheikh for the central region’s ultra conservatives. It also took him out of the running as a contender for the position Sheikh bin Othaimeen left vacant since he passed away. This just shows that Saudi Sheikhs are not allowed to change their minds no matter how long their career span might be.

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Prominent Saudis: Dr. Mohammed Al Zulfa

If there ever was a Saudi who deserved an award for standing up for what he believes in, then it is Al Zulfa. Al Zulfa is a history associate professor, graduated from Cambridge University, taught at King Saud University and currently a member of the Saudi Council. In February 2006, the Saudi Council was supposed to discuss the issues and problems concerning transportation, the conditions of our roads and the increasing number of car accidents. Al Zulfa took this opportunity to try to present a proposal to study lifting the ban from women driving. His proposal mysteriously failed to be distributed to council members and when he raised the issue during that session, it seems like he opened the doors of hell. The council members refused to even discuss the issue, stating that it was not their place or job to. And Al Zulfa was mobbed everywhere he went by muttawas, telling him how he was trying to make Saudis live like the infidels and attempting to guide him to the right path of Islam. Saudis called him on his private phone number to tell him that with this proposal he is going to turn all our women to prostitutes. They attacked him in newspapers, on TV and online.  They spread rumours about him including a rumour that he had no daughters and that is why he doesn’t care about the modesty of Saudi women (actually he has two daughters).He was invited on shows all across the Middle East. He was even invited twice on conservative shows, only to have high-power sheikhs call up the show and affront him publicly. Even Royals got on the “hate Al Zulfa” bandwagon and made public statements about how he disappointed them. Someone even posted a Google Earth photo of Al Zulfa’s private residence in case anybody wanted to “counsel” him face to face.  Al Zulfa stood his ground and to this day, he publicly supports women rights. Saudis either passionately  despise him or loyally support  him and you can get a feel for how conservative a Saudi is just by asking what he/she thinks of Al Zulfa.

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Prominent Saudis: Turki Al Dakheel

Al Dakheel is the number one interviewer in Saudi Arabia. If there’s a controversy going on anywhere in the Middle East, trust Al Dakheel to be the first Saudi to interview the people behind it. He was born in Riyadh in 1973. In college he majored in the principles of the Sunni sect of Islam at Imam Mohammed University in Riyadh. He even spent a stint as a mosque imam.  He originally started off as a journalist and contributed to most of the major Saudi newspapers, including Al Riyadh, Al Sharq Al Awsat and Al Majala magazine. His last journalism post was at Al Hayat newspaper.

Currently he has his own show on Al Arabiya news network and another radio program on Panorama radio channel.  He also writes a daily column for Al Watan newspaper.

Al Dakheel’s appeal lies in him combining three factors; a background in religion, spunk in his choice of guests, and accessibility in that he gives off the impression of being an average Saudi. His ability to tackle the tough issues with tact is admirable. And being indirectly related to the monarchy works as a safety net in case he does slip up.

He’s also famous for publicly admitting his weight problem and writing a quite successful book on how he slimmed down titled Memoirs of a Previously Obese Man (translation).

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