Tag Archives: Saudi Society

The Saudi Supernatural world

Saudis (and Muslims who follow the Saudi version of Islam) do not believe in ghosts the way that the western world does. When it comes to the immediate worldly afterlife, it is believed that a person at death only temporarily leaves his/her body. In the grave, they come back and inhabit it waiting for judgment day. Meanwhile, after an interview with an angel a window opens in their grave either on hell or heaven, depending on that person’s deeds. The only dead people spirits that walk among us are martyrs and Muslims who die for an Islamic cause. One possible reason for this is that they might like to follow up on what they died for. This a translation from the Quran:

And say not of those who are slain in the way of Allah: “They are dead.” Nay, they are living, though ye perceive (it) not. (Chapter 2 Al Baqara, verse 154)*

But this indifference to ghosts in the western sense does not change the fact that Saudis are strong believers in the supernatural. To truly comprehend you’ll have to go back to before the beginning. In the prequel to the Adam and Eve story, there were other creatures inhabiting the Earth. The angels are made of light and humans are made of mud and these others called jinn are made of fire. They ruled the Earth much as we do now and Satan was one of them. He was either a good Jinn ruler or a Jinn prophet while the rest of his people were abusing the Earth and not worshipping God as they should. So God sent his wrath down onto them and only a very few survived by hiding high in the mountains and underground in caves. Satan was spared and raised up to heaven to live among the angels.  Then later God created Adam. That’s why in the Quran it states that the angels upon hearing about Adam reacted negatively:

Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: “I will create a vicegerent on earth.” They said: “Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood?- whilst we do celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy holy (name)?” He said: “I know what ye know not.” (Chapter 2 Al Baqara, verse 30) *

The angels were not predicting the future but were more like saying oh not again. They eventually submitted except for Satan who thought that it was beneath him to bow down to a creature made of mud. The rest is almost identical to the Christian and Jewish story. So Satan, Adam and Eve were sent down to Earth. It is said that God created three versions of everyone. That is that there is a Jinni that has your exact personality, mannerism and there is also an angel that way too. The jinn version is called a qareen in Arabic. And that’s how Muslims explain away those who claim to talk to the dead. They say that those so-called experts are actually talking to the dead person’s qareen.

The Jinn people that survived reproduced and so did Adam and Eve. And now it is like a two dimensional Earth. The inhabitants of both dimensions have their own civilizations, races and religions. But there are some of both dimensions that mesh them together. This meshing is where the supernatural comes from. Humans through witchcraft and such make use of Jinns’ invisibility to Human eyes to gain knowledge. And outcast Jin come into our world to wreak havoc. The belief in them is so strong that it affects real estate. One example is a prominent marble palace that some Saudi family built in Riyadh. It is near the intersection of King Abdullah street and Al Takhassisi. After the family moved they experienced something unexplainable. And it went on like this from buyer to buyer until eventually it was closed up completely for almost a decade. Now the government bought it and is using it as a guesthouse and club for officers.

The outcast Jinn are also believed to take forms and most commonly they take the form of a dog. That might be one of the reasons dogs are not seen in a positive light here. The worst thing a jin outcast could do is take up a person’s body. They do this for a number of reasons; they are bribed or ordered to by a sorcerer, they have fallen in love with the human, or a person through wrong actions invites them in. Once they are in it is difficult to get them out. A shiekh has to exorcise them by reading certain parts of the Quran. Even Shiekh Bin Baz, the most renowned Saudi shiekh in the past century, wrote about his experience with these beings. I have a booklet that was distributed free of charge at the Riyadh Military Hospital written by Shiekh Bin Baz. This is a photo of the cover:

Translation of the cover: Two letters

  • 1- The issue of Jinn being in the body of a psychologically disturbed person and the Islamic law on conversing with Jin.
  • 2- Treatment through the use of sorcery or witchcraft is an extreme danger to Islam and Muslims.

This whole concept is so ingrained into Saudi culture that even people who are laid-back about religion will think of Jinn when they hear a bump in the night.

This is a video I coincidently received in my Email today. It is a soccer player that supposedly got beaten up by a Jinn on the field. Watch and make up your own mind:

And here’s a website that specializes in making nonbelievers see the light (visit at your own risk) : http://www.islam-universe.com/Exorcism.html#Exorcism_Clip

*Abdullah Yusuf Ali Translation of the Quran


Filed under Uncategorized

The Saudi Poverty Line and Freedom of Press

The minister of Social Affairs recently made a statement that there are 1.5 million Saudis under the poverty line. Everyone knows that there are poor in Saudi but to have it stated as such a matter of fact has gotten some to take notice. Two quite outspoken Saudis just won’t let it go. The first is Mohammed Al Ritayan from Al Watan Newspaper. He has written two articles on the issue. The latest was published yesterday. In the beginning he sarcastically comments on how expensive the minister’s office furniture looks in the interview photos. Then he moves on to make mathematical calculations that prove that the minister’s number was underestimated. He argues that the real number of poor is no less than 25% of all Saudis. Then he ends the article with a remark that regardless of whether his calculation are correct or not, even the minister’s number is shameful considering that Saudi Arabia is one of the richest countries in the world!

The second Saudi to speak out is a social activist, Trad Al Asmari. He has gone one step further by producing and directing a documentary on Saudi Arabia’s poor. In it a Saudi security guard recounts his struggle.


Title: My salary is one thousand riyals (267 dollars)

Security Guard: “No accommodations, no insurance, no education, no hospital expenses cover, not even for our kids. They (employer) give us absolutely nothing. They won’t even give us health insurance. They basically just give us our salaries and say good-bye. Now I’ve been working here for three to four years. I should have at least health insurance. I live in this misery. I should at least be covered under the company’s health insurance plan. But no, three years and still I am at loss.”

Newspaper headline: Saudi family under the claw of poverty: Only dream is to own a tent

Director’s question: Is every working Saudi outside the circle of poverty?

Security guard: “My whole salary is 1200 to 1300 riyals. It is not enough for rent, my kid’s expenses, school supplies. We have kids, we have…lots of things. It’s not enough. 800 goes to rent. I end up with maybe 300 riyals. It’s not enough with six kids and household expenses…water…electricity. It doesn’t cover it all.”

Director’s note: For a Saudi, it takes 1600 riyals monthly to sustain them without factoring in rent. Accordingly, a monthly income of 1200 is considered beneath the poverty line.

Director’s note: The courage of a King

King Abdullah quote: “Hearing of is not like seeing and responsibility goes beyond offices. The problem of poverty cannot be cured improvisationally.”

Newspaper headline: The King visits poor districts

Director’s note: The king of the people and friend to the poor


There are some who deny their (the poor’s) existence

Newspaper headline: Government committee finishes discussing poverty in one meeting and ensures the limitedness of the problem.

Director’s note: Why deny their existence?

Security guard: “In this problem we are lost. We can’t do anything and every time we try to complain no one listens and they keep throwing blame around. Everyone I go to tells me it’s not their job. You can never get answers. No one takes responsibility. “

Director’s note:  They live among us

They are hurt and too modest to beg

Quran verse translation: (Charity is) for those in need, who, in Allah’s cause are restricted (from travel), and cannot move about in the land, seeking (For trade or work): the ignorant man thinks, because of their modesty, that they are free from want. Thou shalt know them by their (Unfailing) mark: They beg not importunately from all the sundry. And whatever of good ye give, be assured Allah knoweth it well.

Security guard: “Of course I finish work at eight completely tired out. I barely have time to see my family over dinner and then it’s another day’s work. So I can’t make any good use of my time. I don’t even have time to spend with my kids.I can’t take them out. I only go to and from work, from 8am to 8pm. We as Saudis should get our complete rights.”

Director’s note: One saudi citizen asks

Who says I don’t live here?

Poverty is a huge problem here with more and more people falling into it because of inflation. Logically with the demand on expatriate workers, this should not be. The government won’t assign a minimum wage and I can see their point of view. With millions if not billions of riyals seeping out of the country through expatriate workers’ salaries, assigning a minimum wage would only raise the money going out. And even though nationality discrimination  is widely accepted here, fortunately, the government will not stoop that low. The issue is multi-dimensional and the solution is beyond me. However to have these two men  openly speak out and criticize without fear of prosecution is a tremendous step forward.

On a more personal note, last year I drew up a complete business plan for an after school center. The plan provided part-time jobs for seven Saudi women with a minimum salary of 3000 riyals. My target employee was enthusiastic college students or young school teachers looking for a second job. And my target clientele was two income families whose both parents have full time jobs i.e. mothers who hold jobs in the medical or banking sector. I had an investor signed up. All I needed was to launch the project. But I had to put the whole thing on the back burner because of all the red tape and bureaucratic nonsense.


Filed under Uncategorized

Line 120 or 220 volts?

The Iraqi war really brought the spotlight on the Shia -Sunni struggle within  the region, when before, outside of the Middle East, there was no distinction between Muslims. Little be known to the rest of the world there are other  layers of discrimination in the region.  Two of which affect a Saudi’s marriage and job prospects. The first and most important is whether a person belongs to a tribe or not. You are 220 if you belong to a tribe and 120 if you don’t. There are many tribes in the region and tracking and documenting them is a centuries old science that is still very much alive today. I’ve also heard stories of specialists who were able to track which tribe a person belongs to just by looking at their facial features. Though I don’t believe they exist anymore. The most prestigious tribe to belong to is the Ashraff. People who are even remotely related to this tribe will drag out their family tree at every opportunity. And they are understandably the most prestigious because they are descendents of the Prophet Mohammed’s (PBUH) family. Now most claims to this tribe are bogus but the few true lines of heritance are carefully documented in books. The most famous Asharaff family today is the Jordanian royal family. But personally I think they have diluted their blood with too many British and American commoners.

Then there are Saudis who don’t belong to a tribe. The first of two main reasons why is that they go back to an ancestor who has been disowned by his tribe for committing a crime or taking up a manual job. These families are easy to identify because their last name usually means in Arabic some kind of job like blacksmith or baker. The other main reason is that the family goes back to an ancestor who immigrated here. These families usually have a last name that in Arabic means some kind of nationality like Egyptian, Morroccan…etc.  The only exception I know of to the latter reason is the Hindi family who are tribal.

Another layer of distinction is made up of Bedouin or urban. Bedouins are families who only in the past century have settled down. Before they used to roam the desert never belonging to any particular region. Urban are families who belong to tribes that have always lived in towns and cities, only occasionally moving.

Part of a Saudi’s life is to be classified as one of the following:

a) Urban and tribal: These Saudis are the most stuck-up, refined and know how to spend money.

b) Bedouin and tribal: These Saudi are not as sophisticated but are more generous and their women are given a lot more freedom and respect.

c) Urban and nontribal: These Saudis are concentrated in the Western region and they mostly come from ancestors who were originally overstayers after performing Hajj.

d) Salab: These Saudis come from gypsy ancestors.

How does this matter in day to day life? Within their circles, both Bedouins and tribal Urban consider being called the other an insult. Urban mothers tell their children not to be Bedouin when they, for instance, attempt to leave the house in their pajamas.  And Bedouin mothers tell their children not to be urban when they get scared of a spider. To urban families, being called Bedouin has connotations of being unrefined and unruly. And in Bedouin families, being called an urban essentially means sissy.

And until recently, the Saudi nationality had been withheld from many salabs. Even though they have been on Saudi land for more than a century.

When it comes to job-hunting, let me just say that if you take a close look at any Saudi establishment, you’ll find that strangely a great number of the employees belong to the same tribe as the head of the establishment.

In marriage, it doesn’t matter much if you are Bedouin or urban. What matters is whether or not you’re tribal. If a Saudi is tribal and marries someone who isn’t, the father of the tribal spouse is expected to disown them. And the whole marriage has long term negative effects. The siblings of the tribal spouse will be limited in their choice of life-partners. A famous case that originated in such a mixed marriage is that of Fatima who after having two children with her husband, was forcefully divorced by her half brothers after her father passed away. Shockingly the divorce was sanctioned by the Saudi judicial system.

Fatima Starts Hunger Strike Despite HRC’s Reunion Assurances
Ebtihal Mubarak, Arab News

JEDDAH, 25 March 2008 – A Saudi woman, who was forcibly divorced from her husband by a court in 2005 at the request of her half brothers, yesterday began the first day of a hunger strike despite officials saying that the couple would soon be reunited.

“I won’t believe it till I see it… I’ll remain stuck in this shelter like an outcaste. Everyone asks me to be patient and wait,” said the woman known as Fatima.

One of my own relatives fell in love with a person who belonged to a non-tribal family. Just when they were about to announce their engagement, my great uncle threatened the father with disowning his whole family. So everything was broken off before it got too serious. This of course is extremely un-Islamic and a great example of how our society is truly ruled by custom and culture rather than religion.


Filed under Uncategorized

Saudi Salons

They are called Mashghal  in Arabic which literally means a working place, from the Arabic noun shoogal (work in general). This term was coined to refer to little shops where a group of usually Pakistani tailors make women dresses. About 30 years ago readymade women clothes were mostly unavailable to the general public and women drew designs on paper and took then to these tailor shops with fabric bought by the meter from areas similar to outdoor malls. For measurement, they would give the tailor a previously made dress that fits and he would use it as a measurement model. And that’s to avoid any physical contact between the tailor and the customer. I know now you’re wondering where did women get there first well measured dress and I too wonder.  

These little tailor shops started to evolve into closed women shops where the tailors are women from the Philippines. The shops became bigger and the décor  slightly better. However these women only shops are pricier, so the male version stuck around. The women mashghal started to quickly expand into the beauty salon business. So a women could go get her hair done and have a dress made at the same time. But when Al Eissaee, a big name in the fabric import business, started  to also bring in quality readymade clothes, he started a huge trend that snowballed into our current mega malls. This in turn affected the tailor business for both the male and female shops. The male mostly went out of business except for a lucky few and the female shops concentrated more on the beauty salon side of the business, so much so that some even closed the dress making side. But for some unexplainable reason they are still called a mashghal  even on official ministry of commerce licensing papers.


Filed under Uncategorized

Romantically Challenged

With all this gender segregation and emphasis on sex and femininity, you would think that Saudis would be very romantic and passionate. In the same vein of Latinos is the way Saudis come across when they’re trying to woo a woman, but trust me, that wears off pretty quick. Marriage here is really just the funeral of a relationship’s romance. There’s an Arab proverb that translates to the end of love is marriage. Society as a whole tends to view romance in heterosexual relationships as trivial and unimportant. Maybe that is why the Turkish soap opera Noor has become all the rage across Saudi Arabia. It’s about a husband who loves his wife madly. And it doesn’t hurt that the husband is smoking hot! The soap opera was dubbed in Arabic and all the names were changed to Arabic names. I personally have not followed the series but I have seen a few scenes. Turkey as a summer destination has seen renewed popularity thanks to the show. Even old ladies have fallen for Mohanid. Every dinner or tea party I go to, all they talk about is the series. The Arabic names of the main roles have become the most popular baby names this year and the show is even known to have sparked domestic family issues.

For a more detailed post about this topic click here.


Filed under Uncategorized

The Reasoning behind the Ban on Women Driving

Any Saudi who is against women driving, when asked about it will first say: This is an old topic and it is done with and that Saudis have all agreed that they do NOT want women to drive except for an ignorant and misled few. Besides it is also a minor issue that not that many women care about. If the issue is still pressed then the Saudi will promptly give you the following reasons:

There are two rules in Ifta (the science of writing a fatwa):

a) Whatever leads to an Islamic prohibition, should be prohibited.

b) And if an issue’s detriments outweigh or equal its benefits then it should be prohibited.

Based on the above two Ifta rules, women should not drive because:

  •  Women driving cars will lead them to take off the face-cover.
  • It will lead to women losing their modesty and feminine shyness.
  • It will make it easier for women to leave their houses without need.
  • It will lead women to be free to go wherever they want and whenever they want.
  • It will be a tool of rebellion against husbands and families in that if a woman is upset she can get in her car and go someplace to cool down.
  •  It will lead to Fitna (a door to sin)in many ways:

a) at stoplights

b) at gas stations

c) at investigation points

d) if a woman is stopped for an accident or traffic violation

e) if she needs to fill her tires with air

f) If a woman’s car stops because of a malfunction and in this case a scumbag guy might come and bargain with her for sex in exchange for fixing her car.

  •  It is reason for financial excess because women are naturally frivolous and they are known to throw away clothes every time a new style comes out and as such she will do the same with cars; getting every new model as soon as it comes out.

These reasons and more are all across the internet and they are taken very seriously by a large number of Saudis. Some of the websites that carry these reasons include:








Filed under Uncategorized

Misyar Marriages

You hear a lot about misyar marriages all over the Saudi media. Some people are against it and others think that it is the magical pill for all our society’s ailments. Many non Saudis have the misconception that this type of marriage is sanctioned by law and that the actual marriage contract document is different from the one used for conventional Saudi marriages. Well that is just not true. There is only one marriage contract document and whether the marriage is conventional or misyar depends on a verbal agreement. The marriage contract itself looks somewhat like a passport. So what are miyar marriages? Well to answer that you first have to understand our regular marriages. First off a conventional marriage means that the groom pays the bride a dowry ranging between 8000 dollars and can go up to 27000 dollars depending on the bride’s tribe, age, beauty…etc. A government approved sheikh is brought to the house and writes up the marriage in a big marriage notebook. Everyone signs it and then it is sent to the bride for signature. Islamically, the sheikh must make sure that the bride agrees to the marriage by asking her himself. But this is not done in many households. The sheikh does not see or speak to the bride. The bride’s father or any other male relative represents her and speaks for her. When it comes to the dowry, it is considered impolite to have it written in the marriage contract, even though there is a little blank for it. The groom waits a couple of days and then goes to the Saudi courts to get the document. Then the groom also has to ensure that they have a place to stay, which could be a couple of rooms at his parent’s house, an apartment, or a villa. And most importantly they tell everyone about their marriage, usually at a big wedding party. Finally impregnation is expected within the first three years.

With a misyar marriage, you still have a sheikh and he comes to the house with the big notebook and does his thing. But with this marriage the bride makes a lot of compromises that are agreed upon verbally prior to the shiekh’s arrival. She still gets a dowry but the marriage itself is considered a secret. Only close relative are allowed to know. When it comes to the love nest, that is most commonly the bride’s own bedroom at her parent’s home. Sometimes, especially for richer grooms, an apartment is rented for the bride. The husband can come and go as he pleases and does not have to spend nights over unless he wants to. Having children is discouraged in these marriages. And they are designed just so the husband can divorce anytime without obligations.

Why would a woman put herself in this position? It differs from one to the other but ultimately it boils down to these reasons:

  • She’s a divorcee or spinster and unlikely to get a better offer. These women tell themselves that he’ll love me and want me as a full wife once he gets to know me.
  • Lower class households that quite frankly pimp out their daughters and use the dowry kind of like a prostitution fee.
  • The groom is really rich and made an offer that just can’t be refused. Rich practicing Muslim men do misyar out of fear of their first wife and at the same time they can tell themselves it’s hallal (Islamically sanctioned)

I know a woman who went into a misyar marriage four year ago. She’s been divorced twice before then and approaching forty. Fortunately it worked out for her and a couple of months back her misyar husband bought her a house and publically acknowledged her.



Filed under Uncategorized

What’s in a name?

Shhh! If you are a Saudi male please pretend that you do not know that my name is Eman daughter of Fahad Al Nafjan. I’m um Sulaiman (mother of Sulaiman) to you. Apparently it is still a huge embarrassment for the male part of our society to know each other’s female relatives’ names. Little boys get into fights at school that start because one boy informs others the name of another boy’s mother. It is so bad that a Saudi from Jeddah sued a car company this week because they sent an exhibition invitation to his wife with her full name on the outside of the envelope. He claims that they dishonored him and his wife by making her name public. All over Saudi, you can find mosques that are built in the name of mothers, since it is considered a great Islamic deed to build mosques. These women pay for these mosques to be built but have to name the mosque in their firstborn son’s name so as to not shame the family by putting their name on a sign.  In Al Waha district in Riyadh there is one of these mosques called um Khalid Al Baltan Mosque. I’ll try to get a picture of it tomorrow morning on my way to work. And here it is:

A while back, a new law was issued that stated that small businesses had to have the name of the owner on the sign. I would love to know the number of businesses that suddenly changed ownership or closed down just to avoid putting the name of a Saudi woman on a sign. I know for sure that there were rants about it for a long while in newspapers.

And just like almost everything else, we contradict ourselves. King Abdulazziz, the founder of Saudi Arabia used to esteem and revere his sister Nora. He had talked about her by name in many of his official meetings. It’s said that he used to go to her for advice and even sent his children to her when he need help in disciplinary issues. The prophet Mohammed (PBUH) too used to mention his wives and daughter by name in several of his hadeeths. You would think that Saudis would look up to these two men and try to emulate them but that is not the case.

I bet you’re asking yourself, what if a woman does not have a son, what name does she put after the um (mother prefix). If she has never been married, then nothing and it is not that big of an issue to call her by name. If she is married and does not have a son, she either uses her firstborn daughter’s name or uses her father in law’s first name, the latter being due to the Saudi convention of naming the firstborn son after the paternal grandfather.  The worst would be if she were divorced and childless, in this case, she is nameless and invisible.


Filed under Uncategorized

Final Exams

Final exams are upon us. Most Saudi households are affected by the finals in one way or other in a country where approximately half the population is in school. This is the time to go out shopping or whatever. You’ll notice the crowds are a little smaller and the traffic is a little lighter. It will get even better starting from June 14th and two weeks on. If you’re planning a trip to Dubai or Bahrain, try to manage it so that it falls within those two weeks so you can at least avoid the Saudi crowds.

If you are a Saudi there is a certain atmosphere about this time of year, even if you’re all grown up and out of school. A certain smell of fear and pending doom. Exams are extremely stressful in Saudi Arabia. On that one final paper, a minimum of 50% of your mark for the whole semester is hanging. And for high school seniors, the results decide what college they’ll be able to get into.  The current education system is quite theoretical, relying mostly on written explanations and pictures in books, even if you are studying physics, chemistry or biology. The best way to get by is through rote memorization. So by the time these students reach college, they’re so used to this system that it is a feat to wean them off it. A question that always comes up with my students is which pages exactly are in the exam. And no matter how many times I tell them that we are testing their ability to communicate in English not how many grammar points they memorized, they still don’t get it.

What’s funny is that in many colleges across Saudi Arabia, they still rely on memorization. I remember in college, students who couldn’t write one sentence in English pass Drama because they memorized the “handouts”. A whole culture of handouts has ruined our higher educational system. As long as the students memorize the 20 to 30 page handout, they’re good to go. The handouts even tell the student what to write when they’re asked for their opinion. And believe it or not, these handouts are written by the course instructor himself. Then the instructor would have answer sheets that are all identical. Can you imagine how easy it is to grade memorized answers?! Where I work, this was going on, but the administration banned instructors from writing and distributing handouts with the aim of raising the educational standards. I hope all institutes across the Saudi follow suit.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized


In 2005 the government opened an anonymous account, anonymous in that you can put money in without anyone knowing who you are.  As of April 7th 2008, the balance of that account has grown to 152 million riyals which equals about 40 and a half million dollars. Where did this money come from? No one knows. No one is allowed to know. I don’t know the details of the story behind it but I do know that an Egyptian who had worked as a civil worker in Saudi Arabia had stolen some money from his department and got away with it. After he got back to his home country, his guilty conscience would not let it go so he decided that he wanted to give the money back but didn’t want to get prosecuted. He called someone powerful back here and told him and someone came up with the “clear your guilt account” they advertised it and in just three years, 40.5 million dollars were returned to the government from Saudis and expatriates who wanted to clear their conscience.


Filed under Uncategorized