Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Widowed in Saudi Arabia, Part 3

This is Part 3 of a 4-part series. Click here for Part 1.

A  sima’s husband had been happiest at home in their garden, so she and her children planted a tree in their courtyard in his honor, so the children could remember him in the peaceful place that he loved.

In Islam, when a woman is widowed or children are orphaned, the blood relatives are supposed to take care of them. Abdul’s family ended up providing her with a small monthly allowance, which was not really enough to support her family. So she was forced to look for work to support herself and the kids and was able to secure a minimal paying job as a teacher’s assistant in a pre-school. Education and medicine are two of the very few fields in which women are allowed to work in Saudi Arabia because women and men are forbidden to work alongside one another in this strictly segregated society.

It was a battle with her in-laws to keep Faris in a Western school, and in the end Asima prevailed, although the family would only pay for the very cheapest Western school they could find. Asima was able to take Jannah to the school where she worked, without the knowledge of her in-laws since they were against sending the three-year- old girl to school. Somehow her in-laws never found out that she was working. They tried to control every aspect of their lives. They told her how she should dress, how to raise her kids, that she couldn’t leave the house when her son was at school. She sought help from the British Consulate but because she had dual nationality, they refused to help her, not that they would have been much help in a country like Saudi Arabia anyway. Asima hadn’t had any time to grieve for her husband because she had to remain strong for her kids. She was tired, but she couldn’t give up and let them win.

Through a good friend who encouraged her and helped her get the job and to face life without her husband, she gained strength and hope.

The in-laws took Asima to court under the pretext that they were trying to get her widow’s social security payments. Luckily her good friend sent along a translator for Asima and was it ever a good idea that she did! The hearing was an attempt to gain control over Asima’s finances and to force her to sell her home. The judge realized what was going on and denied her father-in-law these rights. She was VERY lucky to get this judge – many judges here in KSA would have ruled against her just because she’s a woman. Her father-in-law stormed off, leaving Asima and her toddler standing on the street outside the courthouse in the blazing sun. She had no idea where they were. Her father-in-law was so angry that he stopped providing her measly monthly allowance and didn’t speak to Asima for months. Months later, he tried once again to get her to sell the house. He took her to a little dumpy apartment, telling her that this would be her new home, that she didn’t need that big house. She had finally had enough. Raging, Asima screamed at her father-in-law, “I refuse to sell my house! That home is everything that Abdul worked for!” Abdul's father backed down, knowing that he had pushed her too far this time.

Asima has also had to endure extreme harassment from Abdul’s brother Gamal. He has stalked her, terrorized her, attacked her, accused her of immoral behavior, barged into her home, threatened her, and scared her children to death by his strange and inappropriate behavior. It all came to an end a few months ago when Faris was able to stand up to him and told him to leave them alone – or else! Gamal broke down into tears, apologizing for his strange behavior, and claimed the devil had made him do it! He did promise to leave them alone and so far, he has been good to his word. This chapter in their lives made Abdul’s family realize that Faris is a man and no longer the child they used to be able to push around.

Over the years, there were moments of hope when Asima thought she might be able to leave the country with her children, only to be shot down time after time. When her son would reach a certain age, she was told, he could legally be made his mother’s and his sister’s Mahram (guardian), but strangely the required age kept changing, from 15 to 18 then to 21. She has watched her son grow into a man, but his grandfather denied him permission to study abroad, so he stays home now, bored, depressed and languishing while they wait for the day when they will be able to leave this country that has been like the family’s prison for the last eight years. Faris cannot work because no employer will hire him here with only a high school diploma. This is the dismal future Asima’s in-laws have given Faris, not the one his parents had envisioned for him. Many teenagers in Saudi Arabia become depressed or get into trouble because there are very few activities they can participate in. Little Jannah has been traumatized by the actions of the in-laws so much that she fears any man wearing a white thobe and has serious trust issues.

Financially Asima has struggled to make ends meet month after month. She has done freelance writing for a couple of major newspapers, has taught ESL to a very prominent Saudi family, serves as an amazing source of valuable information to the ex-pat community in Saudi Arabia, and surprisingly feels she has actually been given some job opportunities here that she may not have had elsewhere.

Four years ago her father-in-law passed away, and it pains her to say this, but her son Faris was so happy about it. Asima always wanted to keep peace in the family, but they made it impossible. So much so that Faris hated his grandfather and rejoiced when he learned of his death. It was definitely a relief for Asima and her children.

** You just read Part 3 of 4. Proceed to Part 4.


  1. helo............
    im from indonesia...........

  2. Hi Suzie.....
    what a very sad story ...you kept me on edge during the 3 parts of Asima's story....
    I'm glad things are getting better for her & her poor children....I think that the granddad got what he deserved!!

    I pray that her kids get over this in sha Allah ...& I'm sure they will with such a strong mother on their side...

  3. Hi Suzie.....
    what a very sad story ...you kept me on edge during the 3 parts of Asima's story....
    I'm glad things are getting better for her & her poor children....I think that the granddad got what he deserved!!

    I pray that her kids get over this in sha Allah ...& I'm sure they will with such a strong mother on their side...

  4. Amazingly poignant and moving story, and I salute the grit and determination of this woman in such a domineering and controlling environment and having the will to triumph against the odds.

  5. Hello Susie,

    The story boils down to one thing, money... the root of all evil. This story happens to saudi girls also, and I am sure to girls all around the world when the family wants to control the $$$.

    One thing I wanted to ask about, her son could not get a job? I know many guys who have good jobs with their highschool diplomas, and if he is fluent in english, he should not have the slightest problem getting a good job.

    Continue please

  6. I'm enjoying this story although it's really sad. Thank you for sharing it, Susie.

  7. So so, no right.
    That's not islam subhanallah there is an important thing in ISlam to preserve widows and orphans. May Allah forget that people, because they didn't gave them they rights as human being and as muslimin.
    And they made a very bad imagen of muslimin because all the people think saudi=islam, but it showes us that some muslims are very far from Islam Ideals!.
    May Allah reward this strong Lady!amin.
    Ua Aleikum salam wa Rahmatullahi ua Barakatuhu.

  8. It is so very obvious that women need to be emancipated (and by that I don't mean they need to go around naked). It may be one thing for a wife to accept her husband as head, but an adult widow needs the right to control her own life and not be subject to some male who's interests may conflict with her entirely.

  9. I am in total awe of Asima's strength through all of this. She is an amazing woman (her children are too!) who has been served an incredible injustice by those who unfortunately have the law on their side. I hope she is rewarded for all the hell she has been put through.

  10. I am glad that things are looking up for her and her children. Such a sad story and it did not need to be this way. The grandfather should have been an example of compassion and love towards his grandchildren.

  11. Wish you (Asima) and your children the best.

  12. I see hope coming! Can't wait to read the 4th part. And I hope it's a fairytale ending. Not happily ever after but at least where the good triumphs over you-know.

  13. Asima and her children are truly survivors. Good for them to stand strong together and not crumple to the family. It does sound like life is slowly improving for them. I look forward to the next part of this story.

  14. First of all a boy become of a legal age at 18 where he can be his mom and sister Mahram (gurdian), and they could have left the country. And the second thing since Asma has a boy, that means the bulk of her husband estate will go to him, non of the male uncles or the father in law can have a share in it, 1/8 of the estate would go to her of course, and to her daughter. Even the most corrupted of saudi court can't change this fact.

    I sense that this post is turning into a saudi bashing bonanza. Anyway I hope things works well for Asima.

  15. What a hard life Asima has had. I sure hope things will get better from now on and that there will be a happier Part 4.

  16. Hi Anonymous, unfortunately non of that is the case in saudi arabia and who ever told you this is wrong. while legally in saudi arabia you are an adult at 18 and you can become the mahram or guardian of your sister and mother, you cannot leave the country until you are 21 (not a month younger or a day, 21 and over) unless the guardian gives permission The bulk of the estate goes to my son then my daughter then husbands mother and father if they are still living and me. i cannot rememebr the exact share out but when i last saw my lawyer i was told my share is 1/3, my daughter and son get more than me, how can this be when i am their own provider, but this is how the law stands.

    Hugs Asima x

  17. Hi Sungaikuantan - Hi to you too.

    Hi Umelbanat - Thanks for your support for Asima - I know she appreciates it.

    Hi Rasputin - Thank you so much for your comment - Asima is truly remarkable and I fell privileged that she let me tell her story.

    Hi Qusay - I'm not really sure about the job thing - I wrote what Asima said - I believe he has some plans in the works though.

    Hi Susanne - Thanks so much...

    Hi Hiyabi - You're right that we must remember not to lump all Muslims together ánd think they are all like Asima's in-laws, because they are not. I've been told that Saudi Arabia is not the place to learn about Islam...

    Hi Jerry - Absolutely - a woman should be in control of her own affairs - but unfortunately many women here are under the control of their husbands because of the way the society is set up.

    Hi Mel - Thanks for your comment. Asima is definitely amazing.

    Hi Yoli - I agree - the granddad was dead wrong.

    Hi Anon - Thanks...

    Hi Isladenebz - Not a fairy tale ending yet, but hopefully soon...

    Hi Gaelyn - Thank you so much.

    Hi Anon - You are incorrect. Asima has wanted to leave this country with her children for years and she has not been allowed to. I do not allow Saudi bashing on my blog - my husband is Saudi and we have been together for well over 30 years. There is a difference between bashing and telling the truth.

    Hi Kay - Thank you for commenting.

    Hi Asima - Thanks for clarifying.

  18. I also don't understand why Faris couldn't work or go to a university in Saudi? Was he hurt by the insistence on not attending a school that would make him competent in Arabic?

  19. I had a friend whose husband died in another Gulf country, and I went through a lot of the problems with her (legal questions, inheritance, control of his businesses, custody, etc.). I think a lot of people will depend on the information you're providing here, so I just wanted to mention something else.

    An important question is: whose name is her house in? If it's in Asima's name, then it should be hers, and her husband's family should have no say in it. If it was in the husband's name, then it's part of his estate, and she only controls 1/8 of it. Her children would own parts of it, and so would her father-in-law and mother-in-law (which would go to the father-in-law's wife and children when he died). In that case, I think that it could be sold if they insisted, and her share of the proceeds would be given to her. (My friend couldn't even renew the registration on her car until the inheritance was all settled, because it had been in her husband's name, so she didn't actually own it; she owned only 1/8of it. The court had her pay her children and the other heirs for their shares of it, so that she could legally own it completely. )

    Often a house is in the name of the man - an elderly man, for example - and when he dies, it technically is divided among his heirs (wife and children). When he dies, the children usually leave it until their mother dies, to let her be comfortable in her own home. Occasionally, though, they are greedy and want it sold, since it may be a lot of money sitting there that actually belongs to them.

    If this house was not in her name, then her in-laws were supporting her while not getting their share of the estate.

    If it was in her name, then this shouldn't apply.

    But it is important that women know the laws in their country and set up things as best they can legally, so that of the husband dies, his wife and family are provided for in the best way.

    I was also curious about how she managed to get a job and register her daughter in school without the family knowing. Doesn't the guradian have to be involved?

    Another Anonymous

  20. hI ANOTHER ANON lol

    in saudi arabia you dont need to register a child in kindergarten or playschools, as these are still not officially recognised as schooling, (unless they are part of a registered school) if they are just small playschools it is different. when a child goes to grade one then they have to be registered by the guardian and a file is opened at the ministry of education for the child. hugs Trae