Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Sad Day

There is a word in Arabic - I think it is "muhjahara," or something close to that - which refers to when a Muslim openly announces his sins. It is a crime in Saudi Arabia to do this. Announcing one’s sins is seen as encouraging others to also break the rules, or in other words, promoting crime. This might explain why many people in Saudi Arabia seem to be in denial about the existence of crimes and bad behavior here in the first place – because it is not to be discussed. But is this healthy for the society?

During the past several months, there has been unprecedented talk of reform here in this country. Several religious leaders have spoken out in favor of sweeping changes and a loosening of the strict codes of enforced morality that grip this country, ranging from support of women driving to relaxing the stiff rules which prohibit gender mixing. I wrote about some of these topics in a recent post on this blog.

My last post told you about an MTV True Life program that showcased four different Saudi young people here in Jeddah. Each of their stories focused on different challenges that these youth face living in Saudi Arabia. This program has caused quite a stir here in the Kingdom. I think it showed how very normal the youth here are and how they have similar feelings and aspirations to young people all over the world. But it now appears that the religious police have filed a suit against these young people for the crime of muhjahara. By next week, the Islamic Sharia Court will make the decision as to whether to proceed with the charges against the show’s participants or not.

I truly hope that the court decides against pursuing this case. The outcome will reveal exactly how deeply committed the current leaders are as far as reform and progress for Saudi Arabia. Although these young people are not representative of all youth here in KSA, there are many that feel the same way as they do – and many adults as well. They took a giant courageous step to appear on the show and articulate their feelings about the changes they would like to see in Saudi Arabia, their homeland. They only want to better their country and make it more livable, especially for young people. It is widely agreed that the kingdom is sorely lacking in activities for its residents, and when events are planned, many times they are shut down. Instead of punishing these spirited youngsters for bringing attention to problems here, Saudi Arabia should focus on making changes to improve the quality of life for all of its citizens.

Dr. Khalid Alnowaiser, a Saudi lawyer, wrote this excellent op-ed piece recently for Arab News called "Challenges Facing Young Saudis," which emphasizes the changes he feels are necessary for Saudi Arabia to move forward in today's world.

33 comments:

  1. Hi Susie
    Our Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) said "Allah forgive all the muslims except the openness" I translate this Hadeeth by mysilf, I hope "Openness" means Mujaharah :D

    However, the concept of this Hadeeth is that if you do something wrong, and no one know about it, it mean that Allah cover you to give you chance to regret and then never do it again, so why do you announce and proude of your shame?

    in Islam law, it is not consider as crime and there is NO any punishment for anyone who accounce his sins.
    it is between you and your GOD

    if you talk about Saudi society, yes it is consider as big crime and very big shame :D

    speaking of saudi society, as you know it is conservative society, so they denied anything strange happen in their society
    Maybe I am little bit not clear because of my language :D, but let me explain my points in examples

    I know few of my friends travel continually to Bahrain to drink, but if you ask him about his opinion to open bars and allow alcohol in Saudi Arabia, they will refuse it.
    they can't accept such this thing in their society.

    another example: any guy or girl who want to date, if you tell him that the country become more liberal in relationships and there are many mixture between man and women,
    they will be angry and denial that,

    I thinks Saudis make a lie and belief it. the lie is that all poeple in saudi arabia are conservative, and when they see anything against that lie, they refuse it.

    that what happen in MTV responses, the people who want to Sues this guys not come as order from court.

    finally,
    I love your posts, I am following from 2 years I think but this is first time i comment :D
    all what you said about saudi issue is true, and i am wondering how do you know about it :D

    keep going Susie

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  2. Hi sl0o0m - Thank you so much for your comment and explanation. I'm so glad you finally commented after all this time. I really appreciate your taking the time to elaborate about what Islam says about this topic and how Saudi society views it, especially because I don't always get it right all the time and so much of it is confusing for me. I do understand, but I think it is an unhealthy way of handling things - like problems being swept under the carpet. Just ignoring things and pretending they don't exist doesn't really help anyone involved. Thanks again!

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  3. Hubby has explained this term to me as well and I can see how it has been used to cover up injustice in many ways.

    Even as a blogger I find I am often stuck going around in circles as I can't just tell it like it is (if you know what I mean).

    Saudi society could follow the hadith and still protect their culture...but then again Islam is far from central in the society so I wouldn't hold my breath.

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  4. The powers that be (in most societies) too often miss the distinction between righteousness and self-righteousness.

    My guess is the young people who told their stories knew that they were risking punishment but felt it was time for someone to take a stand. I hope they are not overly penalized. Too often things get worse right before they get better.

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  5. How sad =( Saudi Arabia can't move forward if it can't even acknowledge it's problems. Punishing people that talk about the problems won't fix anything. I hope nothing comes of this. Even if it does, I hope they all continue their fight for change.

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  6. Oh no I certainly hope that the Islamic Sharia Court does not take the case. I watched the video and could see the frustration those young people are going through. Keep us informed won't you?

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  7. It's about time some changes were made. Sure hope this isn't just talk.

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  8. Interesting post, Susie!Very enlightening and important to learn about other cultures.

    Jenn in Muskoka , ON, Canada

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  9. You don't seem to understand the meaning of this hadith very well, why don't you study Islam before denigrating it the way you do?


    This hadith is there to remind us about to trivializing our sins, bragging about them is making them more acceptable.

    A few decades ago, fornication in the west wasn't acceptable, people didn't brag about it,now people wear it like a badge,making it public even being proud of all their encounters.By making one's sins public ,it's like making them more acceptable.

    Sins should be between the sinner and Allah.
    A sinner should ask for forgiveness,repent and try to be a better person, not openly brag about his sins and try to say it's acceptable ,look how many others do it!!

    Samayah

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  10. So often authorities miss the distinction between "righteous" and "self-righteous."
    My guess is that these young people went into this knowing they would be exposed to possible penalties, but felt someone needed to take a stand. Sadly, things often get worse just before they get better.
    This is not a comment on KSA, just people in general.

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  11. Meanwhile the Quran tells us to tell the truth even if it is against family or ourselves...go figure.

    Unfortunately the shame based society works only to keep "shameful" behavior under wraps...that includes actual shameful behavior..such as pedophilia...rape..molesting of children etc. If you hide some secrets..apparently youve got to hide ALL secrets.

    However, its gotten to the point that expressing a contrary opinion..or just wanting change..is seen as shameful and must be challenged and punished. I pray those young people have wasta..otherwise they are going to be made an example to others who might even be considering speaking out.

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  12. Hi Salma - The terms explains a lot to me in terms of how my husband is so in denial about so many things here, and about why he will not share things about when he was young with my son when he asks.

    Hi Amelie - I wondered the same thing, but oftentimes we do things in our youth that we don't think through completely as far as the consequences and repercussions. I do hope it all blows over.

    Hi Anna - But not acknowledging problems is part of the culture here...

    Hi Jeanette - I will continue to follow this story and post updates about it.

    Hi Gaelyn - I do too. So far the leaders have consistently landed firmly on the side of change despite the staunch conservatives' efforts.

    Hi Jenn - Thanks - only thru learning about other cultures can we ever begin to understand and be more tolerant...

    Hi Anon/Samayah - I didn't say anything in this post that denigrates Islam. You are just looking for something that's not there. I have studied Islam for a long time and there are still many things I don't understand or agree with or don't get satisfactory answers for. Even many religious scholars disagree about many things. I don't feel that anything these young people said in the video is deserving of being thrown in jail or getting lashed for. Punishing them for speaking out about things they would like to see changed here is wrong. Instead there should be civilized discussion about how to fix the problems.

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  13. Hi CoolRed - Thanks for making your points. You are absolutely right. Until the blame and the shame are squarely placed on the shoulders of the instigator instead of the victim, KSA's silent victims will remain silent.

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  14. Hi Suze - I've gotten behind in reading your blogs and today sat down and read through several, but I was so moved by the True Life Video. What impressive young people!! And how very sad that they may be punished! Hope you'll keep your readers updated.

    I work with youth in our church and I really want them to see this Video.

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  15. Susie, sorry I commented twice. My computer blinked the first time and I thought it didn't go through. Please delete one of them.

    Anonymous, it certainly happens where bad behavior could become "cool," but I didn't see anything like that. What I saw were intelligent, reasonable individuals respectfully asking for consideration of their ideas.

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  16. Can’t say how thankful this makes me feel about Freedom of Speech. From what I understand, these people are not being punished for their actions, but rather the fact they SPOKE about their actions, actions that MAY be legal. If people in America were arrested for speaking about what they do in their personal lives on camera here in the US, many of the TV programs would be gone!

    And YES, our Freedom of Speech does allow people here to say offensive, upsetting, sometimes even dangerous things. But we have the OPTION not listen to them. We are taught to think for ourselves, and be responsible for our own actions - and if you commit the wrong actions, you will be punished. Our democracy is based on voicing opinions. Not allowing free speech is simply a form of control and self-preservation of the government – even if it is something as benign as colored abayas, or meeting a girl at a mall – this is a threat to the status quo, i.e a threat to those currently in power. There is a lot of hate speech right now directed at our US government, a lot of it absolutely crazy talk (in my opinion) *Note, I have the CHOICE to think this – somebody is not telling me whether it is crazy or not. But I believe it is their right to say this, no matter how insane. I have the RIGHT not to listen, change the channel, or better yet – talk back to voice my own opinions.

    I also find it interesting that Catholicism is based on confessing your sins, and Islam, based on (basically) the same Old Testament - holds the complete opposite view.

    I’d like to bring up another interesting aspect (first a few instances to illustrate my point):
    *Susie’s comment from this blog “By next week, the Islamic Sharia Court will make the DECISION as to whether to proceed with the charges…” (I capitalized to make my point)
    *Aziz (or was it Ahmad?) talking about bringing books into the country, and not knowing what would be allowed, and what wouldn’t – and then those that did and didn’t being quite unusual...
    *Fatima going on a bike ride saying she didn’t know what would happen if caught…
    *The film festival (linked in this blog) being shut down once they actually opened, not during planning.

    It seems to me, there are no distinct laws/guidelines in KSA. In the US, we KNOW what is legal/illegal – and we know our RIGHTS as citizens. There are defined repercussions. It seems like in the KSA, often it’s “I don’t know if this is legal or not, and I don’t know what will happen if caught.” And much of the decision-making as to legality is left up to whomever is ‘on duty’ at the time. It’s very wishy-washy.

    This is NOT to say the US is perfect, FAR from it – and I am extremely thankful for the fact I can speak out against the US government, as a US citizen. And I love any well thought out, contradictions or explanations to what I have said (I don’t care about grammar or spelling), because I love understanding all sides of an argument (as does my Aunt Susie – SusieofArabia!).

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  17. I didn't get to watch the video as it was blocked in Canada (I think because True Life is probably a season behind here...like other series). Anyway, from what you and the articles described, they sound like normal youth who are trying to assert their independence, their opinions and find their place in the world. When I did my teaching practicums, there were many students who would voice their opinions on something (eg. the death penalty). I wouldn't necessarily agree with them on some points, but I was glad to hear their opinion. It's sad that these individuals may be facing jail time for expressing their feelings that something needs to be changed in society...culture, religion, or not, I think it is important that people be allowed to speak up for what they find is wrong in their societies...without this power, we're all a bunch of sheep, whether in Saudi Arabia or a 'Western' country like Canada.

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  18. I sincerely pray that the young people in the True Life video do not suffer any consequences for simply stating their opinions and frustrations.

    The more I read about different cultures, the more I appreciate the freedoms that are given to me in the U.S., especially as a woman.

    I am learning so much from your blog, thanks! And may God bless the young people in the video.

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  19. The thing is , I don't see any sin in what these young guys did in the MTV Video. They were honest and brave and there are scenes of some of them praying. How sad to hear about this now.

    Another step back of Saudi Arabia. I'm beginning to lose hope.

    - Noor -

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  20. What they mean is not to brag about your sins. There's a difference between bragging and just stating things.
    I can understand how they don't want people to glorify sins, but what they're doing is wrong. They're in denial of the problems here.
    Instead of trying to fix it, they go out of their way to seem like the perfect society they think everyone expects them to be.
    Kinda reminds me of a type of honourable family with a ridiculous amount of skeletons in their closet.

    I honeslty hope that these brave kids won't get punished for what they did. They're more courageous than 95% of the adults that live here and just accept things.
    It takes a strong person to do what these kids did . . . I wish them the best of luck.

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  21. What they mean is not to brag about your sins. There's a difference between bragging and just stating things.
    I can understand how they don't want people to glorify sins, but what they're doing is wrong. They're in denial of the problems here.
    Instead of trying to fix it, they go out of their way to seem like the perfect society they think everyone expects them to be.
    Kinda reminds me of a type of honourable family with a ridiculous amount of skeletons in their closet.

    I honeslty hope that these brave kids won't get punished for what they did. They're more courageous than 95% of the adults that live here and just accept things.
    It takes a strong person to do what these kids did . . . I wish them the best of luck.

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  22. G'Day Susie ,

    I do hope these brave young people will not get punished.

    I just wanted to point out that the Old Testament is totally different to the Quran. After reading both one comes to the conclusion that the God of Islam and the God of the Bible must be two different Gods. I am not talking about religions here just the two books.

    Cheers Aussie Lady

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  23. It is amazing to me that these young people will be punished for what? They haven't done anything that is to be considered sinful. One young man is a photographer and wants to meet a girl jsut to meet! Another has a dream of music and as I saw it to be respectful of Islam(he said he can't talk about religion in his music) but to express himself. a third man wants equality for all members of his society...men, women, rich, poor, Muslim, non Muslim (expats I assume), Saudi, non saudi. From where I am standing that is a pretty amazing goal; one worthy of praise not punishment and if I am not mistaken one that is in direct alignment with some verses of the Qur'an. How can a goal of treating all humans well be a bad thing? He is fighting for equal rights for women. And finally a young woman whose only crime is she doesn't want to go around in black the rest of her life. She is not trying to rid the world of the abaya...simply make it more joyful to look at and expressive to wear. Horrible criminals all of them. What I got from the show was that young people are young people with all the same hopes and aspirations no matter where in the world one goes. And thank goodness for that...if we left it to the old fuddy duddies of all the countries of the world no culture would advance in any way...satus quo would be the norm.

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  24. One step forward, two steps back, nobody gets anywhere like that......

    The video was awesome and inspiring.I'm praying that it all turns out well for those young people.

    I guess that's about all I can do from here.....

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  25. I KNEW 100% THIS WOULD HAPPEN!

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  26. Hello Susie,

    Although I haven't managed to view the program (you can't view it in Australia), the young people featured sound really admirable and courageous. I hope the authorities reconsider their case and they are not punished.

    Wishing you all the best!

    Kristina

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  27. Kathryn (formerly of KSA)Jun 5, 2010, 12:02:00 PM

    Change always starts small. However, in the beginning, society is able to react against change because the numbers are small. Think about early black American activists campaigning for change and how many of them were beaten, abused, jailed or even killed but eventually managed to sway public opinion. Think about anti-apartheid activists in South Africa. Unfortunately, those who put themselves out there in the beginning are incredibly likely to get themselves hurt. Therein lies the incredible courage of these young people, particularly in a place like KSA. I lived there, I know. They must have known the consequences of their actions and went ahead anyway. I hope that if they are prosecuted there is marching in the streets by people who feel similarly. Vain hope, I know. But you never know when big things are going to happen! Think Berlin Wall.

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  28. Do you have any updates on this?

    I wonder, are these things (colored abayas, gender mixing) just viewed as bad if a Saudi is doing it/its happening in Saudi Arabia OR do they look down on other Muslim countries that allow this stuff?


    Different post, but is there any update on the woman trying to find her father? Has she had any luck yet?

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  29. IN THE NAME OF ALLAH THE LOVING THE WISE. ALPRAISE IS FOR MY CREATOR ALLAH MAY HE BE FOREVER HONORED. HELLO TO ALL, I AM NEW TO THIS COUNTRY, THE WONDERFUL LAND OF MY PROPHET, MAY THE PEACE AND BLESSINGS OF ALLAH BE UPON HIM. I'V BEEN HERE 4 MONTHS, I AM FROM USA BORN AND RAISED IN CALIF, WHERE I BECAME MUSLIM IN 1977. I LOVE IT HERE, I LOVE THE FACT WOMEN DO-NOT DRIVE, I LOVE THE FACT THAT COVERING UP THE BODY IS A REQUIREMENT,I LOVE THAT THERE ARE RELIGIOUS POLICE, WHO KEEP TABS ON THE YOUTH AND ADULT MISBEHAVIOR. I LOVE HEARING THE CALL TO PRAYER 5 TIMES A DAY, I LOVE SEEING PEOPLE DRESSED FOR UMRAH, I FEEL VERY BLESSED TO BE AWAY FROM THE UNFORTUNATE LOW STANDARD THAT IS NORMAL IN THE U.S. WE HERE ARE MUSLIMS, WE ARE TRYING TO DEVELOP IN WAYS THAT WILL PLEASE OUR CREATOR, AND PREPARE FOR OUR DEATH AND FOR OUR ETERNAL LIFE WITH OUR LORD ALLAH. FOR THOSE WHO DO NOT BELEIVE THIS WAY AND DISLIKE IT HERE, THERE ARE SOOOOOO MANY OTHER PLACES TO LIVE,WHERE WHAT YOU PREFER IS AVAILABLE FOR YOU RIGHT NOW. WE WHO HAVE THIS REALITY WOULD ASK YOU WHO HAVE A DIFFERENT REALITY TO PLEASE LEAVE SAUDI ARABIA ALONE.IT IS ONE OF THE FEW PLACES IN THE WORLD WHERE PEOPLE HAVE TO HIDE MOST OF THEIR AWFUL BEHAVIORS, AND I PREFER THIS TO THE IN YOUR FACE BEHAVIORS OF MOST IF NOT ALL OF THE SO CALLED FREE WORLD. SOON THEY WILL COME TO KNOW, SOON THEY WILL COME TO KNOW. PRAYING FOR ALL Tahirah Amatullah Goldsmith.

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  30. To the gentleman from California who likes it here so much, well that is your opinion- and if you like a society that is Patriarchal and Tribal and opresses women you have certainly come to the right place. If you were looking for someplace Islamic- this is not it.

    No I don't like it- and no I am not leaving. And I will do EVERYTHING I can to try to change it. And I wish people like you who wish to sully and shame the name of Islam by commiting all these oppressive acts in it's name would leave.

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  31. Sorry, I said Gentleman from California. I believe it is lady.

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  32. IN THE NAME OF ALLAH THE MIGHTY THE MERCIFUL, ALPRAISE IS FOR ALLAH ALONE. SUSIE THIS INSHALLAH IS MY LAST VISIT,THIS IS A VERY UNHAPPY PLACE, (YOUR BLOG SPOT THAT IS). THE ANGER AND NEGATIVITY IS A DISEASE I PREFER NOT TO CATCH.SO MAY MY ALLAH AZZA WA JAL HELP YOU ALL, THE GRAVE IS CALLING TO US DAILY. MAY ALLAH AZZA WA JAL GUIDE US ALL TO THE RIGHT. Tahirah Amatullah Goldsmith.

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  33. Dear Anonymous (the one with giant capital letters and sounded like they were screaming),

    I'm going to start off mature and respectful, because you are entitled to your own opnion:
    There is something wrong with every country. You can't deny that.
    Just like how every person has room for improvement, every country does as well.
    Yes, there are things in Saudi Arabia that are MUCH better than than those in the states, but there are also things in the states that we can adopt here to make our society better.
    Instead of blindly following what they say, how about you try to find out what we as a society can do to make it better.

    For example, adding things like libraries, public transportation, recycling bins, museums etc...
    My point is, there's ALWAYS room for improvement.

    Now for the slightly pissed off side of this comment:
    You seriously believe that it is a GOOD THING for women not to drive?
    Honestly, I'm more than slightly disgusted.
    If you brush up on your Islamic history, you'll know that women used to ride horses during the time of the Prophet. Did someone not mention that to you?
    And if you think a little bit, you'd know that CARS are the modern equivalent of HORSES.
    Just had to clear that up in case you didn't understand.


    And if you don't like this blog, why did you start reading it in the first place?

    Oh yeah, and you were talking about going to other places if you didn't like it, right? Well, I honestly don't know how long you'll last in your little sexist bubble, but I do guarantee you it'll be one hell of a surprise when it pops.

    I'm sorry if I may have sounded a little rude Susie, but I had to comment on this....

    ROCK ON!

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