Monday, April 20, 2009

Widowed in Saudi Arabia, Part 2

This is Part 2 of a 4-part series. Click here for Part 1.

The night that Abdul died, Asima left the hospital with her kids after a particularly horrifying episode their dad had from the side effects of his treatment. The following morning, Abdul’s brother Gamal stormed loudly into their villa, waking Asima up, yelling at her to get him Abdul’s ID. What? Why? “He’s dead and you have one hour to get to Makkah,” he rudely told her. Asima was stunned.

She had to awaken her children and tell them that their father was dead – it was one of the hardest things she ever had to do in her life. On top of that, she had to rush to get them ready for the funeral in Makkah. Abdul’s family made all the arrangements and Asima wasn’t consulted on the plans at all. In Islam, the body is disposed of as quickly as possible, in a very specific manner and done with very specific rituals. No one from Abdul’s family comforted her or explained things to her. She had never before been to a Muslim funeral, so she wasn’t aware that she was supposed to wear white. So when she arrived wearing the traditional funeral black of her own culture, Abdul’s family was horrified and did not hold back telling her how disrespectful they thought she was. Asima held her children close as they said their final farewells, and little Jannah lovingly placed some tiny fragrant flowers over her father’s lifeless body. Again Asima caught flak from Abdul’s family about how disrespectful little two-year-old Jannah’s action was and questioned if Asima wanted Abdul to go to hell because of her infidel ways.

At this point, Asima became alarmed and had had enough. She was confused and scared, hurt and in pain, but she also knew she had to be strong for her children. In her grief, she felt all alone, and all her husband’s family managed to do was to point out her missteps! There was no compassion for this grieving widow, the woman their son loved so deeply, the mother of their grandchildren. She decided then and there that her responsibility was to her children and she had to help them get through this monumental loss. Asima collected her children and took them upstairs to a guest room and locked the door. She held the kids tight and she let them talk about their father and tried to answer their questions as best she could, reassuring them that they would be okay because they had each other. Asima gave Faris the option of going to the gravesite to bury his father, but Faris chose not to. He wanted to remember his dad alive and not to remember an image of his dad being lowered into the ground.

The result of Faris’s decision not to go to the gravesite was that Abdul’s family never revealed to them where he was buried. In Islam, there are no headstones, only unmarked graves. They also burdened Asima and Faris with the accusation that they had condemned Abdul to hell for having such unbelieving children. Asima comforted her son by telling him that death is such a private matter and that we should do what our hearts tell us to do. She stayed up in the room and refused to go down to sit and receive mourners. Her sister-in-law kept pounding on the door and dramatically yelling to please don’t kill herself because Allah would punish her. How ridiculous she sounded - Asima had two children who desperately needed her and the crazy woman outside the door is screaming, “Don’t kill yourself!” She returned home with the children to their villa in Jeddah as quickly as possible to deal with their grief in peace. Her children were her number one priority and they were all that mattered now.

Several days later, her BIL Gamal showed up at her door and told her that she and the kids would never leave Saudi Arabia, that the kids were Saudis and Muslims and that they would all stay there forever. He threatened that if Asima ever tried to take them away that the family would take the children away from her. A few months later, the family was awarded guardianship of the children, without Asima ever appearing in court or signing any documents. She had no rights over her own children! The family ordered her to have no more English friends, no more English TV, and her son was to be pulled out of the English school he was in and enrolled in an Arabic only school. They also told her that she would have to sell the villa and move. Her in-laws were trying to take control of her whole life. Family members drilled into Faris that he was Saudi and not English and screamed at him when he would insist that he was half English.

Asima was made to feel that she was now the enemy and it didn’t matter that she had just lost her husband and best friend. She pleaded with her own mother in England to come and help her through this difficult time but was disappointed when her mom refused to come. Asima told me that she had a horrible abusive childhood, so she wasn’t really surprised at her mom’s decision not to come.

On top of all this, the discovery that she was, in fact, penniless made her hysterical.

For months after her husband’s death, Asima lived with the guilt of not being with Abdul when he died. His family had told her what a bad wife she was and that Abdul had been crying in pain and screaming out her name before he died. What kind of a selfish wife would do that to their dying son when he needed her most? After months of hating herself and feeling guilty, she finally received the hospital report of Abdul’s death, which stated that he had died quietly and peacefully in his sleep – a perfect end for a wonderful man. So what was the point of his family lying and being so evil and hateful, making her feel so bad and guilty that she happened to be with her children and not with her husband when he died? Abdul’s family also withheld the Saudi Family Card after he died. Asima would have been given certain benefits and rights as Abdul’s widow, but his family denied her and her children these rights for four long years.

She came to the realization that it was she and her kids against the world, and this knowledge gave her strength.

** You just read Part 2 of 4. Proceed to Part 3.


  1. Whoa, real crazy inlaws :/

    Honestly, the actions & sayings of those people are what make the outside world think we are a bunch of weirdos who hate everything & anyone that is not Muslim.

    That and ignorance.

  2. It's hurting to read a life of a lone women, who left her home for love. But u know Love rock's .

    But Ms.Writer in end of this story part 4 of 4 don't say it's ur own story. It will be still sad.

  3. Yep, it must just be ignorance 'that makes the outside world think we are a bunch of weirdos who hate everything & anyone that is not Muslim.'


  4. What a sad story so far, I wonder what the other side is saying? Could be a very different version, I will be waiting for the rest.

  5. "Puh-leez" youself, 'Queen'.

    Susie, I forgot to ask, is this story written by Asima herself or written by another she told?

  6. Oh, dear! What a heart-wrenching story. Deep inside, I'm praying that this is just a fiction. But if it's true, my prayers go to Asima and her children...and to all the Asimas in Saudi.

  7. Sorry, Susie. I read the second part first (that's what I get in being in Saudi for too long).

    So it's true. And my heart bleeds the more.

  8. It's a very sad and hard life story, but, for personal experience, I can say that these bad behaviors happen in our western-evolved-civilized part of the world (I'm Italian, always lived in Italy). It's not so strange for me to hear a story like this (psychological violence and complete overcoming, until reaching the control of somebody else's life). It's not about Islamic culture or not, I simply think that it is all about being a good or a bad human being that matters...

  9. Hi Aalia - I know, Aalia, but I hope everyone realizes that Asima's story is just one case and all the people here shouldn't be lumped together in one group because there are so many decent wonderful people here too.

    Hi Mano - Yes, the things we do for love... I can assure this is not my own story - my husband is alive and well, alhamdulillah.

    Hi Queen - I think there is much misinformation, stereotyping, and generalizing that are a big part of the problem, but unfortunately true stories like Asima's certainly don't help with the image people have of Muslims.

    Hi Qusay - I don't think we'll ever know the other side of the story, but I totally believe that Asima was not exaggerating one bit.

    Hi Aalia - I interviewed Asima myself for this story, and she has approved each segment prior to publishing what I wrote.

  10. Hi Isladenebz - Yes, it's a very sad story and even sadder that it IS true. Thanks for commenting.

    Hi Francesca - You make a very valid point. There are good and bad people everywhere, in every country, in every culture, in every religion. Thanks for pointing that out.

  11. I am stunned. Do these people not have a soul? How can Asima's in-laws sleep at night or even think that they are being "good" Muslims for doing what they have done? My grandmother on my dad's side has never been really nice to my mom (even told my dad at their wedding he should have married somebody else), but I doubt she would have stooped as low as these people. It's sickening.

  12. Francesca said: It's not about Islamic culture or not, I simply think that it is all about being a good or a bad human being that matters...

    True, it is not about Ilsamic culture. The problems came from the fact that it is a male dominated culture where a mother doesn't even have the right to have custody of her own children. I can't imagine living such a life.

    And although I can think of a few overbearing inlaws that would try to do the same hideous things they would not have laws backing them up.

    The lack of women's rights is the real villian in this story.

    Linda D.

  13. Ma sha Allah you write very well. I should not read these sad post before going to class -- people will ask why my eyes are teary!! I look foward to the rest of your installments, though of course I hope by the end things get at least a little better for Asima!!

  14. The need to have tradition enforced regardless of the psychological damage that it would do to the children is what the family did. Asima's heart was in the right place--with her children. Her family members were preoccupied with norms and traditions above family grief. The what would the neighbors and world say? mentality. They also took this opportunity to make her pay for marrying their son. It is twisted and sick and very cruel. I think there are a lot of loving and caring Muslin families, however, this is not one of them. I also hate the defense that people have against such tirany, "oh it happens in other places too." Yes, it does and guess what? It does not excuse it or make it right. I hope Asima finds peace and help for those children. I am part Arab and it saddens me that this is why I could never live there. I could not take the gamble that I would become a non-person to my children and be at the mercy of a merciless family.

  15. I have no idea how her in-laws sleep at night...

    I ask the people reading these stories not to condemn all of us. This is a story of a family and not a nation :(

    To any girl who intends to marry a saudi a clear indicator is the fact that he didnt want her to meet his parents before she had a baby!

    Make sure he introduces his parents to you and you feel comfortable with thme before getting married!!

  16. Susie, this is too awful. There is a Part 3 isn't there? How is Asima now?

  17. Reminds me of some of my more emotional moments with the ex family...many times they would say that if he died (if only) my children would be taken from me before his body got cold. That I would never be able to take them from Bahrain...and nobody would help me or care about me. Quite often they would discuss these sort of things in front of if my position as mother had absolutely no meaning in my childrens lives.

    They also reminded my children every single day that they were ARAB and not American...everything American was bad and immoral...including their own mother. To this day my children prefer to claim American as their nationality rather than Bahraini...even though Bahrainis will argue with you have to wonder why?

  18. Hi every one This is Asima, I would like first thank Susie who helped me bring my cautionary tale to the world. Please note the reason I have allowed this to be published is to wake women up and for them to be aware that they MUST protect themselves if they are coming to saudi arabia. I am in no way saying all saudis are this way as I have had plenty of Saudis come forward and help me with my struggles over the years I will be eternally grateful to them, Saudi is an awesome place to live and I will never regret bringing my children up here. Dont judge all saudis by my tale, but also beware this isnt an isolated case, there are many women who have gone thru the same or worse, so my tale is to warn those after me who come to saudi for love, to be prepared. make sure you have a home in your name, you have your own money in your own bank accounts, you have original copies of all legal documents in your possession, and have your husband to always have a letter of exit for you available. The mention of him writing a will does not stand in saudi arabia, the law is an islamic one and thats the only one that will stand. We all say it won't happen to us, but sadly it does, I had an awesome husband (god bless his soul.)
    Thank you everyone

    1. Asima: It's nearly a decade since Susie wrote your story. Perhaps you'll see this, perhaps not. Still, I wanted to tell you that you seem to have been blessed with a good man.

      When he was dying, knowing he was facing his end on earth, he urged you to take your children and flee. He was willing to make that sacrifice - to die without you - to save you and your children. It's the stuff of Hollywood movies. It's truly moving.

      That your husband came from what sounds like a severely personality-disordered family, yet was a kind and loving husband, indicates a beauty and strength of spirit. Story-wise, that's a dynamic contrast between his family and your husband.

      Write your story down. Fill in the details. Learn to write a screenplay. Get your story down, at least in bullet-points, first; it's easier to get it all out, all down on paper, before learning how to rewrite it as a screenplay. Or really fill it out with your life from just before you met your soon-to-be husband, and write a book. It will be therapeutic, at the very least.

      It's been decades since Not Without My Daughter was released, and most will have forgotten it. Perhaps it's time for your tale. Your story is one of love, of gut-wrenching pain, of endurance & (on your part now) strength of spirit through years of trauma, and of finally overcoming. You have the good man, and the crazy family.

      And judging from the comments here, there is a market for it.

  19. Dear Asima,

    Your last statement of,

    The mention of him writing a will does not stand in Saudi Arabia, the law is an Islamic one and that's the only one that will standI'm sorry -- I must be missing something since if KSA is only being run by an "Islamic" system, then they would be aware of the Wasiyya (will) rule.

    According to many authentic reports, every Muslim must make a will before his/her death. In fact, one of Saudi's famous Shaykh (and one of my faves) Sh. Salman Al-Oadah stressed the importance of leaving a will.

    How could no one tell you this or your husband?? What a major error on their part :-( I'm sorry you had to go endure the troubles. Anyways since you're a Muslim I'm sure you'd benefit from a couple of these ahadith insha'Allah:

    Narrated Sa‘d ibn Abi Waqqas (may Allah ta`ala be pleased with him): "I was stricken by an ailment that led me to the verge of death. The Prophet came to pay me a visit. I said, "O Allah's Apostle! I have much property and no heir except my single daughter. Shall I give two-thirds of my property in charity?" He said, "No." I said, "Half of it?" He said, "No." I said, "One-third of it?" He said, "You may do so, though one-third is also too much, for it is better for you to leave your offspring wealthy than to leave them poor, asking others for help..." (Sahih al-Bukhari)

    "It is the duty of a Muslim who has anything to bequest not to let two nights pass without writing a will about it." (Sahih al-Bukhari)

    Salaamu `alaikum wa rahmatullah

  20. Thank you for that Aalia, I appreciate it. Funny I was always told we cannot leave a will that our inheritance will be shared Islamically. I will certainly make a will now my self on behalf of my children. Makes me wonder now, did my husband make a will and it was ignored........ we will never know, and no use opening another can of worms. Least from your information I am now informed for myself. Shukran Habibi x

  21. how sad and how difficult to understand a family, wether saudi or not, can act this way. Unbelievable.

  22. Simple Saudi--I agree with your excellent comments, although I know of a successful marriage where the same have the baby first strategy was used--but they live in Europe!

    Asima--I am glad that you and your children seem to have survived the horrors of your inlaws. Your advice about being legally and financially prepared is so important, in all cultures, but especially where the laws disfavour women and foreigners. Inlaws are an evolving group (people marry in, others die, or are divorced out) and so even the best cannot be fully trusted not to behave badly in times of grief, or out of jealousy. Or as my friend with professional expertise in this area says "Where there is a Will there is a War".
    All the best

    Susie--thanks for your excellent narration and illustrations.

  23. This cannot possibly be the 21st century!?!?!!! Fodder for a Charles Dickens' novel!

  24. As a witness to these events shortly after they started I can assure everyone they are correct. I would agree that all Saudis are not as bad as those in laws but I would ask you to look at history. Similar things happened in the Christian world during the Inquisition starting in the 12th century. It happened because the Church had control above the Government. Today Muslim clerics are largely responsible for the rule of religion taking control of peoples lives without the use of commonsense. Until the people take control the world will continue to view all Muslims as participants in the way women are denied hunman rights.

  25. Hi Mel - I don't understand it either - how people can be so hypocritical when they are supposed to be religious. I'll never get it.

    Hi Anon/Linda D - You are absolutely right about the lack of women's rights here being to blame for the plight of many women here. I don't know if change will ever come though ...

    Hi Hannah - Thank you! Things have improved for Asima, but she's still not out of the woods entirely yet...

    Hi Yoli - I wonder when cultures will ever learn that just because their ancestors did something, it doesn't mean it was right and can't be changed. Thanks for your insight.

    Hi SimpleSaudi - You are so right and I continue to stress that Asima's story is certainly not representative of every case. Thanks for your comment.

    Hi Kay - Stay tuned for Parts 3 & 4, coming right up. See Asima's comment herself, right after CoolRed's.

    Hi CoolRed - I know that this is stirring up plenty of unpleasant memories for you, in particular. You and Asima are cut from the same indestructible cloth.

    Hi Anon/Asima - Thanks for putting your own words here for everyone. I hope you are uplifted by the outpouring of support for you and your children. And thank you again for allowing me to tell your story.

    Hi Aalia - My husband, his brother and I have discussed this subject before, and they have been through a few family members' deaths. They have told me that only 1/3 of the estate can be given according to your wishes, a portion will be given to charity, and the remainder will be divided according to Islam, and the wife's share is much less than any male offspring. Female offspring get 1/2 of what each male heir receives. Other shares are also given to other family members as well. Maybe Saudi Arabia does things differently?

    Hi Anon - I think it's important for anyone to find out the facts applying to whatever country/situation they are in.

    Hi Puca - Yes, there are some pretty nasty families out there, and they live all over the world.

  26. Hi Chiara - Thanks so much for your comments.

    Hi Tayna - Yes, sad but true...

    Hi Anon - Thanks for commenting. I totally agree in the separation of church and state, and I believe that it causes terrible problems - mostly for women - when religion plays too big of a part in government. Thanks again.

  27. I worry even more about you after reading this and hope that you and your husband have all the necessary papers in place should something happen to him.
    I'm anxious to hear more about Asima.

  28. Susie, I'm blown away by this story. I can't understand the essence of any person who treats others badly, or worse. Is there no love? By prayers go to Asima. I look forward to more.

  29. Susie, I hope that you and your husband have all your legal documents in order in case something were to happen. I also would study up on all the legalities. I guess I could never live there as women are not treated equal to men. We fought so hard for that in the U.S. and can't see going backwards. The story of Asima's plight has been very interesting and very sad. How terrible her in-laws are. I don't think it is a religious thing with the in-laws. I think it has to do with not being a decent human being. Apparently, these people are not.


  30. I don't support a culture where a loving mother can have her children taken away by her husbands family members. Parents are the most important people in a child's life. I don't identify with this country or culture at all.

  31. These poor children have not only lost there dad, but now they are being traumitized as well. Very sad.

  32. Susie, I am deeply moved by this story of Asima. I know exactly how she must be feeling. I have seen my mother, a Hindu, go through the same ordeal after my dad, a muslim, passed away. In India, the society is less male-dominated, yet my mother had a hard time battling the her in-laws. I was young and went through a severe identity crisis. But finally, we surfaced. And Asima, I know, you will too. God can not be so harsh to His children.

  33. What are the laws in the KSA concerning custody of children? I'm just curious! If the father passes away do the inlaws normally get custody of the children if they are hell bent on doing so? What about divorce? Does the man normally get custody?

  34. I have no doubt that there are some good people in KSA, but I would never enter a country that has such scary laws. In the USA parents have the legal rights over their children. In my religion a man and a woman both leave their families and become one unit. Their loyalty after marriage is to one another, not their parents.

  35. Hi Helen - I am bugging my hubby to do this, believe me. Thanks!

    Hi Gaelyn - That's what I don't get either - families shouldn't treat each other that way. You would think the in-laws would do everything they could to help at least their own grandkids.

    Hi Anon/Irene - We are working on it. I agree with you - her in-laws are just not decent human beings...

    Hi Anon - It's very difficult to try to understand why things like this happen here and why the government continues to devalue the role of women in this society.

    Hi Anon - You're right - it's very sad.

    Hi Shabnam - Wow, thanks for your heartfelt comment. I realize this type of thing does not just happen in KSA. I am so glad to hear that you and your mom were able to overcome your difficult times. I have no doubt Asima will triumph as well.

    Hi SanAntonioCicily - Almost always, custody is awarded to the man. In case of divorce, children under 7 are allowed to stay with the mother, but after that, they usually go to the dad. Unfortunately, in-laws can and do get custody of the children. You have to remember the way this society is set up, women and children must always have a Mahram (guardian) - so in other words, women are always considered children, or property, and important life decisions (education, employment, travel, etc) are made for them by their guardians.

    Hi Anon - I appreciate your input - thanks.

  36. Actually if you do write a will, it does stand in court but you are only allow to distrubte 1/3 of your estate, the rest is divided according to shariaa principles.

  37. susan, as far custody is concern the man get custody of the girls after the age of 7, but the boys are giving a choice wheter to remain whith the mother, or the fater.

  38. Don't get me wrong, I realize that there are many good people in Saudi Arabia, but with the knowledge I have I could never marry a Saudi man or move to this country or any other middle eastern country. I have told my Iraqi friend this many times. He used to get angry of course and ask why, but after careful explanations he now understands. Fisrt of all I will never marry someone outside my religion because that is just asking for trouble if you have two people who strongly believe in their religion and want their kids raised in that religion, their will be nothing but arguments. Second of all I could not and would not move to a country with these laws. My freedom is much too important to me.I absolutely do not agree with most of KSA's laws or the laws of most other middle eastern countries. Even if I did meet someone from the middle east that I cared for I would have to use my head instead of my heart. I know this sounds harsh, but this is me! I feel sorry for the women who marry these guys and know nothing about the middle east or what they are getting themselves into. I know this sounds terrible, and believe when I say I do not hate middle eastern people, this has nothing to do with hate, it has to do with a different culture, and I cannot give up my freedom and culture. I know many good people from the middle east, but this is not the issue!

  39. Yoli said: "I also hate the defense that people have against such tirany, "oh it happens in other places too.""

    I understand you are referring to my comment. I recognize that I should add that those sad vicissitudes are deeply cruel, unfair, inadmissible and that so wicked people has to be stigmatized, so I would like to explain that I'm not defensing at all such behaviors, of course! That phrase, if taken alone, sounds like a foolish one... But I wrote it to justify the last line of my comment. I'm just exhausted about hearing, during my daily life, angry and ignorant consideration about Islam (Susie, I'm not talking about this post!), instilled by the distorted information we receive from the medias, so when I can, I try to underline that the religions are generally good and helpful for improving our lives, but since people is not generally good, religions and cultures became instrumentalized and often used in a destructive way.

  40. Hi Both Anons - Thanks for supplying the info!

    Hi SanAntonioCicily - There are indeed so many more sacrifices involved and compromises one must be willing to make to succeed in a marriage to a Saudi man. To enter into such a serious relationship blindly is foolish, and it's definitely not for everyone. Thanks for your input.

    Hi Francesca - Yes, just because things happen in other places too doesn't make it ok - thanks for your explanation.

  41. As usual, I'm puzzled by some parts of this story. There isn't really a lot of "arranging a funeral" that the wife would do; the deceased is washed and then has a short funeral prayer said over him; he is buried, and people come to the family to give condolences. The only question might be where the condolences will be held (for the men and women separately). In most cases, women don't even attend the funeral prayer or the burial, although if the prayer was said in the Holy Mosque in Makkah, men and women both join the prayer. What "funeral" was she talking about, where women wear white? I've never heard of anything like that. (Maybe they went to see his body after he had been washed?)

    Sadly, I think that a lot of the problems in this part of the story just resulted from miscommunication and Asima's lack of understanding of the culture - a little surprising since she had spent so much time in Saudi by then, but maybe someone, like a sister-in-law, should have explained things to her. For example, why did she refuse to sit and receive condolences from family and friends, which is a normal thing and one of the thing that strengthens the bonds among members of the community?

    This is definitely one side of the story, and the family's story would sound very different, especially to a Saudi. I can imgaine how bad they could make it sound that their son's wife refused to sit with her husband's family to take condolences, just for a start.

    I don't think it would be unusual for a Saudi family to try to make sure that their grandchildren were not taken away to be raised in the West. That's always a concern when a man marries a Westerner. As I'm sure you know, extended families play an important role in raising children, and that continues even if the parent dies or is divorced. If it were my grandchildren, I would do everything I could to keep them in this Muslim country (even though I'm originally Western).

    But I certainly agree that it is very important that a woman (especially a foreigner, but also a native) know the laws of the country and take all precautions by setting up things in her name, drawing up necessary papers to gain guardianship of her children (maybe this isn't allowed in Saudi, but it is in neighboring countries), etc.

    Another Anonymous :)