Thursday, July 29, 2010

Carol's Cats

I have written before about my friend and fellow blogger Carol, known as American Bedu. She and her Saudi husband were both diagnosed with cancer and traveled to the USA to receive medical treatment. Carol's beloved husband Abdullah lost his fight with leukemia in February 2010. Carol continues to remain in the states and is still aggressively battling breast cancer.

Carol's blog, American Bedu, is one of the most widely read and helpful sources of information about Saudi Arabia that there is. She is a former US diplomat who has lived and traveled around the world. She has faithfully and tirelessly continued posting during her health crisis and has faced this challenge with grace and dignity.

I know I don't have to tell you how expensive health care is in the USA. Her insurance through her husband's policy was abruptly ended shortly after his death. So on top of her fight for her life, Carol is also facing financial difficulties.

She is a cat lover and terribly misses her two cats, which she was forced to leave behind in Saudi Arabia. Carol is now trying to bring her beloved cats to North Carolina. Can you help by making a donation to help her reach her modest goal? If you can, you will be helping to bring back some much needed comfort and familiarity into the life of my friend whose life has been turned upside down these last few years by the tragedy of illness and the loss of her dear husband.

Please click here to read more about Carol and learn how you can easily make a PayPal donation for her cause.

UPDATE: The goal has been reached and Carol will be reunited with her cats soon!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Spinsters in Saudi Arabia

In Saudi Arabia, it is perfectly legal for a man to be married to four women at the same time. The country is ruled by Islamic law, and according to Islam, men are allowed up to four wives. The logic behind it all started out with good intentions. Back in those times, men went off to war and many of them never came back, leaving behind an overabundance of widows, fatherless children, and young unmarried women. So the four wives concept set out to solve this dilemma.

Men with more than one wife here in Saudi Arabia is not really all that common, although I bet that most people who live here can name at least one - if not several - men or women who are in a multiple marriage. I personally can name five different cases that I know of - and I don't really know that many people and have only lived in KSA for less than three years. One of the problems with having multiple wives is the manner in which most men go about it. Permission or approval is not required from the First Wife, but most men are afraid of the First Wife's reaction, so they secretly wed Wife #2. There is not much thought or consideration given to the First Wife's feelings or her children's feelings. And more than likely, Wife #2 is not some poor widow with lots of children to care for or an older not-so-pretty spinster that life has passed by. All five of the cases of second wives that I personally know about were sneakily married in secret without the First Wife's knowledge - and when the First Wife and her children did find out later, they were devastated. To me, the fact that the man sneaks around in secret to do this indicates that he knows what he is doing is wrong and hurtful.

Women in Saudi Arabia for the past several decades have been pursuing their educations and a percentage of them have chosen careers over the usual expectation of marriage and children. A Saudi woman has a legal guardian, or "mahram" all her life - either her father, her husband, or her brother or possibly an uncle. This mahram can allow or prevent her from doing things like going to school, working, or traveling. She cannot appear in court without her mahram and cannot leave the country without his written permission. The Saudi woman is relegated to the legal status of a child in Saudi Arabia. It is extremely difficult, if not virtually impossible, for Saudi women to marry men from other countries, even if the men are Muslim.

Over the years, the costs of extravagant weddings have risen dramatically, plus Saudi families have demanded an unrealistic and increasing amount of money to be paid for her dowry upon her marriage. The dowry money is supposed to go to the bride herself but some unscrupulous fathers have taken the money for themselves, many times to settle debts that they owe. Virgin girls as young as 8 have been sold by their fathers to men in their 50s or even up into their 80s. But this post isn't about these cases or the fact that there is no legal minimum age requirement for marriage in Saudi Arabia. This post is about the claim that there is a social problem due to the rising number of spinsters in this country, where a woman in her late 20s is often overlooked as a viable marriage partner because she is too old. I've always disliked how unmarried men are playfully, and even admirably, referred to as "bachelors," while their female counterparts are negatively and pitifully called "spinsters" or "old maids."

Some young Saudi men are trying to tackle this issue of spinsterhood in their country and have formed a group on Facebook called "We Want Them Four," a campaign to encourage men to marry the four wives that they are legally entitled to according to the religion. The group now has over 600 members. Lines are being drawn in the sand dividing those in favor of this campaign and those who are just against the concept of multiple marriages in the first place.

Being a First Wife or Wife #2, #3, or #4 is a degrading, offensive, and insulting thought to most women, including Saudi women that I have spoken to about this topic. And what about the children? I know of some children of First Wives who are hurt, bitter, and scarred for life because of their fathers' actions of taking another wife. What about making it easier for Saudi women to marry men from outside the country? Nothing in Islam dictates that Saudi women should be restricted in this way. Do single women in Saudi Arabia really want to be "saved" and married off as a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th wife? Certainly there are better solutions than men marrying four women. I'd rather stay single myself...

Click here to read an amusing and unbelievable 2005 news story about a Saudi man who has married at least 58 different women.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Veil and the Hijab

Photo Credit: subject of women veiling and wearing the hijab (headscarf) is a source of endless debates and controversy in this world and has been the topic of many news articles and blog posts in the past few months. While some countries like France, Belgium and Turkey are bellowing to make head scarves illegal - for identity purposes and for women's safety - Muslim women in those countries are in an uproar because they insist that wearing the hijab is their choice and is required by their religion. And in other countries like Iran where Muslim women are forced by law to cover, the veil has become a battleground where women are objecting and saying that it should be their choice whether to cover or not and that it shouldn't be dictated by the government. Oy vey!

So what is all the fuss about? Why do women cover in some places in the world anyway? And why is the West so uncomfortable with Muslim women wearing scarves on their heads and so adamant against women covering? In Islam, the religion clearly states that women should "guard their modesty" and to not make eye contact with men (lower their gaze). But Islam also clearly demands the same requirements for men. So why is it that women in religious countries are the ones who get these clothing restrictions placed on them for their protection while men are allowed to pretty much dress as they please? One of the reasons why women in Saudi Arabia all dress alike in black from head to toe is so that they will not draw unwanted attention to themselves from men. Yet even though women cover up and most of them even veil in KSA, reporter Afifa Jabeen wrote in this Saudi Life article about how Saudi women still attract gawks, gazes and forward advances from men who seem to be oblivious to the Islamic rule about lowering their gazes.

When I'm in the states, almost every day I have seen women wearing the hijab while driving, while jogging, while working, while shopping. But instead of making them less visible in the West, to me the hijab seems to make them stand out and actually attract more attention, which seems to be defeating the whole reason for wearing the hijab in the first place. While on the one hand wearing the hijab is supposed to ensure a woman's safety and protection, on the other hand, especially in Western countries, it is in fact seeming to do the opposite and makes her a target of suspicion, ridicule and harassment. This interesting interview of Dr. Umar Faruq Abdallah talks about women wearing the hijab in the West and the ramifications it can have. He also talks about how Muslim men are able to blend in better when they are in the West, while Muslim women can't if they wear the hijab.

I remember after 9/11 when we were living in Florida, seeing a Muslim woman in the grocery store wearing her hijab and thinking to myself how brave she was and what strong faith she must possess. Such strength! I smiled at her and said "Salaam alaikum." I could sense that she appreciated my gesture and it made me feel good. I'm of the opinion that people should be free to dress as they wish, within the realm of good taste and appropriateness. I recall being at a toy store when my son was maybe 4 years old. There was a woman shopper there wearing a skin tight very low cut top with her boobs hanging out - very tacky, not in good taste and definitely not appropriate - and seeing her dressed like that in front of my child actually made me uncomfortable. That kind of dress should be objectionable to people, not a woman wearing a scarf.

It's confusing that the West expresses disdain for the headscarf being worn by women for religious reasons yet other religions like Christianity have historically commanded women to cover their hair, but modern Christians have rejected this despite their religion. One would think they would have understanding and compassion for women covering their hair for religious reasons. Learn more about the history of the hijab in this article from 2006 that explains how covering the hair has been a source of contention and discussion for centuries.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Interview with Saudi Prince

This is an interesting video interview with Prince Turki bin Faisal al Saud, KSA's former ambassador to the USA and also the former Chief of Intelligence for Saudi Arabia. The interview was conducted by Al Jazeera English TV host Riz Khan, who has also worked for both the BBC and CNN.