It is my pleasure to present to you Maha Sabur, author of “My Precious Children, My Plight, My Life, My Story” which can be purchased online at Publish America (ISBN#:1-60441-639-4). Maha is pictured at left with her current husband. She not only graciously agreed to be interviewed, but went out of her way to answer the questions in detail to give FHWS the best information and benefits from her personal experience. Here is a brief background on Maha: “My name is Maha Sabur (Given name is Deborah Knight); I’m a Caucasian American Muslim. I was seventeen when I converted to Islam, and married my first husband, a Saudi Arabian man in 1980. I moved to Saudi Arabia when I was nineteen, and lived there for appropriately eighteen years. I basically lived in Saudi Arabia as a Saudi, even learned to speak Arabic. I gave birth to six children with my Saudi Arabian husband. The oldest child is a boy, and he has five little sisters. I obtained an Islamic divorce from my Saudi Arabian husband five years ago. I have been back in the states for approximately eleven years, staying in contact with my children.” My heartfelt appreciation to Maha for her time and efforts. May Allah make her book a success ameen.
1. What is your nationality? My husband and I are born Americans. Our parents also were born and raised here in the United States. My husband was born to a merchant farmer family in Mississippi; in the days segregation was being enforced. My mother and father were born and raised in South Carolina. A state known in the past to have prejudice ideals, which makes our union as husband and wife that much more extraordinary!
2. What is your job in your country of residence? I am first a Muslimah and a loving wife to my loving husband! Then you would also call me an Author, because I have written a book about the story of my life. Allah allowed me to experience much throughout my lifetime; it was all in His plan. He knew the day would come that I would be writing this book trying to inform other people about the beautiful religion of Islam. Islam promotes a healthy life style most befitting mankind to live in peace and harmony. It is not a religion with terrorist ideas.
Just so you’ll be aware, as of now I am working on getting my book revised. The book has gotten much praise as it was initially published. However, I am not a writer, and people who happen to be well versed in the English language notice the mistakes. I simply had a story to tell and I did that in the best way I knew how. However since the book has been published I have spent much time developing my writing skills, and now I notice many mistakes. The book will probably take a few months before the revision is complete.
3. How long did you live in Saudi Arabia? I lived in Saudi Arabia for approximately eighteen years. I can’t be precise because I traveled back and forth toward the end of my marriage. However, I was in Saudi Arabia with my children most of the time until1997 I think the year is correct. I had an Islamic marriage in 1980; I wasn’t divorced legally in the eyes of God in 2003, not long after a major car accident in the Sacramento, California, where I came very close to loosing my life. However God saw it wasn’t my time to go yet. I still had more to do in this world. For this I can’t thank Him enough
4. List some pros and cons about living in Saudi Arabia. I simply think anyone who may be struggling with the idea of spending the rest of his or her life in Saudi Arabia needs to understand living in Saudi Arabia is like living in a different world! It is so hard for anyone to realize what Saudi Arabia is really like until they have the opportunity to experience this living first hand. Of course if a person is Muslim and lives according to the laws set by God, it is much easier to live that lifestyle.
I was fortunate enough to live in Mecca when I first traveled to Saudi Arabia. Our house was within walking distance to the Haram (House of God built by Abraham). Of course I was never required to walk to the Haram, because the Saudi government meticulously and brilliantly structured traffic in Mecca to adapt to the growing population.
Saudi Arabia is the so-called Cradle of Islam; therefore it is a wonderful place for a Muslim to live. Although Saudi Arabia is an ideal place for a Muslim, a woman should think twice about living there. I say this because women who like the convenience of moving around by themselves, and doing things for themselves are not allowed this luxury. Women are not allowed to drive a car in Saudi Arabia, which can be a major hindrance when driving is something they are use to. I would like to add this is not a practice in Islam. To make it difficult for a woman to move about freely is not in accordance with Islam. Many stories and sayings of the Prophet Mohammad tell us about women who lived their lives as devout Muslimahs and were very outgoing, and courageous women. It is merely the government’s way of trying to adapt to rapidly changing times. I don’t believe women should not be unable to do anything men do as long as it conforms to Allah’s commands. Women just need to be careful of the way they dress while accomplishing the task at hand. Hijab is not merely a head covering dress, but more importantly, it is behavior, manners, speech and appearance in public. So men also must comply with Hijab. Women are simply ordained by God to cover more of their body, because in general men and women have a different psychological makeup. I know there are exceptions to every rule, but it is a known fact men in general are aroused by site, and women by feeling. The idea is not to dress, act or talk in a way which would sexually arouse the opposite sex. Islam encourages a structured family life, which enables mankind to flourish!
For example my husband and I exercise at the same gym, but we don’t necessarily have to go at the same time, because we trust each other. We know the other person is God fearing, and their manners and dress will indicate thus. I wear a comfortable, loose, long sleeve tee shirt, loose sweatpants and comfortable head cover not revealing or flashy. This manner of dress allows me the opportunity to comfortably exercise.
My sincere advice to a woman wishing to live her life in Saudi Arabia is to acquaint her self in every way possible about the lifestyle in that country. I would advise any person wanting to relocate to a different country to live that they should learn much about that country, including the language. If a person is able to speak even a few words the people of that particular country understand, the people will see a willingness to adapt to their life. People in general can be very understanding and helpful, especially when they see your making an effort.
5. When and where did you meet your Saudi ex-husband? I met my Saudi ex-husband in Sacramento, California where he was attending Sacramento State University. My ex-husband and I met at the exact time and place God planned for us to meet. When I met my ex husband I had not yet accepted Islam and in the days of ignorance. Therefore I was behaving in a way displeasing to God. Little did I know God had bigger plans for me! I do give exact details in my book of how we met on that evening.
6. Did his family accept his marriage to you? Why/Why not? I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity of meeting his oldest brother when he came to study for aviation courses he was taking in Kansas City Missouri. His older brother is a captain, and flew for the royal fleet, meaning he flew the royal family wherever they wanted to go in the world. He is a very nice man who had been acting as head of the family since his father passed. We married soon after I met his oldest brother who gave his blessing.
Actually it was not till several months after our marriage his mother found out he was in fact married to an American, when he traveled home for vacation. Her son marrying an American was something she had always expressed negative feelings about, and my ex husband always told me if his mother did not agree to our marriage he would be forced to divorce me. A quality in my new adopted faith I admire is how a man’s mother is held with the utmost regard. After God she is the ruling factor in his life, as long as her wishes conform to God’s commands. However when his mother discovered we were already married for several months, she gave her blessing along with his aunts as well.
7. Did your family accept your marriage to him? Why/Why not? I am close with my mother and can talk to her. As long as my mother saw her children living a good wholesome life and was happy, so was she. She did not interfere unnecessarily in our lives. When she felt any of her children needed any advice she was always present to help in any way she was able. Physically by helping us get over an illness or something of that nature. Also mentally she helped us by giving her children, which sometime was badly needed advise! Unfortunately I never shared the same relationship with my father. My father only felt the need to step in when anything got out of control, and we needed to be disciplined. Although I have many fun childhood memories of my father, which I speak about in my book, but the majority of the book is about my life in Saudi Arabia.
8. How did you/your ex-husband overcome the resistance to your marriage? When I met my ex husband he previously lived outside Saudi Arabia for ten years so he was already accustomed to the ways of foreigners, and non-Muslims. Before coming to study in the United States he studied in England for two years. As I recall once we got around the problem of telling his mother about our marriage it was all smooth sailing, until I arrived in Saudi Arabia that is.
9. How are your relations with your family/in-laws now after your divorcing your Saudi ex-husband? Our families tried to assist in anyway they could when we were going through our separation, because we had good relations with our in-laws. Our families were never known to point a finger and say, “I told you so”, or something like that. They were very supportive and did there best to lend a helping hand whenever needed. However my ex husband’s mother died after I married my now husband,(may God have mercy on her soul, and grant her paradise). She was very instrumental in educating me about the Arabic language, and Islam.
10. What is your advice when a non-Saudi woman meets her potential/future Saudi in-laws? My advice to a woman wanting to live in peace and harmony with her Saudi in-laws is the same advice I would give to anyone wanting to live comfortably with someone they are not accustomed to, and from a different culture. I believe this world would be a lot nicer if before people react badly or harshly to any situation, they would turn the tables around and put themselves in the other persons shoes. This non-Saudi woman should understand how her potential/future in-laws are feeling about her and put their feelings before her own. She shouldn’t be thinking only of herself.
When my husband wants me to see his side of a situation he tells me to put myself in his place, and with my very vivid imagination it is not hard for me to do. After putting myself in his place the situation suddenly looks very different, which causes me to react much more harmoniously.
11. Did you like living in Saudi Arabia? Please explain why you did or didn’t like living in Saudi Arabia. I had a difficult time living in Saudi Arabia, because I was a person use to doing things for themselves. If I needed something from the store I simply took myself to the store and got whatever I needed. I didn’t like waiting around for a man to feel whatever I needed was important enough to him to go and get. On the other hand Mecca, and the house of God is located in Saudi Arabia. Not mention I saw the good in Saudis. Of course there are good and bad every place you go, and depending on what kind of life you choose to live will determine your status in this life. If people would only learn to lead by example, and be aware they will pay the consequences for their actions! Also when I went to Saudi Arabia to visit my children a year ago I notice how Saudi Arabia is changing with the times like every where else in the world today. I believe it is only a matter of time before the Saudi woman will be driving! (Only God knows)
12. What would you like to see improved in Saudi Arabia? I firmly believe some of the Saudis today tend to be a bit arrogant. Mind you I said some of the Saudis. There are also many who are very good-natured people, and always put others before themselves. I find this Ironic being arrogance is looked down upon in Islam. Perhaps these Saudis feel they are the chosen people! I sincerely believe they should learn to humble themselves!
Even though I am not particularly happy with the way women can be confined, depending on the lifestyle of the Saudi family that the American woman married into, and women not being allowed to drive. I know in my heart God allowed Saudi Arabia to be this way for a reason. God has a reason for everything He does! Saudi Arabia is home to Mecca, and the Haram (house of God built by Abraham), which brings to mind verses from the Qur’an; 106:3-4 Let them adore the Lord of this house, who provides them with food against hunger, and with security against fear (of danger).
Saudi Arabia is home to Mecca so I believe it goes without saying Saudi Arabia has a special place where God is concerned. By the will of God, Saudi Arabia holds a very high status compared to other countries in the world. Saudi Arabia has the lowest crime rate, if not the lowest then one of the lowest. The fact is all the undesirable traits man demonstrates throughout his life are not visible in the Saudi Arabian lifestyle, such as drugs, teenage pregnancy and many others. Therefore I would never dare make an effort to even try to change the lifestyle in Saudi Arabia for fear I may bring on myself the displeasure of Allah.
13. Do you think a non-Saudi woman should change anything about herself to fit into a Saudi society? The emphasis on change should be when a person enters Islam not relocating to Saudi Arabia. God tells us in the Qur’an “Did you think you would except Islam and not be tested?” Upon accepting Islam a person should expect God would test them! When people becomes Muslim and with conviction recite “La illaha ilallah” (There is no God except Allah) and “Muhammad arRasulillah” (Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah) swearing allegiance to the Prophet, to obey him and follow his teachings is when they need to make a change in their life. I have seen many who accept Islam and then make no change in their daily life, and expect other Muslims to drill Islam into them. Allah also tells us in the Qur’an “Why do you say that which you do not do” When anyone accepts Islam they need to make a conscious effort to change their lives, and begin living an Islamic life. The more God conscious a person is they begin to notice Gods presents throughout their daily lives. They should always be aware absolutely any good or bad which happens to them is from God. God allows bad in our lives to teach us, which where the expression “Learn from your mistakes” come from, or bad in our lives could be expiation for sins accumulated.
That being said, to answer the question, yes it is compulsory she change some anyway. InshaAllah she is able to move directly into her own house, but many women in the same predicament are required to stay with in-laws for a while until finances allow. If this is the case she will be living in their house, therefore required to live by their rules so change will be necessary. Therefore she should do as I previously suggested, try putting herself in their position!
InshaAllah (God willing) her Saudi husband is an understanding person and will help her through any problems that may arise. I fully understand it depends on the person ability to adjust to change whether or not they are able to live the Saudi lifestyle comfortably. I have some American friends with Saudi Husbands, which lived for many years in Saudi Arabia, are very happy and content. Saudi Arabia is home to them and they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
14. What do you think about the abaya, and was it a problem for you to wear it? I didn’t find wearing the abaya difficult at all, because everyone else was wearing the same. Even there were some women who didn’t wear it, but they were accustomed to seeing it so I wasn’t stared at in any way. There were many times I found wearing the abaya convenient when I was able to throw the abaya over my pajamas, to go somewhere I needed to go, and nobody knew the difference!
As for it being too hot to wear the abaya, the heat in Saudi Arabia will require getting accustomed to if they intend to make Saudi Arabia their home. I won’t sugar coat any thing, I will tell you like it is. I don’t know of anyone able to stand the heat of the sun in that country beating down on bare skin anyway. They will discover dressing in what they may think to be cool clothes, isn’t going to make a difference. Hot is hot!
Although I think I did discover the reason why the abaya is black in color, and not a cooler light color. The lighter color face covers reflect the sun, which can literally blind you, and so as to match the face cover with the abaya it was also black. Of course this is only my theory.
In Qur’an 24:31 Allah says, “And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty, that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear there of: that they should draw their veils over their bosom and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands fathers…
My interpretation of what must ordinarily appear thereof changes from place to place. Of course this is only my interpretation, and the way I understand this verse. Wherever she may be in the world, if she wants to avoid standing out, drawing attention to her self or being seductive in any shape form or fashion, wardrobes and action changes from culture to culture, and she must dress appropriately to obey Gods commands. May God forgive me if my interpretation is wrong!
15. Was your Saudi ex-husband ever involved in helping to raise your children? As I often explained to people, after having six children I could probably count the number of times my ex-husband actually changed a diaper on one hand! He thought his role began when the child was potty trained, and able to accompany him places. Unfortunately he didn’t help with his children in there earliest years. I guess you might say, “He did not do newborns”. However he did play an active role in their life when they reached the toddler stage, more my son than my daughters. My ex-husbands excuse for this way of thinking was always, because the boy needs to learn the mans role in the family from his father, and the girls need to learn the woman’s role in the family from their mother. The major problem about this was I had five girls, and only one boy! I know I got the short end of that stick! Although I believe it goes without saying, everybody is different. There are some men who are there with their wives helping them through their pregnancy, doing whatever they can to help in delivery and play an active part in the child’s life right from the very beginning! So I think everybody’s aware they should not judge their own husband by my ex-husbands standards. I would also like to add, this is not an Islamic practice of men. There are many stories describing the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him (pbuh) helping around the house, and sewing his own clothes, etc….
(Taken from “The Way of Muhammad”, by Shaykh Abdal Qadir as-Sufi). His name means the Praise Worthy. Muhammad was forbearing, honest, just and chaste. His hand never touched the hand of a woman over whom he did not have rights. He was the most generous of men. He was never asked for anything but that he gave it to the one who asked. He would prefer the seeker to himself and his family, and so often his store of grain for the year was used up before the end of the year. He patched his sandals and clothing, did household chores, and ate with his woman folk. He was shy and would not stare into people’s faces. He answered the invitation of the slaves and the free born, and he accepted presents even if they consisted of merely a draught of milk, while because of hunger he would at times tie two stones around his stomach.
16. Did your Saudi ex-husband help you with the household chores? Unfortunately his way of thinking was any work inside the house was woman’s work, and any work outside the house was the man’s work. This idea even held true with the children, if the kids were inside the house, they were my responsibility. However like I said before, Islam doesn’t condone this behavior. The best example for mankind to follow is the Prophet Muhammad, and there are many stories about him actively helping his wives with the house hold chores.
17. What do you think non-Saudis should know about Saudi women? After 9,11 I heard many stories about how Saudi Arabians dislike America, and Americans. I heard in Saudi Arabia they teach children in school to hate America. I would get very infuriated because I knew first hand this was definitely not the case! No matter where I was in Saudi Arabia I always felt special, because the people make you feel that way. If I attended a dinner, and the other guests discovered there was an American woman present also, they wanted to sit and talk with me. Everywhere I went I was treated with kindness.
However I would like to share with you something I believe is extremely important. Your actions must not seem very strange and different than what they are use to. If you retain all your American habits and do not change, at least in the presents of Saudi women, you will find it very difficult to fit in with them. In your home, around your family, you can act in a way you are accustomed to, but when you are in the company of Saudi women try to act more like them. Like I said before if people at least see you trying to speak the Arabic language, and making an effort to fit in, you would be amazed to see the helpful, generous and kind response you receive.
God tell us in the Qur’an: 49:13 O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of male and a female, and made you into Nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you and Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).
If you go to Saudi Arabia, stick to the small American communities they have over there and only associate with other Americans who live and work in Saudi Arabia called Expats or other American women who have Saudi Husbands, you are going to seem unapproachable to them. You must try to fit in, talk with them and make friends with other Saudi women if you are a woman, and make friends with Saudi men if you are a man. One of the first habits you will notice in Saudi Arabia is how men and women do not associate with each other! If you make a conscious effort to adjust to the Saudi lifestyle you would be surprised when you meet some wonderful, and sweet human beings! The same holds true with all people not just Saudis, if opportunity allows people should reach out and talk, acquaint themselves with others!
18. Did you feel trapped in Saudi Arabia or do you feel comfortable living here? Wow, that is a very important question, the union of a Saudi man and an American woman can be very difficult! A very important objective of hers must be her willingness to adapt to the Saudi life, if she neglects to do so, or refuses to do so, in my opinion she would find living there very stressful.
Did I feel trapped in Saudi Arabia? I would be forced to reply in the affirmative to that question. I was not trapped physically; I was able to leave any time I wanted to go. However, I wanted my children to live their impressionable years in an Islamic society. I wanted them to live within a safe, secure country away from the harmful habits that many Americans exhibit in today’s society, such as drugs and teen pregnancy. Therefore I took a good hard look at myself, and I didn’t like what I saw. I didn’t feel my faith was strong enough, and would enable me to give my children a good Islamic upbringing they so desperately needed while being surrounded by unfavorable conditions. Therefore I was forced to live in Saudi Arabia, because my children needed me. Also I did not have the means of supporting them in the way they were accustomed to, because I had not worked for many years. Not to mention they would have missed their father very much.
I am firmly convinced, it does not matter where you live in this world, if you have true faith and fear of God; you are able to live a pious life firmly devoted to Islam. You should always be aware and understand it does not matter where you may be and what you are doing, Allah sees you! He knows and sees all things! Therefore you are cautious of all your actions, and the way you present yourself.
19. Do you think a non-Saudi can be happy in Saudi Arabia? Of course a non-Saudi can be happy living in Saudi. It is Allah Who places the happiness within someone’s heart. As long as he or she lives a good life, and obeys Allah’s commands God blesses us and make us happy where ever we are!
As God tells us in the Qur’an: 92:5-10 So he who gives (In charity) and fears (Allah), and (in all sincerity) testifies to the best- We will indeed make smooth for him the path to bliss. But he who is a greedy miser and thinks himself self-sufficient, and gives the lie to the best—We will indeed make smooth for him the path to misery:
20. Do you think you would be willing/able to live in Saudi Arabia alone? Why/Why not? I would not wish to live by myself in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else for that matter simply because I do not like being alone, I am a “people person”. However I have seen women who did live with other women with no man present. These women were from other countries, and worked in Saudi Arabian hospitals or worked in other areas within Saudi Arabia. These women had no restrictions while performing their daily activities. I am really not sure why they lived together, if it was because Saudi law required them to, or to help them with finances. I know housing in Saudi Arabia is expensive.
Family life is very different from what Americans are accustomed to seeing. In America as well as many other countries in the world today, when a child becomes eighteen, suddenly by law, they are known as an “Adults”. Afterwards everything they do, they do as an adult. They separate from their mother and father to live a life of their own getting a home of their own. God willing their parents have done their job, and prepared them for this separation. They are expected to financially take care of them selves also. When young adults are allowed and in many cases encouraged to live on their own, if they have no fear of God this contributes to many, many problems. It is left up to the parents to determine whether or not this young adult is capable of living on their own, and there are way too many children not getting the proper love and attention they should even when the parents are present. Of course I am aware there are many very good parents also, but it is laws placed by the government, which allow the society as a whole to be dysfunctional.
You will never see these conditions in Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia they “look after own”, so to speak. In Saudi they also do not have nursing homes or anything even similar to care for the elderly, unless they need medical attention. When a person reaches old age a close family member takes care of them. You will not find men as well as women leaving the family home unless to educate them selves. However, if the woman attends University in another city she usually stays with relatives or lives on campus. A man will rarely have his own home while attending college or University in another city, only if relatives are not available, he will usually stay with relatives also. I have known a Saudi woman with a Saudi scholarship attending the University in Sacramento, California. I do know her brother was also attending the same University though. I cannot say for certain Saudis have laws in place concerning the living conditions of women in particular. I can only say what I know and have seen. I do know all of the women living without men in their lives, are able to go out wherever they may need to go, to the store or where ever needed. They are just unable to drive, but they do have public transportation. Many of the women are known to use taxis that are very inexpensive!
21. Do you think a non-Saudi woman would have any problems living alone in Saudi Arabia? I think that would depend on her situation, and her reason for wanting to live by herself, also if she is a Saudi Citizen or not. Since I really do not know the laws in Saudi Arabia regarding this, it would be hard for me to answer this question accurately. I would like to add Saudi Arabia is a closed country. Anybody taking residence there must have a reason for living there. Nobody is allowed to live in Saudi Arabia just because that is where he or she wishes to live unless they have Saudi citizenship. However from the full extent of my knowledge, in my opinion I believe if she had a legitimate reason for living in Saudi Arabia, and by herself. They would let her live by herself.
22. What advice would you give a non-Saudi considering marriage to a Saudi? If this non-Saudi woman decides to marry this Saudi man she must not be wavering in her decision or have doubt in her mind at all. Everyone must face the consequences of the choices they make in this life. Therefore if she intends to get married to this Saudi man, she must be certain, because usually there is no turning back.
Also does her soon to be husband have the Saudi governments permission to get married to a foreigner or not. If he does not have permission to marry a foreigner, many problems could arise. First of these problems being her initial entry into Saudi Arabia, and her health care after she arrives, also the child’s health care, if children are involved. I sincerely believe the best thing for them to do would be for her soon to be Saudi husband to proceed to Saudi Arabia before her and prepare for her arrival. Many difficulties can be avoided by this initial preparation!
I have answered these questions truthfully to the best of my ability, and I pray with all of my heart the information I provided in this interview will help this couple to live a life of happiness in peace and harmony!