A Saudi Man Married To A Foreigner Shares His Views

17 May 2010

It is not often that American Bedu receives opportunities to ask candid questions of a Saudi man. “F” readily shares his views and enjoyable sense of humor with American Bedu and readers. “F”, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions. Can you begin with sharing a little bit of yourself.

What part of Saudi Arabia are you from? How long have you been living outside of the Kingdom? What profession are you in? Born and raised in Riyadh. Family is from Unaizah. Lived outside KSA for about 35+ yrs now. Neurosurgeon by profession.

I understand that you chose to travel to India for your studies. What factors impacted your decision to study in India? Initially the choice was not mine to make, I was sent to my Aunt and uncle In India when I was in the 7th grade. My Uncle held a high position there and my aunt did not have any kids. A year then turned to 3 yrs, it made sense for me to take my board exams for the 10th and 12th grades in India . By then I was Indian and it was a natural progression to take university entrance tests in the academic environment I was familiar in.

What was it like for you as a Saudi in India? What did you find most similar to your life in Saudi Arabia and what was most different? I was there as a kid and didn’t know or see any differences. Blended in quite well. The biggest hurdle at first was the language and adapting to the education system. Family and sense of community is common between the 2 countries. It helped that my aunt believed that the sun ,moon and planets revolved around me. They are for all practical purposes my parents. All that adoration is hard to let go. A big difference was that India is not an Islamic country and that change in environment initially leaves you bereft, especially if that is all you have known.

How did you and your wife initially meet? At what point after meeting her did you realize you wanted her to be your wife? Ah my wife reads this blog and this Q

could get me in trouble. I knew my wife from the time I moved to India, we were family friends. Not much interaction till she joined the same out of state medical college I was in and being a family friend I was asked to help her acclimatize to hostel life and help her I did. After about 6 months of interaction I was in over my head, the next year or so solidified that feeling. convincing her took a whole lot longer.

What initial barriers, if any, did you (and your wife) have to overcome in order to be married? Was the Saudi marriage approval process easy or difficult? What was the reaction of your family when they learned you wished to marry a woman who was not Muslim and also from India? – Perception from society. – Parental disapproval from my end. – In those days inter-religious marriage were a big deal. All we needed was one naysayer in my family and the rest followed liked mentally deficient sheep. – Her parent’s initial reluctance. –Her grand mom being the matriarch was OK with it and her dad did and does dote on her so she had an easier time than me. Saudi approval process was not an issue at the time of our marriage, as we did not plan to settle down in Saudi, that came later and is a whole ugly story in itself. I could write a book and have already named it “Bribery, Stupidity, Laziness – the Saudi marriage approval process”. Unfortunately my parents did not approve of my choice, religion was a big factor but I think the bigger issue was – oh the horror of the first born son marrying a lowly Indian!! Fortunately that disease seemed to have bypassed my aunt and uncle, hence their approval – much valued and wanted.

How many years have you now been in the United States? 20+ yrs.

In what ways has living in the United States been better for you and your family? Living here has helped both our careers – professional growth also leads to personal fulfillment. To raise a multi cultural/multi religious/multiracial family US is one of the better choices. The fact that we were so far away from our comfort zone and mutual dependency on each other has I believe strengthened the family bond. We are to a certain degree insulated and less affected by the expectations of our families and have forged our own identity.

There are a number of women who are in a relationship with a Saudi man. How can a woman tell if the Saudi is serious about the relationship or just toying with her? Can one really tell either way? Any man, especially a Saudi, if he is serious will in all probability: Respect her and her wishes. Shield her from harm and potential ridicule (especially if they plan to live in Saudi). May not usually introduce his future wife to his various male friends and acquaintances. Would have his mom /sister introduced and involved. And most likely will keep the physical aspects of the relationship for a later date at least till the marriage is decided. Beyond that I guess women have this innate ability to see thru men – or so my wife claims.

What sacrifices do you think a Saudi man and a foreign woman should be willing to make in order to have a long and happy marriage? The same sacrifices you would make for any marriage to succeed. Criticizing your spouse’s culture, practices, religion etc., would not be the way to go (smile). Acceptance, tolerance, respect and a desire to make it work should do the trick. I cannot talk for women from the man’s perspective, he should remember he has not married a woman raised in the same culture, her ways and behavior may not be the same as he’s used to. Don’t stereotype and have an open mind.

Do you think the foreign wife of a Saudi is ever truly accepted in the Saudi culture and society? Why or why not? I don’t believe I’m qualified to make sweeping statements about Saudi society or culture having lived there for such a short period. Based on our case, my wife was not accepted by my family or by Saudi society. Factors were her nationality, religion and notion that I should have picked from among our family and most important their ignorance like I already mentioned the “sheep syndrome”. The fact that she doesn’t do well being ordered around could be a reason ..eh. She’s certainly not the meek submissive type or the shut up and go with the flow type (smile).

What should a foreign woman be willing to do or change about herself to “fit in” and be accepted by her Saudi family? You cannot “fit in” if they don’t want you. A family is either open minded enough to accept someone or not. Changing your self never works. Unless of course you are a murderer/thief then changing your ways would be great (smile). However I would highly recommend trying to learn the language and respecting the culture. Not questioning every difference would work too. Remember their culture/ways are different from yours, what works for you, what you perceive to be the best may not be right for a Saudi family. Be prepared for change and go with an open mind.

What has been the biggest challenge that you have experienced because of a bi-cultural relationship? And how have you overcome the challenge? Raising kids, imparting both our values/vultures and uniqueness was the hardest. Have to praise my wife, she has that part down pat (self-preservation at work here). I give thanks every day for her and my children. As a couple we have ignored the differences in culture. We love each other, trust each other and want to be with each other. We have our differences but we have never argued over it. On a lighter note, being the only meat eater in a vegetarian household is a killer.The fact that my wife is a staunch vegetarian should have sent me running screaming, but then we are hasty in our youth and miss the important facts in life.

Do you feel that Saudi women in Saudi Arabia are oppressed? And why or why not? Define what oppressed is and let’s not go by media reports or perceptions. Yes some might think they are oppressed, but some might think not. Every individual is different in their needs and I would hesitate to brand an entire country. Yes, the current rules in place are restrictive when viewed on a comparative basis with many other countries. Personally, I feel they could do away the guardian system and let those who want to drive do so. Would be a relief to many a husband/brother/dad. I’m surprised the men there are not up in arms protesting. Its unproductive to drive half the population around when they are perfectly capable of doing so themselves.

What are your views as a Saudi man about the mahrem system? Is it a good system? Does a Saudi woman really require a mahrem? It’s an outdated system that needs to go. Reasons it was instituted in the first place were probably thought to be sound, but as time passes we need to change to be current. I think its humiliating to the women and annoying to the men. Treating half the adult population as children is idiotic and counter productive to progress.

If you could change one thing about Saudi Arabia, what would it be and why? I’d get rid of the corruption/bribery/wasta, whatever you may call it. Has the potential to cure a whole host other issues. Next I’d ramp up the education system especially in the critical elementary and mid level grades.

What are your five favorite things about Saudi Arabia? Warmth/hospitality of the people. Family based culture. Stark beauty of the dessert. Peaceful mosques. Food.

What distinctions, if any, do you see in the way Islam is practiced within Saudi Arabia as compared to America? – Islam permeates everyday life in Saudi, not so in America. One is not better than the other. -Islam is colored with cultural shades in Saudi, hard to separate both here in US that doesn’t seem that big of an issue. -It seems from my perspective that many Muslims I have interacted with in the US seem to have made a conscious choice to follow Islam so that gives them more incentive to practise it. Having said that they are also by far the most judgmental I have come across. My wife avoids a few of them like the plague and rightly so. Again both countries are very different in their construct and I will refrain from judging them any further. I believe religion to be a private matter.

“F”, again thank you for answering these questions. Is there anything you’d like to add or ask of American Bedu readers? I wish you well, in all your endeavors.  Good luck in your health and peace and prosperity to you and your readers. If you need a surgical Neuro consult I’m your guy (smile).

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Tara Umm Omar

American married to a Saudi.

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