A Saudi Woman’s Voice: Maha Noor Elahi

>A Saudi Woman's Voice: Maha Noor Elahi
Maha’s angels

Thank you, Maha!

taraummomarsignature5

A SAUDI WOMAN’S VOICE QUESTIONS

Who is/are the creator(s) of “A Saudi Woman’s Voice”? I have created my blog under the name of A Saudi Woman’s Voice.

How and why did you create “A Saudi Woman’s Voice”? When I created the blog, I wanted it to represent what an average, regular Saudi woman believes in and how she feels and thinks. The blog was basically designed to clarify certain issues from a real Saudi woman’s opinion; not according to the media trends as the media always either exaggerates or creates lies when it comes to Saudi women.

What are some examples of the main covered on your website? My blog presents a mix of life’s issues and concerns. It is not dedicated to bash Saudi issues or to defend them. It just presents my views. I am a Saudi and I am one of the people who live in this country. Thus, I have the right to have my voice heard.

What benefits do you expect readers to get out of your website and/or your writings? I won’t call it “benefit”; I’d rather call it being exposed to a different point of view…a view they might never hear in the media…and I believe my views are more credible than any Saudi or non-Saudi newspaper because I am not paid, and I don’t belong to any organization. So what I write is my free, independent opinion that does not follow any social, political, or religious trend.

My readers will get to know a real Saudi woman, who expresses herself freely without any influences. In addition, I am a woman, who might share with many women in the world similar feelings toward love, motherhood, and work. We are human beings above all, and we need to interact and share experiences in a civilized way because we breathe the same air and live on the same planet.

What are your hopes for “A Saudi Woman’s Voice” in the future? Well…right now the blog is rather inactive. I have many topics that are ready to be posted, but I don’t want to post them until I have the time to communicate with my readers and interact with them effectively. The blog will continue as long as I keep writing, and it will make me happy and glad if my blog could make people see Saudi Arabia as it really is; a country with problems and with some advantages. And the thing that I keep emphasizing in my blog is that Saudi Arabia does not represent Islam in all its actions. True it is a Muslim country, but it does not represent the image of Islam at its best. Almost no country does so in our time.

List the URL address of your blog here: http://www.saudirevelations.wordpress.com

PERSONAL QUESTIONS

Your nationality and country of residence: Saudi – I live in Jeddah

What are the things you like about Saudi Arabia? I love the Holy Mosque in Makkah … it is the best thing in Saudi Arabia.

What are the things you dislike about Saudi Arabia? I definitely dislike many things about Saudi Arabia to the extent that I have become so frustrated to talk about them!

What would you like to see improved in Saudi Arabia? Education..to begin with. If education improves, many issues will be solved by default. If people are ignorant, nothing will matter, even if they had the most luxurious streets and buildings. Minds here need to be liberated in order to think freely and have the ability to think, choose, and produce.

Do you feel trapped in Saudi Arabia or do you feel comfortable living in the country? I don’t feel trapped in many ways as I am an independent woman, who has her own job and goals. But I have to say that there is this sense of being controlled. I don’t mean being controlled in the superficial sense of the word; no…I mean controlled in the lifestyle and in the way of thinking and expressing ideas.

What do you think about the abaya and is it a problem for you to wear it in Saudi Arabia? The abaya in itself has never been a problem; the true problem is in the way men look at women in my country. Wearing the abaya is not comfortable for sure, but it is part of the norms of hijab in Saudi Arabia. If a woman is “Mohajjaba”, she will have to dress up in a certain way to maintain her decency whether she is in Saudi Arabia or any other country in the world. Hijab itself sets a certain mode for Muslim women; it sets them in a revered and serious context. Hijab is a struggle; a kind of “jihad” for women that will be rewarded by Allah. This is the heart of hijab as I see it, but if a woman does not have enough faith in hijab and enough strength, I do not expect her to tolerate the abaya. For further and in-depth explanation, you can refer to my articles on Hijab:

Understanding Hijab – Part I
http://saudirevelations.wordpress.com/2010/02/26/understanding-hijab/

Understanding Hijab – Part II
http://saudirevelations.wordpress.com/2010/03/11/understanding-hijab-part-ii/

As for me, I try to look at the bright side. I am “mohajjaba” but I love to dress up fashionably. The abaya gives me this privilege, so I stick to my hijab in front of men, but I dress up in a trendy way when I am with women. This is an advantage for me because I work in an all-girls college. For women who work in non-segregated places, all I can say to them is “God be with you!” Tolerating the abaya or the hijab for about 8 hours every day is very difficult indeed! Yet it pleases me to say that I know many women, who have chosen to wear hijab at the workplace willingly. They feel it liberates them from being “just” women. They want to emphasize they are professionals and not at display!

Do you think non-Saudis should change anything about themselves in order to fit into Saudi society? Well, I have to say for non-Saudis, it is not easy at all to live in Saudi Arabia. And surely, moving to another country ,which has a totally different culture and different set of traditions and customs, needs a great deal of adaptation. But it depends on the purpose of people’s living in the country. If their purposes are purely religious ones, then they have the faith to stand the huge cultural shift.

Do you think a non-Saudi man/woman can be happy in Saudi Arabia? Honestly speaking, I don’t think so! I really can’t understand why a non-Saudi woman would want to live in Saudi Arabia! Is it for the love of a man? Well…I hate to be the one who breaks the bad news for such women; love fades away..the charm and magic fades away by tiem… and no man is worth such a sacrifice; Saudi or Non-Saudi! Living in Saudi Arabia is not a cultural trip or an expedition. It is going to be your life and your children’s life, so think wisely.

Even for men, the situation might not be easy, especially if they work in an environment where prejudice prevails. Some work places embrace non-Saudis and treat them fairly and with great respect; other places don’t. So to non-Saudi men and women, I say, expect anything! And if you are up to some radical changes in your life, then you are most welcome.

Do you think a non-Saudi woman would have any problems living alone in Saudi Arabia without a husband and her family? It is not difficult as I know many Saudi women who live alone without a man or a family. As long as the woman has a job, she can live anywhere she wants. However, there might be some difficulties with businesses and projects that need a male escort or guardian.

What do you think non-Saudis should know about Saudi men/women? It is so hard to answer this question and give a fair and comprehensive opinion. There are many various types of Saudi women and men, depending on their families, regions, and education.

For non-Saudi men marrying Saudi women, the situation is easier (after they get the marriage approval procedures out of the way). When a Saudi woman chooses to marry a non-Saudi, she is usually willing to change. She knows she cannot be the spoiled wife, who relies on the maid in taking care of her house and her kids because a non-Saudi man will never accept such a life and might not be able to provide it to his Saudi wife. A Saudi wife marrying a non-Saudi knows that she is going to share everything with her husband, so the whole idea of marriage will be different for her.

However, if a Saudi man decides to marry a non-Saudi woman, change is not always part of his plans. He might plan on changing her, but not himself, especially if they live in Saudi Arabia. If a non-Saudi woman decides to marry a Saudi man, she has to know very well his priorities; the type of relationship between him and his family, and his willingness to change.

In addition, a non-Saudi woman should know that many Saudi men are very jealous and controlling, even the so-called highly educated ones. All the civilized talk happens when their wives are not concerned, but once something is related to their wives, the whole Saudi culture runs in their veins. They are overprotective of their wives, and what is acceptable for them outside Saudi Arabia might not always be acceptable in Saudi Arabia. I don’t know all Saudi men of course; my opinion is based on the cross-cultural marriages that I have known and on the behavior of men in such marriages.

As a Saudi, how do you feel about Saudis marrying non-Saudis? My opinion here has nothing to do with being Saudi. Marriage itself is a big challenge for anyone. Cross-cultural marriages defiantly face more challenges. If the couples are aware of each other’s cultures, and they are willing to face the challenges together, then why not?

However, I am against cross-cultural marriage when one of the couples tries to force his/her partner to melt in their culture and forget about their background. I am afraid I don’t represent a Saudi point of view here because I hate the idea of “melting” in one’s partner in any marriage.

Cross-cultural marriages need to have a careful and clever compromise to give freedom to both identities and cultures to take their natural course of existence and growth.

There is another thing that concerns me about such marriages; the attitude of some husbands/wives. I have known some American wives who look at their Saudi husbands as inferiors coming from a less developed or civilized country. Now this is not a healthy marriage at all, and it will definitely create confused children. I have also known some non-Saudi men, who have this attitude towards their Saudi wives: No Saudi man accepted you, so I came to save you from these brutal, ignorant men! You should be grateful that you didn’t marry a Saudi man!

Awareness, transparency, respect, and honesty are the key words to any successful marriage, and missing these elements in cross-cultural marriages will eventually lead to the end of the marriage in a very bad way.

What is your advice when a non-Saudi man/woman meets their potential/future Saudi in-laws? I guess dealing with in-laws is tough in most cultures, but if the husband and wife have a strong relation, things can go smoothly. All I can say is: don’t defy the traditions in their presence, don’t discuss controversial or religious issues with them, and show them great respect. Don’t expect them to accept the independence of their son/daughter. Expect a lot of interference in your life, but stop it politely after you discuss the issue with your spouse.

What advice would you give a non-Saudi considering marriage to a Saudi? I think it is very difficult to give an advice on such an issue, but I believe an exploration into one’s self would be a good beginning for a non-Saudi. Any non-Saudi who is about to get involved with a Saudi should ask himself/herself some questions: Why do I want to marry this person? Am I willing to make a lot of changes and sacrifices? Will I be up to the challenge of drastic change?

If you put in mind that you will be able to change your spouse in the future, then I am afraid to tell you that your marriage will be based on poor grounds. Take your partner and accept him/her the way he/she is. Remember, no matter what choice you make, it has to be right and does not cause damage to others.

Consider the fact that you are going to have children with your husband/wife, and if something goes wrong, those children will suffer like hell. It is not the romantic picture of an Arab charming man marrying a western blondie, who wants to explore the desert; it is a family we are talking about here. Watch out before you bring children who might suffer because of you.

Thank you so much, Tara, for giving me the chance to talk about this issue.

Photo Credit: Maha Noor Elahi

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Tara Umm Omar

American married to a Saudi.

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