Sabria Jawhar: Sabria’s Out Of The Box

>Sabria Jawhar: Sabria's Out Of The BoxI have wonderful news to announce! Sabria has married Rob Wagner, an American journalist. I extend my hearty congratulations to the both of them. May Allah always bless their marriage with good and grant them many happy years together ameen. Thank you Sabria!

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SABRIA’S OUT OF THE BOX QUESTIONS

Who is/are the creator(s) of “Sabria’s Out Of The Box”? I am the sole creator of “Sabria’s Out of the Box”.

How and why did you create “Sabria’s Out Of The Box”? The website was created, more or less, as an archive for my published columns and posts from various publications, including the Saudi Gazette, the Huffington Post, Arabisto, the National and BlogHer among others.

What are some examples of the main topics you write about? I mostly write issues affecting Saudis and Muslims. Many of the issues I write about are political. I write only in English and target the Western audience in attempt to build bridges between Western and Muslim countries. Saudis are not my target audience. Although it’s not my focus, I do tend to write a lot about women’s issues, mostly because of the recent attempts to ban the burqa in Europe and because of the growing role of Saudi women, especially in education and business, in Saudi society. I also try to dispel myths and stereotypes about Muslims.

What benefits do you expect readers to get out of your blog and/or your writings? I would hope that Western English-speakers come away with a better understanding about Saudis and Islam instead of the stereotypes we often see in the Western press.

What are your hopes for “Sabria’s Out Of The Box” in the future? Simply to be a permanent record of my work. I have no ambitions for the website beyond what it is now. I have no expansion plans other than to keep up with Internet technology. I just added a Tweet button to the site, which shows how slow I am on the uptake of updating anything.

Is there anything else you would like others to know about your blog? Certainly. My blog contains only my opinions. I do not represent Saudi women and I certainly don’t represent the Saudi government. People often mistake my opinions as representative of Saudi society or Saudi women. While there are many Saudi women who think like me, there are probably many more that hold very different viewpoints about women’s rights, the Western world and politics. When I venture an opinion on a hot-button issue, I often get comments from people say, “Yeah, but the Saudi government does this and it does that and it’s so awful.” Well, that’s the Saudi government. It’s not me, nor will I make apologies for my country.

PERSONAL QUESTIONS

Your nationality and country of residence: Saudi through and through. I currently live in England pursuing my doctorate in applied linguistics.

What are the things you like about Saudi Arabia? The moral values of its people. The beauty and grandeur of the two holy mosques and how Makkah and Madinah make me feel as a Muslim. My home town of Madinah. The exciting transition the country is going through. The great things I see the younger generation of Saudi women doing like getting a university education abroad, finding their place in the world and becoming productive members of Saudi society. I find it exciting that many of these bold Saudi girls are changing the way we view fashion. The changes in Saudi society are incremental, but they are happening and I am optimistic.

What are the things you dislike about Saudi Arabia? The two steps forward, one step back approach that Saudis often take when trying something new. The inability of the government to enforce policies that allows women to work in lingerie shops. The illogical fatwa issued that bans women from employment as cashiers in supermarkets. Although driving a car in Saudi Arabia is not a major issue with me and most of my Saudi girlfriends, it is to many other women. We are long overdue in having that ban lifted.

What would you like to see improved in Saudi Arabia? A fair and equitable judicial system that gives women equal rights. Proper application of Sharia and the elimination of tribal customs in the courtroom. Give women the rights accorded to us in Islam and that alone will be great improvement.

Do you feel trapped in Saudi Arabia or do you feel comfortable living in the country? Of course, I feel comfortable living in Saudi Arabia. It’s my home. Do I feel trapped? No. But I admit to being frustrated as I move regularly between the West and Saudi Arabia and find small-minded people in Saudi Arabia who are quite comfortable not joining the 21st century. When I compare Western culture to Saudi Arabia, I find many things in the West wanting. There is something incredibly self-destructive about the permissive-anything-goes attitude in the Western countries I have visited. But having said that, as a Muslim I can find a balance between my Islamic values and the Western culture that makes living there comfortable for me. I don’t walk that tightrope in Saudi Arabia, but really, does it mean I have to deal with people everyday who say I can’t do something simply because I’m a woman?

What do you think about the abaya and is it a problem for you to wear it? I love my abaya. I only wear the abaya in Saudi Arabia, so it’s never a problem. Other than my hijab, I wear the same clothing as anyone else in England. Wearing the abaya in the West is not appropriate in my opinion, but it’s the right of any Muslim woman to wear one if they choose.

Do you think non-Saudis should change anything about themselves in order to fit into Saudi society? Not necessarily other than the obvious: Respect our culture and our religion.

Do you think a non-Saudi man/woman can be happy in Saudi Arabia? Yes, I do. There are great jobs and people can make a comfortable living and enjoy all the benefits they find in the West. For those who miss the cinema, for example, there is Dubai, which is just a few hours away by plane.

Do you think a non-Saudi woman would have any problems living alone in Saudi Arabia? It all depends on attitude. If a non-Saudi woman from the West came to live in Saudi Arabia and had expectations that her lifestyle will not change, then she will be unhappy and encounter problems. I know of one non-Saudi woman who has lived in Saudi Arabia for 20 years and converted to Islam. But she is so unhappy and complains constantly about the country and about Saudis. Why she continues to live in Saudi Arabia and torture herself is beyond me. Understanding the culture and having a basic knowledge of Islam will go a long way to making a non-Saudi woman’s life more comfortable and trouble-free. I don’t deny that it will probably be more difficult for a non-Saudi woman and non-Muslim to navigate Saudi society than it is for a man. Preparing one’s self for Saudi Arabia is essential to having a pleasurable experience in the country.

What do you think non-Saudis should know about Saudi men/women? We are good hosts and eager to please visitors in our homes and the workplace. We are fascinated by Western culture and want to learn more from our guests. We want to show off our country and show non-Saudis that there is more than just sand and camels here. Here’s a secret non-Saudis visiting the country for the first time should know: City dwelling Saudis don’t like the heat, sand and camels. We’re kinda spoiled that way. We don’t live in tents and women don’t belong to a harem. The men in my family don’t tell me what to do and they wouldn’t even try. I and my girlfriends live independent lives. There are exceptions to every rule, but don’t believe everything you read in the press.

As a Saudi, how do you feel about Saudis marrying non-Saudis? I fully support the idea of Saudis marrying non-Saudis as long as both the man and woman are Muslim, share the same values and perform the basics of Islam. I hope the Saudi government makes it easier for non-Saudis to marry Saudis because right now it’s not an easy task. I know some Saudi women are denied happiness and a future because their marriage requests are denied. I’m a firm believer in multiculturalism and what better way to bridge the gap between different cultures than to marry someone from outside the country. But marriages and fostering understanding between two cultures can’t be successful unless the couple works hard at the marriage. And couples should consider that cultural differences would make that work much harder.

What is your advice when a non-Saudi man/woman meets their potential/future Saudi in-laws? Ouf! I imagine that would be intimidating. Keep your mouth shut unless you are lavishing praise on your future mother-in-law. Just kidding. My only suggestion is to do more listening instead of talking. Ask questions about your future in-laws’ expectations. Soothe their very real fears that if you are a non-Saudi man marrying a Saudi woman that you will not take her away from the family by moving her to the other side of the planet. Assure them that you will have plenty of children who will grow up to be good Muslims. Of course, you can do as you please once you are married, but respecting their concerns about the marriage to a non-Saudi is vital to having a good relationship with your future family.

What advice would you give a non-Saudi considering marriage to a Saudi? If you feel that Saudi society is too oppressive, but your plans with your new bride/groom are to live in Saudi Arabia, then you can expect difficulties. Have a clear understanding about what it means to live in Saudi Arabia and adjust accordingly. Be prepared to work extra hard to overcome the cultural differences. Be prepared to raise your children with an equal respect and love for the culture of you and your spouse. If you are marrying a Saudi woman, she will go anywhere in the world with you, but Saudi Arabia will always be home. If you are marrying a Saudi man, expect to live in Saudi Arabia. Enter the marriage with your eyes wide open. Put the romance aside for a moment and investigate the practicalities of such a marriage. A non-Saudi also should be prepared for the red tape involved in getting married to a Saudi. Hire a reputable agent to navigate the system and shepherd your paperwork through the system. If you are non-Saudi man marrying a Saudi woman, I strongly recommend the bride’s father be an active participant in dealing with obtaining the necessary permission from the authorities for the marriage. Things will go a lot smoother.

Use this space to write anything else you would like to say:  I think I pretty much said it, but I do have one more piece of advice: When a non-Saudi marries a Saudi, he or she should be prepared that they are marrying the entire Saudi family. For better or worse, your business is their business.

Photo Credit: Sabria Jawhar

More Reading: An Opinion About Everything: A Conversation With Sabria Jawhar

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Tara Umm Omar

American married to a Saudi.

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