My Daily Life in Saudi Arabia
This was requested by an American magazine, but as it was not utilized, I thought I would share it here:
First, I wake up to my “ALLAHU AKBAR” alarm clock. Then, I check out my jihadi Twitter feed. Next, I milk a camel…
My daily life is very similar to that of any other twenty-five year old girl, with the exception of praying five times per day and fasting a month out of the year. I wake up at dawn, pray, get ready for work, take a shuttle to the hospital that I work at, pray a few more times, pretend to be busy while I Pinterest at my desk, go home, pray two more times, chill with my cats (yes – I’m a cat lady), watch old reruns of Whose Line Is It Anyway, and I go to bed. Sometimes I go to the mall. Sometimes I have dinner with friends. Sometimes I take a walk.
I wish it was more exciting than that, but being a Muslim girl is not the Repunzelesque Telemundo soap opera it’s portrayed as. I’m not oppressed. I’m not beaten. I don’t need to be “freed” or “saved.”
I have the same worries that any girl my age does: Oh snap, I’m still single and 25! How do I get my contour to look like that chick on YouTube?! Why do I snore like a hibernating bear? How many squats do I have to do to eat this sleeve Samoas? HOW DID THE KEY GET IN THE BEDROOM ON THE 7TH SEARCH AND NOT HAVE TERESA HALBACH’S DNA ON IT?!
Additionally, I have a bad case of chronic wanderlust. I know every lyric to Adele’s new album. And, my grandma thinks that the Kardashians are captivatingly interesting and that Dave Chapelle is the funniest man alive.
Perhaps I’m simplifying it, because Islam is a HUGE part of my life, but it relates more to my perspective on the world and this life, and it’s found in the little things I do, but not necessarily everything tiny thing I do, probably pretty similar to you and whatever religion you’ve chosen.
I will admit that I don’t think my non-Muslim counterparts take a knee as soon as they hear about any sort of violence in the world and say, “PLEASE GOD DON’T LET IT BE A [BUDDHIST/JEW/ATHEIST….]!” I’m also sure that not too many of my friends’ families have a legitimate concern about them not being able to live in America should a certain presidential candidate be elected. I also know about, and sincerely care about, the people in Syria, Palestine, and any other crack or corner of the earth that is in pain, which I can’t say I did before I converted.
There’s things I do because of my religion in my daily life that other people might find strange. I eat and drink with my right hand because it was the habit of the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him). I pray at the crack of dawn as I mentioned. I have a Tempurpedic prayer rug. I wear hijab, or the headscarf you likely have seen many Muslim women wear. I read Quran, often. I constantly have to defend my religion and my beliefs. These things all fit in the “religion” category.
While I have fallen absolutely in love with the religion of Islam, I also appreciate and accept the culture of the Middle East, specifically the Gulf region and Saudi Arabia. Many of the “things I do” are cultural to this region and are not mandated in our religion – just things I like. These are usually the activities shown on television that depict oppression. For example, I wear abaya, or the long black “dress” and also niqqab, the face covering – again, not mandatory in Islam, but something that I feel more comfortable with. I wear it because to me, I feel liberated to know that I am not judged by how I look (but I’m a total babe in case any tall, religious, single Muslim doctors are reading this). I can go into more detail on this specific popular subject if desired.
Also, because I live in Saudi Arabia, I cannot drive as a woman. This is again NOT AT ALL RELATED to Islam. Women rode camels during the time of Islam’s inception, thus the modern day camel, the car, should be perfectly acceptable for women to drive. In all other Muslim countries, women drive. Here in Saudi, the culture is that men drive. From the bottom of my heart, I thank God every day that I do not drive here. Driving is INCREDIBLY dangerous. I fear my imminent death every time I’m in a vehicle of any sort. Accidents are the number one cause of death – I’m okay in the backseat, thanks. Still, I hope that if and when there is a more organized driving system that women are able to drive. There’s simply no reason religiously that they should not be able to. It’s more of a “men protecting women” thing that is just Arabic culture. I dig it, but I’m also not so unaware as to believe it’s everyone’s cup of tea. I take drivers when I need to go somewhere. That’s the cultural aspect that gets some haters.
Don’t get me wrong – there are women who are oppressed here. There are women who are beaten here. May God protect them and give their oppressors the punishment that they deserve. Unfortunately, those women also exist in every other nook and crevice of the world. They’re in Costa Rica. They’re in Canada (yes, Canada!). They’re in Russia. They’re in Timbuktu. They’re definitely in America. It breaks my heart, but I can assure you, I’m not in this category, thank God.
I often get asked what I miss most about the States. The answer is not driving (but I miss my cute little convertible – there’s a visual I hope you can appreciate: me, niqqab, a little Tupac, cruising the California coast). What I really miss is the organization of it all. There’s no such thing as addresses here. Online shopping is a pain. Google Maps is spotty at best. I’m sure that non-Muslim Americans living here would have other annoyances like the fact that stores close during prayer time so Muslim workers can pray. Also, the athan, or the call to prayer, can be heard almost anywhere throughout the city. As a Muslim, the addresses are the worst part. Also, I get nauseous in the backseat so that’s not always fun, but pretty sure that’s a personal problem.
So, here’s what I don’t miss about the States. Mind you, I lived my entire life there. I love being American. I respect what it means to be an American and how privileged we are to have had the opportunities and experiences that we do. Let’s be real, though, it’s no utopia:
- On a daily basis someone told me to “go back where you come from.” I would always lovingly respond, “I’m from CLEVELAND!” In case it’s not evident: it hurts to hear that in your own country. Even if it wasn’t my country, that’s hurtful.
- People would also tell me I speak broken English and I’m hard to understand. Excuse me? I was in the top percentile in English according to my ACT AND I won the award in our high school for English every. single. year. I have no accent. P.S., when I ask you how you are, you’re not “good,” you’re “well.”
- Everyone would comment on the way I dress. I get it, it’s different. Still, not appropriate to tell your kid that I dress this way because I have cancer so I need to cover my head – within an earshot. Yes, I still speak English! Also, not appropriate to comment on how I am dressed while in line at Zara as a 95 year old woman showing cleavage. I have been teased by strangers, by family members, and by everyone in between. If you think pasties are liberating, do you, boo. But, in the meantime, let’s keep the commentary to ourselves.
- People actually support a candidate that wants to deport an entire religion of people. I’m curious if these Muslim camps we’re going to be moved to will have wifi? Also, the identification patches – one color option or can I get a green one to match my eyes? HELLO, PEOPLE! WAKE UP.
- The fact that if I read the comments section on anything remotely related to Islam, I want to gauge my eyes out, eat a GALLON of Ben & Jerry’s, cry, and never leave my bedroom – all simultaneously.
- Ever notice that every time a “white guy” commits a violent TERROR attack, it’s just a “lone wolf” or a “mentally unstable” individual. When the person has ANY connection to Islam, they get the big “T” label.
These things hurt. I’ve shed tears about all of them – and many other daily experiences that I had as a Muslim American in the United States. I was tired of getting spit on (literally) and tired of people holding their kids extra tight when I walked by. Because of that, I chose to move to Saudi Arabia. I wish I could feel at home while at home, but I don’t.