"Getting to know Saudi Arabia" Sabiqoon's Profile
I have a very deep passion to know more and more about Saudi Arabian life, travel across the Kingdom, see its main cities, rural life and its highlands, learn the Saudi dialect (street Arabic, not Fus'ah) and make friends with the people there.I am mainly interested in the cities in the Western Province that are closer to the "harmain shareefain".
I know Saudi Arabia is widely regarded as a boring and conservative society...not only by Westerners but also by several muslims. The very factors that dispel most people from this country are the ones that make it my favourite. People agree that anyone striving to be a practising muslim would be comfortable in Saudi Arabia in the absence of night life, casinos, booze, pork, free mixing of genders and other activities that come with a liberal lifestyle. I am often told that there is a lot bad happening behind the closed doors in Saudi Arabia. But that's fine...that cannot affect me unless I am going to go inside the walls to see what's happening there. Me and my family find great entertainment in activities like going to the sea side, eating out in a family environment, long drives, seeing different places and so on....and all these things are uobtrusively doable in Saudi Arabia. I believe that despite all the shortcomings in the Saudi society, Saudi Arabia is perhaps the only muslim country where Shariah is still complied in its most original form. Of course there are a number of imperfections and flaws here as well like all the other societies of the world. But still, for someone who wants to abide by the siraat almustaqeem , there are fewer distractions and the environment is most conducive. I may not be deemed to be looking at the Saudi society with rose-coloured glasses. I admit there are contestable issues...like the tragic incident of fire at Intermediate Girls' School No. 31 in Makkah on 11 March 2002 in which men of Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice went overboard and 15 school girls were burnt to death; OR like the case of the "Khamis Mushayt Girl" who is waiting to be executed in Abha jail for having murdered a man whose family is now refusing to forgive her despite a blood money offer of more than 8 million riyals.This is the website where thousands of people are pleading forgiveness for her; OR deciding which one of the two situations is more objectionable according to shariah: a woman driving a car by herself or a woman travelling in her car in the company of a ghair mahram driver. There are several other issues like that of "Hanging Women", for example.
Of course, imperfections are everywhere. But still as far as practicing Islam is concerned, the bigger picture is comparatively far better in Saudi Arabia. For one, shirk, the greatest sin, is quite uncommon in the country unlike several muslim countries where worship of the graves/shrines is rampant.
I first went to Saudi Arabia in February 2001 for Hajj. I stayed in a building in Shamia area. I went alone then because my daughters Ayesha and Zainab were too young to accompany me through the pilgrimage. During that trip, I was able to see a glimpse of Jiddah as well while I spent 2/3 days at a friend's place there who worked in Saudi Airlines and lived in Saudi City.
My second visit was from 9 August to 20 August 2004 when we went to perform Umrah. This time my daughters and my wife were also with me. We stayed at Aziz Khogeer in Makkah and at Bahaudin in Madinah. When we were flying to Jiddah, a gentleman sitting next to me in the aircraft invited me to his place in Jiddah. So in the end, one day before our departure, we went to his place and spent a night there. I don't remember the name of the location but there were many Mercedes Benz parts shops on that main road( it was like sha're siteen or thamaneen, I forget the number)
This year (2005) my younger brother went for Hajj and during his stay he was able to visit Umul Qura in Makkah and Jamia Islamia in Madinah. In the latter, he met the brilliant qari from Kuwait, Shaykh Mishari Rashid al-Afasy.
To be able to get to know more and more about life in Saudi Arabia, I daily read the Saudi Gazette and Arab News in addition to watching the Saudi TV channel we receive here. I do not know its official name but it is the one displaying two swords and a tree logo on top left corner. Unfortunately, they do not show English subtitles in their plays which would have greatly helped me in learning Arabic. Still we keep watching and even without any translation, we have been able to considerably follow the play Taash ma Taash shown during Ramadan. I can also pick some words from commercials. Watching live salat almagrib from masjid un nabwi and salat alisha from masjid al haram is a treat for me. I wish to view almajd channel also.
I attempted to learn Arabic by joining a course available here but that was a heavy dose of grammar intricacies and there was not much to be used in day to day conversations. Later, my teacher here got admission in Umul Qura and they enrolled him in lughat ul arbia classes for like two years.
This year (2005) in March, Allah subhanwata'lah blessed us with a baby boy who has been named Ibrahim bin Ahmed. By profession I am associated with the Stock Exchange which is quite in contrast with my academic background of Masters in English Literature :) These days Saudi stocks are rising fast and Tadawul All Share Index (TASI) has breached 14000 mark lately. Stock markets meet with a very miserable fate when such overblown bull runs reach their cimax. I pray for the uninitiated, small investors in the Saudi market...may Allah kareem prevent them from any financial devastation in the end. Although the current boom in saudi stocks is apparently backed by astronomical climb in oil prices (currently hovering around $67/bbl), still element of exuberant speculation ultimately leads to bursting of the bubble in such situations.
I have realised that the most efficient way to learn a language is to go and live among the native speakers. Egypt offers many possibilities for someone wanting to join an arabic teaching institute there. But I am mainly interested in Saudi arabic. Unfortunately, there seem no such institutions in the Kingdom. Visas for a longer stay are also hard to come by. Finding a native arabic speaker is equally difficult in the place that I live. But insh'allah Allah will make it possible for me someday to fulfill my Saudi Arabia related dreams.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF AISHA NASEED
I usually rise at around the time of the call to the Fajr prayer, when most of the city is still fast asleep. During those first few moments, I like to put my day into focus, making a sort of mental road map that I follow for the rest of my waking hours. I almost always imagine myself in my new house far away from here, looking cheerful and proud. This has been one of my ambitions for a long time, something that I may never achieve, but something that keeps me going even during the hardest moments. I would decorate it like they do on television in the soap operas I watch and I would have a big kitchen with lots of modern appliances. My walls would be painted brightly and there would be three rooms downstairs.
I get out of bed with difficulty these days, because I am getting old. I delay having my morning shower to the evening and instead quickly wash and pray. I go to the kitchen just after five and wake my husband and son up on my way down. While they get themselves ready, I make a simple breakfast consisting of eggs, cheese, milk and milk bread. We all eat together and discuss our plans for the day.
The thing that I look forward to the most is going to work. I work at the Saudi Lighting Company. This is the first factory in the industrial area of Riyadh to open a women’s section. Actually, I don’t think there is another place like it in my country. Just the very thought of getting out of the house and doing something productive with my time makes a very big difference to my life. I really never stop thanking God for giving me this wonderful chance. It might sound strange to some people as to why I think this way when they feel it is better to stay at home, but work has given me a sense of purpose that I never had before. I take so much pride in my ability to work and I know that all the other women at the factory feel the same way.
When I have time in the mornings I carefully choose what I am going to wear that day. Even though I don’t have that many clothes, I like to dress up and sometimes even put on some make-up when I am in the mood. The company bus arrives at around 6:15 and I am already outside waiting, with my abaya on, at least five minutes early.
My shift begins at seven exactly. I work on the assembly line and when I first arrived I used to put parts of fluorescent lights together. Now I work with testing the finished light to make sure it works. I take the light fitting and attach it to a power supply and see if it lights up or not. The ones that work are handed over to another of my colleagues who packs them in boxes, but those that have a fault are sent somewhere else where the problem is identified. I love my job, because each month we do something different. We even have a woman engineer who repairs and maintains all the machines. It’s like having our own world in the factory where we are responsible for everything we do. In fact, our section has done better than the men’s section and the management has expanded it, making us all feel confident about our future. It really is a good feeling to do better than the men.
I got my job through a friend who was already working in the factory and convinced me to try. My husband has been unemployed for seven years. He used to have a very good job with a high salary in the Eastern Province where we lived for over a decade. When he got laid off, I was teaching at a kindergarten and had to leave my job in order to return to Riyadh. My son, Abdul Aziz, was at private school and I was determined that he would continue his education. Life is very expensive and so I was desperate to get a job. It’s not so easy being a woman when you try to get work. Most opportunities are for doctors or teachers, but things are changing and now even women who are not very educated can dream to work. Alhamdulillah, I tried my luck and ended up working here.*
Most people probably think that my kind of work is boring but I really enjoy it. It is a different kind of feeling seeing a product that you have helped to build. Sometimes when I am out around the city and I see tall buildings all lit up with fancy lights, I wonder to myself if those are lights that I have helped to make. I joke with my husband that Riyadh would be a dark place without me. Even women like me have a part to play in helping our country run. I really like to feel responsible for making that difference.
We all work together at the factory as a family. We share our problems and our sorrows and this makes life a little easier. Most of the women are in my situation and need money to run their houses. Some who are younger are paying for the education of their brothers and others have parents who are sick and cannot support themselves. It is so much better to work than to feel helpless and stuck at home.
We have a break between 9:30 a.m. and 10 and we all go to the mess to share our food and our troubles. Many of us bring fruit, bread or whatever we can and the atmosphere is like a party. I really look forward to this morning break. Many of us don’t have that much time to socialize outside of working hours so it is a treat to be around people other than family.
Work ends at 3:00, and home is 10 minutes away, but by the time I arrive home it is 3:45. The bus is crowded with many of the women and dropping them all off takes a long time. My son arrives at 2:00. and does his homework. I pray and fix lunch for the three of us which is usually the leftovers from the night before. I am too tired to cook and usually have a nap for a couple of hours. I wake at dusk in time for the Maghreb prayer and watch a bit of television. I love watching fashion programs as well as the news, because there is always something interesting to see that I can discuss at work. I like the feeling of being up to date with things.
Most days I go out and visit my family. My mother is a widow, so I try to put a little bit of cash aside for her in order to get her what she needs. I do her basic shopping which makes me feel happy and I am proud that she doesn’t have to rely on anyone else and I can help her out even in a small way. I come back home at around 10:30 p.m. or 11:00 and begin to cook dinner. I try to keep things simple during the week, like “foul with tameez” and cheese, although I spend a lot more time cooking on the weekends. I then try and clean up most of the house, leaving the major cleaning and laundry to weekends and manage to get to bed at about 1:00 a.m. I spend my last few waking moments thinking about leaving this rented place and owning my house. I see the future with my son as a doctor in a white coat with a nice girl for a wife. I fall off to sleep with thoughts of what the world must be like beyond Saudi Arabia and whether I too will see it one day...
— As told to Lubna Hussain of Arab News*
Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you
are... Let me not
pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect
tomorrow. One day I
shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my
face in my pillow, or
stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky
and want, more than
all the world, your return.
-- Mary Jean Iron*
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