Wheat and Dairy Free Ma’soub Recipe (معصوب)

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Saudi cuisine is all about the meat, rice, bread and dairy. I, on the other hand, am a wheat-free, low -carb vegan and general health nut. But as anyone with dietary restrictions will tell you, often all that’s required to enjoy a ‘forbidden’ food is a bit of creativity.

Ma’soub (معصوب) is a simple yet delicious meal which can be easily adapted for the health conscious. Although originally from Yemen, it is a popular breakfast food in the Hijaz region of Saudi Arabia. While this version is slightly different in taste, it is still very close to the original but be warned – like the original it is also very filling so keep your portions small!

Serves 5

Ingredients

1 large banana (preferably overripe)

1 large date

2 TB coconut cream (or coconut milk)

1 batch of thin, crispy socca

Unsalted nuts (optional)

Method

1. Mash or blend banana, date and coconut cream

2. Tear socca into small pieces

3. Combine the banana, date and coconut mixture with the socca

4. Top with crushed nuts and a dollop of coconut cream (optional)

5. Sahtain!

 

Interested in more Saudi recipes? Authentic recipes can be difficult to find on the internet but Ya Salam Cooking, run by an American wife of a Saudi, is by far the best resource I have come across. Meanwhile, Yemeni recipes, including for traditional Ma’soub, can be found at Queen of Sheba Yemeni Food which also happens to be run by the foreign wife of a Yemeni! 

 

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G. Willow Wilson: Foreign Wife of an Egyptian

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With the well-deserved hype surrounding her first fiction novel, the name G. Willow Wilson is becoming increasingly well known. But what many do not know is that before ‘Alif the Unseen’ was her equally impressive memoir, ‘The Butterfly Mosque’. This book follows the journey of the author as a young American college graduate who, in the wake of 9/11, moves to Cairo to work as an English teacher. Despite everything, she finds herself in love with Islam, Egypt and an Egyptian. At its core, it is a book about finding one’s place in vastly different worlds at a time when many view them as incompatible.

So many elements of Wilson’s story resonated with me, particularly as a young, ‘post 9/11’ Western revert, the wife of an Arab man and a prospective migrant to a Middle Eastern country (inshaAllah).  I would highly recommend this book to any ‘foreign wife’ but for now, I would like to share with you some of the issues it touches upon.

Beware the Middle Eastern Man!

“In the back of my mind was a lesson I’d learned watching the movie Not Without My Daughter and reading horror stories in women’s magazines: they always seem like nice guys”

By all accounts, the Western media does not paint a flattering picture of Middle Eastern men. So it is no surprise that many Westerners regard them with varying degrees of fear and distrust, particularly in the context of marriage to one of ‘our own’. Wilson describes her own struggle with this fear which sees her secretly devising escape plans in the event that the gentle and kind man she loved suddenly turned into an “honor-killing wife-imprisoning fundamentalist”.

This is something that will be familiar to many women in relationships with Middle Eastern men. While it is sensible to be aware that nightmare scenarios can and do occur, allowing this fact to dominate your thoughts and feelings about your husband and your life together is a one way street to resentment and a breakdown in trust and intimacy and eventually, your marriage as a whole. This is without mentioning how unfair it is to the average Arab husband who loves and cares for his wife as any other man does. Pity him because no matter how many compliments or gifts he gives or how often he takes her out for a romantic dinner, he will always be considered suspect because as Wilson says, they always seem nice…

Calming the fears of others

 “Despite my anxieties, I couldn’t show any hesitation. My confidence was the only thing that would convince my friends and family that this was a good idea.”

Marrying someone from outside your culture, particularly from one as misunderstood as Saudi Arabia, can feel like a huge step into the unknown. For your friends and family whose main source of information about Saudi Arabia and Islam is likely the Western media, it probably just seems downright crazy and even masochistic.

Similar sentiments abound on the other end of the equation. Guaranteed, the Saudi side will know someone (who knows someone who knows someone…) who married a foreigner and it ended in a horrifically messy divorce, often with the wife fleeing to her country with the children who he may or may not have ever seen or heard from again. In some versions insult is added to injury with the woman returning to her former religion and raising the children as non-Muslims. This leaves the Saudi family and friends with the belief that anyone willing to take such a risk when they could ‘play it safe’ and marry a nice Saudi girl, is quite frankly, absolutely out of their mind.

The result is that the couple at the centre of it all are left to console all involved (including each other) and reassure them that their story will be different; he/she is not the typical Saudi/Westerner -their marriage will succeed! But the problem is that no one really knows for sure. Disturbingly high divorce rates among Saudi/non Saudi marriages on top of the fear and suspicion invoked by cautionary tales against marrying ‘the other’ will have made them wary and somewhat cynical. But with the approval of your loved ones hinged on your faith in the relationship, any sign of hesitation will immediately send them on a well-meaning path to derail your plans. So just smile and wave kids, smile and wave!

A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do

“For the first time in my life I became more passionate about what I had to do than about what I wanted to do…What I had to do was make my life work in Egypt and I stuck to this with a diligence I did not realise I had, and which manifested itself in ways I could not have anticipated”

Not long ago, I spoke with another ‘foreign wife’ who had recently made the move to Saudi Arabia. I was particularly interested in her story because, although her situation was what many would consider less than ideal (she lives with her in-laws and her husband is rarely home), she was extremely enthusiastic about her life in Saudi Arabia. Curious, I asked her what had driven her to succeed in creating this new life for herself. She told me that, not long after arriving, she noticed a great sadness emanating from many of the women she encountered. She immediately knew that she could not allow this to happen to her – she needed to be happy in her new country not just for the sake of her marriage and her young daughter, but for herself. This realisation propelled her forward, through the inevitable cultural obstacles and the delicate balances which must be made between respectfully yielding to cultural norms and maintaining one’s sense of self.

Wilson demonstrates a similar admirable dedication to her life in Egypt, going above and beyond what was expected of her as a foreigner and even of what would be expected of a young Egyptian wife. Some of these unique accomplishments include learning to speak Egyptian Arabic, fearlessly making the daily trip to the local markets for food (in the case of poultry; killed, de-feathered and gutted on site), successfully repelling the various insects and animals so prone to making appearances in Egyptian homes and gaining the ability to treat dysentery and other illnesses with herbal remedies. However, it’s important to note that while she respected and abided by many Egyptian cultural norms, she also remained true to herself in the things which were important to her, not least her career. In this regard, she worked as a journalist for the (now defunct) independent Egyptian news publication Cairo Magazine before pursuing a successful freelance writing career. As is evident in her writing, the result of this admirable effort and the balance she was able to strike meant that she successfully adapted to Egyptian culture and consequently earned an increased love and respect from both her husband and his family. Additionally, her time in Egypt evidently gave her a great insight into and love of Egypt and its people which has inspired much of her writing to date.

All the negativity surrounding marriage to Middle Eastern men and Saudi’s in particular, inevitably gets to you at some point. You get sick of being judged by strangers who know nothing about you, your husband or your marriage except that you fit within a label – ‘Saudi’ and ‘Non-Saudi’, ‘Westerner’ and ‘Middle Eastern’. However, the reality is that all anyone can do is cover all bases in case things do not go as planned, make a concerted effort to ensure the success of the marriage and place your trust in God.

“All love is risk. We could go forward and hope. The rest was written on our palms, an inscrutable poem known only to God.”

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Morag Murray Abdullah: Foreign wife of an Afghan

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“I looked back at the last outpost of my own people and knew there would be no possibility of my return if the odds went against me…“Syed,” I said, “I trust you. You realise I am friendless here and have only you…”

Such are the words of the late author Morag Murray Abdullah (aka Saira Shah) in her book ‘My Khyber Marriage’ as she faces a scenario which will be experienced by most foreign wives of Saudis. Having reverted to Islam and married an Afghan student in her native Scotland during WWI, she returned with him and their young daughter to his homeland in the mountains of Afghanistan.  Like many of us, she was bombarded with horrific tales of Western women whose marriages to ‘Orientals’ had led them to lives of misery and even gruesome deaths.

Upon the birth of their first child, a daughter, Western friends informed her that her in-laws would not care for the child as only boys were welcome in the East. Furthermore, she was advised that “all Orientals were married in their cradles and that it was a 99% possibility that Syed Abdullah was married and that once in his country he would return to the degenerate ways of his clan and I would either be given ground glass in my food or be made a slave to his relations, whose womenfolk would be madly jealous of me.”

With the advice of her husband, she dismissed the many terrible cautionary tales as the sensationalised stories of women who had “married Orientals thinking them to be princes” and become mad with despair when they found their new lives were not the ones of luxury they imagined them to be.

Regardless, as she approached the territory of ‘no return’, she was shot with flashes of doubt and fear for her fragile future which the popular scale of likelihood had already labelled as doomed. “The land of the free”, as the mountains were referred to as, were lands stained by perpetual tribal warfare. The transportation situation of the time meant that travelling between Afghanistan and Scotland was lengthy, difficult and dangerous. Should her husband or his people have chosen to mistreat her as the stories foretold, there would be no easy escape or perhaps no escape at all except death itself.

However, none of the presumed events came to pass; her daughter’s birth was celebrated by her husband’s family, she was and remained his only wife and was never known to have been fed ground glass in her food. On the contrary, Morag and her husband lived in Afghanistan for 20 years before living in various other parts of the world including Africa and the Middle East. They are reported to have remained madly in love and lived a happy life together until she died of cancer at the age of 60 (may Allah have mercy on her soul) upon which her husband fled, heartbroken, to Morocco – one of the few places they had never been together.

Their unusual union also left a rich legacy in their three children; Amina Shah, Idries Shah and Omar Ali Shah, all of whom became prominent Sufi writers and storytellers whose work sought to build bridges between the East and the West. The talent for writing made its way to the subsequent generation based in England. The most notable among these are Tahir Shah and his twin sister Saira Shah both of whom are writers, journalists and documentary filmmakers whose work frequently take inspiration from the Shah family history and its land of origin.

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The Foreign Wife

All non Saudi women married to Saudi men fall under the banner of ‘foreign wives’. However, the reality is that this label draws together women from a huge variety of backgrounds. For instance, some are born and raised in Saudi, while others have some Saudi blood but grew up outside KSA. Some have been expats in the country for years and a large amount met their Saudis while they were studying overseas.

This last group are perhaps feared the most because they usually have never set foot in Saudi Arabia and probably never will until they relocate there permanently. This detail makes them especially unpredictable and many questions are raised about their ability to adapt. How will she handle losing her independence and being thrust into a culture so different from her own? Will she become bored, lonely and depressed? Will it become too much for her and send her running with the children back to her home country? If she is not Muslim, will she really be able to raise her children as Muslims? What problems will she cause for us?

Her nationality or more specifically, lack of Saudi nationality comes with a prescribed fate in the eyes of many. This often even happens amongst other foreign wives whose own experiences on this path has roughened their outlook, making them cautious and even outright pessimistic. It is almost expected that, for most foreign wives, somewhere down the line their life will become characterised by a resignation to misery and extreme isolation, serious marital problems followed by messy divorces and of course child custody issues resulting in the children being taken from the mother (if she hasn’t already managed to escape the country with them). Anthing less is a pleasant surprise.

The ironic thing is that while these questions are being posed and morbid fates imagined, the ‘foreign wife’ is not able to defend herself or present her case. And she should be able to because we are human beings, with all the complexity and diversity that entails and we are not all going to fit under the one label and all that it implies. We are not all the same and only Allah knows what our fate will be.

Some of us are from the East, others from the West. Some of us are young and naive, others mature and worldly. Some of us are educated, others never finished school. Some of us willingly made the move to KSA, others did so begrudgingly. Some of us are career minded, others family oriented. Some of us can be happy anywhere, others can be depressed anywhere. Some are Muslim, others are not. Some have been married before, others have not. Some are well travelled, others have never left their state. But like prisoners, we are stripped of our own garments at the door and given the one uniform to wear. We are all perceived to be the same, even while we are not.

Despite the immense diversity found amongst foreign wives, there is one thing we all seem to have in common: we all simply want to make a good life with the one we love, whether in Saudi Arabia or if possible, outside of it. Contrary to popular opinion, our life’s mission is not to send Saudi women into spinsterhood by stealing their men and their nationality, nor is it to dilute precious Saudi blood or sabotage prior engagements to cousins. In short, we are not out to shake up the status quo. Yet, we are punished for daring to take what, by some peoples view, is not ours, and to step into and struggle to make a life in a world which is not our own. All because we are not a member of that elite club which some are born into and others spend years trying to enter. Even if Saudi nationality is eventually obtained, she will forever be a ‘foreign wife’.

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Happy Ramadan

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Assalam aleikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu,
 
I would like to wish a happy Ramadan to all my Muslim readers and their families and urge you as well as myself to grasp this opportunity for forgiveness and the granting of wishes you may consider near impossible.
 
Last Ramadan I was at a time in my life when I had given up on ever being able to marry my husband – we had been out of contact for months and I had began searching for another brother to marry. I made constant du’a that varied in its exact pleas but always featured this one line – that Allah give me a husband who I love and who loves me. On the morning of Eid al fitr I kept receiving calls from a strange number. Not recognising it I ignored it but the caller was persistent.It was only when a friend pointed out that it looked like an international number that I eventually picked up. It was the man that is now my husband, telling me he had spoken to his cousin who is married to a foreigner and that inshaAllah it is possible for us to marry – am I still interested? SubhanAllah. If you really want something and your intentions are pure, Allah will answer your du’a if it is truly good for you. This is especially so during Ramadan, even more so in the last 10 nights. This month only comes once a year and we are not guaranteed that we will live to see another so take advantage of it my brothers and sisters because it is truly a blessing and a mercy from Allah.
 
I would like to leave you with a hadith containing the Ramadan sermon of our beloved Prophet Muhammad saws in which he concisely explains what this month means for us as Muslims. I also recommend this to my non Muslim readers who wish to understand the significance of Ramadan to Muslims.
  

 Baihaqi reported on the authority of Salman Al-Farsi (Radhi Allah ‘Anh) that the Prophet (‘Alaihi Salat was-Salam) delivered a sermon on the last day of the month of Sha’ban. In it he (‘Alaihi Salat was-Salam) said,
 
“O People! The month of Allah (Ramadan) has come with its mercies, blessings and forgivenesses. Allah has decreed this month the best of all months. The days of this month are the best among the days and the nights are the best among the nights and the hours during Ramadan are the best among the hours. This is a month in which you have been invited by Him (to fast and pray). Allah has honoured you in it. In every breath you take is a reward of Allah, your sleep is worship, your good deeds are accepted and your invocations are answered.
 
Therefore, you must invoke your Lord in all earnestness with hearts free from sin and evil, and pray that Allah may help you to keep fast, and to recite the Holy Qur’an. Indeed!, miserable is the o­ne who is deprived of Allah’s forgiveness in this great month. While fasting remember the hunger and thirst o­n the Day of Judgement. Give alms to the poor and needy. Pay respect to your elders, have sympathy for your youngsters and be kind towards your relatives and kinsmen. Guard your tongue against unworthy words, and your eyes from scenes that are not worth seeing (forbidden) and your ears from sounds that should not be heard.
 
Be kind to orphans so that if your children may become orphans they will also be treated with kindness. Do repent to Allah for your sins and supplicate with raised hands at the times of prayer as these are the best times, during which Allah Almighty looks at His servants with mercy. Allah Answers if they supplicate, Responds if they call, Grants if He is asked, and Accepts if they entreat. O people! you have made your conscience the slave of your desires.
 
Make it free by invoking Allah for forgiveness. Your back may break from the heavy load of your sins, so prostrate yourself before Allah for long intervals, and make this load lighter. Understand fully that Allah has promised in His Honour and Majesty that, people who perform salat and sajda (prostration) will be guarded from Hell-fire o­n the Day of Judgement.
 
O people! If anyone amongst you arranges for iftar (meal at sunset) for any believer, Allah will reward him as if he had freed a slave, and Allah will forgive him his sins. A companion asked: “but not all of us have the means to do so” The Prophet (SAAWS) replied: Keep yourself away from Hell-fire though it may consist of half a date or even some water if you have nothing else.
 
O people! Anyone who during this month cultivates good manners, will walk over the Sirat (bridge to Paradise) o­n the day when feet will tend to slip. For anyone who during this month eases the workload of his servants, Allah will make easy his accounting, and for anyone who doesn’t hurt others during this month, Allah will safeguard him from His Wrath o­n the Day of Judgement. Anyone who respects and treats an orphan with kindness during this month, Allah shall look at him with kindness o­n that Day. Anyone who treats his kinsmen well during this month, Allah will bestow His Mercy o­n him o­n that Day, while anyone who mistreats his kinsmen during this month, Allah will keep away from His Mercy.
 
Whomever offers the recommended prayers during this month, Allah will save him from Hell, and whomever observes his obligations during this month, his reward will be seventy times the reward during other months. Whomever repeatedly invokes Allah’s blessings o­n me, Allah will keep his scale of good deeds heavy, while the scales of others will be tending to lightness. Whomever recites during this month an ayat (verse) of the Holy Qur’an, will get the reward of reciting the whole Qur’an in other months.
 
O people! The gates of Paradise remain open during this month. Pray to your Lord that they may not be closed for you. While the gates of Hell are closed, pray to your Lord that they never open for you. Satan has been chained, invoke your Lord not to let him dominate you.”

Hardships: A Reminder

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I’m sure it is well-known to many of my readers that being married to a Saudi is typically full of many hardships and trials. The marriage permission process is often long and seemingly without end, absorbing more time, money and energy than we care to remember. Once the permission is received, making a new life in Saudi Arabia and dealing with in laws is often an ordeal especially for Western women.  My point in mentioning these things is not to depress others in this situation but rather to bring it to their attention that these hardships present an excellent opportunity to earn huge rewards.

The Prophet (saws) said in a hadith in Sahih Al Bukhari, No Muslim is afflicted with any harm, even if it were the prick of a thorn, but that Allah expiates his sins because of that, as a tree sheds its leaves.” However, to reap such great rewards we must practice sabr (patience and restraint) and ihtisaab (hoping for the reward of Allah). The rewards of practicing these qualities are Allah’s pleasure and the expiations of our sins which inshaAllah will lead us to His paradise. In order to demonstrate these qualities there are certain facts about Allah that we must be aware of and continually remind ourselves of.

We must understand the reality that everything is easy for Allah. He need only say “be” and it is. He is the One who caused Mary (ra) to become pregnant despite her being a virgin.  He is the One who caused baby Jesus (as) to speak in defence of his mother from the cradle and He is the One who made the Red Sea part so that Moses (as) and the Children of Israel could escape destruction at the hands of Pharaoh and his army. So what makes us think He cannot solve our ‘impossible’ problems? Everything that happens in this world takes place only by the permission of Allah, and all strength and power is with Him. Therefore, it only makes sense to turn to and place our trust in Him alone.

One of Allah’s divine names is Al Wahhab (He who loves to give gifts) therefore if we are consistently asking Allah for what we want and we are not receiving it, we must assume that He is in fact giving in the act of withholding. As Allah says in the Qur’an – “perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.”(2:216) We may be asking for something which, unbeknownst to us, is actually bad for us. Therefore Allah’s withholding this from us is actually a gift.

This brings us to another important fact about Allah which is that He is the best of all planners and knows what we do not know. We can only see that which is apparent but Allah sees all – past, present, future and everything in between.  Often when we are facing hardships we feel that it is bad for us but there is good in everything and it was for the good in it that Allah created it and caused it to take place.

This concept can be understood from reading the story of Moses (as) and Al Khidr (ra):

“They found a servant from among Our servants to whom we had given mercy from us and had taught him from Us a [certain] knowledge. Moses said to him, “May I follow you on [the condition] that you teach me from what you have been taught of sound judgement?” He said, “Indeed, with me you will never be able to have patience. And how can you have patience for what you do not encompass in knowledge?” [Moses] said, “You will find me, if Allah wills, patient, and I will not disobey you in [any] order.” He said, “Then if you follow me, do not ask me about anything until I make to you about it mention.”

So they set out, until when they had embarked on the ship, al-Khidhr tore it open. [Moses] said, “Have you torn it open to drown its people? You have certainly done a grave thing.” [Al-Khidhr] said, “Did I not say that with me you would never be able to have patience?” [Moses] said, “Do not blame me for what I forgot and do not cover me in my matter with difficulty.”

So they set out, until when they met a boy, al-Khidhr killed him. [Moses] said, “Have you killed a pure soul for other than [having killed] a soul? You have certainly done a deplorable thing.” [Al-Khidhr] said, “Did I not tell you that with me you would never be able to have patience?” [Moses] said, “If I should ask you about anything after this, then do not keep me as a companion. You have obtained from me an excuse.”

So they set out, until when they came to the people of a town, they asked its people for food, but they refused to offer them hospitality. And they found therein a wall about to collapse, so al-Khidhr restored it. [Moses] said, “If you wished, you could have taken for it a payment.” [Al-Khidhr] said, “This is parting between me and you. I will inform you of the interpretation of that about which you could not have patience.

As for the ship, it belonged to poor people working at sea. So I intended to cause defect in it as there was after them a king who seized every [good] ship by force. And as for the boy, his parents were believers, and we feared that he would overburden them by transgression and disbelief. So we intended that their Lord should substitute for them one better than him in purity and nearer to mercy. And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city, and there was beneath it a treasure for them, and their father had been righteous. So your Lord intended that they reach maturity and extract their treasure, as a mercy from your Lord. And I did it not of my own accord. That is the interpretation of that about which you could not have patience.”(18:65-82)

I would like to share a story of my own regarding this topic. It is not necessarily a story with a happy ending but it is an incident which gave me a lot of hope and taught me a lesson I was very much in need of learning:

My husband was recently interviewed for a very good job in Egypt. He kept it a secret from me until he had been given the impression that the job was his. When he surprised me with this news, I was so happy I was crying and shaking with joy. Finally, my husband and I could live together. Not only that, but it meant moving to a Muslim country where I could easily dedicate myself to being a good Muslim, a good wife and to pursuing my own interests such as learning Arabic and immersing myself in the culture. Finally the life I longed for was within reach.

Unfortunately, in the days prior to his second interview political issues arose between Egypt and KSA which led to them closing their embassy in Egypt. That may have had to do with why my husband was told out of nowhere that to even be considered for the job he had applied for, he would need to first work at their KSA branch for one to two years. I was completely distraught, it didn’t make any sense. Why did they advertise externally if they wanted someone internal? Why did they not tell him earlier? Why did they make him think he had the job?

NEVER lose hope in Allah.  Although in my case it didn’t work out, it shows how a frustrating situation which seems to be hopeless and without end can potentially be resolved very quickly and easily should Allah will it. As they say, your life can change in a single moment. The best we can do in times of hardship is to be patient and recognise the opportunity to earn reward and grasp it for it only leads to Allah’s pleasure.

“And whosoever is conscious of Allah, He will make a way for him to get out (from every difficulty). And He will provide him from (sources) he never could imagine. And whoever puts his trust in Allah, then He will suffice him. (65:2-3)

References

Sahih International English Translation of the Meaning of the Qur’an

Why Can’t I Get What I Want?! by Yasmin Mogahed 

Hardships: The Path to the Most Merciful by Yasmin Mogahed

A short reunion

Alhamdulilah, after 6 months apart, my husband and I were recently reunited for 2 and a half weeks. I am tempted by cliche to describe it as having been ‘blissful’. But despite obviously being very happy and grateful to see one another again, it is not a fitting word to describe the experience. What makes it decidedly ‘un blissful’ is that you are constantly aware that this offer is for a limited time only and very soon you will be thrust back into, what in comparison, feels like the single life.

I am also tempted to say that it gets easier but that’s not quite the truth either. Each reunion initiates a process of re-adaption in which you try to remember how to be a real life couple again. Both parties must reaccustom themselves to sharing all their time with another human being and when you are on ‘holiday’ it really is all your time. The knowledge that this short period of time together must sustain you both for at least another 6 months means that when you inevitably feel the need for your own space, you feel guilty.

To overcome this false shame and hold onto my sanity I lovingly recalled a common scene from when we lived together in Australia; me silently reading a book while he chuckled to himself on the other end of the lounge as he watched his weekly manga cartoon on his laptop. Recreating this scene in our hotel room felt like true indulgence and after we established that it was ok to have our own time, we rediscovered our rhythmn. Unfortunately, by the time that happened we had to part ways once more.

That brings me to the very worst part of such reunions which is of course their excruciatingly painful ends. Mine and my husband’s goodbye’s usually take place in foreign airports from which we return alone to our own countries. This time I was armed with the valuable knowledge that unless I mentally and spiritually prepared myself beforehand, I would definetly cry hysterically and once on the plane, break down in the arms of an unsuspecting stranger. I know this because that’s exactly what happened last time.

I prepared by making du’a and asking Allah for strength the night before then remembering Him through dhikr and reciting and reading the Qur’an to myself once I left my husband to enter the boarding gate. Alhamdulilah though I did do some serious crying, I managed to control myself enough that I avoided making a huge scene or involving bystanders. Considering the enormous amount of grief and despair I felt at that time, that is a huge achievement! Wallahi, it truly does feel as if a huge and vital part of your body has been forcibly removed from you leaving you completely alone and vulnerable.

 After becoming reacquainted with the beauty and intimacy of sharing your every day life with the one you love, it makes it that much harder to return to a life of sleeping alone and communicating with your partner through temperamental video calls where sometimes the only way I can tell it is him is by the colours of the blurry figure on the screen. So it doesn’t get easier but knowing what to expect does help you deal with it in a more effective way.

Upon my return to Australia, I awaited the heavy depression and sick feeling which sat in the pit of my stomach in the couple weeks immediately after the end of our last trip. But alhamdulilah apart from one much needed crying session the day I arrived home, I appear to have been spared. I think that is due in large part to the fact that I had many projects awaiting my attention when I returned which have kept me extremely busy. Unfortunately, my husband has also been extremely busy to the point we have had to delay applying for the Saudi marriage permission which we intended to do upon our return. I am doing my best to make sure we are at least ready to apply for a visa for him by Ramadan so that he may move here but without him being able to help it is unlikely even that will happen any time soon.

Please make du’a for us to make all this work easy on us and to be reunited permanently soon with the blessing of the Saudi government and his family inshaAllah. JazakAllah khair.

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They ask me what Damascus is like…

I visited Syria in 2009 as part of a month long trip through the Middle East. It stole my heart. Upon returning to Australia, I plotted ways to return, applying for positions with English schools and a place studying Arabic language at Damascus University. As much as I enjoyed the other areas of Syria I saw, it was Damascus that I was particularly eager to return to.

I dream of once more getting hopelessly lost in the ancient, labyrinthine Souq al Hamidiyah. I miss the bullet holes in the corrugated iron ceiling that twinkled like stars; a remanent of machine gun fire during the rebellion against the French in 1925.

I yearn for a visit to the famous Bakdash icecream store and the souq’s sweets section where I was treated to free samples of decorated nougat and tiny barazeq (sesame and pistachio) biscuits as I walked past, all given with smiles and no expectations.

And I hope one day I can once again visit the Grand Ummayyad Mosque and experience it for the first time as a practicing Muslim. I can only imagine how it would feel to sit after prayer and absorb the beauty and serenity of that building. I remember gazing through the archway leading into the spice section of the souq – it looked as if it lead to another exciting and exotic world.

Reconciling this city of my memories with the ones I am seeing in news programs in the past year is challenging. How many of the people did I meet, pass in the street, buy things from – have fallen victim to Assad’s regime? How many of them have been kidnapped, raped, tortured; murdered?

According to the UN’s sources, up to around 11,000 people have been murdered in the Syrian uprisings which began in late January 2011. That figure will no doubt have risen since the time it was released. To put that in perspective, the population of the suburb I live in is about 5,500. That is the equivalent of the entire population of two suburbs being raped, tortured and murdered, and that is without taking into account the many injured. Death tolls have risen as the uprisings intensify, with Homs currently bearing the brunt of it while larger cities Damascus and Aleppo take a back seat.

Without a doubt, Syria can now be classified as being amidst a full scale massacre.  And yet despite the condemnations of powerful governments and organisations world over, there has been very little action. I am not an advocate of Western intervention, but considering the U.S.’s self-appointed role of ‘world police’, upholders of human rights and champions of Muslim women it is interesting to note that no serious move has been made to intervene. A country’s entitlement to their assistance seems to have a direct correlation with the amount of oil they possess.  As for the UN, they have disappointed once more, doing nothing more for Syria than engaging in fruitless discussions and counting the dead.

The question must be asked of the Muslim ummah – where are you? Masha’Allah w’alhamdulilah Allah has blessed countries among us with abundant wealth, but where are they when their brothers and sisters need them? The problem is that while these countries may be ‘Muslim’ as a result of their populations, they are not ruled by Islam. Their own citizens are not being given the basic rights afforded to them by Islam, so under these conditions how can we expect them to extend a helping hand to Muslims elsewhere? These sentiments are at the heart of the Arab Spring and until the khilafah is re-established, obligations such as these will continue to fall by the wayside.

Our leaders are doing little to assist which leaves the individual wondering what they can do. My humble suggestions are to make du’a for the Syrians, educate yourself about the situation and use social media and other means to make people aware of what is happening in Syria. Also, support the Free Syrian Army and give and help raise money to support the 20,000 plus Syrian refugees who are barely surviving in overcrowded camps in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan.  Most importantly, let us not forget that these are not strangers to us – they are our brothers and sisters in Islam.

“The similitude of believers in regard to mutual love, affection and compassion is that of one body; when any limb of it aches, the whole body aches, because of sleeplessness and fever.” – Sahih Muslim, Book 032, Number 6258

For those interested in giving sadaqa for the Syrian refugees in refugee camps, inshaAllah donations can be made at Islamic Relief and Human Appeal International and no doubt many other Islamic organisations worldwide. JazakAllah khair.

Boy meets girl, fall in love, separated by oceans, waiting for family to agree, waiting for marriage permission…

Often when people discover mine and my husband’s nationalities, they are surprised; sometimes smirking at my husband as if by marrying a Westerner he has done something deliciously forbidden. However, we are not the only such couple out there and it has been my observation that many of our stories share similar characteristics…

Most Western wives meet their Saudi husbands at university where their husband is usually studying on a government scholarship. During this time, the young couple fall in love and enjoy their time together…until he finishes his studies. At that time, pressure from family, homesickness and a sense of obligation to serve the country which gave him his education, lures him back home. Even if he wishes to prolong his stay in the country to remain with his partner, it is often impossible due to an inability to obtain employment there. Ultimately, as a student fresh out of university, even at the Masters level, the search for a job outside KSA proves too difficult.

So he returns to a country to which she cannot follow him and to a culture which is likely still a mystery to her. He himself must deal with reverse culture shock and, in recent times, long stretches of unemployment. This is without mentioning dealing with the heart break and distress at having been torn apart from his lover.

Upon expressing his desire to marry his foreign lover he will likely be met with disapproval. This can be for a variety of reasons:

  1. For a conservative, tribal family it may be the very fact that the woman is not Saudi or even that she is not part of their tribe (some such families are so insular that they will not even allow their family members to marry outside the family)
  2. For most families it is a genuine fear for the ability of the foreign wife to adapt to the very challenging and unique environment in KSA. In the Western world we have the ‘not without my daughter’ stereotype but what many people don’t realise is that they also have their own horror stories about Saudi men who have married foreign women and lost their children. Indeed, there have reportedly been a significant amount of cases in KSA where non Saudi women married to Saudi men have effectively kidnapped their children and left the country without warning, never to set foot in the country again. This was not necessarily done to escape an abusive husband but rather to escape a country which they found themselves overwhelmed by and unable to adapt to. All families want the best for their children and if they see them entering into what they consider to be a high risk situation they will naturally be uncomfortable with that and unfortunately, mixed Saudi/non Saudi marriages are indeed high risk with half of mixed marriages failing as opposed to 22% of Saudi-Saudi marriages (see link).
  3. For those women who are not Muslim, often the family will have the additional concern of how a non-Muslim woman will raise good Muslim children in the future inshaAllah.

If family approval is given (sometimes even when it’s not!), they then move onto the next obstacle – obtaining marriage permission from the Saudi government. The government require that before any of their citizens marry a non Saudi, they must apply for permission to do so. There is no set processing time and it has been known to take anywhere from days to years.

A major determining factor of the speed and success of the process is wasta. Wasta is the practice of using your connections/influence to get things done quickly and easily, or indeed getting things done at all. It can be a wonderful thing when you have it but for the many who do not, it can be incredibly frustrating. Unfortunately, big wasta is required if you want to get the marriage permission in a reasonable period of time i.e. months rather than years. However, if you are not blessed with this, there will likely be a number of people, mainly government workers, along the way offering to accept large sums of money from you in return for speeding up the process. Such under the table deals, while tempting for the many desperate couples whose patience is wearing thin, are inherently risky and it is not unheard of for these people to accept the money without keeping their end of the deal.

Meanwhile, the lovers, often compelled by circumstances to remain apart in their own countries, may marry under Islamic law without the knowledge of either of their governments. Should they choose to marry under the civil law of the woman’s country, the Saudi man faces a fine of SR100,000 which, at the time of writing, is equal to roughly AUD25,000 (see link).

They wait and they wait and they wait, at the mercy of a bureaucracy which seems only to care about wasta and dollar signs but alhamdulilah, as Allah promised us, after hardship comes ease. After what is usually a painful, lengthy wait, the couple often eventually obtain the permission whether through wasta and/or bribes or purely by the grace of God. InshaAllah they are finally free to begin the adventure that is married life as a mixed couple in Saudi Arabia.

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Why I want Saudi citizenship

It was recently announced that those wishing to apply for citizenship are now at the mercy of a particularly ruthless points system. On a practical level, for wives of Saudi’s to obtain citizenship, they must now…

1) Have had the marriage permission for 12 years (this does not include the years of marriage before gaining marriage permission from the Saudi government)

2) Had more than 2 children with their Saudi husband

3) Have at least a bachelors degree.

Now, personally I’m on zero. Even if I fulfil the first two requirements in the future inshaAllah, it doesn’t count for much because I don’t have a degree. And although I am aware that to protect my own future prospects in Saudi (not just to obtain citizenship) I should finish my degree, the reality is that I have attempted the university thing on three separate occasions so far, and I loathed it every time. So, the chances of my attaining a degree in the future, is rather slim especially if I’m in Saudi popping out all those kids as per the first two requirements! We must also consider those women who have been married to Saudi men and lived in KSA for years and have children but do not have a degree. They have more right than most to be granted citizenship and yet according to the new system – they cannot.

So now you may be asking why someone with a Western passport aka key to the door of opportunity, would exchange that for a Saudi one. Its appeal for myself and many others married to Saudis, is that it grants some degree of solid protection for the future inshaAllah.

Saudi visas, like most of the Arab Gulf countries, run on a sponsor system. Foreign women married to Saudi’s are also subject to this system. Until they obtain citizenship, which as we can see is neither quick nor easy, their Saudi husband must sponsor their iqama aka residency permit. The iqama is received upon entering Saudi Arabia after obtaining the marriage permission and marrying under their law. The iqama must be renewed every couple of years. This means that, should such a marriage end in divorce, your husband and his family can choose not to sponsor you so that you can stay. Without a sponsor, you will be deported. This is a problem if there are children involved because they will have Saudi citizenship and as such cannot be taken back to your country with you unless your husband gives written permission (very rare).

If  such a woman has been deported and is still unable to find a sponsor to live in Saudi, the only way to get back into the country on a long term basis is to gain employment there. Easy? Not so much. Applying for a job in Saudi Arabia from outside the country is extremely difficult if you do not have at least a bachelor’s degree and years of experience in a field of work. Employment opportunities for foreigners in KSA are concentrated in the medical and educational (teaching English as a foreign language) fields. Unfortunately, with the anticipated Saudisation of workplaces in KSA, it’s likely that in time it will only become more difficult.

However, it is possible to have someone other than your husband or in-laws sponsor you should the marriage go bad. I was recently advised of two separate cases where non Saudi women who were separated from their husbands gained not only sponsorship to remain in KSA with their children, but financial assistance from a Saudi prince mashaAllah may Allah reward him. Apparently Court appointed lawyers can also act as sponsors and I’m sure there are many other possible candidates.

If the woman cannot  find a job in Saudi Arabia, it is possible for her to visit her children in Saudi Arabia provided that her husband issues a ‘no objection’ statement.

For those women who are able to remain in Saudi Arabia  as well as those who wish to leave following divorce,  it is highly unlikely that they will gain custody of their children. It is not common for even Saudi women to get custody of their children and it is even less common for non Saudi women. Generally, the Saudi Courts grant the father custody and the wife visitation rights, however, there are cases where the woman didn’t even receive those. Needless to say, none of this reflects the way things should be done under Shari’a (Islamic) law. For a description of how child custody in the Shari’a works please see this link.

Ostensibly, the reason the government has been making the citizenship laws increasingly tough is that non Saudi women were marrying Saudi men simply to obtain citizenship and once they received it they would escape with their children and then the government would have to deal with distressed fathers begging them for help. And to that I say – where is the proof? We hear a lot of these sorts of claims by the Saudi government used to justify unreasonable laws and on the rare occasion evidence is provided, it is extremely unreliable. Two good examples of this are the laws which govern marrying foreigners and those against women driving.

Should all non Saudi wives, a large number of whom are Western women who have no reason to want citizenship other than to protect themselves and their family, be punished for the alleged crimes of what I suspect are a relative minority? Is this yet another attempt to punish and deter those foreigners who ‘lured in’ Saudi men? I suspect so.

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