Saudi Stories

Dare to be a Shia in Saudi, Qudaih Massacre

Yesterday, as I was painting in my geometry class, I got an unusual amount of what's app messages that filled the family groups. I could not believe it when I read the messages. A mosque in Qudaih village, twenty minutes drive from my city in Saudi was bombed! For a second my brain could not comprehend it. How could such thing happen in Saudi? One of the safest countries, but it did not only happen, but it caused 21 martyrs and over 80 injured people. 

I usually refrain from writing about politics and religion because they usually lead to useless debates, arguments and a whole load of negative emotions. For instance, I am no longer friends with the people I had really heated debates with, but today I have to speak up and write something. The event of Qatif bombing hit too close to home. I know the world has been filled with bloodshed and sadness and every time I read something similar anywhere else in the world, it pains me, but this pain is even stronger. The fact that the bombing happened in a village very close to my city makes it even worse. My grandfather our only supporter, May God protect him and prolong his life, goes to pray in the mosque daily. What if it happened where he prays? I cannot even stomach the thought. I fail to imagine the pain the daughters, the wives and the mothers are going through after the death of their loved ones. My tears fell over the youngest martyr's mother. Her pain must be greater than anyone else with her little child taken away from her so young right after his kindergarten graduation.  

What breaks my heart the most is that the Qudaih village has seen death before. Sixteen years ago it lost a bride a little girl and 75 other women and caused more than 400 injuries in a horrible fire accident. Lots of children became orphans that year. In that time, it was normal for people to hold weddings in big air conditioned tents. Unfortunately, an electrical spark caused a huge fire. The previous king, King Abdullah RIP, built a wedding hall for the city to stop people from holding weddings in tents. He gave the mangement and proceeds to the city's charity. Yesterday, that same wedding hall was used to treat the injured from the mosque bombing. An orphan girl who lost her mother and sisters in that tragic fire, lost her husband in yesterday's bombing. She is now left with her own little orphans. How can a heart bare all this pain and loss? Life is hard as it is and adding killings and wars makes it even worse.     

Sadly, the Qatif bombing was not the first attack of its kind. The start of this Arabic year, Muharam/November 2014, eight Shias were killed in a religious centre in Hasa, also in the eastern Province of Saudi by a gunman who came in during the remembrance of  Imam Hussain, the prophet's grandson. Real actions were not really taken against that terror. The person who did it -supposedly- got captured and we did not hear much about it afterwards. What is ironic is that yesterday marked the birth anniversary of Imam Hussain and more people were killed remembering him.  

ISIS claimed the attack as their own. To be honest, I am really upset that everyone refers to them as the "Islamic State." I know they gave themselves the names, but I am going to start calling them SS the Satanic State. That is what they are. Devils and demons causing deaths and spreading hate and anger. It makes my blood boil, when Islam is associated with evil or blamed for evil. It is a really peaceful religion with a book that has life guidelines and stories. It is just easy to take things out of contexts and turn it to something it is not. Religion is not to blame, but people and their dark hearts and greed should be held responsible. 

Part of me is not even surprised this happened. Especially, after all the negative fulling against the Shia in Yemen. In addition, the whole religious educational system in Saudi condemns the Shia practice. We have been taught in schools for twelve years that anything but Wahhabisim is wrong. The bombing that happened is just the materialisation of the written word we studied and memorised. The Saudi school theology books told us that Shias are nonbelievers, grave worshipers and deserve to be burnt in hellfire. When we studied that -as Shia kids- we did not care, we were in content with ourselves and our practice. Their drilling did not deteriorate us from the path we were born into and later chosen.  It is foolish to blame "exterior forces" when the problem has been growing over the years in Saudi where day after day Shias kept getting bad mouthed in all possible ways.

This blog post is not to drive a wedge between Shias and Sunnies or accuse Sunnies. I am a big believer in Muslim unity whatever they choose to practice. I have many wonderful sunni friends that I love dearly. This is a post about expressing my disappointment towards what happened and to share the Shia struggle caused by the Wahhabi group. Positive steps should be taken after this. Shias should be accepted worldwide because even if people disagree with how they practice they should let God be the judge. Encouraging Shia killings should be considered a crime. In fact, encouraging killing should always be a crime. 

May God protect us and guide us all to unity, love and creativity. 

Mosque Wreck after the bombing

Mosque Wreck after the bombing

Blood and broken glass in the place of prayer  by the Saudi Photographer Hussain Al Redwan, known as Alwalaee. 

Blood and broken glass in the place of prayer by the Saudi Photographer Hussain Al Redwan, known as Alwalaee. 

Qatif Bombing Martyrs

Qatif Bombing Martyrs

Youngest Qatif Martyr

Youngest Qatif Martyr

Prepping the group graves for the 20 martyrs 

Prepping the group graves for the 20 martyrs 

Caption above says: 16 years ago, I have seen the same thing happens in the Qudiah cemetery after the fire event and now here it is again. 

Caption above says: 16 years ago, I have seen the same thing happens in the Qudiah cemetery after the fire event and now here it is again. 

Qudaih Cemetery

Qudaih Cemetery

My Big Fat Saudi Wedding

Happy Sunday! 

It's finally Spring and that means Wedding season is upon us. A lot of couples have tied the knot already over the Easter break, but in Saudi, most weddings happen in the Summer vacation. I know it gets crazy hot, but keep in mind it's the prefect time because people are off and everywhere is air conditioned, so no heat to be worried about.

I was just speaking to few friends from different nationalities and it was interesting to hear about the wedding traditions of their cultures and I thought it's time to share the Saudi ones with the world! :D I know I should have done a post about spouse selection and dating first, but oh well, weddings are more exciting! ;) and those posts will soon follow. 

I know what you are thinking, Saudi weddings must mean a big splurge, but that's not always the case. We have weddings on budgets too it all depends on what the couple and their family decide. We even have collective wedding festivals to help a number of young couples get married in a very affordable manner. Whether it is a fancy wedding or one on a budget, it is still BIG BIG hence the title and nop it's not mine! The number of attendees is not the thing that makes a wedding costly, but other things such as the location, space decor, level of served food and other festivities.  

Weddings in Saudi are segregated. Women have their own weddings and men have theirs. The groom does make an appearance at the lady's hall by the end of the wedding. This is how it goes. The wedding starts about 9pm and guests start arriving from 10-11pm or even later depending on how much they want to see. Some only come to fulfil their social duty, make an appearance and leave. Guests are usually dressed up and the level of dressing up depends on the relation to the bride or groom. For instance, if you are the braid's sister or close cousin you are expected to almost match the fanciness of the braid herself minus the dress colour of course. Since wedding are segregated, women do not have to wear their head covers and modest clothing, so hair and makeup are all done. Few years back, the trend was so much makeup with crazy designs, but these days it's the "naturally glamorous" look. Straight hair is usually the preferred style most girls go for, but hair dos are still kind of trendy. Usually, the braid's and the groom's family will be the one who have them done. When guests arrive, they usually leave their camera phones in a lockers before entering the main wedding hall. Most close family members do not need to do that. This is just a precaution so women's uncovered pictures don't get publicised. 

At the start of the wedding, there is a lady's band singing Arabic tunes and playing drums. High end bands have more musical instruments and a proper singer. It is usually super load in wedding halls. Guests just start entertaining themselves with dancing away on the stage or with sitting on the chairs/sofas chatting. The bride enters (between 11:30 and 1am, although many brides are doing it earlier these days). When the bride enters she comes in accompanied by her mother, aunts, sisters and cousins. Sometimes, they just wait for her on the end of the stage. Then she gets photographed and sits on the stage, where everyone goes on the stage to congratulate her. A little bit later, the buffet is opened. When most people head there, the groom usually enters with the braid's father and brother. If there are women remaining in the hall, they just cover up.        

Overall, Saudi weddings are so much fun and they are a great place to catch up with friends, dance till your feet hurt and eat loads :D 

Budget Weddings: Open invite, moderate location of a big guest room or a hall as a part of a local farm, regular band and packed meals.    

Fancy Wedding: Invites, in a hotel, high end band and a buffet. 

Note: I am describing the weddings of Eastern Saudi. All Saudi weddings are fairly similar, but there few additions depending on each area. 

The photos below were taken at my friend's wedding back in January *MashAllah*. She chose a beautiful hotel to host the guests and these are few photos of the entrance, the wedding hall, the chocolates and coffee we got served, the bride's stage and the dinner buffet! :) 

Feel free to share your Saudi wedding experiences in the comments! :) 

Peaceful Thoughts of a Saudi Woman

As I was watching the news yesterday, my heart just kept dropping. This new attacks on Yemen and the pictures of the dead children just made me want to migrate to another planet all together. These pictures are starting to be normal and looking at them daily just makes the heart and the brain numb. Children and adults are getting brutally murdered like they are livestock on a daily/weekly basis in many parts of the world. In Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and now more so in Yemen. These past few years have been really strange. This Arab Spring had some good impact for sure because power should always be in the people's hands, but now things are going out of control. I have very strong Political opinions that I do not share because they just lead to arguments and pointless discussions, but today I wanted to say one thing: war should never be considered. They just cause destruction and bring devastating results. 

We are all grownups and we can have a logical discussion. We do not live in the middle ages, where a show of power is needed. History has been the biggest proof that wars, occupations and invasions only lead to destruction of civilisations and draining of resources.  Wars are just the easy way out. It is much easier to kill a threat than to deal with him. Wars cost money and million of innocent lives. Here are some examples of where War money could go or how it could be used in better purposes. 

1- The money could be used to end world hunger and to provide clean water for everyone. 

2- The money could be used to provide education and health for everyone.  

3- The money could go towards scientific research of outer space and how humanity could expand and go there. 

4- The money could go towards alternative energies for a better, greener planet.

5- The money could go towards uniting humanity because race, religion and language are there for all humans to be supportive of one another not the opposite.        

I pray for peace amongst all humans. My thoughts and good vibes is with everyone struggling through war or of the war aftermath. 

Saudi Beauty Standards

Yesterday, I spent three painful hours in a laser hair removal appointment at the local clinic. Through the burning sensation, the irritated skin and the gushes of cold air, I realised that women have to endure so much! Forget all the cultural baggage and the social issues and let's focus on how much physical pain Saudi ladies -all ladies worldwide in fact- need to go through to be "pretty." Saudi is no different from the UK, the US and the rest of the countries, where the majority have the weirdest sense of beauty. Saudi ladies are undergoing lots of media pressure as well. I think impossible beauty standards are a universal problem. Most people here -men and women- are obsessed with Kim Kardashian, Haifa Wehbe, Nancy Ajram, Myriam Fares and few others and their hard to achieve physique. 

You might think Saudi women are just covered and are not concerned about any of that, but you are mistaken. The covering part is only outside when the ladies are on the streets, but indoors, where non related men are not present, those ladies wear whatever they please. A Saudi woman wants to look fabulous for herself first and for most then she wants to impress her friends, relatives and future suiters like every other girl in the world. 

There is a pressure for a certain type of body like the ones above, skinny with a flat tummy and curves all at the same time, skin that is flawless, hairless, soft as baby's butt and a long luscious *preferably* straight hair. Not to mention the face's features as well, where a small, skinny nose, high cheekbones and full lips are preferred. You see how hard women have it. Obviously not everyone can achieve all of that, so everyone here has gone for the hairless smooth skin, straight hair, contoured face option and even then it is still hard. Wanting to be pretty is every girl's dream including Saudi girls.          

It's a whole package that women want to achieve because that is what the media feed them. I am not above it all and I am as pressured by the media as anyone else. There was a time of my life where I was in complete content with everything I was, but everyone around me at that time saw differently. Sometimes people think they are being helpful when they make comments on someone's hair and body. It didn't take me long to go to that insecure place that I am trying so hard to take myself out of.  

Of course having a wonderful personality and other good characteristics is crucial, but having the look helps the confidence go a long way. Hopefully, we will be able to focus on the inner beauty as much as we care about the outer.    

More posts from Saudi:

Saudis & Michelle Obama

With the death of King Abdullah –RIP- many royalties, presidents and important people came to mourn the king and attend his funeral. From those people who showed up were the Obamas and man oh man the news just went crazy. The past two days I read more article about Michael Obama and her “stand” to keep her head uncovered than about the king’s death. It was really funny to see how people reacted to the way she chose to dress in the Kingdom. The funniest part was reading about that "imaginary" outrage Saudis felt towards the matter. I did not even realise it was a big deal and I am Saudi! The amount of articles that made her sound like a heroine for standing up there without a headscarf were really weird. The tweets were even weirder especially the ones about equality. The media really made it sound like she liberated the “poor oppressed Saudi women.” 

Do not get me wrong. I loved what the first lady was wearing and I really want that outfit by the way my only objection was how the media made it all sound, which is another sign why we shouldn’t follow media blindly because they found a whole propaganda out of nothing because Saudis truly did not care. No Saudi I knew had anything negative nor positive to say about it . In fact, 99% of Saudi were too busy wondering if they are going to get two salaries as a gift from the new king than anything else. The normal Saudi man and woman were indiffrent to the whole thing. Saudis did not even notice it as something weird because news flash she was not the only one without a headscarf there -notice the other lady in the photo above- and nor the first. Let's take a look down memory lane for a second. 

Saudis & Michelle Obama
Saudi King
Saudi King With Clinton
Saudi King

Yes it surly happened previously, lots of times and it was never a "thing" to speak of. The whole topic is extremely pointless. 

Which brings me to the whole messed up view of the headscarf. Part of me doesn’t even believe that I am posting about this discussion. This topic should have been resolved years ago under “people are free to wear whatever they want within reason” and one fabric placed on the head or the lack of is seriously not that big of a deal for anyone to get outraged about. We have more important matters to attend to, say world peace for example? 

More on the matter: 

RIP King Abdullah

Hi everyone!

Hope you all had a great start of the week yesterday. It has been a sad start of the week here in Saudi. Our beloved King, King Abdullah Al Sa'oud, just passed away on Friday the 23rd and broke our hearts. I was planning another Saudi Story for this week, but this tragic event needed a special post. 

I remember King Abdullah -May his soul rest in peace- and his ruling period very clearly. It all happened right after I finished my final exams in high school. At that time, we were mourning his older brother, the previous King,  King Fahad. Nonetheless, King Abdullah came and replaced that sadness with lots of joy with all the goodness that he spread in Saudi. There are three main achievements I would like to mention below: the scholarship program, the new university and the recognition of women's political role.  

He made so many positive changes starting with the scholarship program that completely changed my life and the lives of so many others without this opportunity that King Abdullah presented me with, I would not have been where I am today. Since the start of the program ten years ago, there have been more than 150 thousand female and male students studying abroad across 30 countries (البوابة الإلكترونية لوزارة التعليم العالي, 2015).

The king also saw the importance of having more universities within Saudi and he made it happen in such a short time with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.  It has even been rewarded a research centre status in 2013.

In 2013, King Abdullah also included women to participate in The Consultative -Shura- Council for the first time in the Kingdom's history, where he chose 30 ladies and changed the architecture of that council to have 20% women (الحناكي, 2013).  

RIP King Abdullah

We are sad to see such a visionary leave us after only a short ruling period, but we are also excited to welcome King Salman to the throne and to witness all the amazing things he has planned for the kingdom. 

Saudi King

If you are interested to know more on the official country's history and more details about the previous kings and their accomplishments, please go on the Saudi Tourism website

Resources: 
  • البوابة الإلكترونية لوزارة التعليم العالي, (2015). وزارة التعليم العالي. [online] Available at: http://www.mohe.gov.sa/ar/news/Pages/25_1_2014.aspx [Accessed 27 Jan. 2015].
  • الحناكي, أ. (2013). عضوات مجلس الشورى والنجاح المذهل! | المجلة. [online] Majalla.com. Available at: http://www.majalla.com/arb/2013/10/article55248402 [Accessed 27 Jan. 2015].

Due to the nature of this post, comments will be disabled. 

Part 2: Saudis Vs. Golden Nationals- Education

Happy Saturday 

Last week I compared work opportunities for Saudis and foreigners (specifically native English speakers who I referred to as the golden nationals ) full post here.

This week, I want to share another comparison between Saudi nationals and the "golden" nationals, but this time, the topic is about education and the accepted level for both in jobs. 

When Saudis apply for jobs, their credentials go through excruciating process, where the university, degree and grades get checked. There is a lot of criticism on Saudis, the lack of their skills and experience. Those critiques lack a realistic look at the Saudi education regulations. The universities in Saudi are limited and in the past years finding a place in a public one has been increasingly difficult. A lot of Saudi students went to private colleges and universities within Saudi and the gulf. In 2005, the scholarship program started and provided so many opportunities.

Jobs in Saudi

Below are the main checks a Saudi applicant has to go through to get a job at the public sector. For private sectors these could be different. I had to keep all these points in mind after I graduated high school. 

1- Accredited University 

If a saudi wants to study abroad, she either needs a scholarship from the government or her place of work. Otherwise, she needs a permission to be funded privately. The  university has to be approved and accredited by the Ministry of Higher Education. Also, the student has to go to the main university's campus and not a branch. For example, the university I went to for my MA, Middlesex University, has a branch in Dubai, but the main campus is in London. So, I can only study in the London one for my degree to be approved by the ministry of higher education. 

2- Mode of Attendance

The only accepted mode of attendance is full time and in person. Even if the university's program is relaxed and gives the students time off, the students have to be there. Some universities and colleges in Saudi do part time like the Open University or the brand new Electronic University, but even then this might not be accepted. For instance, my mother went did her BA part time in another city, but when she applied to work at Aramco, her application was rejected because of that fact. Keep in mind her MA was full time.  

Note: Saudi females have it really hard. Almost every female I know want to further her education and get the highest levels of education, but sometimes they do not get accepted at a local university and their male guardians do not give them permission to leave the country. The part time and the long distance option will be very suitable for them, but since the government and most private sectors don't accept such degrees, they don't bother because what's the point of a degree that would lead to no where?! If this is not considered we will have more educated Saudis. 

3- Relevant Degrees 

This is one of the main conditions for most jobs. The relevance of the degree. Meaning, the undergraduate and the postgraduate have to be the same exact filed of study. If you start with an interior design degree you have to continue with a design degree. Some students switched their majors in their masters and when they graduated, they didn't get hired because their degrees weren't related to each other or different. It is actually great to have a mix of degrees from different areas because choosing just ONE area of study and sticking to it is a huge commitment and as people grow their interests change.   

4- High Grades 

Grades are essential in Saudi and the Gulf countries in general. High grades need to be consistent and not only high in the last received degree. I graduated with a 70% in the UK, which equals a first, which means an A/Excellent in normal countries *Mashallah* but it was hard convincing people in Saudi that I was an excellent student because in their books everything below 90% is really bad. 

Meanwhile, golden nationals can have degrees from any universities with part time/ long distance degrees who could be irrelevant to what they teach, but that's ok! For instance, I had an acquaintance who had a psychology degree topped with CELTA, Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. He got a top English teaching job in a Saudi university with an amazing pay. The same pay Saudis get with a masters degree in English. I also met few other ladies teaching English in the foundation year in a private university in the Eastern Province, where the teachers have Art Bachelors topped with TESOL, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. These are only few examples of the many English teachers out in Saudi that are approved without their universities, mode of attendance, relevant degrees and grades getting checked. 

It will be great if the same scrutiny is applied to any applicants from all nationalities or if that scrutiny is taken out all together to check the individuals skills and abilities.  

Note: I am positive & accepting towards everyone from all colours, genders, religions, backgrounds and nationalities. This post is about the current reality in Saudi.

Feel free to share your thoughts *positively* in the comments.