An American Muslim Woman in Saudi Arabia

When you hear someone mention “Saudi Arabia”, what images come to mind? Is it is a place of mystery where women are hidden away in vast harems? If you are Muslim, most likely your thoughts turn to the Holy Mosque in Mecca, a sanctuary for Muslims from around the world. As a liberal American Muslim woman, I must admit that I was nervous, scared, and anxious all at once at the thought of spending my summer in Saudi Arabia. I had heard the stories of religious police beating men who didn’t pray and women who weren’t covered properly (according to their interpretation of Islam). I was worried that as a woman traveling alone that I would be turned back at the border, or even put in a “woman’s claim room” where women are claimed by male relatives like a piece of luggage. I am happy to say that the Saudi I experienced was nothing like what the media or rumors portray it to be.

The first thing to understand about Saudi society is that it is extremely family friendly. Most activities are geared towards entertaining families with children. For example, several shopping malls, amusement parks, cafes, and beach resorts are ‘Family Only,” which means that men can only enter it if they are accompanied by female relatives. In this reverse discrimination circumstance, it is single men or groups of men who are excluded, as groups of women may freely enter.

Much attention has been paid to the injustice of forbidding women from driving cars in Saudi Arabia. What people also don’t realize is that this law not only restricts women, but it also puts a burden on many fathers and brothers who practically turn into part-time drivers at night shuttling around their female relatives.

Overall, I enjoyed Saudi society and culture. Like any place else in the World, including America, if you surround yourself with kind, generous, fun, and tolerant people you will enjoy yourself. And, even in Saudi, you can find the famous Arab and/or Muslim hospitality.

Sarah Swick
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org

Leave a Reply