I inhabit a “grey” area within local society

You know me, once I have an idea about something I MUST share it, or else I feel like I’ll explode. LOL…there goes my self-imposed 1 week exile from blog land.

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Being here has really caused my husband and I to think a lot about our lives and our deen and in some ways being here has also affected our emaan, sometimes in quite negative ways because Muslims in the west are told all kinds of things about life in the Gulf and then when you arrive, its like…bam! Life here is NOT like what you had thought it would be like-at all! Whether thats good or bad, well, I’ll leave that all for you to decide. I’ll keep my thoughts to myself.

but Ive come to realize that I inhabit a strange “grey” area within Saudi society. So  society here in the EP is made up of these groups…Gulf Arabs (the locals), Expats (Arab expats and western expats) and foreign laborers (I use laborer for the maids, drivers and those who work in low wage, physically draining labor positions). The Gulf nationals overwhelmingly keep to themselves whether due to cultural or linguistic reasons, I do not know, but its very difficult making friends and KEEPING friends who are Gulf nationals. Even those who proclaim themselves to be “Americanized” or “Westernized” tend to also hang out amongst themselves or hang out with western expats who are not Muslim. Then you have the Expats…most are either Arab-speaking Muslim or Christian expats from other Middle eastern countries like Egypt or Jordan while the majority are from western countries (I include Australia here!) who speak European languages (English, French, Spanish, etc), some itsy, bitsy minorities are from non-Arab Middle eastern countries, African countries or parts of Asia like India or Malaysia. The expats groups tend to also socialize amongst themselves and rarely intermix. For example, the Arab expats on our compound all know each other (usually) and regardless of religion often hang out together, sitting on each others balconies sipping coffee or tea. The western expats (majority are not Muslim) tend to hang out together as well, go shopping together and of course go to Bahrain on the weekends for the freer atmosphere and availability of intoxicating beverages.

Then you have people like me and my husband!

The MUSLIM expat who does not speak Arabic and did not move to Saudi Arabia from within the Middle East!

Because I came here from the USA I’m considered a WESTERN Expat. So, for all intense purposes I am a westerner YET I am a Muslim and I cover!

This poses a problems of “identity” for many, many people…because people like me don’t fit the mold of a “western expat” yet since I don’t speak Arabic and do not have Arab origins I do not fit into the mold of the “Arab expat”.

This is the grey area which I and many other western Muslim expats inhabit!

Its a really rather irritating spot to be in! I smacks of the whole “damn’d if you do, damn’d if you don’t” scenario that many Muslims in the US, Canada and other western countries complain abou!

When it comes to Saudi’s…well, many Saudi women Ive met (random chattings up in coffee shops-cuz they wanna practice their English out on me) seem to think I must have a husband who is a Gulf national-but, because I don’t…then they want to know whether I’m really a Muslim (um, yah) then they ask what I think of the abaya and shaylah and when I mention I wore the abaya or jilbab or similar attire in the US, many tend to not really “get it”.

A few weeks ago I was in a Saudi owned shop selling prayer garments and although the owner spoke decent English he just was’nt following along with what I was asking him and I had to keep repeating myself…why you ask? Well, when I started to get a bit ticked off he said, “wait wait wait, you come in here looking like that (does the hand gesture used around the world which symbolizes swaths of fabric wrapped around oneself) yet you don’t speak Arabic! I find it hard to believe it!” It took a 10min explanation about how yes, many Muslim women outside of this region do indeed wear the abaya or other styles of overgarment and a scarf as hejab!

…And it does’nt help the situation that all women here normally wear abayaat (or fail that, a jilbab or a long tunic and pants/skirts) so you have non -Muslim expat women running around in abayaat…and some do indeed wear a shaylah and wrap it snugly like how a practicing Muslimah would wear hers! Yet, they are’nt Muslim!

Hence, anytime I go into shops or inquire about things I always make an effort to give the full salaams as it does, in some way help to identify me as a Muslim-but again, sometimes it doesnt work and I get a big fat “hello, welcome, welcome” from the shopclerk in return to my “asalaamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatooh brother!”…

um, nice…not.

The non-Muslim western expats also tend to not understand either. They tend to not really socialize with Saudi’s or Muslim expoats from within the Middle East so they tend to just think ur a local or married to one and move on…funnily on one occasion I was in a Dunkin’ Dounuts at one of the local malls, asking my son which doughnut he wants and some very random American woman hears me, comes up and congratulates me on my perfect English and American accent to boot! (another, gee, um, thanks…um, not!) When I explained I came here from the US she thought maybe I was married to a local…and when that wasn’t the case she just sort of looked at me oddly and shuffled off!

But, Ive had some semi-decent success with some Arab expats…particularly Jordanians and Egyptians. They tend to be a bit more understanding and kind. Ive made a few of them as friends on the compound and althought their English isnt that great and my Arabic is near nill…we do sort of have a bond which comes from our shared faith. That helps…but unfortunately other than superficial conversations the friendships never get very deep. Although my son does play with their kids, which is good as he is indeed picking up Arabic exceedingly fast!

This leaves me with other Wrestern Muslim expats! I havent met too many, but there is 1 family on our compound which would fall into this category and I sometimes go shopping with the wife and we both get a kick out of the same things…like all the incredibly abayaat and how every single shop stocks a bazillion wonderful long skirts and tunics or how cute skirts are everywhere! You know, stuff like that.

Anyway…inhabiting a grey area is really no fun and one would think being that this is the country which has the blessed cities of Makkah and Medinah, in which Muslims from around the world come…that there would be more of a spot for us, yet there isnt. Here as in the US or other Western countries we inhabit this strange grey area.

Ah well, Allahu alim!

Oh and I found a great post on sister Nzinghas blog about the trials and tribulations of being a western Muslim, married to a Gulf national and living between KSA and Bahrain. Much of her experiences are similar to mine, although I think she kind of has a rougher time as her husband is a local, so she has to deal with the additional layer of jealousy from some local women about “that woman stole one of our men!” sorta thing.

4 thoughts on “I inhabit a “grey” area within local society

  1. Grey area indeed! I have learned a lot of fascinating facts from reading your blog, but I would definitely have a similar level of frustration if I were you. I pray that you will make some closer Muslim friends, and those westerners who are comfortable with Islam and religious customs. The amount of nationalities in saudi is huge, but its sad how little different people interact.

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