Thursday, August 25, 2011

Explanation of Prejudice here

Wa alaykum as salaam wa Rahmat Allah wa Barakatuh Anonymous.

Wa iyaaki and may Allah bless you and your family with even more than you have wished for us - ameen.

Although this can be said for the Khaleej (GCC) countries in general, I will elaborate on the prejudice here in Saudi on a few levels. My observations and comments are based on 18 years of living in the Middle East; 16 in Bahrain and 2 in Saudi Arabia.

Saudis are prejudice regarding color, nationality, socio-economic status, and materialism, wa Allahu musta'an. Within their own society, they will not marry someone of a different skin shade. I have discussed this with Saudi women, particularly those who are hitting 30 and still unmarried. Even in the face of our Prophet's Last Khutbah (salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam) regarding our equality regardless of color, they do not deviate from their insistence that they must marry someone of the same shade. I asked if they could marry lighter than themselves and was told no. Here is the thinking, or at least part of it.

If I marry someone darker than me, then that isn't good. (Darker means lower in some way or marrying down.) If I marry someone lighter than me, then I'm not nice for him. (Remember, darker is not nice in comparison.) Once the teachers found out that I was married to an African American, they were quite dumbfounded as to why I would marry someone darker than myself when there is no problem with me. They nod their heads when I talk about deen being paramount and color being irrelevant, but they most certainly aren't implementing that in their own lives.

A true scenario was a case of a Saudi man wishing to marry again. He told my husband that he wanted to marry an American but stated that she had to be a white American, not black, as they might have children and you know how the people are here.

With such a mindset, darker shaded people are considered in some way inferior, of worker class, and are usually treated with less respect and esteem than those who are lighter. Similarly, nationality is almost a trophy here. To be Saudi, American, or British and white or very light skinned, you are at the top of the heap. To be from Africa, the Far East, or the subcontinent and dark skinned puts you at the bottom of the heap. This is to such an extent that if there are a group of people waiting for their vegetables to be weighed and priced by an Arab employee, the light skinned ones will be served first and the dark skinned left to the end. Many experience it from the time they land and stand in the immigration lines at Madinah Airport. I know it sounds rather outrageous, and it is more evident in some places and situations than others, but most certainly it is a reality.

A real example is the subcontractor's pay-scale for the teachers at Saudi Universities. Americans and British earn more than someone from South Africa, India, or Uzbekistan. Regardless of whether the employee from one of the less esteemed countries has more qualifications or is far better than his peers, his nationality alone warrants a lower salary.

As for socio-economic status, if you are holding a degree, especially if it is a Masters or PhD, and have a job of good standing that obviously pays well, then that raises you in the esteem of the people here. Having money and education are an offset to less attractive aspects like a "unimpressive" nationality or a less preferred skin tone.

Finally,  materialism is paramount for the majority of's all about how you look. If you drive a newer model GMC or better, are turned out in immaculate thobes, good shoes, nice watches, expensive abayas, a  vast and brand name riddled wardrobe of clothes, and accessories for every look imaginable, it will be considered a big plus for you. You will augur respect and manners just from your appearance. Just going regularly to the mall and shopping will augur VIP treatment from the shop employees and owners, as they can see you are conspicuously spending, i.e., you have money and you take appearance seriously, just as they do.

Okay, this sounds negative...and the poorer the Saudi, the less some of these things will apply. We were blessed to have a Saudi Arabian neighbor who was one of these simpler folk. He is working class, living modestly, and has gifted us with dates, helped us move, and is generally pleasant and respectful all around.

But let's look at it from a different perspective. The people here have been raised upon tawheed. Shaytaan has no access to them, for the most part inshaa'Allah, in regards to this and the basic tenets of Islam. Therefore, he must get them from other angles and this prejudice is one of them. We all have our failings and imperfections; may Allah correct, guide, and forgive us all - ameen.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Popular Questions Answered

BismIllah wa as salaamu alaykum.

These are some common questions that are asked regarding living here in Madinah. I'm posting them, along with our answers, to provide other readers with a clearer idea.

Is there any US, British international school in Madinah. No

What is the quality of education for chidren in Madinah. Poor

Are there co education shools in Madinah? No

What would be the fees per child per month for education in the best school in Madinah? School fees are paid by the year or semester (two semesters per year), not by the month. The best school is about 13,000 riyal per year.

What would be the costof living per month in Medinah for a family of 4. breaking up into:
This is a difficult question, as it depends on your lifestyle, but generally:

Cost per month of Groceries and food items.  1800 riyal

Cost per month for utilities like Gas, water, electricity, Telephone, internet, Cable connection.  Gas cylinders are 16-18 riyal each (last about one month), water is free if you live in an apartment (flat) if not 150 every 3 months, 50-200 for electricity, everyone uses a mobile phone (it's up to you how much you spend but the rate is perhaps 35 halala per minute (check the STC website for rates), 25 - 35 per text message.), 2200 per year for internet.

Cost per month for hiring a driver for the car.
500-700 per month if they own the car, and pick you up when needed... 2000 or more if they are a driver who lives in your house and drives your car.

Cost per month for recreation, like going out for sight seeing, dining ones a week in a decent restaurant: anywhere from 200 - 700 riyal.

Cost per month for general maintenance like house hold dishes, soaps, washing and cleaning item )assuming a large 3 bedroom type accomodation) 50 - 100 riyal.

Cost per month for rent for a 3 bedroom, Villa in a decent location close to Nabi (SAW) Masjid, or any other nearby residential area. 35,000 - 50,000 riyal per year.

What is the rate of taxes on salary earned in Saudi Arabia? There are no taxes on income in Saudi Arabia.

What is cost of medical facility in Madinah, visiting fee for a general physician, a specialist like eye or heart specialist? Are there good quality doctors and medical centre and hospitals in Madinah? A general visit is between 50-200 riyal. I am not happy with the general quality of the doctors or the hospitals here.

If there are no good schools what does the expatriates community do for the education of their kids, do they compromise heavily on education?
Many of us home-school. Some of us send their children to Saudi schools and home-school. Others compromise their children's education.

How is the social life on weekends there? Madinah doesn't have much of social atmosphere, it is a place of learning.There are many different nationalities. Please be advised, the Saudis are very prejudice. It is really a matter of making friends and then getting together for your own social life.

How much does a brand new car cost- Lets say Honda Civic, and Toyota prado. I'm not sure of the price of a brand new car, but you finance one for about 800 riyal per month.

What is the cost of litre of petrol there? 100 halala per litre for the best petrol.   It cost 17 riyal fill a small car (Honda Civic or Toyota Prado).

As i read in your blogs that spending more time in Masjid Nabvi is quite hard due to the visitors, then if some one just wants to move there to spend more time at Holy Prophet(PBUH) roza and in the Holy Mosque ideally praying 5 times there, how do u see that mean how practical it is.
It can be done, with some effort and giving yourself enough time to find a place to park and be there early enough to get inside to pray. During the Hajj period and for two months thereafter, it is quiet and residents can enjoy the Haram effortlessly. Afterwards, it needs timing coordination, and for jumu'ah prayers, you need to be there at least two hours before the prayer to get a place inside. Although many of us think and hope to pray there 5 times a day, with work and school schedules, that isn't realistic or feasible for anyone we know.

With regards to the schools, I will do a separate post compiling our various responses on that subject, inshaa'Allah.

I pray it benefits.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Around 200 bananas

Bism Illah wa as salaamu alaykum.

After finally peeling and freezing the last of at least 35 - 40 kilos of bananas, I thought I'd let you know how things work here. When you find something you like, want, need, or use for your food or cooking, it is best to stock up. Things that are in the shop today, may not be seen again for months, years, or ever again.

In our first weeks in Madinah, when my husband came home with 20 packs of organic wholewheat pasta, jars and jars of fruit spread, and bags of organic sugar, I told him he was being excessive. Once we started getting low on those items and we found that there weren't any in stock anymore, I started to realize the wisdom in stocking up.

Bananas are usually around SAR 5 per kilo. Sometimes they are cheaper in the big supermarkets and go down to SAR 3.75 or even SAR 3. As we use bananas for our frozen treat, "Better than Ice-Cream", and also smoothies, we are usually on the look out for good prices and nice quality bananas. Last week Carrefour was selling bananas for the lowest price ever: SAR 1.95 per kilo. Subhaan Allah, hubby couldn't pass it up. He came home with around 10 bags full of bananas. There were so many, mashaa'Allah, that I had to find buckets to store them in. It took me 3 days to peel them, break them into chunks and pack them in buckets for the freezer. Now we have enough frozen bananas for smoothie every day in Ramadan, inshaa'Allah.

Of course, we are a family of six so we have to stock up differently than a smaller family, but after a very short time one learns that if you find it and you need it or the price is right, you need to buy it up!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Our Ramadhaan

Bism Illah wa as salaamu alaykum.

Madinah is a blessed place to be in Ramadhaan, but my reasons for loving it are not perhaps what you would expect. It isn't because we can go the Masjid an Nabawi, because the crowds are so great that we don't usually go there until the end of the month and Eid al Fitr.

The beauty of being here is that it is so hot and nothing much is open during the fasting day, we have nothing to do but stay at home. This opens the doors for a structured programme for the family. My day starts at 3:00 a.m. when I wake up to pray tahajjud. I get suhoor started, pray 2 - 4 rakaat, and then finish preparing suhoor and wake up the family. I have some fruit or a smoothie, leave the rest of the family to eat their suhoor, and finish my tahajjud and witr prayers. Then we pray fajr and the children all go back to bed. I wash the dishes, clear up the kitchen and then  settle down to read Qur'an in Arabic. I read up to about 6 - 6:30 a.m., at least 30 minutes after the sunrise, and then offer 2 nawafil rakaat of prayer. Then I usually take some rest for a couple of hours.

When we all get up, I read the juz for the following day from the Sahih International Qur'an Translation in English. I write out some questions from the juz and send them to the children through Skype. They also get questions on the Daily Sittings in Ramadhaan by Shk, Uthaymeen from my husband. Their primary goal during the day is to read their juz, answer the questions and send them to me for checking, and read the Daily Sitting and send their answers to their father. We are also slowly going though an aqeedah book, memorizing responses to fundamental questions in Islam.

Then the children are free to play, have an hour on the computer for some beneficial websites, etc. until it is time to break the fast. Sometime after Asr, I open up the kitchen and prepare the futoor (meal to break our fast). I have planned ahead to ensure that the meals during Ramadhaan are liked by all the family members, but do not take a long time to prepare. I am striving to improve both my focus and my use of time each year, inshaa'Allah.

We break our fast with dates and water. Yes, we have the great blessing of being able to drink Zamzam water every day and access to Madinah dates, mashaa'Allah. We all pray maghrib, and then settle down to eat our evening meal. After this, everyone relaxes until isha' prayer and then after the prayer, we all sit down to have a small sweet treat from the homemade biscuits, cookies, and biscotti I made in preparation for Ramadan. Then the children all go to bed, and I settle down for some Qur'an reading in Arabic before sleeping.

Shops are open from after dhuhr until perhaps 4 or 5 p.m. and then after the isha' or taraweeh prayer. Such timing means that I am not planning to see a shop until the month is over! The fresh meat, especially the chicken, on the supermarket shelves are emptied each day with it being hard at times to find anything if your timing isn't right. It is a month of giving food, providing for the fasting, hoping for the blessings and rewards of feeding a fasting person. Tablecloths are spread outside each masjid, with food provided for anywhere from 50 up to several hundred worshipers. The iftars at Masjid an Nabawi have been beautifully depicted on Al Miskeena's blog here.

As we approach our ninth day of fasting and the first third of this most beloved month is almost over, I already feel heart-wrenching sadness at the speed of it's passing. I already feel an impending mourning over it's loss. I already have tears in my eyes, because I know how quickly it will be gone.

There is great beauty in the fact that for the believer, we can slow that rush through silent contemplation and communication with Allah. 24/7 communication with our beloved Therapist eliminates so many of the distractions and fitna of this dunya.

My precious readers, may this be our best Ramadhan ever. May the gates of Ar-Rayyaan stand wide open for us and may we meet Allah without account - ameen!