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 Saudis...it'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.

25 comments:

  1. Wow! This is so sad! But your not the first to be bold enough to relay these types of stories. I know of a Somali sister who was married to a white convert, and they would tell her "why did he marry you?" or tell him "you can marry anyone, why her?" I can only imagine the impact this has on children who are dark skinned in the schools there.

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  2. Yes, Umm Salwa there are always those bold questions whenever mixed couples are seen here. I have heard the same question being asked by every single white man who is married to a black woman. As for the children, we face issues with our children. My friend's daughter, who is black, tells her mother that she wants to be white. They never want to play with black dolls, they think that light is pretty. It is something we are constantly battling.

    Fortunately, many of us are on the same page and ensure that our children socialize with all colors and nationalities, so that those ideas don't set in.

    Even the school bags and accessories are all geared to the princess theme, with white faced, long haired, blond and brown haired women. We didn't think we'd see those image-ridden things here, but in this regard it is just like the West.

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  3. That's really sad, and me being from South Africa will just make it more difficult to ever relocate to Madinah :(

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  4. As salaamu alaykum brother Asjad.

    Although it is sad, it is not difficult for South Africans to get jobs here. There are many working in the private and education sectors. True, if you are coming as a teacher through a subcontractor you can expect to get a slightly lower salary, but it is hardly enough to stop one from accepting Allah's invitation to this blessed city if He extends it.

    So many of us don't fit the "ideal" here, but mashaa'Allah, we are all living here happily with a far healthier and active social life than those who have put up all the walls of prejudice.

    Bear in mind, we are not coming here to be loved and admired by the Saudis, we are coming to draw closer to Allah and His Prophet,salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam. If you work for it, and it is good for you, inshaa'Allah you will relocate here.

    Barak Allahu feek.

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  5. assalamu a'alaikum -

    i am not meaning to be funny, but how do the brothers know who the other brother married, isn't there segregation in Saudi? How one brother is looking at another brother's wife to judge their color?

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  6. @ Anonymous: Yes there's segregation between the sexes in Saudi, but when a light skin woman is walking with children that are darker than her, it's known that her husband is darker than her.

    Or when I'm seen with my children who are lighter than me, it's obvious that my wife is lighter than me.

    Also, you can see the color of a women's skin by seeing her hands and eyes, for those who wear niqab. For those who don't cover their face, you have no serious doubt about her race and color.

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  7. و عليكم السلام و رحمة الله و بركاته Absolutely true sister Mai, I really dream of coming to Madinah, I just don't know how to go about it, do u have any advice for me? Shukran

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  8. @ Asjad Khan: It is impossible to give advice about how to come to Madinah without knowing the person's hopes, dreams, goals, and background. With that said, you are free to contact us at madinahnaseeha@gmail.com. However, you should first purify your intention and ask Allah to help you.

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  9. Jazakallah , I will contact u soon

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  10. does this mean if someone is brown-skinned south asian married to a white woman with white-tone kids, they would be fine?

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  11. @Anonymous: What we've found is that if you or your children don't look like or sound think a Saudi or Gulf Arab, expect to experience some prejudice. Nedji Saudis even look at Hejazi Saudis and vice versa with some prejudice. This society is very tribal, so physical appearance isn't the only factor considered when living amongst the people.

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  12. salaams, eid mubarak to all.

    sorry to put this question here, i think it belongs in the last topic, but inshaAllah if you are kind enough to answer it will benefit...

    is there concept of medical insurance in ksa? if not, how do you function. what if an expat has a heart attack, how will they get a stent or major surgery? will they have to pay for it? is there any concept of home health aide or nursing home or day care facility for adults? native saudis will have extended family to take care of them, but what if an expat is alone and gets sick, what will happen to them?

    jazakallah...

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  13. @ Anonymous: My answer is limited to what I know as a government employee. We get free medical, dental, and vision as part of our employment package. This package also covers my family.

    However, some normal medical expenses you must pay for yourself e.g. childbirth.

    If you have a extreme medical condition, you may need to go elsewhere to be treated, and you wouldn't want to be treated here anyway. You may have noticed that the king went to America for his serious medical treatment.

    If you have a condition that needs in-home care, you can hire a nurse or have a maid.

    Lastly, when you say expat, what country or countries are you speaking about? All expats are not treated the same.

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  14. i am speaking about coming from usa; and inshaAllah when i am able to go to saudi i will be retired so i will probably not have any benefits (i dont think they will give benefits if you are working part-time). your answer seems problematic in that you are not really able to make a permanent hijra, because if you get really sick you will have to go back to the land of kufr anyway to get treated...i read somewhere that hijra is meant to be a permanent one - the intention should be not to come back to where you started...Allahu 'alim.

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  15. @ Anonymous: You are correct, hijrah should be forever. However, the Saudi government doesn't want people to make hijrah, if they did, we would be able to stay without working certain jobs or past the age where they say we can't work anymore.

    I will give two examples where migration is possible. The first one does not apply to us, it's just an example.

    All Jews have a right to return according to the Israeli government. The only Muslim country that has a similar policy is Sudan. All Muslims or anyone of African heritage has a right to live in Sudan. This information was directly told to me by the ambassador from Sudan when I was living in Syria.

    The Saudi government only gives visas for the following: Employment, residence (this is for the employee's family, not just for any person),
    student, business, Hajj and Umrah, family visit, and transit. Marriage isn't even a sure way to stay.

    However, marrying a Saudi man is more stable than marrying a Saudi woman. The rules are different because of nationality. All children born to Saudi men are Saudi, but children born to expat men get the nationality of their father, regardless if the mother is Saudi.

    If you can fit into one of those visa categories, al hamdulillah. May Allah give you what is best for you.

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  16. Salaam sis my family was in khobar for a year to work and we experienced this too sadly! What ur saying is 100% accurate although it does vary btw regions.like non-bedu background Saudis from the EP tend to be highly mixeddue to trade, fishing, pearling, etc which was common on the Gulf, ESP if they came from a fishing village- it's the bedu who tend to be more class, race, color obsessed.most of the saudis who rilly r from the gulf coast are a mix of bedu, Persian, iraqi, African, even Indian if not more! So many families have diverse skin tones. Just to add, myhusband is a bit darker than me and I never had racism directed at but my dh had many rude incidents cuz some bedu Saudis would think he was Pakistani or indian! He got into the habit of taking our very fair son with himself when he went out cuz the rudeness was much less!

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  17. Salaam Alaikum :)

    Beautiful blog you have sis :) A Facebook fan page (box) with live RSS of your blog will spread your words :)

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  18. Salam alaikum,
    jazakallah for this blog!i teach english here in the usa,usually for saudi women students.i am a white american woman with biracial children.(black)when i make friends with these sisters i am always faced with shock upon their faces when they meet my daughters whom are darker then i.i dream of making hijra but really dont know what life would be like for my daughters in saudi!this is the only issue that stops me from trying to move.it is sad that you find islam in the east but not the muslims,and in the west you dont find islam but you find the muslims subhanallah.

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  19. Al humdullilah I was blessed to make hajj this year and I was devasted to see the preferential treatment that was shown towards the Saudis at the Haram. It was disheartening. We live in Jeddah and are eagarly seeking opportunities to move to Madinah. We plan to visit Madinah this weekend insha'Allah my husband and I are always excited to meet other Americans here in the kingdom (especially ones with big families;)

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  20. asalamoalkum sister
    could u tell me any o level or edexcel board school in madina.as we want to move there ,my kids are in grade 9,8,5,2&kg.
    JAZAKALLUKHAIR
    UMMESAQIB

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  21. Assalama Alaykum,

    I pray that Allah unites the hearts of the Muslims. We are all the children of Adam and skin colour does not matter. I have black, white and asian ancestors. My family consists of different coloured people and growing up I saw these different shades and never thought anything of it. As a child you just look and you see and accept. Mummy is Mummy, Daddy is Daddy, your grandparent, great-grandparents, aunts and the rest of your relatives are just your family. I grew up not judging people by their skin colour Alhamdulillah. Racism, colorism and nationalism all disgust me. May Allah make all these things abhorrent to every muslim and mumin. Ameen.

    MashaAllah I love your blog sister. May Allah bless you and your family in this life and in the akhira.

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  22. Salaams sr. Please would you tell me how to contact you as my husband and my two children and I are eager to move to medina. We want our children growing up in an Islamic environment. I home educate at the moment.

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    Replies
    1. Wa alaykum us salaam wa RahmatUllah wa Barakatuh Polly Wood.

      You can contact us at madinahnaseeha@gmail.com

      Inshaa'Allah, you have read the rest of this blog, as we have included most of the information people tend to ask us herein.

      Please note that even though we live here, we still have to home school our children, as do many of the expatriates here. There is a great deal of bad influence that you will have to face if you send your children to school here. In any case, if there are questions that haven't been addressed on this blog, please do feel free to contact us.

      Barak Allahu feekum.

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  23. Asslam Alikoum Wa rahmato Allah,

    Dear sister,

    It really hurts when you know how much suffering and hardship some people go through while in the city of Al-Madinah Al-Munawwarrah just because they are not Saudi or Arabic in origin. I am a Saudi, born and raised in Madinah and proudly married to an Afghani woman, and honestly find most of what you have discussed here true – to some extent – and I am definitely not here to defend those attributes or behaviors as I personally (and so as many other people in Madinah) do not believe, practice or tolerate them. That is why my only concern is that you have generalized your point of view to represent the attitude of the vast majority of people in Madinah, which I found honestly not true.

    Many people in Madinah (as in any other city in the Arabic region) are tribal people who are not very well educated or even have that much “iltizam” and therefore do not represent Islam or a typical-Muslim behavior in any way. Living in Madinah is a big privilege, but it does not make you holy or sacred. Even in the time of our prophet Mohammad (PBUH), Madinah was filled with hypocrites and insincere people who were still believed to be Muslims “wa la hawla wala kuata illa billah”, but did they represent Islam? Of course not.

    Insha’Allah we will return to Madinah before Ramadan (as we are currently in Australia) and it will be a great pleasure for me to meet your husband and the other brothers, and for my wife to meet you and the other sisters. Insha’Allah you would change your mind about the people of Madinah afterwards :)

    Please accept my reply with a thoughtful mind, and we are eagerly looking forward to being (with all of you) in the city of Mohammad (PBUH).

    Abu Hassan (www.bandars.com)

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    1. Abu Hassan,

      Wa alaikum as salaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh. Thank you for your comment. We didn't say all Saudis act this way.

      However, the vast majority do display prejudice. I teach at Taibah University, and hear and see it all the time there and many other places. However, on the same note, I see Saudis that I am honored to call my brothers.

      In every society you will have good and bad. Just as every American isn't a Caucasian or kafir or a capitalist oppressor, every Saudi isn't a racist, rich, or a bad driver.

      I look forward to meeting you when you return home.

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When commenting, fitnah is to be avoided at all costs, as the angels abandon those who argue and dispute."Who believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him speak good or remain silent." Barak Allahu feekum!

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