Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Desis, Multiculturalism, Saudization, and Marriage: Part II—From Career to Courtship

By Chiara

Abdullah, or NidalM of “NidalM Photography Blog", an excellent photoblog that is a subset of his professional photography site NidalM Photography continues here his personal essay and reflection on multicultural identities, career, and courtship in Saudi following on Part I--From Birth to Career of his personal essay "Desis, Multiculturalism, Saudization, and Marriage".

Abdullah is 23, born in Pakistan, but raised in Saudi Arabia since the age of 1 month. Both his parents are Pakistani, although his mother was raised partly in Tanzania. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Computer Engineering from Saudi Arabia's prestigious King Faud University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM), and a Master's degree in Financial Engineering from the prestigious University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He currently works for a Saudi investment company, and does freelance photography work part-time.

© Abdullah Mohiuddin.

Opening a Can of Worms

You might argue that Saudi Arabia already has a naturalization policy. Indeed by 2005, the Arab News was flooded with articles of how the new citizenship laws would potentially benefit 1 million of the country's 8 million expats. Potentially being the key word here, because as time has shown, only a scant few ever made it through the application process.

The fear here is, of course, the same as what every country fears when opening its doors to outsiders: an erosion of cultural values and traditions. All of which are very solid points--our traditions are things we cherish. Here's the problem though. If you wanted to protect your culture from outsiders, you're already a decade (or two!) too late. There's been internet and satellite TV access in the Kingdom since the 90s. The country's youth have taken up the government's international scholarship program in droves, and have started returning to the country with new ideas, incorporating their Saudi culture with what they have seen on the outside. And as I have learned very recently, there are a large number of Saudis that have taken non-Saudi wives (though the opposite is a decidedly more slippery slope

Are those who have adapted their culture 'bad people'? Shouldn't multiculturalism be something that should be encouraged, not stifled, as long as it is not at the expense of religion. It's rather arrogant to think that one's own culture is superior to another's. We all do some things right and others wrong. We can all learn from each other.

And learn we all do. Something strange has been happening as Saudi Arabia has slowly started creaking open its doors. The world has started to pay attention! It has suddenly become 'cool' for Muslims all over the world to start incorporating Arabic into their languages. Words like 'Ya3ni' (I mean) and 'Akhi' (brother) have replaced their counterparts in their own languages. The veil and hijaab are becoming more common in North America. Worn by women who project a strong character and who have amazing personalities, they are changing the negative perceptions of the Islamic and Arab world. Saudi Arabia's ambassadors of culture are not the thousands of mullahs exported worldwide, but their expatriate citizens, who interact with foreign societies, and win them over. It is their bloggers, who write about life in the country and show the world how it's not all about fundamentalism. Too long has the perception of Saudis in the West been of a rich bearded man being followed around by a gaggle of veiled women. This needs to change!

By opening its doors, Saudi does not risk to lose its culture. There's no such thing as culture loss. It's called a cultural exchange. And the whole world seeks to gain from it.

On Blending Multiple Cultures

Something I enjoy very much is when people ask me where I'm from. The answer (even to me) is never simple. On a recent safari trip to Kenya, I was confronted by a man on a Mombasa beach who called himself 'The Doctor'. I would learn that the reason he called himself that was to advertise the fact that he wanted to sell me marijuana, but I digress...

[Start of conversation redacted as it involves liberal use of the word 'Ganja' trying to be peddled at exorbitant prices]
"Ey man, where you from?", the Doctor asked me, frustrated at my lack of interest in his wares.
"Guess", I said smiling.
He stares at me, "Your accent sound like American."
Too easy, I was wearing a Michigan Football T-shirt (btw...GO BLUE!), "Good guess, but no"
Taken aback, he pressed forward: "What’s your name?"
"3abdallah", I said, with the proper Arabic pronunciation. As I said, I love this game.
"You are from Arab!", he said smiling, gaining re-enforcement by looking at my two Saudi friends who were traveling with me.
"Nope, I just live in Saudi Arabia, I'm not really a Saudi"
The poor man was visibly flustered now. His friend joined him and they spoke to each other in rapid Swahili. I only picked up a few words my mother had taught me as a child. At least I was sure they weren't planning to stab me or something.
Turning back to me he replied, "My friend says, you are Indian... because you have Indian hair."
I laughed. A lot.

Now Desis can sometimes tell that I'm a Desi. Saudis can sometimes tell I'm not a Saudi (the accent gives them pause), but they can't pinpoint where I'm from. And when I get that long overdue haircut, I will again be unidentifiable.

© Abdullah Mohiuddin. At the Serena beach resort in Mombasa. Not the man who tried to sell me the stuff, but I bet they're related!

However, it's all fun and games, until the really important life questions start. I've been able to pass off as Saudi, Pakistani, Indian, and, in the United States, as a Latino. Physically blending in with a community is one thing, cultural blending is quite another... While I've always been an outsider to the Saudi community -- though I have been a part of it and learned to emulate it --it is also very unlikely that I would be considered a pure Pakistani. Furthermore, I detest the terms American-Desi or Americanized-Desi, because they carry a wide range of connotations, many of which I disagree with.

© Abdullah Mohiuddin. Devon Street (aka Mohammad Ali Jinnah Way) in Chicago, IL. It has a special place in the hearts of America's Pakistanis and boasts a serious case of multi-cultural syndrome (oh, there's Indians and Polish Jews there too!)

While I'm very liberal in terms of accepting what other people choose to do with their lives, I tend to lean towards the conservative on my end. While I'm not a fan of clubbing and bar-hopping, I feel that nothing is better for getting a wedding mood going than a bit of Bhangra. And while I think it's important for a guy and a girl to get to know each other before marriage, I feel that parents also have an important role to play in the final decision-making. I'm a fan of the Hijaab. But I also see it as something a girl chooses, not something that can be imposed. I suffer from wanderlust. I pray regularly. The Qur'an is music to my ears. And yet I've had quasi-religious experiences listening to music. I speak Urdu, English and Arabic, in their correct accents. It's a myriad collection of different beliefs and ideas, the totality of which I cannot attribute to any one community or culture that I've been part of.

© Abdullah Mohiuddin. I'm probably the worst dancer you could find. But its all about having fun right? :)


The question is, “Why am I suddenly so concerned about my identity now?” It's not as if I realized this overnight. Pardon the pun, but it's been a lifetime in the making. The answer is, “Yes, now I have to find someone to share it with.”

And it’s no easy task. You might be shocked to hear that a guy at 23 years old is suddenly burdening himself with these issues. Well, it’s because in Desi culture, the fact that I have completed my studies and am now working (and own a car!) means that I am "set". And it is at this point that society suddenly turns against you. Simply put, the women of our community and close relatives have now started pressuring my mother to get me married off. And this in turn translates into pressure on me.

© Abdullah Mohiuddin. "You're next!". The look my aunt gave me at my cousin's wedding.

You have the expected: women pointing out girls they know. This is something that I've been aware of and doesn't bother me in the slightest. The more sinister approach that I never expected: people, mostly back in Pakistan, pointing out that since I've been exposed to Americanism, I should quickly marry a 'traditional' girl so "she can straighten me up". It has been a shocking revelation, to say the least, to see people so close to me suddenly talking about the possibility of me taking up drugs, drink, and clubbing if I stay single too long.

A lot of expat friends that were raised with me in Saudi Arabia (and not necessarily of Pakistani origin) have told me about the same problems that they've been having with finding their own partners. Given that I was the youngest person in my class by a year, they have a some time on me in terms of experiences through dealing with parents and traditional marriages. Almost invariably, they find that they've been unable to make things work when set up with someone from home. Now, I certainly consider it too early to single out a type of girl that I like, but traditional just doesn't sound right to me either. Growing up outside Pakistan, I find some stark differences in the way we set goals in life. Education has a major part to play in it, surely. But so does an aspect of culture. I don't want to generalize, I have met some great friends born and raised in Pakistan, but they are almost always highly educated, brought up in a liberal atmosphere, and not what you think of when you're told 'traditional'.

© Abdullah Mohiuddin. Bridal Henna.

Whenever I talk to people about marriage, it invariably leads to a "Would you marry an [insert ethnicity here]?" question. My answer is always both a yes and a no. Yes, because having lived among people from so many places, and having seen people of all types from all nationalities, I don't consider it a factor at all. No, because there usually may need to be some serious cultural reconciliation from both sides. And I would like to avoid too much of that. I admit having multiple identities is confusing. There are days when I wish I could say I am Abdullah from xx and that’s the end of the sentence. They say getting married would help in this regard, but I'd rather figure it out before I take the plunge. Or find someone with a similar outlook and willing to figure it out with me. I don't want to impose my culture on someone else; and, I don't want to have another identity imposed on me--whether it be Desi, Arab, or Western.

I consider myself as having a laid back attitude towards my identity; and currently, I would think an ideal partner wouldn't be too biased towards hers. I am indeed too young to get married right now, but if I were to marry early, at least being flexible in this regard would allow us to learn from each other and discover what we would like to be together.

And of course, then come the other more concrete ramifications of getting married into a different culture. Marrying someone raised outside Pakistan would mean my relatives thinking that I've no interest in them, and want to cut away from my roots. Marrying a Saudi would mean a long period of limbo pending government approval, not to mention problems with the family and whatnot. Someone raised in America would result in people thinking I want to give up on religion (because if I move to the States, I HAVE to get high and drunk... right?). There's a compromise here I'm sure. And there's a good chance I'm overthinking it all. Just hoping for time to figure it all out! Children? Not even there yet!

And a closing thought...what's the etiquette on being the photographer at your own wedding? :P

 © Abdullah Mohiuddin.

I would like to thank Abdullah again for contributing this excellent personal essay, and urge you all to share in my enjoyment of his outstanding photoblog, “NidalM Photography Blog”, and his professional photography site NidalM Photography .

In his 2-part essay he has raised a number of interesting individual and collective challenges, those of individual identity formation, the family and community impact on life stages, choices made for and forced on one by government laws and policies, including Saudization and what one might call “the Saudization of Marriage”, the government preference for intra-Saudi marriages, except for the “undesirable” Saudi women (over 25 professionals, over 40).

What are your thoughts and comments on, and experiences of, multiple identities, family pressure to marry, Saudization, and the “Saudization of Marriage”?


single4now said...

Those vultures look so evil! All the aunties will be absolutely offended and boycott Nidal.

Why oh why are professionals considered "undesirable"?

Chiara said...

Single4now--because...because...because we...hmmm got me. It seems the complaint in Saudi is that they work too many hours and don't take sufficient care of the home and children. However I am sure there are happy dual career couples too--or at least dual career couples juggling work and home like the rest. In Saudi it might even be easier, IF family and spouse are supportive, as household help is more readily available, and there are more grannies and aunties available for childcare.

NidalM said...

One can only hope for a boycott ;)

As chiara said, the concept of dual career couples is pretty new in Saudi culture and most people just dont think it works. It will probably take time fur the culture to adapt, but until that happens, some very great girls are left unmarried in Saudi.

Chiara said...

NidalM--thanks for your comment. Hmmm, I feel a research project coming on,...LOL :)

Le Croyant said...


I hear ya! I don't think the identity crises ever ends. I am Indo-Arab, my father is from India & mom is from Yemen and I grew up in Saudia. I have been living in US for the last 10 yrs since I was 20. I still don't know whr I m from. At heart I m a Saudi, as that was my home for the most part & that's whr I grew up & shaped me into the person I am but I can't call myself a Saudi as I don't have a Saudi citizenship. I don't think I will ever call myself a American, even after 10 yrs.. I don't feel like I m even 1% American. I am proud of my Indian & Yemeni roots but I fell like a stranger in those countries. I don't think I will be at peace till I m on paper what I am at heart.

Chiara said...

Le Croyant--welcome to my blog and thank you for your comment. I am sure Abdullah will respond. Your situation is very interesting, and in the broad issues, common. I do hope you get Saudi citizenship so that you can be on paper what you are in your heart.

Some Americans and Canadians are really so in citizenship only. Their cultural identifications are elsewhere and remain so even after decades. They sometimes find on returning "home" that they are more North American than they thought. Fortunately, at least in Canada, where we are proud to have a mosaic rather than a melting pot notion of multiculturalism (debatable for individuals which is better), they are happily whatever-Canadians, or Canadians of whatever origin when that is the identity they wish to emphasis. You might be an Indo-Yemeni-Saudi American, at least in your mind if that suits you.

I hope you will comment as well on newer and older posts. The posts just after Abdullah's, by Abu and Umm Abdullah, involving the Indo-American-Saudi "triangle" might be especially interesting to you:

Thanks again for your comment.

Murtadha said...

Great interview Chaira, very good question and incredible answers. I may come back to comment about some points that have been raised here.

Chiara said...

Murtadha--Thank you, I am glad you enjoyed it. Abdullah was pretty much a self-writer. I do hope you will come back to share your thoughts on the points raised in his dual post.

You might also be particularly interested in the dual post by Ellen and M as they are students and dealing with cross-cultural challenges (and benefits!)in a mixed marriage, and with the challenge of potentially living in Saudi, both marriage permission process, and being Shia in a Sunni dominant country.

I hope you are enjoying your break from Uni!

NidalM said...

Le Croyant,

I may be coming to terms with the fact that a diffused culture is in itself a culture. Its great to hear from somebody who's already gone through these experiences, but on another level, its also great to know that there a large number of people (and I think growing rapidly) that dont see a national identity as part of their cultures.


Chiara said...

Many "expat brats" or 3rd nation children are becoming happy with having a more global, or international identity and fretting less, and being less defensive about where they are from.

Often if they have moved frequently due to father's job they choose a similar lifestyle in the foreign service, military, missionary, or teaching fields.

Others are happily "overseas" from where ever their parents were originally from for all of their lives. Still others have formed an online community something like the Aramco brats, but more broad:

Anthrogeek 10 said...

Thank you for allowing this on your blog. :) I believe in my heart of hearts that ANY woman who gets him will be one lucky woman. He seems to be sure of himself enough to stay true to his beliefs yet be open enough to travel and be accepting of others (opposed to being judgemental). I find those qualities in Pakistani men highly desireable.

I have faced identity issues regarding being Muslim and American (Anglo American). I have in fact gone down roads I wish i hadn't, all in the name to avoid a repeat of multi-cultural confusions. I have faced other issues in my marriage to an American Christian and I am still in a state of identity confusion.

September 28, 2009 12:58 AM

Chiara said...

Anthrogeek--Thank you for your excellent description of a healthy cultural identity. I hope your cultural identity confusion resolves in the best way possible, although this one sounds like it is an interfaith issue as much as a cross-cultural (allowing for the intication of culture and religion).
September 28, 2009 7:19 PM

NidalM said...

Anthrogeek10 W. Salaam, and thank you for that comment. It does help immensely to get different views on the matter.

As I mentioned to Chiara, writing this essay itself was a learning experience for me. Something about putting thoughts to paper... err.. screen.

Do you have any specific instances of cross cultural 'clashing' with muslim families that you wouldn't mind sharing? I'd imagine it would be doubly difficult with the interfaith issues!
September 28, 2009 11:47 PM

Nzingha said...

"There are days when I wish I could say I am Abdullah from xx and that’s the end of the sentence"

I hope there comes a day when you can simply say "I'm Abdullah" and where you are from doesn't even matter.
September 29, 2009 12:26 PM

Chiara said...

September 29, 2009 3:54 PM

Susanne said...

Nidal, enjoyed this as well. I'm sorry for all the family pressure to marry now. I hope you don't give in to the pressure until you are good and ready to marry. And thanks for speaking up for the Americans. I've lived here all my life and never drank, gotten high or danced at night clubs. Not ALL Americans are that way. :) Best wishes in your future.
September 30, 2009 4:15 AM

Anonymous said...

Wow! I realy feel that I have a lot to bring to the table in this discussion. First let me assure you that you will find the right person and all will be well. It is possible to mix the cultures because my marriage is exactly that. My husband is a Desi(Indian Hindu) and I am an American Christian. It was very difficult for him to tell his parents about me because as he said, "they have helped me so much in this life. How can I do this to them?" Needless to say there were a lot of hurt feelings on my part because I couldn't imagine that his parents would reject me outright due to culture. I was a nice person! How could they make a judgement before even meeting me?

In retrospect, I understand a lot of it is because in the Indian culture and I am sure many others, a marriage is seen as the blending of two families...not just the two young lovebirds. Every step is taken to make sure that is as a harmonious union as both families will be spending a lot of time together. His parents AND my parents were not happy at first. They both thought the other was trying to take advantage of their child. In my case because he is a doctor they thought I was a gold digger and my parents thought he wanted to go through me for a green card. Of course neither thing was true and we both knew that but the parents were just being parents and looking out for their child.

We did marry and it has been 14 years and one child later!

There will be cultural difficulties and clashes...they are inevitable. Some will be funny, some will be completely trivial(but those are the ones that can drive you crazy the most! LOL!)and others might make you question "what the heck was I thinking?" If each of you make an effort to embrace the others culture as much as possible with true respect and dignity and each of you are committed to making it work then I assure you that is half the battle at least. It is a steep learning curve to be sure but as most idiocyncrasis get worked out and you live day to day with patience and commitment and humor that curve tends to flatten out and it definately gets easier.

It helps to have open minded parents on both sides. My father-in-law at the time of our marriage was well known in the Indian government and had a very high level position and was very visable. I know it had to be difficult for him to present a non Indian to the world and it was his first born son no less. But I remember that one day he said a very wise thing to me: He said "we love our son very much and we want him to be happy in this life. He cannot be happy if we, as his parents and family, do not accept who he loves as his wife. You ar now part of our family." and he gave me his blessing. I have never forgotten that and due to that have felt love and acceptance which has been the foundation of a lasting marriage.

I wish the same for you.
September 30, 2009 7:07 AM

NidalM said...

@Anon, wow... thank you so much for sharing that. It would seem that a certain amount of clashing is inevitable regardless of whoever you choose. It just gets magnified accross cultural divides. Though you're right, acceptance is inevitable too. And in the end, if two people really like each other and want to be each other, everybody sees it soon enough...

I'm glad you had such a happy conclusion :)

@Nzingha, I'd drink to that! (Fruit juice only of course :P)

@Susanne, I agree. Its not fair to me or fair to whomever I end up with if I get rushed into something. Interestingly, most people in the East think of Americans as one uniform culture depicted in movies. Most of which have at least once strip club scene incedentally. In my opinion, it's just a lot more polarized, with people at varying levels of conservatism.
September 30, 2009 11:41 AM

Anthrogeek 10 said...

Salaams Abdullah

I think one that has stood in my mind was when I was married to my Pakistani husband I accepted being the second wife. How is that for a clash? I felt like he was immoral about the whole ordeal as well. She found out as opposed to being told. That was disrespectful in my book.I felt sorry for her. lol

Additionally, household duties were a problem. I worked more than full time and never had help in the home from him. My Dad did a huge amount of housework when I was growing up so living in this situation was different and frustrating to say the least.

Those were the main things I can recall now...

Abdullah-I am so happy you understand that there is a varied population regarding conservativism and/or liberalism here in usa. Many in the ME do not understand that. Based on American movies, everyone is violent, shooting up or being slutty! Not true....

anthrogeek10 who missed the university shuttle. Waiting for the next one...sigh...
September 30, 2009 4:15 PM

Chiara said...

Susanne--thanks for sharing your perspective. You are definitely my favourite Bible Belt Blogger!!!

NidalM/Abdullah--I agree fully that culture often serves to magnify what are the usual clashes in any 2 individuals marrying. In some ways that can be a good thing, giving an opportunity to address questions that others don't realize are subtending the problems in their own relationships.
September 30, 2009 4:30 PM

Chiara said...

Anonymous--Welcome! Thank you so much for sharing so eloquently your personal story and the broader lessons from it. You are quite right that there is much overlap with other cultures, particularly traditional ones East of New York, and South of Lyon, in other words Mediterranean, MENA, Asian (all of it), Hispanoamerican, Latin American, African. In my experience even supposedly unmixed marriages have more mixing than it seems superficially, and all marriages have epiphanic moments of "What the H was I thinking?" or "Well, this was the worst decision of my life". Civility and calm usually gets one through those storms, until more rational thought takes over and the basic love that brought the 2 together prevails. Your FIL was very special in his acceptance, and in expressing it so well. This is a good reminder to sons that it is worth respectfully persisting, unlike the type of scenario that is described in the next post, where the courtship ends due to family pressure.
Without taking political sides, I admire Sonia Ghandi for going from her working class Italian home to the political arena of India--especially as the political arena of almost any country often resembles the Roman Coliseum in its hey day! On the other hand, working class Italian homes can be highly politicized. Perhaps she was better prepared than it seems. Congratulations on your highly successful blending of family cultures. It can be done!

I hope you will continue commenting on newer and older posts.
September 30, 2009 4:31 PM

Chiara said...

Anthrogeek--2nd comment--Agreed!! Accepting to be the second wife is a cultural step beyond the usual.
I also grew up with a teacher mother, and a manager father who did a lot of household work, including cooking (started short order type things, and moved up to gourmet Mediterrranean) most of the shopping, a lot of chauffering to piano lessons etc, as well as all the Dad stuff (lawn, garbage, house building, car maintenance), and thought this was normal. Maybe explains why on psych testing on "domesticity" I score in the "low" normal range for women, but achieve an "average" score for men! LOL :)
September 30, 2009 4:38 PM

Jess said...

First, thanks I've found the conversation really interesting! Also, some thoughts and comments for NidalM....

Regarding the last post, I tried to comment, but no luck, it didn't go through. I first wanted to tell you that you're not entirely alone in your Bridge experiences -- I grew up around Detroit, and since 9/11, those border workers have become even more inhumane, if that's possible. I very much appreciated the Canadians on the other side. There IS a way to do such a job and still treat people respectfully. Acting like an ass, job or no job, does not get those American border guards any respect. Their attitudes are detestable, and they are not protecting people any better for it.

Furthermore, I hung out in A2 for years, and also was in a relationship with a Pakistani Muslim man who is a photographer. We still talk, and I still wonder what went through his head during those years. Though no two people think the same, surely, I had a good time reading your reflections on the whole marriage issue, in part because of parallel experiences.

I only met his family over the period of a few days in a European capital, but it was interesting. First, he had been telling them for two years that he had a friend, and would actually skip meeting them when they were in town, if his "friend" (me) was also was in town. His mother and sister said that they were so relieved to finally meet me, because they had been harboring worries that he might be gay!

One time before I had ever met them, we ran into one of his uncles on the street, with *his* foreign girlfriend, and my poor guy was almost in a panic, and when he got home, there was some cloak-and-dagger sparring with the uncle over revealing secrets. Yeesh.

Another day I met the family while he was working, and they took me to meet friends of theirs at a cafe, but asked me to please understand and refrain from mentioning any connection to my guy, because it would create a lot of talk back home. They passed me off as the sister's friend.

And finally, at the end of those few days, his mother and sis walked me to a bus stop, the three of us, where sis discreetly melted away. I recognized the set-up before we had ever gotten out the door. His mom sat down on a bus-stop bench with me, and while the buses came and went, we had a frank talk, which I appreciated. She said that she didn't have any idea what he and I had planned, or how serious we might be, but that they always wanted their children to be happy, and whoever came into the family was welcome. Her only concern was that any future children should be raised as Muslims, and that this should be a solid part of their identities.

I appreciated her frankness, but to this day, for all those things that I was right to anticipate about the situation, I believe there were many more elements in our interaction (the family and me) that I didn't recognize. I still think about it. I haven't married, and as far as I know, he hasn't either. We still talk, but God knows what sorts of pressure he may have experienced since he went back home three years ago. I miss him and I miss them, and I used to talk to his mother on the phone -- they're good people, and I'd like to think that I am too, but I think it was all a bit much for us.

Good grief, I've hijacked the comments, sorry! But it was nice to read all of this and process a bit "out loud."

Best regards to all. :)
September 30, 2009 8:42 PM

Chiara said...

Jess--thank you for your comment and your kind words, and welcome. I'm sorry you had trouble commmenting on Part I. I find it best to "copy" the comment before submitting so if it disappears, I can just "paste" it back into the commenting space.

Your experiences are very interesting, and I was particularly struck by your sense that there was more to your relationship with his family than you may have perceived at the time. Reading social cues cross-culturally is difficult without being immersed in the culture, and is even harder long distance.

I am curious, if you still talk do you ever talk about your relationship then and now?
Would you have any problem raising your children as Muslim? As you know this doesn't require you to convert, and I know many personally who have done so, and also was impressed on reading Jehan el Sadat's autobiography that her English Christian mother never converted yet made sure they were raised good Muslims, including prayers,etc, fasted through Ramadan, prepared Eid celebrations, etc.

Perhaps, now that the most intense difficulties have passed, you should reconsider your relationship. My husband and I also had an "intense period" (and a response by phone I wish I had never made), followed by a break of years (due to a variety of pressures), a spontaneous simultaneous contacting each other by mail when some of those pressures were relieved, and marriage 16 months later.
My only point being that you might wish to rethink the nature of your relationship.

In the meantime you may also enjoy the blog of a Pakistani-American graduate student and independent film-maker (is there something about the culture and capturing visual images? LOL :)), Jehanzeb, at Muslim Reverie:

I do hope you will continue to comment here, and on newer and older posts. You may find you also relate to the post, "Courtship Interrupted/Family Permission Denied: How do you mend a broken heart?" by "Sad Girl" whose loving relationship ended, also due to family pressure.

Thanks again for your comment and kind words!
September 30, 2009 9:07 PM

Jess said...

hello Chiara,

thanks for the warning about the jinn. :) I'll be safe this time!

Chiara, you asked a couple of questions, let's see....

First, do we talk about our relationship then/now? Sort of, in a roundabout way. I sometimes think we just both want to be very respectful, and not inquire too much. Most of our conversations are about politics, music, current projects, and memories of that time we spent in another country, where we met. But this is curious: a year ago, when writing a pro forma, check-in sort of mail, I got a bit of a strange shiver. My email was along the lines of Who wrote last? I think it was you, I am bad, sorry, how are you, and how is your family? When I hit the send button, I felt this sort of psychic *ping*, and I knew I would get "something" back, more than a pro forma mail in return. I thought, this is ridiculous of me -- but when I got his response, there was, after several paragraphs, a question out of the blue: Have you ever thought about marriage?

Well, maybe there's something to this telepathy, after all....

Would I have a problem raising children as Muslim? Well, for starters, I never seriously considered having children, so my thoughts are very speculative regarding whats and hows and would I's. After the talk with his mom, I gave it more thought. Having not grown up in a church (though my family is nominally Christian) and having generally been a happy secular/agnostic all my life, I'm not a proponent of any religion. I have generally favorable opinions of Islam and of Christianity as concepts that are open to interpretation, but if any child of mine turned out to be a literalist about any particular religion, I would find that hard.... I do see the benefits of being part of a religious community, and the benefits of formulating one's identity with that as a part of it. I think, based on the little I've read, that I admire some concepts of Buddhism. But I'm either too lazy or too little interested to pursue much knowledge about religion. I think I will take your advice and seek out that biography you mentioned. It sounds very interesting!

The stories here have been a pleasure to read. Thanks to Anthrogeek, Anonymous, and the others for sharing their personal tales. Now I'm off to check out Muslim Reverie!
October 1, 2009 6:13 PM

Chiara said...

Jess--thanks for your comment, kind words, and replies. If my own experience was an example telepathy works. After a 2 year silence I sent a New Year's card snail mail to his parent's address, and was stunned to get a "reply" 3 days later. In fact he (the non-writer, grrrr) had sent a card about 2-3 days before I sent mine. Both said something like I hope you are well and happy, and what are you doing now. I think his 3rd letter said why don't you move to my country to work and we will get married. I was the one who thought we should at least meet again first!

If you marry a Muslim man your children are considered Muslim, and you are expected (by the Islamic marriage contract) to raise them as such. How you raise them within Islam is up to you and your spouse.

The book is Jehan Al Sadat "A Woman of Egypt" and can be previewed on Amazon:

It is an interesting read on her life and the contemporary history of Egypt, from her perspective; the reforms for women she promoted, "Jehan's Laws" as they were popularly known; and how they were undone after her husband's assassination. She is an educated (PhD Arab lit from the US) and strong woman who has made a career as an academic and a public lecturer. The wiki article on her is a good place to start for an overview and references.

I'm glad you have enjoyed the posts, and the comments, and I hope you will comment on newer and older posts on any topic you find interesting. The search category on the side bar "Personal Stories" might be a start for reading the stories others have shared here.

Muslim Reverie is Jehanzeb's most recent blog, and he still contributes to his older one, Broken Mystic, started when his 3 year relationship to an Iranian was ended by her (or her family?). It is a good reminder that men are hurt in this way too:

Looking forward to more of your comments!
October 1, 2009 7:15 PM

Anthrogeek 10 said...

Salaam! I finally found a professor who works in the area I am interested in. Conversions to Islam and identity. She is at the University of Wisconsin...I dunno...moving to the great white north again! lol The book she wrote is:

Becoming Muslim: Western Women's Conversions to Islam. She is a psych anthropologist I think but works as a professor in the geography department??? Anyhow...reading the book now. So many books so little time ladies!

October 1, 2009 7:44 PM

Chiara said...

Anthrogeek--thanks for sharing such a relevent book reference. Read the book, write a fan letter,and then figure out if she can teach grad students (only an assistant professor) and if you can get into a grad program in Geography, or if she is cross-appointed where you could get in. Good luck!
October 1, 2009 8:47 PM

Anthrogeek 10 said...

Its very interesting. I found it at the library bookstore but to buy it even used seems very high (200 pages only). I saw prices at 90.00 USD! :O Anyhow, I am"eating" it up and although I need to ask one of my own professors for help on the language (it's not written for the gen public), it is facinating. She is an assistant but she is under the grad school professor list.Sooo...maybe!

I hope it all works out but I am NOT looking fwd to moving to the great white north again. It IS close to my own family though (Chicago).

I will keep you informed!
October 5, 2009 9:39 PM

Anthrogeek 10 said...

Oh..the GPA required is lower than I thought it would be so...well, I hope it is a good school. lol
October 5, 2009 9:41 PM

Anthrogeek 10 said...

Here is the professor's CV.

She has mentored grad students.
October 5, 2009 11:15 PM

Chiara said...

Anthrogeek--that is all such good news. She has only been a committee member not a superviser so she is preparing for supervising grad students but not there yet. Maybe you and she will be ready at the same time! Contact her when you finish the book and go for it! The superviser might be more important than the school, and you could do your PhD elsewhere. Good luck!
October 5, 2009 11:27 PM

Maha Noor Elahi said...

Amazing how insightful this young man is!
I will comment again once i finish reading the second part..
October 7, 2009 2:05 AM

Anthrogeek 10 said...


Ok! Thanks.I needed you to help me with those little details. lol
I won't be ready until fall of 2011 anyhow. We shall see. Yes, I do need the right person to mentor me who is doing the research I want to do. :) Lots of ideas floating upstairs. lol
October 8, 2009 10:35 PM

Chiara said...

Maha--Looking forward to your next comments!

Anthrogeek--May the ideas float upstairs and land in a good place! LOL :) Part of graduate studies is becoming an expert in "mechanics" shall we say! LOL :)
October 9, 2009 12:55 AM

Single4now said...

lol @ the pictures of vultures. I remember going back home to a cousin's wedding and being introduced a number of relatives I never knew existed. They all knew I was studying medicine. And then being introduced to some distant cousin probably as a set-up. Not knowing what I was expected to say with the parents and the guy staring at my face, I excused myself and walked off. lol.

I can relate to a lot of the points he has brought up. Being a Desi Muslim, a lot of people mistake me for an Arab. I've had Arabs come up to me at airports and other places and start talking to me in Arabic. Unfortunately, my Arabic is limited and I can't understand when one talks very fast.

Other Arabs are impressed when I even say the word "khair" (usually said in place of "anyway") which is a common term used by Desis.

It makes sense. When I hear Arabs talk in Hindi/Urdu, it brings a smile to my face so naturally they'd have the same reaction to a non-Arab who speaks in Arabic.

Looking like an Arab is useful when visiting Arab countries as you are less likely to be treated as a tourist and get decent prices for things. :D It helps knowing the common phrases while shopping. I remember taking my Arab friends with me to Mumbai and taught them a few Hindi words while shopping so they don't get cheated on prices. I told them when a shopkeeper talks to you in Hindi, keep nodding your head, I'll translate for you later. :P The good thing is English is commonly spoken in Mumbai. Although, Mumbaikars are extremely smart & can pretty much tell just by your clothes that you aren't from India (ie. reside outside the country). Shopkeepers and taxi drivers kept insisting I was from outside so I told them I was from Delhi. lol. That seemed to satisfy most of them. :P

A friend recently told me I could even pass off as a Malay. lol. I doubt that but it's good to know. :)

I think I've talked too much about my experiences instead of commenting on the author's. Oops. :D
November 16, 2009 7:58 AM

Chiara said...

Single4now--thank you for your comment, and it is always good to hear of similar or analogous experiences. Being able to "pass" by physical looks, or language/culture gives one unique insight culturally, not to mention coming closer to the non-tourist price. I once went through a souk in Morocco with my SIL and vendors were shouting prices out to me in French, and my SIL kept saying "so expensive" "wow, that's a lot for a purse" "you can buy lingerie for 1/3 of that price". I was more stunned that anyone would shout out about bras, selection and price, than anything else.
November 16, 2009 7:42 PM

Single4now said...

Chiara - that's hilarious! lol. I would be totally embarrassed if a friend or relative was shouting such things in a crowded market. But I guess it's considered natural there so she's immune to it. :P

Yep, being able to fit in feels nice but unfortunately I feel (as a Desi) one can never fit too comfortably in an Arab culture or maybe it's just because of the experiences I've had.
November 17, 2009 3:19 AM

Chiara said...

Single4now--In fact my SIL was commenting quietly to me because she was so surprised at the "special prices" for me (they thought I was French), and I was stunned a vendor would shout out "Madame, Madame, brassieres, special price for you, nice styles, pretty colours, I have your size" (or some such). I now refer to myself as "l'inflation ambulante" "walking inflation" and have an inlaw go solo to shop for me if I want to pay regular price for something. LOL :)

That Arab/Desi thing seems to run deep including into debates within Islam as Desi Canadian Tarek Fatah, a media personality and part of the institutional Canadian Muslim scene, remarks on frequently. Irshad Manji is controversial for being an East African Desi Canadian lesbian, among other reasons!
November 17, 2009 7:55 PM

Single4now said...

^ Oh I see. I thought it was your SIL who was yelling those things. lol. Yea, I guess it's important for them to sell stuff so they say dumb things. If a shop keeper yelled like that, I'd never go to them. lol @ walking inflation. Poor you.

I meant you can be friendly with an Arab, you can live all your life in an Arab country, you can be born there but you'll never be considered Arab or even close to that. You've already discussed the citizenship aspect of it. Plus, certain Arab females that I and some of my Desi friends have come across always look at us as though we need guidance because we aren't Arab and as though we know nothing about Islam. Whereas, the Prophet (saw) clearly mentioned that no Arab is superior over a non-Arab and vice versa except in righteousness and imaan.

Oh well, that's another story.
November 19, 2009 5:01 AM

Chiara said...

Single4now--I am sure it is annoying to be spoken down to even by someone who thinks they are being kind and helpful. Maybe a little recitation of the Prophet's Last Sermon would do some people some good.

Which makes me wonder, when children are learning Islam more formally, where do they start. I have visions of cherry picking the verses on equality, peace, and tolerance etc and starting with those for children.
November 21, 2009 3:31 AM

Anonymous said...

I think that depending on which region you live in Saudi and how your family are towards it is a huge factor. I'm a Saudi citizen, born and raised till aged 14 in the UK and now am currently living in Jeddah. My father originally is a Malay (the trace goes back approximately 4 generations) and his mother (my grandmother) is Turkish and my mother is Egyptian. Saudi Arabia had never truly felt like a home as much as I would loved it to until last year, and maybe its only because recently I've become completely over the culture shock of moving back to Saudi from the UK.

Now comes the question this whole post was about, would I want to marry a typical Saudi?

I think I'll pass.

Chiara said...

Amna--thank you for sharing your interesting perspective and rich background on this topic.

As for your question about marrying the typical Saudi, and "deferred answer", it begs for a definition of the typical Saudi. Do you have one? :)

Anyone else care to answer that? :)

Meanwhile, please send me an email to chiaraazlinquestion AT, for an offline question (I didn't see an email address on your blog, sorry).

Thanks for both your comments here, and do check out the Blogging and Ethics posts I and II as NidalM recommended to you, to find out the real me,... and the real him (in the Comments). LOL :)


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