I was interviewed by Juliano Machado of Epoca, a Brazilian magazine. He got sick and couldn’t translate all of my answers to his questions into Portuguese for the online edition except for one (see the second paragraph). I have included the interview between Juliano and I at the end of this post. I would like to thank Jean Sasson for recommending me to Juliano and thanks to Juliano for trusting in Jean’s judgement of me. Best wishes to you both! Tara Umm Omar
A Fronteira Final Da Rebeldia Arabe
By Juliano Machado e Luiza Karam
Epoca – Mundo
30 June 2011
“A moral islâmica e o valor da família são muito fortes aqui. Os sauditas querem evitar o risco de algo como banhos de sangue e destruição da infraestrutura dos países onde há protestos”, afirma Tara Umm Omar, uma americana de 36 anos que se casou com um saudita, converteu-se ao islã e vive em Riad. (“The Islamic morals, values and faith of Saudis are very strong so family and brotherhood/sisterhood are very important to Saudis. I think because of this, they are loathe to invite danger to their families and countrymen as they have witnessed from the bloodshed and destruction of infrastructure in the Arab countries who are protesting,” said Tara Umm Omar, a 36 year old American who married a Saudi, converted to Islam and living in Riyadh.)
To read the article in its entirety (Portuguese only), click here.
INTERVIEW BETWEEN JULIANO MACHADO AND TARA UMM OMAR
How old are you? 36
Where were you born? St. Louis, Missouri, USA
In which Saudi city do you live? Riyadh
What did you do for a living in America? My jobs were usually of a secretarial nature in a hospital, university and lastly with the St. Louis Corps of Engineers.
And do you work in Saudi Arabia? No, I don’t need to work. My family and my home are my work.
How long have you been living in Saudi Arabia? 4 years and 9 months.
Do you have children? I have one son.
When did you get married? I got married in 2002.
What is your husband`s job? He works as a materials specialist in the aviation field.
Was it your own decision to leave America and move to Saudi Arabia? It was a mutual decision with my husband. He did not want to live in the United States and I wanted to live in a Muslim country. You will find more detail in this blog post, Let Me Tell You How I Got Here
I know you’ve been converted to Islam. Is it an obligation for a non-Saudi woman to marry a Saudi man? Certainly not! There is no compulsion in Islam. Therefore, the non-Muslim wife of a Saudi must not be made to feel compelled to accept Islam in order to be loved by her Saudi husband’s family or to blend into Saudi society. It is imperative that she believe in Islam within her heart first. So that one day if she and her husband part ways, she will not forsake the religion. My mother and sister thought that my ex-husband forced me to believe in Islam. After I divorced him, I remained a Muslim because I reverted for the right reasons. Only then did they understand that I had not been brainwashed by him. In my opinion, the wife becoming Muslim may help with compatibility in the marriage and make it easy to raise resulting offspring upon one religion. It could also ease her transition into Saudi society however she doesn’t have to give up her own identity! Further reading on this issue here, Should You Revert To Islam To Please Your Saudi Or Because You Believe In It?
What was the most humiliating situation for a Saudi woman you witnessed? I have not personally witnessed anyone being humiliated.
What is strictly forbidden by written law for women to do in Saudi Arabia? Laws in Saudi Arabia are based upon the Shari’ah laws which are derived from the Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). They are enforced by the Saudi police in conjunction with the Hai’a (morals police). Although the Hai’a does not have the authority to arrest, they do detain offenders but must ultimately turn them over to the Saudi police. Saudi Arabia’s constitution makes no mention of women specifically. There are laws that are de facto and not written: 1) women not being allowed to vote. 2) the guardianship system where women may not exit Saudi Arabia without permission from their male relatives and 3) the ban against women driving and women wearing the abayat are examples of this.
And what aren’t they allowed to do according to the tradition? Anything that is considered taboo! The shame factor is a really big player in the lives of women in Saudi Arabia. Things that are not haram but considered ‘ayb (shameful) according to cultural norms. For instance: 1) Women do not ride a bike or a horse in public because their abayahs make it cumbersome to do so and it is seen as immodest. 2) They do not go to the beach in swimming suits because it is forbidden in Islam to show a woman’s body and would be offensive to most Saudis. 3) Women should not be seen out in public with a non-related male. If an unrelated man and woman are caught and can’t prove their relationship they could be jailed, fined and flogged. 4) Due to gender segregation, there are men’s sections in restaurants which will not serve a woman. She must go to the family section. 5) In regards to marriage, some tribes do not intermarry with other tribes and definitely frown upon Saudi and non-Saudi unions, especially Saudi women marrying foreigners. 6) Physical education is usually not part of the curriculum in girl’s schools and gyms for women are sparse. 7) It is taboo for some Saudi women to show their face in public and in publications. One should ask for their permission before snapping their picture because if you don’t, they may come up to you and request that you delete it. 8) The name of a bride will not be written on a wedding invitation and a man should not inquire about the women of another man’s house by name. 9) Flashy abayats with designs and not in the color black or a no-no with the Hai’a because the abayat are to cover a woman’s body, not draw attention to it. 10) There are some Saudis who think that music is forbidden so you will not see women performing in a live band in public however they may do so at an event that is strictly for women such as weddings. 11) Since Saudi Arabia is a closed society and very private, Saudis do not like to air their dirty laundry or talk about sex in public.
Is there a different male treatment for women from the royal family or elite clans in comparison with women from common Saudi families? In my opinion, except for money and certain other privileges that comes with being rich, Saudi princesses and non-royal Saudi women are in the same boat as far as treatment from their men folk. Both classes of women are affected by the three de facto laws and the eleven points I mentioned in the two questions directly preceding this one.
Have you ever felt any kind of agressiveness from any Saudi man because of the fact that you are a woman? Not physically. If I go out walking alone during the daytime, which is extremely rare, there are just minor annoyances such as the driver of a car will slow down and try to talk to you.
At this moment, the Saudi Woman Driving movement has been the visible face of women`s dissatisfaction with an authoritarian regime. However, are there other female struggles for more autonomy there? There are many other important issues than driving that Saudi women are fighting for: calls for abolishing the guardianship system, the right to vote, decreasing incidents of domestic violence and removing the taboo surrounding reporting domestic violence cases to the concerned authorities, being denied custody of their children after a divorce, having the right to marry whomever she wants and not being forced to marry at a young age or with someone who is not compatible with her, better employment and educational opportunities and finally drafting laws for the protection of all females, ensuring equality and that they are treated justly in the courts. More reading on this subject, Hala Al-Dosari: Saudi Women Rights
To which extent can the Saudi Woman Driving encourage other women to challenge other rules of behavior? To stand up and speak for their rights. To not be afraid of the consequences of demanding these rights.
Do you drive cars there? If not, don’t you feel frustrated for not doing that whereas you could drive normally in US? I do not drive a car in the streets but sometimes I will do so in the desert just to get it out of my system. Two months ago, I drove an ATV in the desert for the first time and it was exhilarating. Of course I feel frustrated. I have been driving since I was 16 years old and my U.S. drivers license hasn’t expired yet but is useless here. When I was in the US and still idealistic about my forthcoming life in Saudi Arabia, I used to think that I wouldn’t mind not being able to drive. Boy was I wrong! Not being able to drive has been a bone of contention with me ever since I arrived in Saudi Arabia. It frustrates me beyond belief because I am an independent person. I don’t like to depend on others nor do I like to wait around for them when something needs to be done and it needs to be done right that moment. I wrote an extensive article on not being able to drive in Saudi Arabia with numerous references, Women Driving In Saudi Arabia: My Personal Thoughts
What has been the influence of Arab Spring over Saudi society? From what I can see, even if Saudis are discontent with the Saudi government, they are not rising up against it. King Abdullah is popular and has been orchestrating the slow reform of the country. The Islamic morals, values and faith of Saudis are very strong so family and brotherhood/sisterhood are very important to Saudis. I think because of this, they are loathe to invite danger to their families and countrymen as they have witnessed from the bloodshed and destruction of infrastructure in the Arab countries who are protesting. On the other hand, Saudis are wary of the repercussions if they are apprehended while demonstrating since the Saudi government rules with a heavy hand and have not dealt kindly with dissidents of the past and present.
Are there any movements asking for a more democratic regime? I have no knowledge of them because I do not involve myself in Saudi politics.
Do you think that the Saud monarchy will still last for a long time? I do not know what the future holds for Saudi Arabia’s leadership, it is up to Allah.
Do you feel happy with your routine? Not being able to drive and the loss of independence has been the hardest adjustment for me. I had to find peace with staying at home more and not being able to jump in a car and drive whenever I like or even walk wherever I want. I’m not used to always having to depend on men and I absolutely dislike having to use a taxi. I have also had to develop a newfound patience living in a country like Saudi Arabia. My days are filled with never ending housework and taking care of my husband and son which I enjoy. For entertainment, I either read a book, do things online, Genealogy and sometimes I may watch TV. I visit with my sister-in-laws and my friends. It can get boring at times so one really needs to be creative with extracurricular activities.
Haven’t you ever missed the way you lived in US? I miss the way the sky looks and the grass smells just before it gets ready to storm. I miss being able to go for a drive to clear my mind. I miss the variety of activities and entertainment available in America and doing them with my son. I miss autumn and the leaves turning colors. I miss spring and the feeling of rebirth that comes with it. I miss football season. I miss the beautiful greenery, the hills and pastures and even the smell of cow poo wafting in through car windows as I pass a farm. I miss going camping and hiking. I miss fishing with my sister, brother and son and hearing my sister yelling in frustration when a fish eats her worm and gets away.
Photo Credit: Epoca
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