What Do You Think When You Look At Me?

daliaAsalamu Alaikum

Sister Dalia gives an enlightening speech hosted by TED. There is closed captioning (CC) and an interactive transcript for those who require it. What Do You Think When You Look At Me?

Interesting facts:

  1. More women than men revert to Islam, debunking the myth that Islam is an oppressive religion for women…

“The reason why women why women are turning to Islam must certainly have something to do with the honor that Islam gives them and the equality with which it deals with people, not only in gender, but also in terms of race, nationality, class etc. However, the overriding reason why I and so many others like me were attracted to Islam was because Islam answered the most important question which I had ever asked: ‘Why am I here on this earth?’ So I crossed the divide and managed to see what lies on either side…Alhamdulillah I chose Islam.” (Why Women Are Coming to Islam, Ad-Da’wah ilAllah – A Womens’ Islamic Magazine, Zawaj.com)

Related video, “Women Are Converting to Islam More Than Men”

2. There was an increase in Islamic reversion after 9/11…

“Muslim American reports in the Arab press indicate that Muslim proselytizing efforts have been unusually successful since the September 11 attacks. ‘Alaa Bayumi, Director of Arab Affairs at the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), wrote in the London daily Al-Hayat that “non-Muslim Americans are now interested in getting to know Islam. There are a number of signs…: Libraries have run out of books on Islam and the Middle East… English translations of the Koran head the American best-seller list… The Americans are showing increasing willingness to convert to Islam since September 11… Thousands of non-Muslim Americans have responded to invitations to visit mosques, resembling the waves of the sea [crashing on the shore] one after another… All this is happening in a political atmosphere that, at least verbally, encourages non-Muslim Americans’ openness towards Muslims in America and in the Islamic world, as the American president has said many times in his speeches…” CAIR chairman Nihad Awad told the Saudi paper ‘Ukaz that “34,000 Americans have converted to Islam following the events of September 11, and this is the highest rate reached in the U.S. since Islam arrived there.” (Al-Hayat, London, November 11, 2001, Excerpts from “Muslim American Leaders: A Wave of Conversion to Islam in the U.S. Following September 11” © Middle East Media & Research Institute, Sultan.org)

Further reading of an old article I wrote, “The Muslim Woman”

FiAmanAllah,

taraummomarsignature2

Muhaajirah

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MUHAAJIRAH
By Tara R Gregory
Copyright March 24, 2002

Suurat al­’Imraan 3:149 “O you who believe! If you obey those who disbelieve, they will send you back on your heals, and you will turn back as losers.” Tafsir: What is said about
staying in the land of ­shirk (the land where polytheism is practiced): Narrated Sumurah bin Junduub (raa): Allaah’s Messenger (saws) said, “Anybody (from among the Muslims who meets, gathers together, lives, and stays (permanently) with a Mushrik (polytheist) and agrees to his ways, opinions, and (enjoys) his living with him (Mushrik) then he (that Muslim) is like him (Mushrik). This hadiith indicates that a Muslim should not stay in a non­Muslim country, he must emigrate to a Muslim country where Islam is practiced. [The Book of Abu Daawuud]. ‘Abdullah bin Amr said that Allah’s Messenger (saws) said, “The Muslim is he from whose tongue and hand a Muslim is safe, and the Muhajir (the one who emigrates) is he who gives up what Allah has prohibited for him.” (Sahih Al­Bukhaari and Muslim)

Oh Allah please accept my hijrah and expiate my sins ameen!

PART 1: USA TO OMAN

My hijrah to Oman on 17 January 2002 marked a second turning point in my life, the first being my reversion to Islam May 1996. A point in my life were I sacrificed almost everything
purely for the sake of Allah. Well everything that I couldn’t fit into my three suitcases. How many people can do that? To put their trust entirely in Allah and leave their comfort zone,
the only country they had known since birth. It can’t be easy you must be thinking to yourself. It isn’t! But that is the whole point behind the purification process of hijrah. In order for
your sins to be expiated you need to experience hardship, deal with it patiently, and never despair of the Mercy of Allah.

Hijrah is a hardship and I started encountering it after I made istiqara and the decision to go through with it. Allah tells us in the Qur’aan just because one says there is no deity
except Him to not make the assumption that you won’t be tested. So I accepted the afflictions that came my way with the optimism that after hardship there is two eases.
A female acquaintance knew of my desire to perform hijrah and invited me to come to Oman to live with her. I eagerly accepted this opportunity and with the intention of making
hijrah for the sake of Allah as soon as possible, I began to plan my trip.

As soon as I had the round­trip ticket to Oman in my hand I packed up everything I could into three suitcases. Meanwhile I tried to explain to my mother and sister the concept of
hijrah. But to their non­Muslim minds it was strange and inconceivable that I could leave my place of birth and family for the unknown. Especially since I was a woman wearing hijab
hard of hearing, and traveling by myself during a time of war. In the end they were more accepting of it and my mother placed me in the care of Allah. This was the best thing that
she could possibly do for me. Nevertheless it was a wonderful week spent with my family. Allah knows knows if it will be my last time to see them.

The day of my departure I hugged my mother for the longest time and we both said we loved each other. With one final wave of goodbye to her standing at the front door, my sister
and I set out for the airport. I did not have butterflies from fear of flying but I was afraid of attracting too much attention from the observant soldiers and cautious airline employees. I
already knew what I would say if they asked me to remove my hijab. My sister was praying that I wouldn’t make a scene. There was no problem checking my baggage in except I
forgot to ask if it could be sent straight to Oman. In New York I would really regret it. Non­passengers were not allowed to go to the gates but because of my disability my sister was
able to get a special permit to go with me. When we got to the security lines my sister was able to go through but they pulled me aside to wand me. Make that a double wand. Out o
the corner of my eye I saw that the soldiers were watching me with interest. Maybe they were waiting for me to blow up. And they were probably disappointed when I didn’t set off
the metal wand.

Walking towards the gate my sister and I settled down and so did my stomach. We chatted until it was time for me to board. My sister handed me a small envelope and told me not
to read it until I got on the plane. When we hugged each other I almost started to cry but when I saw her strength I held it back. So call me sensitive. It was much harder to leave my
sister than my mother because as the older sister I had always been protective of her.

In New York it was a nightmare. JFK is such a huge airport and to try to get around it lugging three suitcases is a hassle. Twice I got on the wrong bus and when I finally got on the
right one I got off at the wrong stop. And then if that wasn’t enough I had to push a heavy cart loaded with my luggage up a steep driveway. Yeah, yeah, yeah if it happened to you it
wouldn’t be funny. Was it over? Not! First I had to get through the security line with everyone eyeballing me. I had to endure the metal wand again while others just passed under th
metal detector. Then one of my suitcases was opened and my underwear was put on the table in full display. Well at least the eyeballs left me for a while. Somehow I managed to
maintain a good composure through all this humiliation only to be given the wrong gate and flight number.

By the time I sat down at an empty gate my head was pounding. I reached inside my purse to get a candy bar and discovered the envelope my sister had given me. Inside there
was a letter and a picture of my sister and I as little girls with her arm around me. On the back she had written, “Don’t lose this…I want it back when you come back!” It was touchin
and renewed my spirits.

I went to the correct gate for the flight to Jordan and when it was time to board I was so exhausted that I didn’t even bother to fight for a place in line. The men had absolutely no
respect, even jumping in front of an old toothless woman. It reminded me of trying to board a bus or train in Morocco. There were simply no lines or any organization whatsoever. I
was glad the seats weren’t on a first­come­first­served basis!

From New York we flew to Shannon, Ireland and then to Amman, Jordan. My headache remained unabated despite taking some Ibuprofin. In Jordan I got in the visa line only to find
out that I needed to get out of it and exchange some money. Dirhams in hand I got back in line, albeit the wrong line. I learned later (always the hard way) that I should have gotten
in the line for transit visas. The Jordanian officers were very nice and got my two­year visa cancelled on the spot. I was so grateful to be going in the right direction again that I didn’
even ask for my money back.

I headed for the nearest bathroom, opened the door to the nearest stall, and saw the hole in the ground. Morocco had prepared me well but thank Allah I didn’t have to do number
two. Back outside I tried to get comfortable on an uncomfortable bench. Pretty soon I was aware that I was the focus of manly stares. I couldn’t believe it was coming from Muslim
men in a Muslim country who were supposed to know better and lower their gaze. For the first time I began to wish that I was wearing niqab.

The flight was called and just as I expected there was a rush to the gate. I sat back, put my feet up on my carry­on, and watched them push and shove each other.

We stopped in Dubai, UAE before going on to Muscat, Oman. When we reached Muscat I was the first one up to the visa counter but that didn’t matter. The women were very
aggressive there and then at the baggage claim. I pulled a cart out for myself but another woman came up and I smiled and gave it to her. She took it without so much as a smile or
thank you. I shrugged and then here comes another woman so I gave the second cart to her and she accepted it with a haughty flip of her black hair and upturned nose. Not that I
was expecting a thank you but I hadn’t been expecting such snobbiness from Muslim women either. It was very hurtful.

I was glad to see familiar faces waiting for me. Alhamdullilah five stops later and I had made it!!!

Or so I thought. Turns out that Muslim countries aren’t perfect but better than the lands of disbelief any day. Much to my dismay I hadn’t been told by my acquaintance that the
majority of Omanis are from the Ibadhi school of thought. Seems like another Islamic sect to me. Anyways, Sunnis are definitely in the minority here. One thing you want to be sure
of before you emigrate is the belief system of the Muslim country.

Just so that you know, I am not complaining. I wouldn’t have made it this far if Allah hadn’t thought it was good for me. I am grateful that my dream of making hijrah for the sake of
Allah has finally been realized. I hope that He will accept it from me and expiate my sins ameen.

Part 2: OMAN TO BAHRAIN

If I remember correctly we arrived in Manama, Bahrain (which means two seas in English) within three hours. Its the smallest country of the six GCC member countries, connected
to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia by the Kind Fahd Causeway. The current ruler is King Hamad bin Isa Al­Khalifa and although Bahrain’s government is Sunni the majority of
its population is Shi’a.

I waited until almost all of the pushers and me­first­people had rushed off the plane, being last isn’t always a bad thing. As I walked down the ailse my heart was beating fast
because I knew where I was headed next: customs and immigration. Im so intimidated by these officers no matter what country they are from because they do a good job of making
you feel like you’ve done something wrong. I tried to locate a gentle­looking officer while walking towards the lanes. I zeroed in on one and waited my turn. When I got up to the des
the officer’s eyes narrowed and I realized too late that you can’t judge a book by its cover. I could tell that for whatever reason he was suspicious of me and he asked unexpected
questions.

“Why did you come to Bahrain?” (To meet my friend)

“Who is your sponsor?” (I don’t have one and didn’t know I needed one)

“Which hotel will you stay in?” (I will stay with my friend)

His queries left me sweating under my niqab and my glasses were starting to fog up. He stared at me for a few seconds before requesting 5 Bahraini Dinars and then instead of
stamping my passport he told me to step aside. I’m in trouble! Others seemed to think so too because they were staring at me with interest. I wonder what I did wrong? Maybe the
smiling woman who approached me would have the answer. She asked politely if I was the name in the passport she was holding and when I said yes she told me to come with her
Reluctantly I followed her to an empty hallway where she asked me to lift up my niqab so she can check my identity. Satisfied that the face before her matched the picture, she
smiled, said thank you, and gave my passport back to the officer to be…you guessed it…stamped with an entry visa! Sheesh now I know what to expect next time.

Downstairs in the baggage area I was accosted by men pushing luggage carts as soon as I cleared the metal detector. I was grateful to have this kind of help because I was too
tired to deal with it myself. When one of them loaded my three suitcases on the cart I told him khalas (finished) in my broken Arabic and he actually understood me. However when
we got outside into the arrival area he was going way too fast for me and I asked him to wait in English. He must not have understood me this time because he kept on truckin’. I ha
to run after him and grab the cart before he could make it out the door and almost passed up my friend who was holding a placard with my name on it!

In the car with my friend and passing through downtown Manama I was shocked to see the scarcity of palm trees and vegetation compared to Oman and the UAE. Bahrain used to
be known for having a million palm trees and I have read that land reclamation might have contributed to this.

I first lived in Muharraq then moved to Manama and finally settled in East Riffa. I prefer Riffa because of the abundance of palm trees and greenery. The weather is often dry as
opposed to the humidity of Manama and its open spaces allows for more air to circulate unlike Manama with its buildings built so close together.

Its been tough living in Bahrain emotionally and physically but with the help of Allah I preservered. If it wasn’t for my strong faith, masha’Allah, I think I would have given up easily.
My views have changed a lot since I have been in this part of the world. I understand why people from the Middle East want to immigrate to developed countries such as America,
Canada, and Europe where the opportunities are better. I used to think they were being ungrateful because they have Islam in their land, mosques around every corner, Muslim
women don’t get stared at for wearing hijab and especially niqab, they don’t have to worry about whether the meat is slaughtered according to Islamic customs, being around other
Muslims and having a “Muslim” ruler. They used to shake their heads at me NOT for wanting all of this but for wanting to go to Muslim countries where there is no job or life stability.
And I used to shake my heads at them for wanting to give up what I wanted so badly.

If you don’t have a job before you arrive in the Middle East you might struggle to find one. This could be because of the high unemployment rate for nationals which narrows
positions for expatriates, the drive to replace expatriates with nationals in the workforce, not enough qualifications, lack or proper advertisement for jobs or your own ability to seek
out employment due to limitations of your resources, etc. Therefore you must try to do your job hunting from afar in your native country.

What if you find a job? Will it be enough to sustain you or your family? Will the company continue to hire you or will they terminate your contract after two years? And if that happens
will you be able to find another job quickly? In the meantime keep in mind that there might not be any unemployment benefits. An alternative to consider would be going into
business for yourself. Some Middle East countries require that you obtain a native to sponsor you and be a joint owner. If you can secure this kind of arrangement with financial
backing then this is more secure than being under contract to a company and besies you would benefit your host country. Either way in the end you basically have to trust in Allah
that He will provide.

Sometimes despite all your efforts it just doesn’t work out and you can’t avoid having to return back to the non­Muslim country you left. Just keep trying until you get it right
bi’idhnillah. And remember no matter what land we are residing in, we are all just travelers passing through this world on a one­way ticket. So we must pack our invisible suitcases
with the good deeds we will need when we disembark in the next world.

PART 3: BAHRAIN TO USA
Because of visa problems I had to come back to the USA qadrullah wa maa shaa’ fa’ala. While I’m happy to see my family again I’m also sad that I couldn’t stay in Bahrain or make
it to Saudi Arabia. I refuse to lose my intention of performing hijrah again. And I don’t feel like a failure because I succeeded in gaining valuable experience living in the Gulf
alhamdulillah.

Ya Allah being back in a non­Muslim country makes me really miss the Gulf! I miss….

My husband. Its hard being separated from him and knowing that he can’t see our son going through those important milestones in life. Sometimes I wonder if my son will remembe
his father when we finally unite one day insha’Allah. I miss my husband teaching me the tajweed of the Qur’aan and correcting my errors or explaining what a new Arabic word
meant in English. I miss going to the beach with him and sharing the peaceful quiet together, we understood each other even when there was silence alhamdulillah.
Hearing the beauty of the adhan. In Manama I was fortunate enough to have a flat where the mosque was only a few steps from my doorsteps. I always knew when it was time to
pray alhamdulillah. Sometimes I would stop whatever I was doing and revel in the melodious voice of the mu’adhin. Tears would form in my eyes and my skin would break out in
goosebumps as I recognized and understood the meaning of the words.

Watching the TV channels that were in English with Arabic subtitles. I would turn the TV on mute so that this forced me to read the Arabic and try to understand. This way I learned
Arabic. It was supplemented with a project I started of transliterating the Qur’aan in order to pass time. If I knew how the Arabic word was written with vowel markings in the Qur’aan
then I could recognize it without the vowel markings when it came on TV. My husband was especially impressed by this untraditional method of teaching myself Arabic because
everytime he would visit me he would notice an improvement in my recitation of the Qur’aan plus my ability to understand the Arabic subtitles on TV masha’Allah. I used to practice
my Arabic on him, my Bahraini students, and my Bahraini neighbor Aisha who didn’t speak a word of English.

The availability of modest clothing for Muslimahs. There are so many varieties of hijabs, niqabs, khimars, abayahs, jilbabs, prayer outfits in different designs and colors to choose
from. You can buy them readymade or get them made by a tailor. Throughout the whole year you can always find a long skirt, dress and long­sleeved shirt. I never had to bother
with going to the men’s section to find a long­sleeved shirt like I must do in the States during the summer. The hotter it gets here the more revealing and shorter the women’s
clothing gets.

Being amongst my fellow Muslims, their friendliness and generosity. They didn’t look down on me for covering what Allah commanded me to. They looked up at me to say “As­
Salamu Alaikum.” If I even looked like I had a problem then help was offered in the form of transportation, money or even a mobile was offered by virtual strangers. I remember one
morning I was in a residential neighborhood in Riffa walking to my friend’s house with my infant son sleeping in his stroller. Every so often I would stop to message my friend as she
was giving me instructions to her house. I was squatting on my haunches in the shade of a tree waiting on a message when a little girl about 9 or 10 years old came out of a
gorgeous house mash’Allah and walked towards me. She asked me in Arabic if I needed help. I assumed that her mother had sent her and assured her that I was ok. I was so
grateful that someone was inquiring after my welfare when they didn’t even know me.

Not having to worry about the meat or food not being halal. And it was cheap! My favorites were shawarmas and malghoom, I could eat those everyday.

Not having a bidet in the toilet to make istinja. To be out in public and having to use the toilet where there is no water hose is disgusting. Tissue doesn’t purify all that much.

As a friend told me, “It seems when we reflect on our time in the Gulf and compare it to living in the US it wasn’t so bad.”

PART 4: USA TO KSA

It was the morning of my flight and I had butterflies in my stomach. I was excited at the prospect of seeing my husband but anxious about leaving my mother and sister. As I was scurrying around the apartment doing last minute packing, I noticed my mother sitting at the dining room table, writing on a piece of paper. I saw the sadness in her slumped posture but was momentarily distracted by my travel preparations, guilt chasing me all the while.

My sister and her friend helped me load my luggage into the car while my mother stayed upstairs with my son, Omar. My sister pulled me aside and asked me if I had said goodbye to our mother yet. When I replied in the negative, she advised me that I’d better say my last goodbye. She was alluding to the fact that our mother might be dying and I should make the most of my final moments with her.

When the last suitcase was in the car I returned to the apartment. My mother gave me an envelope which contained the piece of paper she’d been writing on earlier. I shared this letter in the story, <a href=”https://islamicarticles.wordpress.com/2008/06/27/the-day-mama-diedthe-day-mama-died”>The Day Mama Died</a>. We hugged. My mother was a strong woman and didn’t cry, at least not in my presence. I tried my best not to cry which was hard because I’m an emotional person. I wish I could remember what we said to each other but I’m content with the memories of her scent and warm neck.

At the airport, my sister accompanied me to the airline’s check-in. I asked the airline representative if my sister could accompany me to the gate to help me hear the announcements because I was hearing impaired. She rudely answered my question with a question, “You’re walking around fine by yourself aren’t you?”

Although we were very hurt by her insensitivity, my sister and I swept her comments under the rug. We both do not like to engage in confrontations, especially in public places. Moreover, this was post 9-11 and I was obviously a Muslim in my hijab and black abayah. We didn’t want to bring any suspicion upon ourselves by insisting that I have some sort of assistance.

My sister was able to walk with me and Omar as far as the beginning of the gate. Her friend joined us and we sat down briefly to chat. As my sister expressed her disappointment and anger at the airline representative, she began to cry. She was a part of me and shared my pain. As I hugged her, the tears that I had been holding back in front of my mother were released in a torrent.

Walking away from my sister, I had never felt so alone. I made a silent prayer that Allah protect me from the evil of people. I saw the armed military guard’s eyes following me as I neared the gate. I knew that the trials of my hijrah (migration to Saudi Arabia) were only just beginning.

It was total mayhem ahead of me. People were taking off their shoes and jackets, something I had never seen before when traveling. Airport officials were trying to keep the lines moving quickly and shouting orders so as to be heard above the chatter and noise.

When I was trying to break down Omar’s stroller so I could put it up on the conveyor belt to be screened, an airport official was trying to tell me to take Omar’s jacket off and place it on there also. I didn’t understand him as he was talking too quickly for me to read his lips. Apparently, I didn’t act fast enough for him so he said it again in an irritated and impatient way. He didn’t even give me a chance to explain that I was hearing impaired. When I finally did, he repeated himself in a condescending voice while shaking his head and casting a glance at a female airport official. This same female airport official pulled me over to pat me down after I had passed through the metal detector without setting it off.

As I was putting our shoes back on and taking our belongings off the conveyor belt, I noticed she let everyone else who went through the metal detector pass by without patting them down. After I finished, I approached her.

I boldly asked her, “Why did you let everyone else go but you patted me down, is it because I’m Muslim?”

She replied without blinking, “It looked like you could be hiding something under that dress.” She was referring to my abayah. She quickly switched the subject and offered Omar a cookie and asked me if I wanted one too. “No.” I said and walked away with my head held high. I had just wanted to put her on the spot like she did me.

In stark contrast to these two airport officials’ behavior, the various airline representatives and flight attendants were nice and accommodating towards my disability alhamdulillah. I was allowed to board early on all three airlines and was never once made to feel scorned because of the way I dressed. It was as if Allah was granting me ease after that hardship I encountered.

Omar and I arrived safely in Bahrain on the 30th of August 2006 alhamdulillah. My husband wasn’t able to meet us at the airport because he couldn’t be excused from work that day. Calls to my friend’s house and cell phone went unanswered. Later it turned out that both she and her husband weren’t home and I had written her cell phone number down wrong.

Somehow I managed to push Omar’s stroller together with a huge trolley full of luggage outside the doors so that I could take a taxi to the hotel. I really didn’t want to ride in a taxi recalling my past bad experiences with them. I made a silent prayer to Allah to give a good taxi driver. It is customary to haggle the price with the taxi driver before you get in but I was so tired and readily let one of them stuff my luggage into his trunk. While along the way to the hotel, the taxi driver asked me questions and looked me over in his rear-view mirror. I could tell that he was making a mental assessment of how much he could charge me by the questions he asked. This was the time that I used to be too afraid to tell a taxi driver that I don’t speak to men unless its necessary.

At the hotel, the taxi driver deposited my luggage at the receptionist’s desk. I can’t remember exactly the amount of fare he asked me for but I do remember feeling ripped off! When I protested, his explanation was that he got all of my luggage into his car and helped me carry them into the hotel and any other taxi driver would have had to make two trips. I let it go. If it the price was fair then I had no argument but if it wasn’t then Allah would take care of him.

The hotel was a nice 4-star and appeared very safe for a woman and toddler traveling alone. Omar and I took a much needed shower and he fell asleep first. As I was dozing off, I heard a knock at the door. When I looked out of the peep-hole, I wasn’t expecting to find my husband looking back at me. I was so ecstatic as I opened the door and flung myself into his arms. We hugged tightly, almost two and a half years of separation immediately dissolved away. What a wonderful surprise! Still in his arms as we walked into the room, my exhaustion seemed to evaporate in an instant.

That night sleep came easily and I didn’t need to dream. My constant dreams of reuniting my son with his father had become a reality alhamdulillah.

The next day we didn’t wake up until after 12pm. We had brunch and then I prepared the luggage to be taken downstairs. My husband had found a Bahraini man to drive us across the border to where his car was parked in Khobar. I watched each piece of luggage being loaded into the trunk to make sure nothing had been left behind. While my attention was thus diverted, Omar had picked up an ashtray. I told him to put it down but he dropped it before he could. I apologized to the bell-hop as he swept it up. Thankfully, nobody from management came to demand payment.

It was so hot because of Bahrain’s humidity and the faulty air conditioning in the car added to my misery. I was sitting in the back with two layers of clothing and the sun’s rays were doing a good job of heating up my abayah. My husband didn’t look like he was faring any better. He kept wiping the sweat off his face with his shumagh (red and white checkered Saudi head-dress). I ducked my head behind the driver’s seat and raised my niqab to get some air. Finally, I put a portable fan around my neck. What a relief! I also put one around Omar’s neck, my poor baby even looked hot and he was the most lightly dressed of all of us.

When we reached the King Fahd Causeway between the borders of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, we breezed through since it was a late Friday afternoon. Usually it is crowded on the weekends. The Bahraini driver parked under a roof so that a customs officer could inspect the trunk. The shade it provided was a welcome respite from the sun, if for only a little while.

Next I had to go to the customs office for women in order to have my identity verified. When a female customs officer was satisfied that I was indeed the same person on the passport, she stamped it with an entry visa. After I got back in the car, we drove up to a window so that the men could get their passport’s stamped. He wouldn’t stamp Omar’s temporary Saudi passport so my husband had to go into an office to settle it. He wasn’t in there for long and suddenly we were on our way further into Saudi Arabia.

The Bahraini drove us into Kbobar, the Saudi Arabian city that borders Bahrain. After locating my husband’s rental car, they preceded to switch my luaggage into it. As we were driving to Dammam to see my husband’s paternal aunt, I remember looking out at the sea and smiling. Finally we had made it to Saudi Arabia as a family alhamdulillah.

Others always ask me how I like living in Saudi Arabia. I refer to it as a mixed blessing because there are are advantages and disadvantages. As a woman, it can be hard to adapt to a society that makes us too dependent upon men. This is especially a challenge if you are a woman who thrives on independence. I consider myself a patient person but Saudi Arabia calls for a whole new kind of patience. It is not a country for everyone, you must be strong enough to overcome the obstacles.

The most difficult adjustment for me has been not being able to drive. In the US, I was used to getting out of the house with Omar every other day and on the weekends. Here I’d have to take a taxi if my husband can’t drive me because we have no driver. I try not to utilize taxis unless its a dire necessity since I believe it’s haram for a non-mahram man and woman to be alone together. Its frustrating when I need something and I can’t hop in a car and get it. Waiting for my husband to get it or waiting for him to take me to get it adds to the frustration. However, I have had to become accustomed to staying inside my home and trying to keep myself busy within. Whenever I hear about the horror stories that happen to women, I realize the wisdom behind women remaining in their homes. It affords the best protection for them.

On the other hand, I’m envious of those women who can drive in the desert. The men in those regions permit it because they understand not every woman has a mahram who can drive her everywhere nor can she afford a non-mahram driver. And what man in their right mind would let any woman walk in the desert? If more men had this same mentality, women would be driving all over KSA by now.

A woman walking alone on the streets or sidewalks, if they exist, is another matter. Either you are lucky enough not to get hit on or hit period, Allah save us from that ameen. Two women or more out walking is less likely to be frowned upon, if at all. My mother always said that two heads are better than one. I’d like to be able to walk around my neighborhood during the day for exercise. We now live in a new section of Al-Hamra, Riyadh where there is a lot of construction. While it is a safe area, my husband doesn’t like me to go out because of the foreign workers. I perceive more harm from the crazy drivers than some lustful workers. My husband did promise me that once the construction workers leave I could begin walking insha’Allah. Until then I guess its better to be safe than sorry!

Between transportation problems and limited walking, it can get lonely for women. Your social life can suffer unless you take the initiative to be active in the community and take advantage of available extracurricular activities. Establishing friendships and the internet has increased my quality of life somewhat. It further helps if one has a good relationship with your husband’s immediate family members. That is specifically for those who are married to Saudis or whose husband’s families live in KSA. I’m aware that not all expat women here have extended families or even a good relationship with them if they do. I get along well with my husband’s family but they are spread out around the country and I don’t see them much.

Speaking of my husband’s family, they are the ones I’d have to turn to for support if my husband dies while we are still living here (Allah forbid). Otherwise I’d be up the creek without a paddle the way the system is set up here. Its certainly a man’s world in these government offices. Women can barely do anything without the permission of their guardians or sponsors. They are restricted in taking responsibility for any paperwork that has to to be processed and are not allowed inside these establishments. I read that the government had given the orders for women’s sections but they have yet to be enforced. Two months ago, my sister-in-law boldly entered a government office without a mahram. She was approached by a male worker who told her to get out. She stood her ground and replied to him that she knew her way. When she stepped forward he moved to the side so that she can go about her business masha’Allah. I’m not sure I could be as defiant as her but she inspired me nonetheless. Insha’Allah I hope I won’t ever be forced to do something drastic like that. I have heard the government offices are a nightmare for men so this is one privilege I gladly forfeit.

Disadvantages aside, there are so many advantages to living in Saudi Arabia. The most important being that its the cradle of Islam and I’m closer to Makkah and Madinah masha’Allah. I’m surrounded by Muslims and can hear the adhan daily. Businesses are forced to close out of respect for and the obligation of observing prayers within their proper times. Masajid are on every corner and inside buildings. Once up on my roof, I counted nine masajid that were visible to me within five miles. There is segregation of the sexes wherever its proper, family sections in restaurants, female-only malls/beauty parlors/schools/hotel and guards stationed at the entrance and within establishments to ensure shabab (male youth) don’t enter family malls. There is even a proposal to build a women-only hospital with female staff! Women and men dress modestly in public and while non-Muslims aren’t required to wear the abayah and hijab, the majority wear an abayah at most. Noone would dare dress improperly on public beaches and I have yet to hear of anyone caught naked on a private beach. All schools have an Islamic curriculum so I won’t have to worry about what my son is being taught insha’Allah. There are numerous Qur’an schools and they even have Qur’an classes for pre-school levels. In the bigger cities and towns, the infrastructure is modern. You can find most foreign products imported from around the world. While prices for various commodities and rent are soring, Saudi Arabia is still a cheaper place to make a living than the United States. It also has a low crime rate and despite the mentality of those who have a sick heart and evil intentions, I feel safer here.

Sometimes I get sad or homesick for my home country but I remind myself that no country is perfect because they all have good and bad aspects. What I can do to help myself adapt to Saudi Arabia is not focus so much on the negatives and accentuate the positives. I pray to Allah that I never appear ungrateful and deny His blessing of allowing me to live in the land of tawheed.