Wednesday, March 22, 2006

An Effort To Educate the World's Ignoramuses

Bismillah Arrahman AlRaheem
____________________________

Salam All,

This is another picture from our balcony in St. Thomas.. (I can't get it out of my system)..

Busy week as usual, I'm currently sitting in the Student Center (the GSU) with a bunch of friends. This is a piece I wrote on Saudi Arabia to educate the people of the world on our country.

Comments and suggestions welcome, I would like to get this published.


__________________________

A Closer Look at the Land of the Two Holy Mosques: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

The main reason I write today is to enlighten my fellow students and colleagues on several matters pertaining to my country, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Acting as an ambassador is a duty incumbent on every citizen of every country the moment one leaves one’s country whether for leisure, business, or education.

Several articles about Saudi Arabia have recently appeared in the Daily Free Press (Boston University's Independent Student Newspaper), and many of these, rather than expressing a well-informed and balanced opinion regarding the Kingdom, were mainly intended to defame my country. That said, my relationship to the country as a citizen inevitably creates a bias, however, I will try to be as objective as possible to ensure that my audience receives and understands my message the way I intend it to be received.

First, I will mention some facts, figures, and history to provide some perspective. King AbdulAziz Al Saud united Saudi Arabia on September 23, 1932; the country, then, is only 74 years old. The United States gained independence from Great Britain in 1776, which makes the US about 230 years old, a little over three times the age of Saudi Arabia.

It took the US 89 years to abolish slavery with the 13th amendment, a figure that far exceeds Saudi Arabia’s tender age of 74. It also took the US 99 years to provide African Americans the same rights as Caucasian Americans with the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Women in the US could only vote from 1920 onwards; approximately 144 years from the establishment of the US, or almost twice as long as Saudi Arabia has existed.

These examples are not intended to undermine the US in any way, rather to stress that change cannot be imposed and expected from a certain country overnight. Change is a gradual adjustment toward a different outcome that stems from, and is initiated by, the people of that country. If the people are not behind it, change will not take place. As a relatively young country, Saudi Arabia is making leaps and bounds toward a level of maturity, but our culture is different from American culture, and it takes time for a nomadic, tribal people like us to modernize. In modernization, we do not necessarily seek to satisfy western standards, rather we strive to address our problems, and fix our flaws, while preserving our Islamic faith, and our rich culture and history.

Next, I would like to reiterate some points HRH Prince Turki AlFaisal, the Saudi Ambassador to the US, recently made in the speeches he gave at Harvard and MIT during February: The first public school in the US, the Boston Latin School was established in 1635. The first university, Harvard University, was established in 1636 – more than 300 years ago. In contrast, just 60 years ago Saudi had less than 10 schools. Forty years ago we had one university, today we have 11 universities and over 25,000 schools, at which all Saudis receive free education, books and healthcare.

In addition to improving education locally, the Saudi government is investing in education abroad. The government spent approximately 26% of this year’s budget (SR 87.3 billion = approx $23.28 billion) for education and training. The ministry of higher education has provided 10,000 fellowships for Saudi students to study abroad, half of which were awarded to students coming to the US. About 28% of these fellowships were awarded to Saudi females. Yes, we are coming to the US, and we are coming to learn with and from you.

Another issue the ambassador mentioned, the war on terrorism, has had a great impact on the average Saudi citizen. The roadblocks, checkpoints, blockades and barbed wire spoil public areas. Machine gun turrets and tanks stand guard at governmental institutions, large corporations and high traffic areas and our kingdom is in a constant state of alert. Terrorism has affected us more than the average American may think: I cannot drive down a major highway or go to a big mall without being stopped at least once and having the hood and trunk of my car searched before I am allowed to proceed. All government buildings and housing compounds are covered in barbed wire, Hummers and tanks and machine gun turrets have become part of the scenery.

More than 25 terrorist attacks occurred in the past three years, including explosions, murders, and kidnappings, causing the death of more than 140 innocent human beings and injuring more than 500 innocent people. More than 90 Saudi security officers have been killed in the process of apprehending those responsible for these acts of violence. Even with all these developments, Saudi Arabia remains safe and stable in comparison to the streets of cities like New York and Philadelphia.

In addition to the daily sacrifices we face, something deeper, our national character and image, has been marred in the eyes of the world. This is a result of the actions of a few deranged individuals. Terrorism and extremism occur in every faith, every culture, and every civilization, No one is immune, and thus we must remain aware of this fact.

The ambassador also discussed several myths about Saudi citizens—how we live and who we are—that have been spread in the past few years; for example, our belief in an extreme brand of Islam called Wahhabism. Unfortunately, the west largely misunderstands what Wahhabism is. The term refers to the reformist views of an 18th century Arabian scholar, Shaikh Muhammad Ibn AbdulWahhab. He did not advocate the killing of the innocent or condone acts of suicide (refer to www.thewahhabimyth.com for more detail). Individuals like Osama Bin Laden may have Wahhabi origins and knowledge, but their beliefs have been perverted, just like David Koresh or Jim Jones, use perverted Christianity to justify their violent acts. You may ask, are the Saudi people conservative? Yes. Are we traditional? Yes. Are we extremists, definitely NOT.

Another myth is that the Saudi government funded terrorism. According to the 9/11 commission’s report and I quote: “we have found no evidence that the Saudi government or senior Saudi officials funded AlQaeda. * ” These myths just cause misunderstandings, hastening of stereotyping, and cause rifts between people.
(* source: http://www.arabnews.com/9-11/?article=14&d=&m=&y=)

We come from a long history of tribal warfare that separated us for many years. The development over the last 70 years would be like compressing the US’s 270 years of development into just 70 years. Our people are free to travel anywhere. Our press is increasingly free and critical of our society. In addition, by royal decree the following reform program has been proposed:

1- Clarifying our definition of our Islamic practice

2- Widening of political participation, elections for municipal councils, then regional councils, then the Shoura council (our national assembly/congress)

3- Giving women in Saudi Arabia an equal role to play in the development of the country. It took the US 200 years to achieve universal suffrage.

4- Reforming our educational system (textbooks have been revised, skill and job acquisition knowledge has been amplified in colleges and universities) and slowly improve the system to benefit students at any level.

5- Improving economic well-being; a recent example would be the fact that investments in the kingdom’s stock market achieved much higher returns than similar investments outside the kingdom.

6- Streamlining the government so it will be able to address this reform. Example: ministries have been merged and removed in 2003.

In response to articles and letters to the editor that were published in the Free Press these past few months, I have the following matters to clarify:

Saudi Arabia has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in aid to Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Sudan, Palestine, Lebanon, and Indonesia. Saudi Arabia has also granted Saudi citizenship to hundreds of Palestinian refugees that fled to the kingdom on numerous occasions during history.

Saudi Arabia is moving increasingly towards democracy, with the recent elections of the boards of the municipalities all over the kingdom in addition to the Chambers of Commerce in the major cities. The Saudi Majlis AlShoura, which serves as Saudi Arabia’s parliament, has already started moving towards a fully elected membership. All political, economic reforms that are to occur in Saudi Arabia have to come from within, taking into account the religion, culture, history, tradition and the aspirations of the people. Therefore, we are moving to a more democratic state, but at OUR pace, not what the world thinks is right for us.

The unemployment rate in Saudi Arabia is estimated to be approximately 20% and is decreasing considerably. The Ministry of Labor has been very adamant the past two years (if you happened to read any Saudi online newspaper) about finding jobs for unemployed Saudis in addition to running several employment offices and agencies in all cities.

Saudi woman scientist Hayat Sindi has been offered jobs by the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the American Space Center in California. Sindi, the first Arab woman to win a scholarship from Cambridge University in England to pursue a doctoral program in biotechnology, invented a sensor device with great possibilities in the fields of medicine and space.

In addition, all Saudi universities and colleges graduate more females than males annually; approximately 51% of Saudi college graduates are female. Effat College, a women’s college in Jeddah, has recently collaborated with Duke University to construct an engineering program at the university.

It seems quite clear, then, that women are a very important component of the fabric of Saudi society in various fields.

Our biggest success story is: 90% illiteracy in 1950, to 82% literacy now in the male and female population. Over 55 years, increased literacy has allowed us develop the economic, social, and political aspirations that enable us to contribute more to the world. This is how it works in the kingdom. What the people want will actually happen, but as I mentioned before it takes time for mindsets and mentalities to accept change.

Concerning security and stability, before 9/11 and the terrorist attacks that ensued, people could leave their keys in their cars and walk into a store and without having to worry about theft. One American teacher we had was amazed that when we played soccer we would put our cell phones, watches and wallets on the bench without looking back or even considering the possibility that someone would take them.

Saudi journalism is still highly scrutinized, but in the last few years there have been numerous writers with liberal leanings who have expressed their unpopular views to the outrage of the community. However, positive debate and discussion have also resulted, and writers are taking more freedom in their columns. A look at the opinion column of the leading English newspaper, Arab News (available at http://www.arabnews.com) provides some good examples.

If Arabs and Muslims (including Saudis) have anti-Semitic tendencies or emotions (though it is beyond me why Arabs are called anti-Semites since Arabs are from the lineage of Sam, the son of Noah and thus, qualify as Semites), the main culprit would be the world’s media portrayal of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. If every time you turned on your TV you saw your brother/sister in faith killed, how would you feel about the people who did it? A good comparison would be 9/11 and the reactions the citizens of New York had to anything that in any way resembled Muslim or Arab Intifada.

Saudi Arabia accepts all religions and ideologies for anyone living in the country; the only thing that is persecuted and prevented is public preaching of other religions and beliefs. As the center of Islamic thought and decree in the Muslim world, it would be improper to permit other religions to be preached because then that would mean that the people and the government accept the beliefs of other religions, or that they are assisting in the spreading of conflicting ideologies and beliefs to Islam.

As Saudis, we believe that Islam is the one and only true path and religion, people may believe and practice whatever ideology they wish to, however Saudi Arabia does not allow preaching of other religions to its citizens. In addition, our population is 100% Muslim (which is also unique in the world), so any alienation due to this discrepancy is to expatriates or foreigners to the country (which aren’t our first priority, our people are our first priority). However in the UK and the US, the citizens are of different faiths, thus as a citizen you are entitled to freedom of religion if you belong to these secular countries. This is the reason why there are no churches, synagogues, or Buddhist temples in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi women wear the abaya in accordance with Islamic decree to promote humility and modesty to all Muslims males and females alike. However, women are especially reminded to do so since they are more able to trigger desire. Women in Islam are not mere sex objects, rather strong and bright individuals who have had tremendous influence on Arab and Islamic history since the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

On another note, alcohol does exist in Saudi Arabia, however possession of alcohol by citizens is a serious, prosecutable offense. I have personally lived in and visited numerous housing compounds in Saudi Arabia, and only the expatriates were permitted to purchase limited amounts of alcohol through their respective embassies. There was no widespread consumption, especially among locals. Alcohol is not as conveniently available to the public as the writer of a recent article in the Free Press claims, however, if one was to go out of his way to acquire it, it would not be impossible. In a way, but to a slightly lesser extent, the availability and policing of alcohol in Saudi Arabia compares to that of Marijuana in the US, which is easily available on college campuses although the administration and police try their best to crack down on this drug problem.

I hope I have helped to provide a clearer, more objective picture of my homeland and my faith. If there still remain some doubts or the need for clarifications to be made, please bring them to my attention as I could have easily made a miscommunication or mistake. We all came to university to learn and to interact with people from different cultures and beliefs, and we usually learn more from our peers and counterparts than from any book, website or television screen.


-Y ;)

19 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i like ... well organized and well explaine ideas.however i still disagree with some . i will talk to u later.

9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

soory.the prevoius comments from me ali

9:28 PM  
Blogger zoooonz said...

well said Yamen. The facts are great for people to read who know nothing about saudi. I read the comment on the dailyfreepress about women not permitted to work and the examples you mensioned are enough to answer that :-)

Its such a huge topic to try to explain to people what saudi arabia is and how islam is our way of life not just a religion that we practice whenever we feel like it and you hit many good points.

As long as there is respect among people and acceptance that everyone is different its going to be ok inshallah.

good job and keep going!

10:19 AM  
Blogger Raven said...

Ali,

Will contact you soon to discuss it.

Zoony,

Thanks for commenting. I tried my best, there's always room for improvement..

Yamen :)

4:16 PM  
Anonymous Raed said...

It is the best article I ever read about Saudi Arabia. It is truly objective. I liked the comparison you made with the US.
Well done Yamen.

4:21 PM  
Blogger Raven said...

Raed,

You give me too much credit..

Alhamdulillah, keep spreading the link I want to improve in sha Allah..

Jazak Allah Khair.

Yamen :)

4:24 PM  
Blogger Michelle Grey said...

As a female I was pleased to read your comments on Saudi women in the workplace.

However may I ask if you believe it is fair for Muslims, who choose to live in the UK (my country and also a Christian country), to have Mosques built in order for them to practise their religion whereas my family who are Catholics would not be allowed to even discuss their religion openly, let alone be allowed to build a Church in Saudi Arabia?

You must see how difficult it is for non muslims to understand why for instance the Metrolitan Police have installed a prayer room in the station for muslim police officers. I have never been offered a confessional in any of my work places.

I think that Westerners particularly the British WANT to understand and be tolerant to the muslim religion but are finding it increasingly difficult.

4:36 PM  
Blogger Raven said...

Michelle,

I truly respect your opinion and I thank you for your comment.

You have to make a clear distinction between the UK and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that chooses to base its entire constitution on the Quran thus making the only "truly" Islamic nation in the current world.

The UK is a secular state, thus it is accepting of all religions, yet religion doesn't intervene in politics, the whole Saudi law system and governmental system is based on some religious text from the Quran or the Sunnah.

It is part of the UK's constitution to promote freedom of religion and let every faith build whatever religious structures they need to practice in.

It is NOT part of the Saudi constitution to do so, you may disagree with it, but my country has chosen this stance.

Countries differ and people have constantly moved all over the world over the span of history escaping certain rules and jurisdictions.

This may alienate people from Saudi Arabia, but, Saudi Arabia isn't like the US and UK, we don't grant people citizenship except in very specific cases. Whereas the US has a green card lottery, and actively seeks to naturalize any of the world's geniuses to benefit from them (which is the only reason for the US's power).

We are striving to improve the living of our people before we allow others to join us in citizenship.

Thus, for anyone who is Saudi, they are automatically Muslim and freedom of religion is no issue, and for those Muslims in Saudi Arabia, they are also satisfied with the current state of matters.

For Non-Muslims, they can congregate on their private property, if they don't like it, there is no obligation for them to remain in our country.

I don't mean to be rude or hostile, but this is my country, and this is my religion and this is how we chose to live, similar to the UK and US laws that alienate millions of people all over the world.

Change takes time, and there is currently no reason for us to promote the preaching of non-Islamic ideologies on our land, so we will not allow that to happen.

Regards,

YameN

5:44 PM  
Anonymous Juhaina said...

"Our biggest success story is: 90% illiteracy in 1950, to 82% literacy now in the male and female population."

I'm guessing you meant 28% Yamen.

This is a good article. However, I do disagree on some points. Especially that I'm Saudi too and I've grown up in Riyadh as well.

I am proud of our country's major accopmlishments within a relatively short time (like 76 years). However, I believe that our country needs to sort out all the human rights and woman rights issues first. I think it's really time for that.

Anyways, just to let you know I will link your site in mine :).

Regards,
Juhaina

5:48 PM  
Blogger Raven said...

Juhaina,

Thanks for your comments.

No I didn't mean 28%, I said 90% illiteracy in 1950, to 82% LITERACY. :)

It's good that you're a riyo chick too, please clarify exactly what points you don't agree with.

I never made the claim that our country was perfect. We have A LOT to do, but changes take time and mindsets take time to change. Human rights I don't know about, but women's rights are improving and there is still room for improvement.

Thank you for linking me, I am not very familiar with the "linking/tanning" culture in blogs, am I supposed to tag you back or answer some questions etc. ??

Keep reading.. :)

All the best,

-YSH

8:19 PM  
Anonymous Gibran said...

How can you give "hope" that your country will change by itself from the "inside" and at the same time claim that it follows the "wahabi" interpretation of islam which is basically a literal interpretation that does not allow any kind of reinterpretation or accustoming ?

it becomes clear that the only "hope" your people have is that this current style of government ceases to exist.

3:38 PM  
Anonymous Gibran said...

How can you give "hope" that your country will change by itself from the "inside" and at the same time claim that it follows the "wahabi" interpretation of islam which is basically a literal interpretation that does not allow any kind of reinterpretation or accustoming ?

it becomes clear that the only "hope" your people have is that this current style of government ceases to exist.

3:39 PM  
Blogger Raven said...

Gibran said...
How can you give "hope" that your country will change by itself from the "inside" and at the same time claim that it follows the "wahabi" interpretation of islam which is basically a literal interpretation that does not allow any kind of reinterpretation or accustoming ?

it becomes clear that the only "hope" your people have is that this current style of government ceases to exist.

Gibran,

Thanks for your comments.

I can give you "hope" to my country because every 6 months when I go back I SEE changes. The religious police are more tolerant and less harrassment occurs than before. More traffic laws are enforced. Socially people have improved with more activities and summer camps being developed every year in addition to the open lectures that are held at our universities and lecture halls.

There is a lot of change but it takes time.

I don't claim that we follow Wahhabism, there is nothing in our constitution that says we follow Wahhabism.

First of all, it is a misnomer you shouldn't use it because it shows ignorance.

Second of all, it is true the majority of our scholars are influenced by Shaikh Mohmmad Ibn AbdulWahhab's teachings as well as numerous other Shaikhs. Does that mean they are wahhabi?

They might as well be called Ibn Taymees, and Muhammadans and Ibn Bazees..

Third, I was schooled in 9 years of Islamic studies in Saudi Arabia and the interpretation of Islam I learned does allow reinterpretation and discussion. I don't know where you get your knowledge from.

As for our government, under the leadership of King Abdullah it's only getting better, look at the economic changes and all the projects that are set to happen in addition to the huge educational reforms and scholarships.

WE are happy with our government and our country is flourishing every day and especially when oil prices go up. So please correct your facts or ask better questions instead of raising random inaccuracies and adding to people's ignorance.

Regards,

Y

5:27 PM  
Anonymous Abu Miftah said...

As-salaamu alaikum...

What an interesting blog, oe I am not used to when thinking of "Saudi Blogs", it's not the usual "I'm a rich Najdi who thinks making fun of Islam is cool" kindablog. Allaah ywaffigak Yamen. Perhaps you would allow me to use your article (or parts of it) on my An American Living in Saudi Arabia blog?

Plus it's cool that your family is originally from Madinah, and the fact that you are a bit of a tech-lover...

Definitely a new blog to add to my bookmarks.

Take Care bro,
Abu Miftah

P.S. I hope you'd accept my Invite on MSN ad Gmail, wa shukran...

6:01 AM  
Anonymous Aziz Al-Falih said...

Yamen,

I don't think I have read a better post by a Saudi blogger. Thanks for doing this, you're doing us all a great favor. I wish you all the best and can't wait for you to write again.

3aziz

6:44 PM  
Blogger Raven said...

Azoooz,

You're so kind man, Jazak allah Khair for the kind words..

I think it's more of a duty, but I appreciate the encouragement. Now I feel like I need to write again :)

RvN

1:21 AM  
Anonymous Allyn said...

I understand your concept of this “this is the way we do things in Saudi Arabia, and that is the way you do things elsewhere”, but Wahhabisim is a religion of conversion and proselytizing. Saudi Arabia exports Wahhabisim, the way America exports arms, and with the same results. The House of Saud is a house of blood. In the nineteen twenties and thirties they consolidated power through invasion, slaughter, and death, and so Saudi Arabia was born in 1933

It should not surprise citizens of Saudi Arabia and Wahhabists, how large a portion of the rest of the world really feels regarding their religious and political practices. It seems Wahhabists (not all Muslims) feel they can spread their religion and facilitate the downfall of other countries and governments through any means necessary, (see North Africa, Afghanistan, Indonesia, India, etc.) destroy others religious faiths and temples, (the millennia old Buddhists statues in Afghanistan, and many Thai and other temples throughout Indonesia.), and then implement capital punishment laws forbidding other religions from practicing, to remove any competition. These are the same attitudes and actions that Hitler, Bush, Genghis Kahn, Pal Pot and their ilk have push on us; not to mention the CEOs of global corporations push on We The People of the World. They were/are all corrupt.

There is an answer though. In the US and the West, we need to curb corporate power, and hold the leaders of the corporations responsible and accountable for their actions, up to and including capital punishment for crimes. We must also confront and stop the hatred that is taught in the Madras’s of the Wahhabists, the White Supremacists, the Hindi Extremists, and any other such hatred. They need to be shut down and the same goes for any religion or organizations that preach a convert or die philosophy. The earth is too small to allow murderers and terrorists of any sort to run rampant.

Given the needs of the West to consume oil though, and the power of money in politics, I feel it will be a long hall for either of those things to come to pass.

There is an old saying, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” I prefer, “Let’s you and him fight.” American’s need to pull out of Iraq and let them kill each other, then we need to build a true coalition of the sane, to contain and tame global threats such as Wahhabisim, or Heavens Gate, or Pat Robertson’s fundamentalist ilk, or Nazism, or what ever guise true evil comes in, and contain the blight. But it starts first at home. We are beginning to clean things up at in the US by putting corporate power back in subjugation to the benefits of humanity. Now if we could get the put the curbs on Jihad the human race might have a chance.

Did I mention that Israel is messed up also and need top be slapped, and that there was never a Palestine and the land was part of Easter Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria that was stolen?

No one has to be right in all this mess. Actually that facts say they are all nuts!


The two cents of a good Pagan boy

6:08 PM  
Blogger alaa said...

Honestly this is the best most organized, well written article about saudi arabia Ive read in a long time. You have explained every point in a very non biased intelligent way.I love the comparison with the US.

6:52 AM  
Blogger Raven said...

Alaa..

Thank you for the kind words. I'm fortunate the HRH Prince Turki gave me a lot of good material to use, so the credit goes to him :)

11:24 PM  

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