Beyond the Veil: A Glimpse of Life in the Arabian Gulf Presented by Tamara Banar
I lived just outside of Mecca, about two hours from the Red Sea, between 2005 and 2007. Map source: US Department of State
I worked on a military hospital compound in the village of Al Hada outside Taif, the third most holy city in the Kingdom.
Al Hada is in the mountains overlooking Makkah (Mecca). Only Muslims are allowed in the Holy City.
Most Saudis are descended from Bedouin tribesmen whose nomadic lifestyle was based on raising first camels and later goats and sheep.
Traditional Bedouin tents can still be seen throughout the Kingdom although only about 5% of Saudis are still nomads. The Bedouins are famously hospitable to strangers.
Women traditionally remained at home and cared for flocks of goats and sheep…
… while men took care of the camels, hunted, traded & raided.
In mountainous areas that supported agriculture, women also worked in the fields.
In the ancient times, the distinct differences in dress probably had practical purposes–-the white keeping men cooler when they were outside and the black women warmer inside the tents..
In the 7 th century, Islam was considered a progressive religion regarding women’s rights; the Prophet Mohammed worked for his first wife, Khadija, who was 15 years his senior.
The Muslim Holy Book, the Qur’an, permits a man to have up to four wives, but he must treat each equally.
Weddings unite clans and are an opportunity to display wealth & power. This is typical of the costumes worn by Najd women of the Riyadh area.
Traditional tribal dress is quite elaborate and colorful, often incorporating portable wealth, especially gold coin jewelry.
Despite the limitations on dress, Saudi women are generally very fashion conscious.
They skillfully apply cosmetics to enhance their eyes and use henna on their hands.
Saudi Arabia is the only Muslim country where women are required by law to wear the black abaya and they may not drive a car nor even ride a bike or even a skateboard.
Women and men are segregated beginning at puberty—11 to 13. They can’t be seen with anyone who could be a possible mate. Marriage between first cousins is allowed; so even cousins can’t be together.
Most socializing takes place with the same sex. Public displays of affection between men (e.g., handholding) are common.
Khalegi dancing featuring tossing of long hair is very popular when women gather together.
While men generally attend mosque five times per day, women often sit outside during the prayer times. Most restaurants have separate entrances and seating areas for men and women.
In Old Jeddah, traditional maharrabiyas (windows) allowed women to look down on the street without being seen.
Much of the treatment of women is based on sharia law rather than on the teachings of Islam or the Qur’an
Orthodox Muslims will not permit women to venture outside their homes unless they are accompanied by a mahram or a guardian.
The homes of well-to-do Saudis are often quite luxurious. .
Saudi architect Sami Angawy is a leading liberal in the push for reform. He is seen here with some of my 10 th grade students.
The decision to “cover” and to have choice in marriage is generally the woman’s. But more young girls are choosing to cover in the aftermath of 9-11.
Students in Saudi Arabia were a lot of fun to work with. This is a project were students had to come up with a visual metaphor for their own political values.
This is a pop-up book that another created as part of an Illustrated Islamic Dictionary
In cities like Jeddah, some young women are daringly wearing their abayas open or abandoning them altogether. Cell phones & the Internet are also revolutionizing “dating.”
Many educated Saudi women say, however, that they appreciate the protection offered by the veil.
A few women engage in such sports as scuba diving and skiing, but they remain modestly covered at all times.
King Abdallah has publicly encouraged women to join the work force; today they make up 70% of university enrollment but just 5% of the workforce.
Women are also beginning to exercise their right to vote in other Gulf countries--Bahrain, UAE, Kuwait and Oman, for example.
King Abdallah acknowledged that Bedouin women do drive in the desert and that he thinks women will be able to drive soon in the Kingdom.
One problem with women driving, critics argue, is whether or not they would have to unveil for photo IDs.
This was the only way I was permitted to drive in Saudi Arabia—in a bumper car!