Saudi Arabia: Choose Your Battles Carefully

Saudi women are becoming more outspoken and visual for rights they seek.  But a country, such as Saudi Arabia with its steep pride and entrenched in its tribal roots knows how to manipulate and rule.  Anyone with a place or a desire for a new reform has to be equally cunning and thinking ahead. Sadly the example of a young distraught Saudi woman walking down a Makkah street without an ayaba or headcover did not think through her reactions.  Makkah is not the place where any woman should try and test such boundaries.  After all, Makkah is the location of the Haram and the Haram boundaries are clearly marked with the expectation that respect will be shown.


I realize that I was pushing boundaries during my time in Saudi Arabia but I like to believe I chose my battles carefully.  My boundaries were more oriented at preserving “me” as an individual rather than trying to dare change anything about a society in which I was a guest.  Yes; I took calculated risks which included some risks with the abaya. 


A woman can have more “leeway” whether she wears or modifies a look of her abaya in the larger cosmopolitan cities of Saudi such as Jeddah or Damman.  Seaport cities have more an influx of people and cultures whereas a conservative capital such as Riyadh or holy cities like Makkah and Medina have their own rules of conformity and expectations.

Yet back to the forthcoming article, it is clear that the rash decision of a Saudi woman to go out without an abaya was based more on raw emotions.  It’s too bad she had to go through an ordeal of an arrest with what was already going on in her life though.  But…that’s part of Saudi Arabia.


Woman held for walking without abaya

Defiant Saudi wife tells police head cover is symbol of backwardness

Published Sunday, June 12, 2011


Saudi Arabia’s feared Islamic police briefly arrested a national woman for defying local rules by walking in a public place without the traditional Saudi gown and head cover. The arrest made her even more defiant, when she branded the head cover a symbol of backwardness.

The 27-year-old Saudi wife was strolling at dawn on the sidewalk in the western town of Makkah when members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice seized her and took her to their centre.

Sabq newspaper said a Saudi man had phoned the Commission and told them about a woman walking in tight pants and white tops without her gown or head cover. The man said he was worried the woman might be kidnapped by men.

The paper said the unnamed woman told Commission members at the centre that she went to stay at her family’s house after an argument with her husband but that they refused to receive her and told her to return home.

“The woman said she then decided to go for a walk at dawn to have some fresh air and release her pent-up feelings and deprivation,” the paper said.

“She said what she had done is normal and that the gown and head cover are symbols of backwardness….she also told the Commission members that man had reached the moon and ‘you come and tell me don’t drive….don’t go out shopping…cover you face…be careful…etc..”

Sabq said the woman was later handed over to her family after she was made to write a statement not to repeat what she had done.



20 Responses

  1. I applaud this woman for being so brave. Wish the Princesses over there would stand behind her. It’s frustrating to read this..especially this day and age.

  2. I feel very sorry for this woman, and its saddening to see that she had to get to that point. I personally don’t see her problem being only about covering,she obviously had problems within her family and was retaliating in what she felt was the best way she could. Her family turned her away? its hard to believe any mother would do that to her daughter in need. No matter saudi or not.
    I tried to comment looking at it from woman to woman, not from a muslim perspective..trying to take carols Although my answer wouldn’t have changed either way.

  3. The anonymous male caller said he was worried she was “going to be kidnapped”…and HEY what do you know…she was…by the Haia.

    It says she was wearing tight pants etc…I wonder if she had been wearing a dress or something would it have made a difference?

    And…considering what else goes on in Makkah near the Haram…this is just hypocritical. Ive been there…and it being the Holy of holy places is just laughable.

  4. Bella Vita, Yes, I’m sure that she has other problems other than the cloth that she is required to cover with. But, I AM 100% sure that they are issues about her ‘modesty’ and her ‘place’ being decided by everyone else but HER.

  5. It’s not the “proud” chiefs of tribes who are waging war on Saudi women, it’s the government’s agencies: police, religious, policies, secret police and the ministry of interior.

    Like most Saudi women, this person’s ownership was transferred from her father and brothers to a husband she probably had never seen before he purchased her (expensive dowry) and sexually abused her. Purchased genus have no control over their fate.

    Like many defenseless and unwanted Saudi women, this individual had no place to go except walking in the streets incoherently and aimlessly. To accuse her of being indiscreet and disrespectful of a tradition, custom and religion that consider her subhuman is preposterous.

  6. I would say that her “ownership” was also transferred to the anonymous male caller who felt it was an obligation on his part to report a lady walking down the street uncovered…do they have hotlines in Saudi for just such things…the Haia any time day or night?

    Seriously….uhm…elloo? I am standing here in the street, lowering my gaze and not engaging in sin of any kind, and suddenly my eyes have been assualted by the intrusion of some man’s property destroying my sinless existence by causing fitna in my heart…and in my pants. Before my thoughts can logically turn to sex at this unexpected fitna enducing sexual object that has encroached on my lowered gazed eyes (I did accidently glance at her and may god forgive me) could someone please come quickly and remove her from my sight. If you need any more information from me I will be at home engaging in halal sex with my wife to rid myself of the fitna this freedom seeking sexual object has fired in me. may god forgive me. Salams

  7. OMG! Coolred..I laughed my a** off at that visual!!!!!

  8. Coolred that was beyond amazing!!

  9. @Lynn: i totally agree with you, that is probably why she is so distressed because she has NO choice about how her life is run. I cannot imagine her life its really saddening.
    @Coolred: Don’t you think the man who was worried she may be kidnapped could have just been a worrying father looking out for a young woman? Why should we assume the worst, im not saying your comment is wrong but im just asking if you think it could have been a possibility?
    He could have easily been shocked to see her in that state as its not a normal occurance in Makkah and been genuinely worried for her safety??

  10. I certainly agree that one should choose one’s battles, but maybe this lady chose this battle. The Saudi treatment of women is absurd.

  11. […] Saudi Arabia: Choose Your Battles Carefully: AMERICAN BEDU […]

  12. Who is this woman? I would love to write her and applaud her.

  13. Bella…yes…he could have been worried for her…but in my experience if you have real concern for someone…you dont call the Haia because everyone in Saudi knows the Haia showing up usually isnt a good thing. Then again since he couldnt approach her and offer help/advice etc due to the segregation issues…who knows whether he felt he had a choice on who he could call.

    Possibly he could have stood a respectful distance away and called out to her to inquire if she needed help…if he could call someone for her…but you know…I feel that the culture there just makes people suspicious of each other, wary of each other, hesitant to offer help for fear of what could happen etc…so maybe calling the Haia IS the only option left to them…and probably the Haia works very hard to keep it that way.

  14. All she had to do was promise not to do it again?! That’s getting off light. Not bad, really. At least she wasn’t publicly flogged!

  15. The abaya is like a yellow star.

  16. @ Coolred “if he could call someone for her…but you know…I feel that the culture there just makes people suspicious of each other, wary of each other, hesitant to offer help for fear of what could happen ”

    This is a really good point, speaking to some saudi friends that had encountered situations where someone was in need of the opposite sex, they were dumbfounded as to what they could and could not do. This is really sad, i guess fortunate enough in the west we don’t have that worry at all. Sometimes cultures can be suffocating to the point they do more bad then good

  17. The woman was indeed brave for going out without an abaya. I guess she knew what will happen to her and she was prepared. What if she’s going to do it again? What will the Saudi police do to her? Flog her? It’s quite risky to violate the laws of their land.

  18. I am willing to bet my life that if there was a distraught looking woman walking down my street naked someone would go out to her with a blanket and ask her how they could help her. I just cannot imagine that that man that called the religious police on her couldn’t have done that himself or sent one of his women out to her with a spare abaya or sheet. It’s hard to understand how a culture supposedly known for it’s great hospitality and protection would not have people that would extend that to one of their own who appears in distress.

  19. I agree Lynn. We are living in the ‘immoral’ countries though.

  20. […] Saudi Arabia: Choose Your Battles Carefully: AMERICAN BEDU […]

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