Saudi Arabia/USA: Rejected in Her Own Country

Recently I had the opportunity to sit and talk with a close Saudi friend who is also an American passport holder.  She was born in the States and spent a significant portion of her life in America until moving to Saudi Arabia with her parents.  Even once she left the States she returned routinely for visits and extended stays.


She is presently in the States again for an extended stay.  What she had to say about her reception in America this time was disappointing and saddened me.


She wears Western clothes but chooses to wear her hijjab.  It is simply a part of her.  Yet because of the hijjab, a high percentage of Americans have chosen to ignore her overtures at friendship…from a fellow American, no less.


Her children attend school and day care respectively.  They do have adorable Saudi features with jet black eyes and dark curly hair and brown-toned skin.  They speak both Arabic and English fluently.  They are innocent children who have all the same likes and dislikes as children over the world.  They enjoy playing video games, they dislike broccoli, bedtime comes too soon, etc.


Yet because of their Arab name and features, they have been discriminated against.  The older child is left out from invitations to birthday parties.  The younger one does not have any American playmates outside of the day care.  It’s not for a lack of trying on the part of their mother.  Seeing her children isolated breaks her heart, as it would any mother’s.  Her children are also aware that they are treated differently.


They are treated differently because they are Muslim and then to a lesser degree, because they came from Saudi Arabia.  But America is as much the mother’s country as any other American.


During our discussions we agreed that there is too much isolation in the United States.  Isolation in the sense that most Americans like to stay within their own comfort zone and fear the unknown.  Muslims and/or Saudis are viewed as outside the comfort zone due to the negative and sensational reporting that is done on isolated incidents.  Such incidents  have no bearing or endorse that every Muslim or Saudi is an extremist or terrorist.  Sadly though, the negative perception remains.


My friend shared how she might be at a Starbucks and see someone looking at her.  Her natural instinct is to smile and say hello.  The typical reaction she gets in return is that the other person does not acknowledge her and looks away.


How hard is it to smile and say hello?  How easy was it to reject and isolate innocent children from peers?  These actions are un-American!  What is the perceived threat to America in seeing a mother with young children in Western dress wear a hijjab?


30 Responses

  1. I can understand her frustration – but this happens equally in Saudi – where my son, as one of the few ‘anglos’ in his class also has no playdates, as the others (all of arab or part arab nationality) choose to associate only with their own kind and do not include my son……. it is a pity as I would rather like to get to know them and for them to know us

  2. Of course racial discrimination exist everywhere in the world and it is so sad. I do not understand why much people are focusing on hijab. It is just like a clothe covering hair ! Not too scary…lolll !!!! Behing the veil, there is a woman, a mother, a person….Children are all the same whatever the religion they are coming from !

  3. It is normal almost every where that is why foreigners always form a group and mingle with their own nationals particularly with their own co religionists , when they move from their own homeland and settle in another country.This happens and can’t be helped .

  4. I a bit surprised that American are treating her poorly. I would find a woman in a black abaya an niqab off putting, but one rarely sees women dressed like that. I’d be curious where this is happening.

    With all the anti Mulslim rhetoric from the right, I guess this is to be expected.

  5. jerry it happens in East London, plenty of women in abayah, and they dont have an issue integrating, for example my daughters reception teacher wore abayah, the local pharmacist, her speech therapist, some of the nursery nurses at my other daughters nursery, the nursery nurses at the nursery i am intending to send my son some of them wear niqaab,

  6. I feel so sorry for your friend, I wished I lived near her as I would love to show her true friendship! But you cannot base all Americans on the behavior if a few idots. I am an American and when I was married to my Saudi husband, I wore hijjab in the states. This was before 911, I was treated horrible, hissed at, spit at and cursed too! I never left the house unless I was with my parents – but there are good people here! I don’t think it’s her personally, but those peoples ignorance! Please send our apologies for these few idots encourage her to keep looking for the good, as she will find them!

  7. It is people’s ignorance. It never hurts to remind a general audience like ourselves reading this blog, to read about such experiences.

    Where does this American live/stay in the U.S.? She just wearing her hijab, not even her abayah.

  8. Happens to me all the time when I’m home for a visit, to the point that I do not want to wear hijab in the States anymore. It does the opposite of what it’s meant to do and makes me stick out like a sore thumb. This past summer an incident happend while I was with my 7 year old daughter in a pizza shop, minding out own business. A man came to us shouting at us to go back to where we came from, asking why I had that “rag” on my head. It went on for about 10 minutes and he was waiting outside for me when I left too.
    Much to my shock, the other patrons of the restaurant sat and watched, as did the restaurant’s employees.
    Nevermind the sideways glances and hesitation of people to engage in conversation, I’m tired of the outright harassment.

  9. It does happen everywhere and Kimmie, you would have a lot of friends by the time you are done because, ignorance is engrained in all forms, shapes and sizes.

  10. Sorry to hear this. 😦 For these reasons, I try to go out of my way to smile at other women who choose to dress differently (whether she is dressed in an abaya, gothic style, etc.). Where I live, women covering their hair isn’t a big deal one way or the other. One thing I did miss about England is that you’d see everything from people completely covered (just the eyes showing) to almost naked. And the cool thing is that no one really seemed to mind that much, either way. I see dress as part-culture, part-religion, part-society, part-individual (and with other factors, too). So for me, I don’t really care either way how others choose to dress, just so long as it’s considered legal in the country in order to prevent problems.

  11. Isolation in the sense that most Americans like to stay within their own comfort zone and fear the unknown.

    Seems an odd thing to be said on this blog. I got run out of here for stating opinions that are pretty much normal for Americans, and which should in no way be offensive to Muslims in the middle-east. But which apparently were. Is it really Americans who have trouble adapting when they are outside their comfort zone?

    As for your friend, I feel bad for her but on the other hand I feel like we aren’t hearing the whole story. Americans are the most tolerant and the most open minded people on this planet. If somebody is feeling ostracized due to their religion or their ethnicity, here, then I have to believe there’s something else going on specific to their situation.

  12. This is what I was trying to tell bigstick (and he did not agree with me). No matter what the law says, there will always be racism within a person. No law can change that.

    It does happen in USA. People wiith hijab find it difficult to get jobs, too.

  13. By the way, one of the reasons I got run out of here is for confronting people who made comments like this:

    This was before 911, I was treated horrible, hissed at, spit at and cursed too! I never left the house unless I was with my parents…

    No American is going to believe that. I suspect even the vast majority of visitors to the United States will believe that. Whether intentional or not, Bedu, your blogging seems to often invite vicious and unfair attacks on Americans and on Christians. And probably other groups as well but it’s certainly very conspicuous when it comes to those two. If you see yourself as somebody who is trying to combat stereotypes and hatemongering, why do you allow that and even encourage your readers to bash any dissenters? And now you claim Americans are the ones who isolate and won’t leave their comfort zones? Do you see why I, an American living in America, coming to your blog in Saudi Arabia and interacting with Muslims there and being bashed for it and told to get lost might think it’s not Americans who have the problem you describe? 🙂

  14. Might be useful viewing. Check out this video on YouTube:

  15. I would love to meet this lady and her children. Sorry for these bad experiences though. Maybe the people she smiles at in the coffee shops don’t like that they got caught staring. Perhaps she could arrange a playdate and invite people over to break the ice. Sometimes people are afraid to reach out to the unknown because they aren’t sure how they will be received.

  16. Yes there is racism everywhere and it is unacceptable wherever it is .
    There is agreat fear of muslims and especially people who are outwardly identifyable as muslims in the US. this is not in US alone.
    In india traditionally muslims have lived side by side, there is no question of nationality , oh of course there are fight between various religions but nationality is not in question. I recently went there for a few days and i saw everyone suspiciously look at a lady with a scarf – first i thought it was because her scarf was different- like the ones in saudi, in india even if they cover the hair, it’s with a dupatta with hair showing. and then i realised that it was not the scarf, she was being refered to as ‘ arab lady – why is she here’. i had to stand in the crowded coffee shop and chide a few fellow indians on thier bad attitude. yes F was horrified that i would yell at a crowdlike that, buy hey i know how that feels, i have lived in saudi with my beliefs and felt the sting of discrimination so there is no way i was letting another lady go thru that.

    but we need to put a stop to that, speak up and try to educate a few people right in the spot. maybe they won’t learn but eventually some of it will get thru. and unlike many other countries, in the US we are in a unique position to not be attacked, mobbed or jailed 🙂 you can defend a hijabi and eduacte the idiots and be free. our constitution guarantees that .

  17. My son is half Saudi and has never had a problem with friends and friendship all through school. It must be where she lives. Where does she live any way? The reason she gets shunned by American women I believe is the fact that Muslims treat their women so badly even though they say they “treat them like a queen.” When it comes to honor killings in the Muslim religion and also the fact that the Koran speaks about how to treat a woman if she does not obey and how to divorce her,her marry again and then you can remarry her after another man has slept with her…..It gives a bad name to the religion not to mention the fact that they can have more than one wife. Westerners don’t like that and they have outlawed it for a reason. They see her as a threat with the hijab on and look at her like a terrorist more than likely. If she shed the hijab it would be a different story. “When in Rome do as the Romans” is a great saying and it applies to all sorts of people and religion. And as you know we are a great society based on the Christian religion and we don’t really like other religions. I on the other hand have had American women marry men from Muslim countries and wear the hijab after becoming Muslim and even worked at the University with her hijab and had no problems with any body. Her children had no problems either. Of course there was a large population of Muslims going to school there so they are used to it. I just believe she is living in the wrong community.

  18. Nearly half of 600 Muslim-American citizens polled who plan to vote in the 2012 presidential election believe parodies of Muhammad should be prosecuted criminally in the U.S., and one in eight say the offense is so serious violators should face the death penalty.

    The poll also found 40 percent of Muslims in America believe they should not be judged by U.S. law and the Constitution, but by Shariah standards.

    While 9 of 10 of the Muslim respondents said they agree with the First Amendment, they are also in conflict with it, Wenzel said, citing evidence in answers to “another question in the survey which found that one-third of Muslims – 32 percent – believe Shariah should be the supreme law of the land in the United States,” Wenzel said.

    “Another shocking finding from the survey is how Muslims view the religious freedoms of Christians. Asked whether U.S. citizens who are Christians have the right to evangelize Muslims to consider other faiths, just 30 percent agreed Christians have such a right. Another 42 percent said they do not have such a right, while 28 percent said they were unsure on the question.”

    One in five say Muslim men should be allowed to follow their religion in America and have more than one wife, and 58 percent said criticism of their religion or of Muhammad should not be allowed under the Constitution.

  19. Craig said “Americans are the most tolerant and the most open minded people on this planet”
    I have to disagree with that. It all depends on what part of the US we are talking about. There are areas where racism is extreme and I don’t know if ‘black’ skin will ever be accepted in some areas.

    Part of the American problem in my opinion stems from the media and the constant fear mongering presented in regards to Muslims and Islamic countries. If people would shut off these news channels they might be happier and more tolerant.

    It is common here in Canada to see women in hijabs working in retail and everywhere for that matter. It’s a part of life.

  20. I’m not going to disclose her location other than to say it is within “America’s Bible Belt.” These areas tend to have a higher contingent of what some people would call Christian Fundamentalists and various military bases nearby. As a result, I think locals are happier to stay within their own circles and view anyone who is a little bit different with suspicion. Whereas if one lived in a larger city or West Coast I don’t think there would be the same reactions or reactions as noticeable.

    On Thu, Nov 1, 2012 at 10:40 AM, American Bedu

  21. I’m not surprised. I am an American who is pretty open-minded, my SO is Arab Muslim, but even so I just don’t get the need of the hijab.

    It’s deeper than just not understanding and being racist, that is much too simplistic. For me – it’s about the obvious lack of equal rights in the culture and it’s right there in your face.

    It’s not about covering the hair – it’s about what it stands for.

    There is nothing that ticks me off more than when we got out in the summer and the man is wearing shorts and a t-shirt and his wife is covering her hair, wearing long sleeves and pants in the heat. That is not about choice, that’s unnecessary suffering.

    I’m certainly not agreeing with how the person is treated, it’s just rude. But, this isn’t just an American problem. If I went to the Middle East with my SO I should be required to cover my hair and if I didn’t … the punishment could potentially be a lot worse than just a simple comment, that’s for sure. It’s not even a matter of choice, it’s a matter of safety.

    Heck, I’m in my OWN COUNTRY and Arabs will openly comment in Arabic about me, what I’m doing or not doing and what I should be doing. I get evil eyes from women, leering glances from men … Americans are super polite in comparison, imo.

  22. As people commented…it happens both ways. My children were persecuted for having a western mother. My boys had to endure lots of fights..the girls were labeled as loose and immoral as their mother by some. It seems most people would rather focus on the differences then the similarities. The loss is theirs.

  23. I thought as much, Carol.

  24. When I lived in the West coast, there were Muslim children in my son’s preschool. They were included in all the birthday parties and play dates from what I saw. Our neighbors were Muslim and had been part of the community for several years and were fully integrated. Almost none of the women wore hijab though. There was one woman at my university who did, and she ran a 5K race in hijab. People did notice that, but I heard only positive comments from other runners.

    I live in an interior part of the country now and I can sense that attitudes are somewhat less tolerant. I have a cleaning lady who comes occasionally to help me, a very nice woman and a devout Christian. When she found out I had lived in Saudi Arabia, she asked me what I thought of the Muslim religion. She was very suspicious of Muslims. My in laws also hold similar suspicious views. I am wondering if the evangelical churches play a role in this. I am not a member of an evangelical church, so I don’t have an insider’s view.

    On the flip side, when I lived in Saudi, in a mixed compound, I had my white women friends tell me that Saudi women in the park would often quickly cover up, if they had their niqab off, or avert their gaze, when they saw a white woman approaching. This surprised me because there were no men around. There were Saudi women who were friendly as well. It seems like prejudice exists everywhere. The US takes pride in being an open and welcoming country, but Middle America can be very closed minded.

  25. I used to avoid looking at any woman in a hijab because I thought that anyone who wore her religion on her sleeve, so to speak, would be completely against me, an atheist. I based that on how I have been (and still am) treated by Christians. However, once I started teaching Saudis, I HAD TO look at them and speak to them and I discovered that they are MUCH MORE tolerant of my atheism than the majority of christians I’ve run into. Now I always smile and am quick to offer help if it looks like they need it.

    Too bad Christians aren’t easily identified by their looks so that I could avoid them.

    (I live in the bible belt.)

  26. I live in Dallas. I have all kind of friends and so does my kids. I got other friends in Houston who also seems to have friends from every race and religion. Although none of us are too religious. (We are Muslims).
    We do have some hijabi friends but they would avoid any multi-cultural party where we served alcohol. They would also tell us it was sin to serve alcohol to our friends. To us it seemed that they were judging us. And we stopped inviting them. We are Muslims, they are Muslims but kind of hard to make friends when someone is too closed minded.

  27. Hi again, I am referring this comment to “Craig” who used my comments about how I was treated. Yes Craig, I am an American, raised here in good old Florida. I was given an opportunity to work in Saudi as a nurse. I never faced such meanness till I came back to the states wearing hijjab due to my marriage to a Saudi. Nothing I said was not true, it did happen, which is why I feel so bad for this lady. I know we have good people here in the states, but we also have a lot of close minded bigots! I can get over it but what shames me is that a stranger may not know this and think that this is how we all are. First impressions are lasting …. do we really want visitors & guests to think this is how we are?

  28. Honestly, I would not be surprised to encounter this attitude in the small cities in the U.S. where people are, er, unenlightened and have not had an opportunity to interact with others. I sympathize with the lady very much. Perhaps she herself can reach out and cultivate friendships by inviting other moms and kids to a playdate, park, etc. I know it’s hard. So my heart goes out to her.

    We live in Washington, D.C., which is as international as it gets. Our son has friends of all colors and tongues and it doesn’t occur to anyone to check for his nationality (half Saudi, half Russian, made in America). We don’t care.

    There is a niqabi lady in our neighborhood and I always make sure to say hello when I see her.

  29. I live in America, in the Northwest. I have not experienced this sort of rejection. Of course, I am American and look it. My heritage is Northern european.

  30. I live in the Southwest and used to be a cashier at a grocery store. Whenever I would get someone who I thought was middle eastern I would always say “Shukran” to them when completing their transaction and giving them their change. It always startled them but I love doing that for people of all nationalities. For example when I had some french tourists come through my line once I said “Merci Beaucoup” when giving them their change.

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