Friday, November 7, 2008

In the Land of Invisible Women - Book Review

In the Land of Invisible Women
Qanta Ahmed
Source Books

Qanta Ahmed is a British-Born Doctor of Pakistani ancestry. She is also a Muslim. Her parents left Pakistan during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947.

Qanta grew up speaking English and Urdu, and knew just enough Arabic to read the Koran. She attended the University of Nottingham Medical School in England where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in medical sciences and a medical degree. After an internship year in England, Qanta completed her residency in New York City at the Staten Island University Hospital. This was followed by fellowships in pulmonary, critical care and sleep disorders medicine.

In early 2000 Qanta's application to work in USA was denied by the US government, so she had to scramble to find a job. She eventually chose the King Fahad National Guard Hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where she worked as an attending Intensivist for 2 years. It must also be stated that Dr Ahmed returned to Riyadh to visit friends a number of times after her initial 2 year contract ended.

This book is about the 2 years she spent in Saudi Arabia as a woman and how she was forced to become invisible. In Saudi Arabia Women are treated as second class citizens - from the western point of view.

Dr Ahmed tells the story of her Hajj - the pilgrimage every Muslim is expected to make to Mecca as often as possible and at least once in their life times. I love the details and stories and history she tells about her pilgrimage. Details that are not normally given out to non-muslims. This is probably the first time I have been able to read and know the details of how to make a Hajj.

Dr Ahmed describes being attacked by the Clothes Police - the Muttaween (or Muttawa - singular) whren she was out with someone who allowed a veil or hijab to slip from her face and hair in public. Below is an example of what the Mutaween mean but it is not how they say it.

You have a beautiful face, and you are certainly very attractive. But your face is uncovered, and that is not the right thing to do. It is not religious and attracts needless attention from strangers, and that is very inappropriate, especially with so many males around. You must veil your face completely when you are out in public. Your beauty is your property, and not for others to see. Even your hands must be gloved to minimize any unwarranted attention. That is the right thing to do.

It may be an old tradition but it is NOT following Islam because it is NOT in the Qu'ran.

Qanta discovered that there is NOTHING in the Quran that says that women should cover their faces. Prophet Muhammad said: If the woman reaches the age of puberty, no part of her body should be seen but this (and he pointed to his face and hands). Covering their face is something imposed by the Religious Police, there is no basis at all for it in the Quran or the other sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.

From the Saudi point of view, women are treated like possessions and seriously over-protected. Basically women are usually treated by Saudi men as if they have no brain and no intelligence and that they are good only for bearing children. Saudi women were not allowed to drive or to buy music or to run a business. The women must always be driven or accompanied by a male relative when they are outside the house. Saudis were not permitted to work as nurses or nannies, as janitors and cleaners, housekeepers, or drivers. Hundreds of people come from Asia every year to work in Saudi Arabia and do those jobs.

Below is a Saudi view of how women are treated in Saudi Arabia. This comes from The Religious Police blog written by a Saudi resident in 2004.

Violence apart, consider the lot of the average Saudi woman.

As a young girl, she can play out in the street with the young boys.
When puberty comes, she must retire inside, only appearing in public in abaya and veil.
She has no opportunity to seek her own marriage partner. She is dependent upon her family to find one, and one who can afford the dowry. She can say "no", but not too often, otherwise the introductions will stop.
Her husband can divorce her with relative ease.
Her husband can marry up to 3 other wives. Yes, in material terms, he must treat them equally. But his affection will obviously not be split 4 ways.
If she is caught herself in adultery, she will be stoned to death. Yes, it happens, it's just not reported these days.
She has equality of education. Like men, she can go to university. However her career choice is limited.
She can work in the Ladies' branch of a bank. She can teach female pupils. That's about it. She can't even, at the moment, be a flight attendant on Saudi Aiirlines. If she's very lucky, she can work in the "ladies only" floor of the Kingdom Shopping Center in Riyadh. But she can't work on the perfume counter of a regular shop, or in a lingerie shop; you'll find Lebanese men doing that.
She may well be wealthy in her own right, and own a business. However she can't manage it, if that would bring her into contact with men.
She can't drive. She can of course walk to the shops. Try that wearing black artificial fiber head-to-toe, in temperatures up to 50 celsius. (We men, of course, wear cool white cotton). Drivers are within the reach of many family incomes; but leave them at the door of the shopping center, otherwise you'll both be arrested.
She'll find it difficult to go out "with the girls". Many restaurants will not allow a group of unaccompanied women in. Same problem by herself. The safest way to get into the "Family" section of a restaurant, is with husband and / or children.
She can of course entertain her lady friends at home. That assumes her husband allows it. Many Saudi homes have bars on the windows, and the women are locked in during the day.
At home, she can do whatever she wants to amuse herself. However, there are clearly few opportunities to fulfil herself. Typically, therefore, she will start a family early. We have one of the highest birth-rates in the world.
If she has domestic problems, there is no network of support groups. Her family may help, it depends. Having got her married with some difficulty, they may be unwilling to take her back again.
The story of women in Saudi Arabia is one of unending tragedy. They are our mothers, our wives, our daughters, yet on the whole we treat them like our cattle. It's a story that needs to change.

In 2004 Rania Al-Baz, a news anchor on Saudi TV. was beated and almost killed by her Saudi husband because she was showing her face in public (on TV). She allowed her father to take pictures or her body, her bruises and her broken bones (she had 13 fractures) and sent the pictures to the BBC news so that the world could see how women in Saudi Arabia were treated if they did not stay invisible. Rania later fled from Saudi Arabia with her children and is now living in Western Europe.

There are two stories, that Qanta tells, that impressed on me what life is like in Saudi Arabia.

One is the story of Reem, a woman doctor who was accepted at the University of Toronto (Canada) to do a Fellowship in Vascular medicine. While her father was proud of all that she had accomplished, he declined to give her permission to leave the country UNLESS she was engaged or married. She was a 30 year old woman who had no interest in getting married - BUT she had a dream. To be a vascular surgeon.

So Reem got engaged to a nice man that her parents chose for her. The book does not say if Reem went to Toronto. She did have a farewell party. But then Qanta moves into a new topic. The only thing that Qanta says at the end of the book is that Reem never operated again and had 3 daughters. Presumably her husband did not allow her to work upon her return from Canada.

The other story is that of a young boy who was stabbed by a fellow school mate. The boy was rushed to the National Guard hospital where Qanta was working and was pronounced DOA. BUT his body was put onto life support. When Qanta asked why, she was told that the family of the boy who was on life support, had the right to demand retribution from the family of the boy who did the stabbing.

In Saudi Arabia, a boy is considered an adult as soon as they get ONE hair growing in their private parts. And this boy (who was stabbed) had ONE hair. (probably aged around 12 or 13). This retribution was permitted in one of two forms. Revenge or blood money. All perfectly legal under Islam.

The family whose boy was on the life support machines had asked for a large sum of money to be paid for the boys life, OR the boy who did the stabbing was to be executed - excution being the standard adult sentence for murder.

The boy on the life machine stayed there for several weeks while the other boys family desperately tried to raise the money required to pay the dead boys family. Eventually they did, so the boy who did the stabbing literally got away with murder. The dead boy was finally taken off life support and buried.

Qanta was still in Saudi Arabia, nearing the end of her 2 year contract when the attacks of 9-11 happened. She quickly discovered that the Saudis were happy that the USA had been attacked and that the USA was hated because of their close relationship with Israel. The Israelis are killing the (Palestinian) Arabs in Gaza and in the West Bank. But the Saudi Arabian government refuses to do anything to help the Palestinians. As does the rest of the world.

Qanta also mentioned that it has been suggested that the Palestinians be allowed to live in Saudi Arabia. There is PLENTY of room in that country. But it turns out that the Saudis are also racist. Anyone who is not a pure Saudi Arab is looked down and made to do the dirty jobs. The nurses, the drivers, the nannies, the janitors and cleaners - they are all non-saudis (Pakistanis, Palestinians and Syrians) as well as Asians. This why there are so many foreigners in the country.

There apparently is a new law that says that women are now allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. BUT according to the RELIGIOUS POLICE blog, the women are only allowed to drive in the rural desert areas. They must still stay off the main highways and out of the cities in their cars. The reason women can drive in the desert is because there is very little enforcement. Women in the cities MUST STILL have a male chauffeur/driver.

When Qanta left Saudi Arabia, she went back to England and worked there for a short time. She is now working as a Pulmonary and Sleep disorders Specialist in North Carolina, USA.

This is an excellent book to read, if you really want to know what it is like to be a woman in Saudi Arabia today.

DO NOT read further if you do not wish to read my opinions about the world today. These are MY OPINIONS, based on my reading and observing of events ocurring over the last 8 years.

The following paragraphs are some observations by myself having gleaned a few clues while readng this book. These comments are NOT aimed at any specific readers of this blog. The names of any countries used, refer to the governments of those countries only.

The religion of Islam is based on justice and revenge. An eye for an eye. This is the number one misunderstanding of the Western world towards the Middle East. This is why the Middle East will ALWAYS be a volcano waiting to explode as long as outside countries (USA, Israel and UK particularly) continue to tell the Arabs (and Persians) what do to and how to live.

The USA HAS ALREADY LOST the war in Iraq. The sooner the Americans accept this and leave the better the faster the situation will calm down. Who cares if it shows the Americans as weak - they were weak and stupid to even go into Iraq in the first place. Because as long as the Americans stay in Iraq and keep telling the Iraqis what to do and as long as the Americans continue killing Iraqi families, the Iraqi people will NEVER stop fighting back. Why should they? Their Qu'ran says that the justice is theirs and they can take an eye for an eye and Allah will reward them.

In Islam the Quran permits exact and equivalent retribution. The Quran, however, softens the law of an eye for an eye by urging mankind to accept less compensation than that inflicted upon him or her by a Muslim, or to forgive altogether. In other words, Islam does not deny Muslims the ability to seek retaliation in the equal measure. But it does, however promote forgiveness and the acceptance of blood money not as a mandatory requisite, but rather as a good deed that will be eventually rewarded. [wikipedia]

Iraq did not break any rules. They did NOT have any WMD. The major reasons for Bush to INVADE Iraq were - 1 to remove Saddam Huseein who was no longer under the control of the US government. He had invaded Kuwait in 1990 and wanted to sell his oil using another currency other than the dollar. He was now following his own agenda to help the Iraqi people. Number 2 was for the oil. Bush promised that the oil of Iraq would PAY for the war. That has never happened.

The same thing applies to Afghanistan as well. Again there will be no peace as long as the USA keeps telling the Afghans what to do and how to live their lives, and as long as the US keeps telling the Afghan people to STOP growing poppies (used in the production of drugs).

There is NO need for the USA to spread democracy around the world. Most other countries do NOT WANT Democracy. They see the hypocrisy where one country claims they are a democratic nation, and yet they torture people. Another country is committing genocide against the native population and the world sits by and does nothing. That country is not a democracy - although that country does claim to the "only democracy" in the middle East. That is a load of BULL, and the world knows it - or they SHOULD know it. Israel is a THEOCRACY. Everything is controlled by the Talmud. And the Talmud says that Arabs are like dogs - good only for killing.

For more details please see WHAT REALLY HAPPENED and the RELIGIOUS POLICE.
Thank you.

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