“I’m from Saudi Arabia“, once I say this, I become irrelevant as a person, and our discussion becomes an interrogation in a strict and dry Q&A session. When a “normal” person introduces her/himself, people ask them normal questions to know them better; things like hobbies, career, weather, culture…etc. No sane person jumps into politics or religion from the first line of introduction. The good thing about Korea is that many of them treat me as a person, not as a representative of the Saudi government or an expert in Saudi law.
Because international media love my country (#not), people who learn from media instead of serious reading tend to have a very bad image about my country. Instead of repeating myself to every bigot, I decided to make this page and give the link to whoever asks me. So thank you for visiting the link I gave you!
First, this is Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region, it’s on the edge of southeast Asia:
The following are the most repeated questions I receive once I say: “Hi, I’m Suhail from Saudi Arabia“!
Q: Women don’t drive in Saudi Arabia right?
A: This is by far the most common question. The answer: Yes, they don’t. But why? The law doesn’t prevent them. Here’s the story:
When cars were introduced in Saudi Arabia, only the government had them. Drivers were few, and they made a community where they gather wherever they drive government officials. The drivers community had a very bad reputation, they were perceived as one of the worst in ethics. Therefore, women never go alone with a driver. Time passed and people started to learn driving, men and women. In cities, where drivers communities were known, women were discouraged from driving, to not get harassed by those drivers by chance. It started as an innocent gesture from the local community to protect women, and women didn’t mind as long as their relatives are driving them. However, time passed and this became a de facto law. There is no written law prohibiting women from driving, and if a woman drive now, they will only have a ticket for driving without a license, nothing more. Women in remote areas drive within their areas without social stigma because historically there wasn’t the same problem as in the cities.
Conclusion: whom to blame? It is a social norm that grew slowly.. this is how cultures develop, from historical incidents. Countries around Saudi Arabia don’t have the same problem. And it is hard to change this part of culture, but many people want it to change, because it is making our lives difficult. Now, the government doesn’t give women a driving license, so this is a blame on the government side.
The change in this aspect will come soon. I hope as soon as possible.
Q: You are Saudi, you must be Muslim right?
A: Not must, but statistically yes, how about you?
: I’m not a Muslim, I’m Korean/Japanese…etc
A: Ok, let me break the news for you: Islam is not a country, it’s a religion. There are Muslim Russians, Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Italians…etc. And they are all native people of their home countries. There must be non-Muslim Saudis as well, because religion is a belief, an expression (like prayers) and an action (like worshiping); a religion is not a passport.
Also, Muslims don’t look the same, or wear the same. For example, Lady Gaga might be a Muslim, while doing what she’s doing. Another example, A Muslim is not supposed to drink Alcohol; Drinking it is a sin, but you’re still a Muslim.
Furthermore, in Islam there is no ranking. No priests or monks. Being from Saudi Arabia doesn’t make me a better or worse Muslim. I lived my whole life in Saudi Arabia, mostly in Mecca; still, a Muslim prison guard in Israel can absolutely be a better Muslim than me, because location is irrelevant.
In conclusion, Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country, but we have our own culture too which is not related to Islam. It is normal to have the same religion and different cultures. Being a Muslim doesn’t change your identity or culture necessarily. Also, if Saudi Arabia becomes a Buddhist country, for example, this also doesn’t change anything in Islam. Islam is in the hearts and minds, not in stones and sand.
Q: In Islam, why you do this or that? (questions about Islam)
A: I tend to not have short answers. So instead, visit an Islamic center in your city and ask them. You will find native people from your country who will be happy to answer your questions. Copy this link: http://www.islamicfinder.org/cityPrayer.php?country=123 And Replace 123 with your country’s name. For example “www.islamicfinder.org/cityPrayer.php?country=South Korea“
Alternatively, I added two links in the bottom of this page: Ramadan & Lunar Calendar.
Q: Saudi Arabia must be hot now, right?
A: I hear this sentence during all seasons -_- No, it’s not right. Saudi Arabia is a normal country, not hell on earth… Well, partially.
Go up and look at the map again. Saudi Arabia is a huge country, more than half of Europe and ten times the size of the Korean Peninsula. It has two coasts, west and east coasts. Also it has deserts, mountains, forests, farms, cities, villages, camels, horses, tigers,…etc. However, desert takes more than a quarter of the country. We literally have a desert called “the empty quarter” because it is almost a quarter of the country, and it is, well, empty.
In parts of the country, it is cool almost all the year, and tends to be rainy. During winter, it gets pretty freaking cold. Desert weather is: extremely hot in summer, extremely cold in winter. However, recently winter is becoming shorter. It used to snow on a large portion of the northern part of the country during winter, but recently it snows on few places in the north. The west and southern side of the country is mountainous.
Trivia: Do you know that people who die from drowning in the desert are more than those who die from drought? Yes, it’s true! Do you know why? …Buy me ice cream and I’ll tell you why.
Q: Is it OK in Saudi Arabia to scratch my head?
A: Actually, no one asked me this question ^^; However, people try to have one image about a whole nation, because it’s easier to generalize.
Saudi Arabia is a huge country, and a collection of very different regions. Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries that has never been occupied as a whole before.. The reason is that no one wants it; neither rich nor easy to govern. Who is stupid enough to live in such country? It’s us! XD hehe.. seriously, Britain occupied all neighboring countries, but didn’t think of stepping into Saudi. When oil was discovered later, I bet they regret it. The point is, occupation usually melts the identity, makes people less different from the occupant. This didn’t happen in Saudi.
There are different regions with different cultures and different manners and so on. I lived in most regions, for years in every region, and I witnessed a huge difference that -I think- many in Saudi don’t realize or accept to believe. When you ask a Saudi about their country, each one might tell you a very different perspective.
Keep one thing in your mind.. the more we know the less certain we become. Therefore, when someone tells you a generalization about any culture with absolute certainty, then most probably they don’t know that much.
Q:… I will add more questions as they get repeated.