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Saudi Arabia: Finding strength and empowerment in religion

While it is often argued that religion is used to oppress women, there are many women who gain a sense of empowerment from their faith. In this post, we hear from one Saudi blogger who thinks she knows why many married women turn to religion, while another describes the inspiration she gained from a colleague.

Aysha Alkusayer, who blogs at In the Making, has a theory as to why some Saudi women become more religious after marriage. She starts by describing the nature of many relationships she sees:

My friend “Y” is married. Her husband likes her to completely cover in Riyadh: “abaya”, veil and face cover, and half cover in Dhahran [less conservative city in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province]. To uncover her face in the company of friend “A” and “B” but never around “C”. When travelling he wants her to completely uncover, except if there were relatives. He asks her to dress conservatively (e.g. long skirt) in the presence of her family in law, yet wears pants or non-conservative clothing in the presence of the families of friends “A”, “B” and “C”. He doesn’t want her to have any makeup on when outside the house, but to be fully made up once she’s in. […] He has every teeny bit of her life figured out for her. My friend’s marital life is not unique to many women in Saudi, and I do not mean the issue of covering or uncovering, I mean the issue of being micromanaged. … Such minute management isn’t denounced by the collective mind but is often expected and thought to be an indicator of responsible parenting—yes, parenting even to the wife. […] Some wives adapt to this husband-wife relationship…yet when the honey melts away many women begin to feel equal or competitive with their husbands and sensitized towards being bossed around.

Aysha then describes the kind of change that occurs:

Since arriving in Riyadh I’ve been noticing a pattern amongst certain type of women who suddenly turned religious, some of which immediately transformed from being just another guest in someone’s house to women who sit at the head of a meeting to preach the word of God and tell the stories of the Prophet and his companions; women who construct Qur’an recital centers. Nothing shocking or sudden happened to those women, they didn’t lose a loved one in an accident or undergo any trauma. What happened, then, that might’ve caused this massive change in behavior and character?

Many things could of course contribute to this change, but I believe the gains of a transformation often explain the initial calling that has caused it. Women whose religiousness brought power, leadership and stardom after being semi-absented, were probably yearning for what they have been lacking. […] And having God at their side, could finally allow those women a word over their husband, children and the greater society. […] They could silence much of society which would not yield and adhere to them before.

Another Saudi blogger, Eman K, who blogs at The Saudi Swan, describes a lesson she learnt from a colleague:

She caught my attention from the very beginning. The way she prayed left me mesmerized. While we would finish our prayers hurriedly as if we had something so urgent to do, she would take her time praying dedicatedly. And while we killed the time chatting away aimlessly, she would take out her Qur'an and start reading, oblivious to the noises surrounding her. She had negative opinions regarding men, as most of us, but her views were to the extreme sometimes. She would tell us not to listen to love songs as they promote unrealistic love among the young. “Don’t you ever believe this crap. This love doesn’t exist.” “Romance has disappeared from my life,” she would add sometimes laughingly, especially when she heard us talking about marriage.

Eman finds out that the woman is divorced – and is inspired by her way of coping:

She won her divorce after a long battle and after she had suffered severely from an ungrateful husband. That was a tough time for her especially that it coincided with her mom’s death. She lost a lot during that battle. But something remained exceptionally strong in her. It was her spirit. […] She made use of the free time she had at hand then and started studying diligently to get her PhD, which she earned two years after her divorce. But more important was her relationship with God which underwent a great transformation. And instead of complaining non-stop to people like many other women, she would confide her sorrows and disappointments to God. … After a while, I noticed some change in her. She seemed to me happier than usual. That was when I knew that she was getting married again. But this time to a man much better than her ex-husband. … Moreover, he holds a prestigious position there in the West. […] On her last day in our college we threw a big party for her. She was so happy that day as if she had buried behind her all that was painful in her life and was taking her first step into a totally new world. […] It’s true that she left Saudi Arabia for ever but she left behind a great lesson. A lesson of patience, resorting to God and making the best of what we have.

3 comments

  • Hephzibah

    Thank you for this lovely story. For myself as a woman, God at times has been my only friend. And women, in general I have seen from growing up, do embrace the religion as a means of empowerment. I have to believe God is somehow working a transformation in them and in the story of this beautiful woman’s faith, courage and grace. Truly, God rewarded her

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