Behind the Veil: Women Have Their Own Culture
Women Have Their Own CultureBy Aesha Lorenz Al-Saeed
Being a woman in the Middle East is an art in itself. The western woman in general is very frank, casual and extroverted. The Middle Eastern woman, and in particular the Saudi woman is not. Women here almost have a culture all to themselves.
Masculine and feminine roles are rather definitive; however there may be exceptions. Because of this expectation of maintaining the male or female stations in life, events run an expected or smooth course without so much confusion. The woman’s number one priority is of course her home life, and that includes devoting herself to making those at home happy, just as the men generally fulfill their obligations to make those at home happy.
First and foremost Islam says the parents should be looked after and obeyed. After this when the woman marries and has moved out of their home, she still gives them utmost respect and consideration. She also focuses on her husband. Needless to say, a woman would never live away from home before marriage, except perhaps in the case of boarding in a college dormitory.
A young girl growing up often observes how her parents interact, and learns how to work with the males in her family from behind the scenes to benefit. When the men in one’s life are content, satisfied, and given moral support, a woman’s life becomes much easier, and she in return is content and satisfied usually, because one who is secure and relaxed is more likely to reciprocate that to others.
She knows and learns how to maneuver without making waves., and minimizes chances for conflict. Much can be accomplished with a calm ocean, and Muslim women try to work with the tide, not against it.We have sometimes mused how different world politics would be if women were the ones negotiating, instead of men!
Among the educated women many and almost all subjects are discussed. Theories, latest news, and opinions are put forth at all female dinner parties that friends take turns hosting. Among older women or those unread or untravelled, much may shock these women. So, amongst those, the wise woman knows what can be said and in what way. It is prudent for her to maintain ties of friendship in all categories of age groups to achieve validity for herself, and to be respected and well liked.
These days amongst all age groups one of the favorite topics is the war in Afghanistan. There is widespread sympathy and sorrow for the Afghan people being beseiged, with many people feeling that the Taliban are being unjustly persecuted. Indeed many Muslim women would rather live under the strict rule of the Taliban than under the evil influence of the Northern Alliance, which are known as "The Rapists."
No one has forgotten the Palestinians and the injustices forced upon them. Palestinian women have told us stories of their relatives having their homes demolished for no reason, or an olive orchard destroyed as the children were out gathering olives one last time. It makes the heart bleed for these two countires, and for Kashmir. Our own private fundraising attempts are nothing compared to what the governments could do if they took action.We trust in God for the proper soloutions to occur in time.
Once a woman enters motherhood she is automatically given three times the amount of respect than anyone else, including a man. The Prophet Mohammed when asked "who is most deserving of my respect?" He replied "You mother." When asked a further two times he replied the same. Finally, the fourth time he said, "Your father."
The western woman shoulders so much responsibility upon herself that she often feels overwhelmed by her responsibilities. Indeed, if she has come of age and moved out of her families home, and is either divorced or unmarried, she depends solely upon herself and worries about her welfare if her source of income is lost.
In the Middle East support for female relatives automatically is upon the shoulders of the nearest male relative, and he willingly supports her, not only because it is his duty, but because not to do so would be shameful and a disgrace upon his families name.
Women gained the right of inheritance in Islam while Europe was still in the dark ages and European women were not allowed to retain their own property if they married, unlike Muslim women at that time.
Even the shares of the inheritance are strictly specified in Islam - if a man survives his wife, he is allowed only one fouth of her property, while her children inherit three fourths. This protects their rights effectively. If her parents die she recieves half the share that a male sibling would receive because this share is only for her, and she is not required to support anyone else with it. Whereas her brothers share is double hers because the males have responsibilities beyond just themselves.
A woman in Islam automatically retains her own last name after marriage, never having the conotation of becoming "property" of her husbands by being called by his name. Her middle name is her fathers first name, so automatically people are aware of who she was descended from by her name.
Women in the Quran are addresses the same as men:"believers men and women," and there is even a whole chapter entitled "Maryam" who is the mother of Jesus. Jesus is also called the "Messiah" and "son of Mary," but never the son of Joseph, since he was created as Adam was, by God simply saying "Be" and he became, without needing a father of the traditional sort.
The origin of sin is not laid on the woman’s doorstep in Islam either. Adam and Eve are both blamed for eating the forbidden fruit, because each had free will; one didn't force the other or take responsibility for the others sin, as each person is responsible for their own deeds, thus Eve was not blamed.
Islam actually safeguards women’s rights, and if there are customs that deny these rights it is cultural tradition only. Women in Islam study and in fact education is favored for everyone. Prophet Mohammed himself used to give lectures especially for women weekly. He said "Seek knowledge even if it lies in China," which means even if you must travel to achieve it.
In Saudi Arabia opportunities lie in seperate but equal work places. There are women who serve only women and children as doctors, bankers, teachers, photographers, reporters, seamstresses, beauticians, and interior designers. Almost every sector where women need services other women may be available to serve them.
Is it not ironic that the western world still thinks of the Muslim or Arab woman as part of an era of tents and camels? The reality is of a woman who chooses to cover her body and hair modestly in public, much like a nun does, but there is so much more to the Muslim Arab woman than simply her conservative dress!
(Aesha Lorenz Al-Saeed is an Oregonian American married to a Saudi who converted to Islam in l977 and has lived in Saudi Arabia since l985.)