Photo courtesy of Abdul Al Lily (thanks, Dr.!0
The following is an excerpt from my next novel, The Prince’s Consort. The manuscript is nearly finished and I hope to have it to the editor in the next few months. This section is a conversation between the main character Madison Kelly, and the female members of her soon to become family of her Saudi boyfriend, Saleem. They are discussing the differences in western and Saudi societies of women. For those not familiar, in Saudi Arabia the genders are kept separate. Women have few rights and can do nothing unless their male guardian (called a Mahrem in Arabic) gives them permission. I have been researching the culture for quite some time and have made friends with several Saudi women. They are wonderful people. I hope that my educating more women and men here in the west we can help the women of Saudi Arabia and all oppressed women around the world gain some human rights. (And we have oppressed humans here in America too.) Enjoy this excerpt and I hope it will provoke a lively discussion. (The word Umm means Mother in Arabic.)
Madison joined the ladies while Saleem walked inside to check on the soccer game. She smiled as he walked inside.
“Interesting he’s going to watch the game with the rest of the boys; he hates soccer,” Anisa said.
“His years being Mahrem to us has made him seek other company,” Umm Evelyn said.
“Did he tell you about those years, Madison?” Sita asked her.
“He did. He said it made him appreciate the open society outside Saudi Arabia. I’m sorry more of our western ideas haven’t helped women over there.”
“If that is how you grow up and don’t know any different, it’s not so bad. At least I don’t have to share my husband with another. Some of these men get over here and have a different woman every time I see them.”
“Sita that is not a fair statement, Aasim prefers only one wife, you have no worry when he is here,” said Anisa.
“Yet, his brother has a different woman each time I come to visit. Sorry if that offends you Madison, but it is true. At least I know I do not have to share.”
“I don’t plan to share with anyone, Sita. We made a commitment to each other, he is mine only.”
“I have not noticed he has ever respected such commitments before. Neither does Faisal, Christiana.”
“Sita, that is quite enough,” Umm Evelyn said to her. “You are jaded by Aasim’s influences and having grown up in the Saudi system. While it is true that some men find the commitment hard to make, I can tell you that Aasim was also quite a playboy until he returned to Saudi.”
“Exactly the point, Umm,” Sita said to her, “In the west the men forget their duties to the women. At least at home they behave according to custom. There may be more than one wife but they get equal treatment.”
“You are one of the lucky ones, Sita, I have friends who do not get such pampered treatment,” said Rana. “They have miserable lives.”
“I suspect Aasim has one wife because of how he was raised,” said Anisa. “Rana is right; the majority of Saudi women don’t get fair treatment.”
“Madison, Christiana, perhaps we should explain the ongoing family struggles here,” Umm Evelyn said to them. “All my children were raised Muslim but in England with western culture. Aasim went back to Saudi to practice law with his uncle, Omar. Omar was a big influence on his young mind as he is a devout Muslim. He found a young girl for Aasim to marry, she was only thirteen. I was not happy about the arrangement. It was one of those arrangements men make to cement power and influence. She died in childbirth a year later. I did get to help arrange Aasim’s marriage to Sita. At least you were eighteen,” she said to her. “I was not going to allow the marrying of children. You have been good to my son and he is good to you. He likes the Saudi life, so is entitled to that. Basil only took one wife as did Saleem. Basil’s wife died of cancer last year. Of course you know Saleem’s story. Sita saw the turmoil the Family endured because of Saleem’s indiscretion and I’m sure she heard Aasim and Omar’s version of it. She is speaking her opinion not the opinion of all of us. You, Madison have reformed my wayward son. He is happy. As happy as I have not seen him in many years. Thank you Madison for that.”
“I will hopefully keep him that way.”
“You will, Madison, I’m sure of that. And you are doing a good job with Faisal, Christiana; I hope the Eastern culture will not dissuade you.”
“Faisal has told me much about the culture of Saudi Arabia. I don’t know if I could live there. I’m glad he wants to go to New York.”
“America? Why are you glad about that? In America is where the decadence and temptation is. I don’t understand the need to live outside our Country. You don’t think he may be tempted by all the women there?
“Pardon me for being so straight forward, but your ideas about Western culture are misguided. There are some overly decadent people there and they are so flamboyant it appears most are like that, but we’re not. Most are very similar in the general rules of life. Some cultures within America are just as religious as Muslims and practice separation from the other cultures. But not all westerners are driven to excesses or what is called vice; sex, drugs, and lascivious living. Most of us are no different than you; we go to work and take care of our families. Some take their religion more serious than others but we try to tolerate each other in that regard,” Madison said.
“I see a lot of difference. Women drive where they want to go when they want to go. They work alongside men in the same type of jobs. They vote and can speak publicly. I never see that happening in Saudi Arabia.”
“Women are allowed to be more equal but we had to fight for those rights. It takes strong women in the right places with supporting families to get things changed. We don’t have Religious Police around to hamper us, just the rules of society. Saudi women can effect change but it takes a lot of time and hard work on all their part. And yes, it takes changing the minds of men but women have done it all through the history of mankind.”
“Well the way you challenged my husband in front of other men will not help the cause.”
“I have been challenging the minds of men for a very long time. When I started in police work very few women worked that field. It was thought they couldn’t handle the physical and mental challenges of the job. I had to prove to them I could handle the challenges. When I did that, I gained their respect. It is my nature to meet an adversary full on. I don’t mean to challenge him per say, but I won’t let his closed mind get in the way of the truth.”
“He was pointing out why women are not allowed to work next to men in our society.”
“I respect that, but we were not discussing society in Saudi, we were discussing society in America. I wasn’t going to allow my situation to prove his misguided notions about men and women in Saudi. He’s a man whose influence could help the plight of Saudi women. I wasn’t going to let his ideas hurt women’s causes, I would hope I might persuade him to see men and women can work side by side.”
“Well if one of the men had argued your point and you stayed out of it, it might have helped. Women not of his household don’t talk back to him.” Sita turned and walked away. The rest were silent for a few minutes.
“Sorry, Madison, she should not have said that even if her mind is poisoned to it. I think some of that is her own Saudi upbringing and not the thoughts of Aasim, at least I hope I raised him better than that,” Umm Evelyn said.
“I wanted to say he entered the conversation and engaged me in it. If she thought I should sit quietly and let the other men do my talking for me, sorry that’s not me. If I offended anyone, I do apologize but I won’t back down so don’t engage me if it’s offensive to you.”
The rest of the women chuckled at that. “You don’t offend me by directness, and I don’t think any of the other women in this family will be offended either,” Anisa said, “at least the ones in Saleem’s immediate family. You will be a good role model for the daughters-in-law. Much better than his ex-wife would have been.”
“You are a role model for me, Miss Maddy,” Christiana said.