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Why muslims come to the West

It might be wondered why muslims want to come to the west for when they have muslim paradises like Pakistan and Iran. This article shows you why they cannot get away from islam fast enough when it is put into full practice, as in Saudi Arabia. What a tip:

Treatment of Women in Saudi Arabia.

Sorry - can't view it because I'm not registered with the board.  Care to provide some highlights?


Shame as I don't want to register, he doesn't really speak for me.

The Dawkins forum has a number of subjects besides religion and people for and against, so there is no need to instinctively boycott it. The subject here is VERY long from a guy whose alias is Durro and his wife, Leanne. I have copied some of it here, and missed some out. I of course could not copy lots of good photos and such:

After mentioning on another thread recently that I had spent several years in Saudi Arabia, I have been requested by a few people to share some stories about life there, with particular reference to how women are treated in a strict, fundamentalist Islamic society. My wife and I are Australians (hence some of the funny spelling to you Americans and Canadians). We are healthcare workers who lived and worked in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia from June 1993 to December 1998. I am a Radiographer and my wife Leanne is a Nurse and Midwife who spent 4.5 years in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and 1 year in the IVF clinic. We got to see firsthand what life is like under an oppressive Islamic regime. Now, where to start ?

As an overview, Saudi Arabia is a very strict Islamic society. Think Taliban ruled Afghanistan or Ayatollah controlled Iran as a comparison. The King of Saudi Arabia (nice enough guy, we got on well together when I x-rayed him) is the absolute ruler of the Kingdom. His word is literally law and there is almost no democracy as we know it, save for a King appointed "consultative council" of cronies who tow the line. In 2004, Saudi Arabia also introduced voting for local councillors in municipal elections but there is no voting for national leadership. Dissention is vigorously pursued and punished, often resulting in imprisonment without trial. For a reference on this, see the Amnesty International Website at

The media is tightly controlled and TV is limited and censored (except satellite TV, the saving grace of expatriates). For example, on Saudi TV, the Flintstones cartoon is censored. Fred comes home, yells "Wilma, I'm home", they go to kiss each other and CHOP ! It cuts to another scene in the cartoon, often resulting in disjointed story lines. The Saudi news (there is a Saudi produced English speaking channel) is a propaganda vehicle for the government and shows either Islamic religious programs, children's shows, soccer matches or selective "news" that is mostly shots of the royal family doing their thing whilst classical music plays over top (no royal dialogue is aired).

There are police checkpoints on major roads and highways, and you have to carry your internal passport (Iqama) with you at all times. To travel outside your city of employment and residence, you need a written permission form from your employer. You do not retain your passport when you arrive - your employer is legally obliged to hold it - but you are issued an internal ID - the Iqama. There is arrest without trial, and the laws of the land are both harsh and skewed in favour of Saudis and Saudi Men in general. There is capital punishment for murder, rape, drug trafficking, apostasy, homosexuality and blasphemy in the form of beheadings for men and stonings for women. However, I have been told that stonings have been modernised, and rather than cast individual stones at the women, the condemned is buried halfway in the ground inside a white sack and a dump truck full of rocks is backed up and tipped up over them. That's progress for you I suppose.

There is arrest without trial for some political prisoners and there are a number of “lesser" offences where the punishment is flogging or hand chopping. There is no upper limit to the number of lashes that can be dished out, and generally they are delivered in lots of around 20 to 50 - the amount most people can stand before passing out. You are not allowed to photograph public buildings and photographing in general is frowned upon. I only have a limited number of photos to share with you as we took relatively few during our time there.

The country is strictly Islamic and don't think about conducting Christian religious ceremonies - a Christian “preacher" who proselytized in public was beheaded there when we were there. Taxi drivers are sometimes paid to be informers about Christian ceremonies. We know of one guy - the husband of one of my wife's Filipino nursing colleagues - who was jailed for 2 years without trial for running a Christian "church" group in his own private house with several friends. A taxi driver informed on them when some passengers talked about where they were headed to each other. He was eventually deported, after being whipped (formal punishment), beaten and raped (the joys of Saudi jails) repeatedly during his jail time.

Under Saudi law, it takes 3 women to exceed the testimony of 1 man. So if a man commits a crime and two women testify against him, he will get off if he denies it. Women are viewed as hormonal and emotionally unbalanced, resulting in them being unreliable as witnesses or to hold roles of responsibility in society. The legal system is also highly biased towards their own people. In a real case involving people I know, a western friend's car was hit by a Saudi's at crossroads in the backstreets of a residential neighbourhood. The westerner had right of way by our standards and the Saudi illegally went through a posted "stop" sign at the crossroads. The Saudi successfully argued in court that he had taken the same route home each day and that the Westerner had never been there in his way before. As he had always blasted through the stop sign safely in his own neighbourhood, it was the westerner's fault for changing the road conditions unexpectedly and being there in the way. The westerner had to pay the damages for both cars ! True story. It's a whole different world there.

And so, on to the topic of women in Saudi Arabia.

First, let me be clear that there are a small number of progressive, intelligent and well educated Saudi women out there. Some are doctors, teachers, business owners and one even publicly contemplated running for political office at the aforementioned municipality elections, but pulled out - she was the subject of a recent BBC documentary. These women are very much in the minority however. Progress towards equal rights is very slow, as evidenced when a movement to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia shortly after the 1st gulf war in 1990 was suppressed by the Saudis and the women were jailed for a short time. A new push to allow women to drive occurred unsuccessfully two years ago and one is currently underway. Please see the article at for a reference.

But the vast majority of Saudi women are suppressed, discriminated against and have very few rights. They are generally treated poorly in public or ignored. We saw thousands of times how Saudi families walk through shopping centres with the father and kids galavanting around and the veiled wife is usually several paces behind carrying the shopping without help. Women almost always walk behind the men. Under Saudi law, daughters only get 1/2 of what the sons do from their parents' wills.

Women's education is only a relatively new innovation in the Kingdom, with primary and secondary schooling not starting for women until the 70's and 80's and tertiary education at Universities didn't start until the 90's, unless Saudi women travelled to study overseas - that's very rare though. However, at universities, men and women are segregated to the extent that the men sit in the same lecture theatre that the Professor/Lecturer is presenting in, but the women are housed in a remote auditorium/lecture theatre observing the lecture via closed circuit TV to keep them separate from the men. They don't have the opportunity to interrupt and ask questions or interact with their tutors in any way except via written submission.

All facets of Saudi life are segregated, from public areas and businesses, to even the home structure. Most Saudi homes have a common entry foyer, but then divide off into mens' and womens' section, where the respective house owners are able to entertain same-gender guests without the need to veil up. Friends of ours actually got invited to a Saudi house and after being met by the (veiled) wife and husband, they were split off and spent the entire evening apart so that the women could talk unveiled to Sue and the men could talk to Richard without those pesky, emotional women interfering. Most Saudi houses have high walls around them to stop prying eyes.

Public places are all separated and segregated. The airport has separate male and female waiting areas and the women even go through a separate security point so that they can be searched and patted down by female Saudi officers in private. Hospitals have separate male and female waiting rooms. Saudi wedding receptions are held in dual halls, where there is a common entry - or sometimes a smaller side women's entrance, and two separate halls for the men and women to celebrate the wedding. We went to a couple of weddings and everytime the female door opened, there would be a rush for women who were close to the door to bring down their veils before a man could see in. We went to a medical conference and they tried to separate male and female medical staff members by placing a large partition down the auditorium. The hospital shuttle bus that went to and from the married staff accomodation off campus tried a few times to separate my wife and I and other married couples when we were sitting together on the bus. We got a car soon after, and I occassionally ran the risk of being jailed and/or deported for giving other female married ladies a lift home to our building without my wife present (we worked different shifts sometimes).

Most businesses either have separate women's/family sections and men's sections, or just ban women from entering outright. Women are not allowed into “entertainment" stores where they may be tempted into distraction away from Allah due to their unstable hormones and frivolous female thoughts. So, as a result, women are generally banned from music shops, DVD/Video shops, Computer shops (particularly those that sell games) and other recreational areas such as video game arcades. Women are also generally banned from almost every restaurant in the kingdom, unless they are accompanied by their husband or a male relative. Unaccompanied women or groups of women are routinely turned away from cafes, restaurants and fast food outlets.

There was great excitement in Riyadh in about 1996 when the first McDonalds in the kingdom was going to open, just 200 metres away from our hospital grounds, where there were several fenced off and guarded buildings full of single female employees who lived on campus. McDonalds in Saudi is segregated just like the restaurants in the remainder of the kingdom. There is a "Singles" (i.e. "men's") section and a “Family" section. The Men's section is glass fronted, has regular seating and only men can enter. NO women are allowed at all in the men's section. If my wife and I fronted up there, she would be refused entry. The family section has either solid walls or frosted windows shielding it from the outside world. Inside, the seats are cubicles which have dividing walls between them and curtains or screens that can be pulled around them for privacy (and de-veiling of Saudi women). Only couples and families can enter. Unaccompanied men can't enter and unaccompanied women can't enter either. A married couple can “escort" single females into the family section, and Leanne and I got hit on a lot to take single female friends to McDonalds and the like. Women who are unaccompanied are able to go through the drive-through, but as they cannot legally drive themselves, they have to resort to hiring a taxi and go through that way to get their fast food fix.

Restaurants were regularly raided by the Motowa - officially the Organisation for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice - the religious police whose duties included harassing women who didn't adhere to dress codes, ensuring that everything closed during prayer time, and checking to see if couples were actually married or not. Many of the known westerner hang outs and restaurants were raided regularly and dating singles were at risk of being caught, jailed and deported if they were caught together. Married couples were able to "chaperone" them though, and so Leanne and I were often asked to come on group "dates" with singles in the mix. Single (unmarried) "couples" often invested in fake marriage licences. I know of more than one pair of westerners that were caught dating and deported from the Kingdom within 48 hours. One close single couple of ours spent a lot of time "house sitting" apartments for married couples on holidays - as we each got about 8 weeks holiday, there were ample opportunities for the singles to take over married couples' accommodations and enjoy the perks and freedoms that went with it. Single female employees of our hospital were housed in guarded, female-only apartment buildings on campus and had an 11pm curfew.

Banks too have male and female branches side by side. Glass and openness for the men contrasted by the featureless blocking walls and tinted/frosted windows for the women. There are some newer shops that have "women only" shopping and I believe that the new Kingdom shopping centre in Riyadh has a couple of entire building floors which are designated as female only. Before we left, there were no women only shops, and as a consequence, women could not try on clothes before purchasing. The women weren't allowed to undress in a clothes shop and of course, the ability to hide stuff under the abaya (also known as chadour or burka) and the shopkeepers inability to search the female clients was a security risk and meant that females could not try on clothes. Women either estimated their sizes or just ordered clothes through mail order (but Victorias Secret catalogues and the like wouldn't make it through customs as they were considered pornographic and were confiscated).

Mosques are segregated. A male Saudi once explained it this way - how could you pray to Allah and keep pure thoughts with a female's butt in front of your face when you prostrate yourself towards Mecca ? I can kind of see the point there and so, women are up the back in a (generally) curtained off area. Of course, women are not allowed to enter a mosque or even handle a Koran when they are menstruating as they are deemed to be " unclean" . Men also have to be clean before praying, hence their ablutions before salah (prayer time). Touching a woman, dirtying the body, urinating or farting invalidates the cleansing process and they have to do it again before prayer. So a woman's touch, whether they're menstruating or not, is considered as clean as a fart or peeing yourself. I once witnessed dozens of Saudi male medical staff on their way to prayer in our hospital hugging the walls and doing dances around a group of female nurses walking down the hallway and the disgust when one of them was touched on the shoulder by one nurse who wanted his attention for a medical matter. He had to go back and clean again as he was "unclean" from the woman's touch. Our expat female staff members were coached not to touch Saudi men, especially around prayer time. Woman dodging was a popular sport at prayer time and the negative body language and often avoidance by men were comical to watch.

Most marriages seem to be arranged by the family. For tribal and traditional reasons, there are a lot of familial marriages - cousins marrying each other, uncles to nieces, etc, etc over successive generations again and again. The official term is "co-sanguineous marriage" and it leads to a bit of algae in the gene pool, as we used to politely put it. It was not unusual to see an entire family limping down the hospital hallway as they all had hip dysplasia. My wife looked after one of the "metabolic babies" from a highly repetitive co-sanguineous marriage in the NICU, and a muscle biopsy came back as "unidentified tissue", it was that freaky. The baby died less than 24 hours after birth. There are a lot of congenital problems in Saudi Arabia from repetitive inbreeding over successive generations.

The age of marriage for a woman is a contentious issue. In Saudi Arabia, they are basically considered to be "women" rather than a girl at the onset of puberty. After they start menstruating, they veil up in public and can be married off. Some exceptions do slip through the crack though. In the last year we were there, my wife worked in the IVF Clinic. There was one married couple that were referred for investigation because they were not getting pregnant. The team took the 35 or so year old man and his wife to separate location (of course - there are even separate male and female waiting rooms the hospitals) and did physicals and questioned them as to how they "did it". The latter is because some Saudi men are actively homosexual before marriage due to the strict gender segregation and revert to heterosexual behaviour afterwards, but retain some of their previous practices and use the incorrect orifice for humpty pumpty. Some also tried to use the navel, reasoning that that's where the baby seems to grow inside of. But I digress - back to our couple. The team eventually found out the reason for their inability to fall pregnant, and tried to explain it to the husband in medical terms, citing hormones, menstrual cycles and the mysteries of the female reproductive system. He just didn't get it at all, and so the staff explained that, if she wasn't pregnant by the time she was tall enough to see over the high counter at the front of the IVF department, then bring her back. It turns out that she was only 13 years old but hadn't reached puberty yet. It was kind of like roller coasters at amusement parks - your child must be this high to ride this attraction, etc.

The woman's main role in Saudi Society is to be a foetus factory. A woman that can't bear children is viewed as largely useless and is usually quickly divorced, even if it's the man's fault from low sperm count, etc. Some 50% or so of the native population is under 18 and growing rapidly, now that modern medicine is providing antenatal and postnatal care and infant mortality is declined steeply. Official literature from WAMY (World Assembly of Muslim Youth) states that although women may be suitable for a limited number of useful roles in society, their main purpose is to be a mother and women can strive for no higher honour. I once x-rayed a profoundly retarded and physically infirm Saudi lady of about 24 years of age. She was bedridden, incontinent and drooled incessantly. She had cancer and was also about 6 months pregnant ! I was informed that this was her 4th pregnancy and although she was dying of cancer, her husband was refusing to allow treatment, as the Chemotherapy would kill the unborn baby. The fate of the mother was immaterial - she was not a primary wife and had been married off to her much older cousin as a baby incubator. A real living, breathing blow up doll that the Filipino maids the family employed could clean up after he was done with her. She was in hospital for life supporting (but not treatment) measures until the baby could be c-sectioned with little risk. As the woman's main health issue before the cancer was brain damage due to birth asphyxia, unrelated to any genetic issues, she produced quite normal babies and no doubt would have continued on with her foetus forming career if the tumour hadn't stifled her progress.

Even the royal wives are keen to have babies and will go to extraordinary lengths to achieve their goals. One of the wives of a very high up Prince - I can't name him for patient confidentiality reasons - was eager to get pregnant, as the Prince hadn't sired a baby in several years and getting pregnant would cement her place as the new favourite wife. The wife came in after intercourse and the IVF clinic did a vaginal swab to test the sperm count of the Prince. It was very, very low, as the guy was well over 70. So, an arrangement was made for one of the Saudi IVF consultants to be "on-call" 24 hours per day so that whenever the royal couple had intercourse, the wife could speed off to the IVF clinic at any time of the night or day and get the few active royal wigglies retrieved for IVF treatment via Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection. She was undergoing hormone treatment and had eggs harvested for potential fertilization. It was all top secret so that the Prince, who was completely unaware of his wife's activities, could be presented with a gift from Allah via his scheming wife. At the time we left, she was still not pregnant though.

Of course, sometimes women have difficulty in getting pregnant for other reasons. As I mentioned in another thread recently, I have direct knowledge of a young teenage bride that was unable to be penetrated by her adult husband and hence, could not consummate their marriage. The girl, aged 14 or 15, I seem to recall, was admitted to hospital for a surgical dilatation of her vagina. Under anaesthetic, her vag was progressively dilated until a 60cc syringe could be imbedded inside her. It was strapped into place and left insitu for about a week, so that her pelvic floor and vaginal wall muscles would stretch and relax enough for relatively painless intercourse. I am also aware from discussing the topic with friends in the operating theatre that they had been called upon to do multiple surgical " episiotomies" on ladies who had suffered "female circumcision" and had only a small orifice that allowed menstrual fluid and urine to escape, but allowed nothing to get in. In order to be able to consummate their marriage, surgeons had to cut through the scar tissue that remained after the removal of the clitoris, labia and the subsequent suturing of the remnants together. Labour ward staff had to resort to caesarian sections sometimes on circumcised ladies, as they were unable to deliver vaginally due to the horrors wreaked upon their female genitalia.

Getting pregnant isn't always a good thing, particularly if it is pre-marital. I have heard dozens of stories of Saudi families taking justice into their own hands and killing their pregnant daughters who have allegedly brought shame upon the family. One such story I heard from a reliable source was that in one family, the brothers helped the father drown their unwed pregnant sister in the family swimming pool and then claimed it was an accident. Authorities turn a blind eye to all but the most outrageous examples of this sort of vengeance or "honour killings" as they are known.

Sometimes, babies or children are disowned or even killed by their families. Apparently the health of siblings and cousins affects the dowry value of the females in the family, and poor health or genetic problems in the family lowers the potential worth of the daughters to a father. The paediatric intensive care unit at my hospital had a 3 year old boy named Meshaal who had a chronic lung problem and some brain damage. He had been there since birth and the family had abandoned him as it affected the status of the rest of the family - in particular, the dowry value of the female siblings.

In one other sad case, my wife Leanne looked after conjoined twins. The mother was banned by the husband from visiting them and the father never came. They lived to be over a year old during which time they grew and had tissue expanders placed under their skins for better skin grafting after the separation. They were successfully separated by a brilliant Saudi paediatric surgeon (who had trained in Canada and the US). After a few months of recovery, the twin girls were sent home, where they were killed by their father. He starved them to death and made a show of bringing them back into hospital in a severely dehydrated state, in end stage renal failure and other organ shut down. All because they brought shame and lowered the dowry value of the other females in the family, according to a Saudi doctor, who was being extraordinarily candid about the situation to my wife, who understandably was quite upset.

"The Arab News" is an English language daily newspaper in the kingdom. There is a section in it for reader questions about Islam. The questions were almost as ridiculous as the answers. For example, I remember one (can't find a copy of it though unfortunately) that read something like "Is it permissible to drown a baby born out of wedlock as soon as it is born ?". The considered response from the Islamic scholar writing for the paper was "No, the baby is innocent despite its parents' sin and should be protected as life is sacred under Islam. However, the mother should be stoned to death for adultery as soon as she has ceased breast feeding".

The identity of who is your mother can be blurred in Saudi Arabia. Men often take multiple wives and the children generally refer to each wife as "mother", regardless of who the birth mother was. A Saudi student once cheerfully explained to me that she had 3 mothers. Islam teaches that children nursed - i.e. breastfed - by the same woman are siblings; they are not allowed to marry each other later in life. So polygamous men's wives can swap and share children's breast feeding duties with no problem. The problem occurs if a non-relative, such as a maid or servant breast feeds the baby first. Effectively, they remove custody and legal responsibility from the birth mother and gain partial rights to the baby. There is a huge push for Saudi women to breast feed their baby, but some hire "wet nurses" to do it after the birth mother has done it for a short while. When Leanne worked in NICU though, premature babies are fed on formula mostly and not expressed mother's milk and by the time the baby is discharged, the mother's milk supply had dried up. It was a big social problem to the Saudis and one they didn't like to talk about.

Local women in Saudi Arabia are almost universally veiled. It's rare to see an unveiled Saudi woman, and usually it's only in places of work like the hospital, where a veil inhibits sight for medical work. Some wear a special veil with ninja slits in them and that's what the conservative medical girls used to do. But most veils are solid and looking through them is handicapped by the thickness of the black cotton of the veil. We used to see lots of women shopping and having to lift their veils up just enough to peek out of the bottom of them without revealing their faces. We saw women in Jeddah swimming in the ocean - fully dressed in their abaya and veils, whist the men and children frolicked in normal swimming costumes.

One story I shared in another forum recently bears repeating. One day in about 1994, my wife and I were walking down one of the main streets in Riyadh. It was about 45 degrees celsius, which for you US citizens, about 115 F or so ? We saw a twin cab utility truck (with front seat, back seats and a tray out back) coming towards us and this was the configuration of the passengers...

Father and son were in the front seat in airconditioned comfort.
Two goats were sitting up in the backseat also enjoying airconditioned comfort.
Two adult females wearing head to toe abaya, gloves and veils were seated on the burning metal tray outside in the searing heat of the back of the Ute.

Our jaws dropped and we looked at each other, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. That's the level of respect afforded women by some in the magic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Goats are apparently treated better in some circumstances.

I would like to point out that sometimes the line between religious laws and cultural tradition is blurred. For example, my understanding about veiling is that it's a cultural dictum and not a religious issue. The Koran states that women AND men should dress modestly. The veil is a cultural issue superimposed over the religious conservatism of the strict Islamic state. There is a Muslim story about Mohammed's wives being hidden behind a veil, but in the context of the story, it meant a curtain inside their residence and not a face veil.

Regardless, Saudi society goes to great lengths to separate non-related men and women until married. I have been told by Saudi men that sometimes, they don't even get to see their wife's face before they are married via an arranged marriage. Others have told me that they did get to not only meet, but also actually see their prospective wife, but strictly only in the company of several of the woman's relatives and they had zero time alone before their marriage. Sometimes the lucky couple doesn't even meet before the wedding, as it's a purely arranged situation and the betrothed have little or no say in their wedding. According to their "law" women must consent to the marriage, but a woman's silence is taken legally as tacit approval. As you might imagine, the intimidation of women often results in their silence, which then equates to "permission". However, there is no "dating" with Saudi women as such, as this constitutes either prostitution or adultery, the latter being nominally a capital offence. Time to warm up the dump truck full of rocks....

There are no venues that would encourage men and women to mix in scandalous circumstances by Saudi standards. Therefore, there are NO movie cinemas and NO public swimming pools. Women cannot legally book a hotel room and even the zoo is split into women's days and men's days - no, you can't take the whole family to the zoo in Riyadh. Wives can take the female children on designated days and husbands can take the male children on men's day. One very interesting thing about the Riyadh zoo is that the Motowa (religious police) pushed strongly to get all of the male animals locked away on Women's day, so that the male animals would not see the unveiled women. It was unsuccessful, but gives you an idea of the mentality of religious conservatives over there.

Our hospital had a shared staff swimming pool which was surrounded by a 4 metre high brick wall. It was segregated on a daily basis - 2 days per week were female only, 2 days per week were male only and 3 days per week were "family" days where men and women could mix. NO Saudi females went on family day unless they stayed fully covered and out of the water. Western females tended not to go on family days, as Saudi male staff would crowd the pool hoping to see swim suited western women.

I was invited to the final of the confederation soccer cup in 1997 at the Riyadh soccer stadium. I mention this as Australia qualified for the final against Brazil, having won some matches and had managed a draw against Brazil in an earlier pool match. That might not sound impressive, but it's the equivalent of the Zimbabwean Ice Hockey team salvaging a draw against the USA hockey team. Anyhow, in a crowd of 100,000 present for the match, there was not a single woman present.

Sometimes segregation is deadly. A fire in a Saudi female boarding school in 2002 killed 14 girls, as the Motowa (religious police) would not allow the male firefighters to enter the building to save their lives, as they might see women undressed in the process, or worse, bring out semi-dressed women from the building into public view. They stood by and watched it burn whilst the girls that couldn't escape by themselves died. See a reference at http://saudiarabiawomenrights.blogspot. ... their.html

The suppression of women's issues in general leads to devastating health issues in the community. There are no such things as breast screening programs, sex education, vaccination programs or campaigns to get regular pap smears. Women's "preventative health" is almost non-existent. So, I saw lots of women come into the hospital with advanced cancers, advanced cardiovascular disease and plenty of other strange conditions that have been allowed to get out of control. One of the worst was an advanced breast cancer that had broken down into an open sore and was fungating. The boob was almost the size of a basketball - red, angry and swollen, plus fairly stinky.

Ignorance from poor education also compounds women's health. For example, during the fasting month of Ramadan, many women refrain from taking their medications when they are supposed to, even though dispensations are given to the sick and infirm. Consequently, ER's in Saudi Arabia are filled during Ramadan with patients who don't take their heart and diabetic medications, etc. Ignorance also manifested itself when an unmarried Saudi woman had to have an indwelling catheter inserted into her bladder prior to an operation. She and her father refused on the grounds that she would no longer be a virgin if she was penetrated "down there". After lengthy explanations about the female anatomy, she and her father consented to the catheter, but only if it was done by a consultant Urologist who swore that he could tell apart the urethra from the vagina and would keep her virtue anatomically intact. Some Saudi women have had "hymen repairs" surgically performed because they have accidentally ruptured their hymen under non-sexual circumstances and the family insisted that they be seen to be "pure" before they are married.

Ignorance isn't only on the part of the patient. As I mentioned earlier, the female University students are segregated and the standard of teaching suffers accordingly. For most Saudi female doctors, their postgraduate residency is the first time that they have laid hands on actually patients, particularly those of the opposite sex. Radiology and Pathology tests are over abused due to their ignorance of the body and uncertainty of making diagnoses. I guess that you may agree that the following story best illustrates female Saudi doctor ignorance :-

Leanne was in NICU looking after premature babies in 1996, but on the day of this horror story, she was not actually rostered onto the Labour and Delivery Emergency response team - the designated staff who went down for obstetric emergencies and premature births. Her friend Nicole was though and when the emergency phone rang, she dropped tools and ran down to L&D. Nicole came back about 10 minutes later, quite visibly shaken and minus the baby that was expected to arrive. Leanne found out a short time later what had happened. The two female Saudi resident doctors were trying to deliver a baby that was in breech presentation. Normally, proper antenatal screening via ultrasound, or even a competent abdominal palpation by the midwife/doctor would identify this and the woman would have a c-section. The risk of a natural breech birth is that the body can come out, but the head which is larger than the body can get stuck depending on its angle. Also, if the cervix isn't dilated properly (which can be ascertained during a competent vaginal examination), there may be room for the body to come out first but not the head. Breech birth is a leading cause of infant and maternal death in the 3rd world. Anyhow, Leanne's colleague and friend Nicole arrived in the L&D suite just in time to witness the following....the female Saudi doctors had their feet braced against the bed and were both pulling with all of their might on the (fortunately already dead) baby's body, arms and legs. The combined pulling might of the two doctors didn't get the baby fully out, but did manage to rip its head off. No joke. They decapitated the baby with sheer brute force and utter stupidity. The head of the baby remained in the uterus and the poor patient had to have forceps applied internally to retrieve the severed head.

In fairness, I have to point out that I've included some of the more outlandish (but sadly true) anecdotes for entertainment value, but that these sorts of extreme occurrences weren't daily events. The decapitated baby was horrifying to everybody involved and throughout the hospital, but this was a one off. I chose it as an example of how poor education at university and ongoing ignorance can lead to devastating sequelae, but perhaps I should have merely pointed out the day to day ineptitude of many of the locally trained female (and male!) doctors. I should have also balanced out with a statement that despite their educational handicaps, a some Saudi doctors trained locally were also actually quite fair to good. The top specialists, who were almost universally trained overseas in the US, Canada, Britain and France, rank amongst some of the top specialists in their respective fields. But it was the relatively poor training that the local doctors got that caused many of the problems. Examples of daily minor events included ordering of wrong medications, incorrect physical examinations and substituting x-raying patients for physical examinations - the latter because it is sometimes more comfortable for a female doctor to get a chest x-ray for a suspected lung infection than it is to raise a shirt and listen to a male patient's chest with a stethoscope. There were examples of "lost" guidewires during insertion of central lines and other such mediccal complications that occur whenever training is substandard. There were other horror stories too, such as the Saudi resident doctor who inserted an intercostal catheter to a baby's lung to re-expand a pneumothorax, but due to their inexperience and lack of training , thrust it right through the lung and into the right ventricle of the baby's heart and they bled out in about 10 seconds - once again, no autopsy, and died of Allah's will.

A recent Arab News article on medical malpractice in the kingdom can be found at ... m=9&y=2007

Women are banned from voting (see ) and have few legal rights. As they aren't supposed to be in the company of men outside their family, they are technically not allowed to interact with officialdom - they rely heavily on their family or husband to do things for them. When Leanne and I entered airports or did official things, all conversation was directed to me and Leanne was largely ignored and treated as a non-person. At our hospital, women were not allowed to sign their own consent forms for procedures or operations. Quite ridiculously, their husbands, fathers or even male children could, and I am personally aware of one case where a woman had an amputation of a leg for cancer, but her pre-pubescent son "signed" the consent form by inking his thumb and placing the print on the form. The woman had no idea about the operation's intent or outcome, and was quite surprised to wake up afterwards with a spare, empty shoe.

Apart from childbearing, women do have their occasional uses in Saudi Arabia. When Leanne was in the IVF clinic, one of her colleagues came up to her laughing her head off and said "look at this". The story was that a man had to give a sperm sample for testing as part of the infertile couple's workup. The man went into the "collecting room" but was unable to perform and fill his specimen cup. He called his wife out from the female waiting room and they entered the collecting room together, soon after emerging to present their semen. Leanne looked down at the collection cup being held by her laughing colleague and there were lipstick marks around the edge, where the woman had spat the semen sample out into the cup. Unfortunately, laboratory testing confirmed that the acidity of the saliva mixed in with the sample killed off the small number of wigglies that were viable in the sample. Back to square one.

I asked a Saudi male colleague one day about multiple marriages. I asked if the multiple wives simultaneously shared the same conjugal bed or not with the husband. He replied that the husband only services one wife at a time, and that if two or more wives are in the same home, they have separate bedrooms. More wealthy men accommodate their multiple wives in separate homes and grace each in turn for conjugal visits. Threesomes are considered strange in Saudi society, but rotating your time between multiple wives in separate homes is entirely normal.

But that's the point, isn't it ? What Saudis consider to be normal is so alien to the rest of us. Saudi women suffer under tremendous hardship, persecution and discrimination. Few stick there heads above the crowd and agitate for change, as a society that is so strictly controlled both legally and culturally doesn't tolerate disobedience. Many women retreat to the safety of a cocooned lifestyle where they are hidden and "protected". Marriage (often to close relatives) and motherhood is about as high a station in life that most will achieve. Some long for change but don't have the strength to speak out. In a country of extremes, some Saudi women look to the west with jealous eyes on our freedoms, and some look at the west in abject horror at what they perceive as our wanton, excessive and immoral lifestyles.

It's a whole different world there though. And the one thing I've learned from my time there is there's no place like home. It's hard for me to balance what was routine over there and what were the extraordinary moments. For people that have never been there, they tend to blur into one as it's all completely foreign and bizarre. None of the freedoms or cultural conventions that we take for granted in the west happen there. It certainly was a challenge to work in a strict islamic regime.

There were a lot of Filipina, Eritrean and Indian maids that lived in with families, worked seven days per week and were paid little above their lodging and food. By little, I mean about $100 to $200 per month. They were not treated very well and worked almost 24 hours per day, sometimes under duress. I have friends that worked at a major trauma hospital on the other side of Riyadh who told me regular stories of maids being raped, beaten or even killed by their employers. Here are a couple of examples that amazingly were made public in the Saudi Gazette Newspaper. ... Itemid=116 ... Itemid=146

Even some of those reasonably well looked after were often still treated with distain and disrespect. Leanne and I frequently took plane trips and saw many Saudi families board a plane - the Husband and wife would go to 1st or business class and the maid would be back in cattle class with the children. We had the opportunity to be seated next to a maid on a trip from Riyadh to Bangkok on our way home one year. The highlight of the trip, other than the chance to ask about the Maid's situation, was when the small child on the lap of the maid grabbed Leanne's eye covers whilst she was sleeping and pulled them back to their full elastic potential before letting them go with an audible thwack.

The almost universal veiling of Saudi women had a significant consequence for western women. They were a novelty attraction to a few million Saudi and other Muslim men whose interaction with unveiled women is largely restricted to females under 12 years of age. Western women are quite unabashedly and sometimes quite chillingly stared at - lasciviously, wantonly and very unsubtly stared at. I've seen some Saudi men rubber neck at Leanne and other western women to the point of walking with their heads turned 180 degrees backwards and walking into a wall or door.

Western women were often sexually harassed. Female friends of ours have reported inappropriate touching, lewd suggestions and one friend even had a salesman with an erection come up being her in an electronic shop and poke her in the behind with his noodly appendage - sorry, I slipped into Flying Spaghetti Monster mode there for a moment. A colleague of mine, a blonde American named Anita, was offered 20,000 SR (about $6,000 USD) to spend a weekend with a Saudi man that just walked up to her in the downtown gold markets one morning and propositioned her. In about 1995 or 1996, some naughty boys in the communications department of our hospital sold off the direct phone numbers of hundreds of single female staff members accommodated in the hospital quarters to sexually deprived Saudi men. For years, female friends of ours were inundated with smutty, obscene phone calls from Saudis at all hours of the day and night and many resorted to demanding new phone numbers to gain some measure of peace.

One cultural feature of Riyadh was the ubiquitous "stink bus" - mini buses overloaded with Pakistani men and other 3rd world nationalities too poor to afford taxi transportation. For a mere pittance, they could crowd into a mini bus designed for 15 to 20 but actually carrying 30 to 40, and be carried to and from the downtown area. The 45 to 50 degree desert heat 6 months of the year and the unfortunate lack of personal hygiene on the part of the passengers is the genesis of the term "stink bus". In the early days, I rode on one once. Once. We tended to get a taxi for longer trips or to walk everywhere until I purchased a car in our 3rd year. To a western woman though, it's an unnerving experience to be walking down a street and have 40 pairs of sweaty eyes pierce you with a desperate longing not seen since your last cellmate, Bubba, wanted to make you his personal jailhouse bitch. Leanne was frequently intimidated by the looks and lewd comments directed her way so many times in the early days, but eventually became oblivious to all but the worst after a while. Sometimes the stink buses would visibly tilt as the passengers would scramble to one side for a better glimpse of a western face and if they were lucky, uncovered hair. And given the regularly of the stink buses we saw passing by every few minutes, my wife was undoubtedly the face that launched a thousand wet dreams on a daily basis.

I mention women's hair, as western women in public could usually get away with wearing just their abaya but no head covering in the mornings. The Motowa weren't generally active in the mornings and more "freedom" could be had. Leanne and other women wore their headscarf like a shoulder wrap and only put it on if requested by the Motowa. However, in the afternoons and evening, the Motowa were out in force and seemingly far more militant and the western women generally had to cover their hair with their scarves or face the wrath of the Motowa.

The Motowa, the Commission for Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice, are the religious police of Saudi Arabia. They are the long bearded, cane wielding pseudo-cops whose role in society is to ensure decency standards are met, ensure businesses and individuals comply with prayer time closures, and to generally enforce the moral dictums of the Kingdom. They were often accompanied by civil police officers who empowered them with the right to arrest offenders.

The Motowa would brazenly walk up to western women and demand that they cover their hair. Saudi women were harangued more forcefully for indiscretions such as showing some ankle or having eye makeup on (showing through the Ninja slits that some wore). The Motowa carried canes and sometimes took to beating Saudi women, but I'm unaware of any westerner being beaten by them. However, I know of a Canadian that was accidentally killed by the Motowa in Riyadh. He and his wife were shopping in the evening and the wife didn't have her scarf over her head as would be normally considered prudent. A couple of Motowa hassled them and the husband bit back. They apparently got into a loud verbal confrontation which escalated into a pushing match and before you know it, he fell over and hit his head, dying a short time later of a fractured skull and intracerebral haemorrhage.

The single women at our hospital were housed in female only accommodation, sharing two or three to an apartment. The accommodation was within the hospital grounds, had tinted windows and was sealed off with high walls. Guards were posted at the entrance to each building and no men were allowed for any reason whatsoever. An 11 p.m. curfew was in place with lockouts after then. Actually, successful pick up lines by single men often went along the line of "well, you'll be locked out anyway and can't get a hotel room, so you might as well come home with me..." At any embassy party or private party, there was always an exodus of single females near curfew time so that they could return to their gilded cages before lockout.

What kept the western woman sane ? Well some didn't When we were there, there were two suicides of female staff members at our hospital. One threw herself off a 5 story building and another took an overdose of anaesthetic drugs she acquired in the course of her work. Some went the other way, and converted to Islam and even went to the extent of veiling in public.

old shopping was plentiful and cheap, as were Persian rugs. Leanne's gold collection - gold for birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas, etc. - was valued for insurance purposes at $40,000 when we returned home and since that time, the price of gold has more than doubled. Lots of western women shopped till they dropped, using retail therapy as a pleasant diversion from the madness around them. Embassy parties were an entry into another world - real alcohol, normal dressing and no Saudis. Private parties within hospital accommodations or behind walled, guarded compounds leased by the big companies were safe, although Motowa sometimes hung outside to grab those suspected of drinking alcohol or being in the company of the opposite sex. Smaller parties in private accommodation were susceptible to raids and arrests.

Yes, alcohol. It's officially banned in the kingdom and cause for jailing and deportation for a westerner. A lot of western women drank alcohol whilst in the kingdom though, and some formed addictions as a coping mechanism for the loneliness, boredom and frustrations. Alcohol came in three forms. Firstly was the black market real stuff. US Military personnel in Saudi are allotted a generous ration of alcohol per month, measured in cartons more so than bottles. Some enterprising capitalists put a 300% mark up on their allotment and on-sold it to non-military westerners. A bottle of genuine scotch went for about $120 AUD or about $100 USD. It was the mark of true friendship when you were invited to a home and served real alcohol. We reserved it for special friends and significant occasions. The second form of alcohol was "Sid" - “Siddiq" is Arabic for "my friend" and "Sid" is the codename for moonshine made by the gallon by cartels of secretive Sid makers. A hospital employee (and friend) had a fire in his Sid lab (lounge room) in 1997, and when the police found the evidence in the smoldering ruins, he was jailed for a couple of weeks before being deported. Sid is unadulterated rocket fuel and although it retailed on the black market for about the same as a genuine spirit, you could split it into thirds, dilute it with 2/3rds water, and you could still light it up. Some bright sparks from the USA realized that they could get wood chips from the Jack Daniels Distillery past the Saudi Customs people - they claimed that it was scented wood for incense burning. However, in reality, they were wood shards from barrels used to age Jack Daniels whiskey and had some of the whiskey soaked into them. Throwing the wood chips into a bottle of Sid produces a more flavorsome and tolerable drink that went quite well with coke and ice - Sid Daniels. The 3rd option was to buy sugar, yeast and grape juice (suspiciously but unashamedly sold at Saudi supermarkets by the carton in re-sealable bottles), throw it all into a 20 litre plastic container for a few weeks to a couple of months, and behold, wine of sorts is produced.

The final mechanism for coping for western women is humour. If you don't want to cry, then you have to laugh. Bazaars in private compound sold t-shirts with anti-Saudi designs. I had one shirt with a cartoon of 3 veiled women standing on a platform with “Miss Riyadh", "Miss Jeddah" and "Miss Dhahran" sashes across their chests and the caption, “Saudi Beauty Contest". Lots of western women took delight in wearing anti-Saudi paraphernalia under their abayas. We also had some home-made "How to Host a Murder parties" and invited lots of married and single female friends to role play in the 4 themed dinner parties we had at our place. The hypothetical and quite humorous murder of the King of Saudi Arabia took place in our hospital and the suspects were all staff members, bodyguards, Motowa and other royals. Everyone had opportunity and a motive, but the murderer was....well, you'll just have to come to my place to play one night.

The other scandalous tradition we had was a Christmas poem. Not just any Christmas poem, but an epic that I wrote in 1994, updated in 1998 and then again after 9/11. It details the misadventures of Santa when he gets blown off course and crash lands in Saudi Arabia, where he is officially illegal of course. There is of course no “Christmas" nor any other non-Muslim religious celebration in Saudi Arabia. The Christmas poem was photocopied and e-mailed extensively around the Kingdom and I even heard of "pirated" photocopies being sold in frames at western compound bazaars around Riyadh. Hospital security officers found a copy of the poem in the desk of a senior Canadian staff member and there was a witch hunt for the author, resulting in Chris the Canuck resigning his job due to the pressure placed on him. Chris, the husband of one of Leanne's colleagues, knew it was me, but to his credit, stonewalled the hospital cops and didn't give me up. 13 years on, I'l admit now that it was me who wrote it and I'll post it below for your entertainment. Even if you don't quite get all the insider references, it kind of sums up all that is so wrong and so bizarre in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (and I think you'll enjoy it).

For it is certainly bizarre by western standards. That particular opinion does go both ways though, as some Saudis can't believe the excesses of the west in relation to their own frame of reference. Women in the kingdom certainly do not enjoy the freedoms nor respect accorded to their western sisters. Some do feel secure in their cocoons but others ache for something more. In the whole kingdom, there is an undercurrent of discontent from both conservative and liberal camps. The Islamacists want no part in western culture and despise the negative influence that they perceive has tainted the kingdom. The liberals see western women driving, voting, leading and being independent and long for the same rights. The ruling royal family treads a very thin tightrope to keep both extremes at bay, lubricating the way with generous amounts of oil revenue. But the day will come, as it always has in other countries, when the excesses of the royals and the discontent of a large faction of the population come to a head. It happened in 18th century France, 20th Century Russia and Iran, and will most likely happen at some stage in 21st century Saudi Arabia.

And that brings me to the close of this epic post. Thank you for taking the time to read this. It has been comforting that other contributors to the Dawkins site discussion forums who have been to Saudi Arabia acknowledge the accuracy of the stories and the similarities with their own experiences. Looking back now, there was a lot we became immune to and don't really consider that outrageous, but judging from the comments some have left, it certainly may be an eye opener for those of us that have not had access to the insular and remarkably conservative Islamic nation that is the magic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis preach conservative Wahabbism and regard themselves as the moral role models of the Islamic world. However, in reality, many Saudis went overseas to slut and drink their way around known sin spots such as Bangkok and Bahrain. The causeway linking Bahrain to Saudi is a direct arterial link to the many vices that are officially denied Saudis in their own country - sex, drugs and loose women. It's not just expats that make the drive across the water to regain a bit of normalcy for a while. I know for a fact that Saudi men have caught HIV from unprotected sex with prostitutes in Bahrain, Bangkok and Africa, as I've x-rayed some of them (and their infected wives) for the complications of full blown AIDS and a few told me their self pitying stories. It's funny though, that as late as 1997, the Arab News had a headline stating "No AIDS in Kingdom" with an accompanying article stating how their superior moral values have prevented the entry into the kingdom of what was largely an immoral western illness. I should mention that as a prerequisite for working in Saudi Arabia, expatriates are forced to have an HIV test, which is repeated within weeks of entering the kingdom. HIV positivity is grounds for immediate deportation if you are a foreigner.

Now, there is an interesting side story here about being in a community of proven HIV negative expats. I'll say that this is 2nd hand information, as Leanne and I don't swing that way - or swing at all for that matter. Apparently there were some special "key parties" held at one of the married staff members' accommodations at another hospital in Riyadh. Some expat couples there apparently had a wife swapping club going on - car keys were dropped into a bowl and the willing contestants drew them out to see who they'd be partnered with for the evening's frivolities. My understanding was that their alleged HIV status gave them the confidence to be promiscuous. Now there's not only the danger of being caught committing adultery, which in itself is a capital offence, but the HIV tests were only conducted once upon entry to the kingdom, and so westerners who vacationed out of the kingdom and were sexually active were at risk of infection with any number of sexually transmitted diseases. The more intelligent reader would realise at this point that there would be little way of telling if they brought the infections back into the kingdom, and so, apart from the morality of the situation, I thought that it was extremely reckless behaviour. But the restrictions of the kingdom made some people do wild things to compensate.

One sensible outlet for our frustrations was sport, but western women were not able to participate in a wide variety of sports for a number of reasons. Any outdoor activities were restricted by virtue of the fact that women had to stay covered in public, and so the hospital that we worked at had no official female counterparts to the sanctioned mens' soccer competition, tennis squad, squash team, and the like. Some corporations housed their staff in high walled compounds with security and guards and so women within the walls could wear shorts and t-shirts and play sport such as tennis and field hockey. Of course, it was desert climate - searing hot for 6 months of the year, with the thermometer reaching the mid to high forties celsius on a regular basis, and so there were few sports played in the lengthy summer anyhow. The hospital we worked at had a few tennis courts hidden behind high walls and “women only" gymnasiums in their single female accommodation areas.

As I mentioned earlier in the comments thread, Leanne and other western women did play softball at the American Embassy softball field in Riyadh. The field was a 3 sided U shaped valley nestled in between high hills, with security guards keeping out the locals on the 4th open side. Once past the vehicle search and inside the gates, the western women could get around in shorts and t-shirts and feel free for a few hours. Also at the softball field was a burger joint that sold......BACON Burgers !!!! Expats tended to order a triple bacon burger with extra bacon on the side, and take the excess home to use for breakfasts or caesar salads, as bacon was illegal in Saudi Arabia.

I've previously mentioned the arab men staring at western women at the hospital pool on the designated "family day", making it an intimidating experience. Leanne and some friends also came across a similar thing on our own building. We were all moved by the hospital housing department in our 3rd year to a new building downtown that had a pool on the roof, as well as a gym and sauna. The hospital employed some Pakistanis to be front door security and cleaners one of the little guys used to hang about in the gym and spent hours on end cleaning the mirrored wall at one end of the gym, staring at the western girls in their workout gear in a very creepy kind of way. A few of the married men eventually took him aside and had some illuminating and encouraging words with him - something about being thrown off the top of our new 8 story building - and he soon desisted.

Going back in time to our first week in the kingdom, our welcome "care package" supplied by our hospital of rice, tinned guava juice and non-pork canned spam (well beyond its use-by date) was looking more and more unpalatable by the hour. Braving our new surrounds, Leanne and I went on a trepidatious 1st grocery shopping expedition. We fully expected to see whole skinned goats hanging in butcher shop windows and camel burgers at their fast food outlets. To our surprise, we stumbled across a western style supermarket with all the modern conveniences and similar, if not actually the same products as home. We were thrilled to find a measure of familiarity down each aisle. However, our relief soon turned to apprehension when the lights all suddenly went out and people started yelling at us and other shoppers to get out. Leanne and I looked at each other in panic and wondered aloud if there was a robbery in progress or a terrorist incident unfolding before our very eyes. I grabbed Leanne and steered a beeline for the doors with a couple of men shouting, "Salah ! Salah!" at us as we fled. We exited the supermarket to find a couple of dozen people lounging around outside in the 45 degree heat and looking quite calm, albeit a little sweaty. As dozens of mosques began to emit wails in a discordant cacophony, a kind westerner saw our obvious confusion and approached us to see if we were new in the kingdom. We replied that we were and he went on to explain that Salah meant prayer time and that the supermarket had just closed for the mid-afternoon prayer. As we'd only just entered the store a few minutes before, we apparently missed the loudspeaker announcement of "attention dear shoppers, we will be closing for prayer in approximately 10 minutes" and were chased out due to the presence of Motowa nearby.

Everything closes for prayer 5 times per day in Saudi Arabia. Prayer times are published in the newspaper, and both locals and westerners plan their shopping and dining out around prayer times. Establishments with publicly viewable areas such as shops and supermarkets were deserted during prayer. However, restaurants merely locked their doors, dimmed their ceiling lights and pretended that nobody was inside. No entry or exit was allowed for the duration of the 25 to 30 minute prayer time in case they were caught by the dreaded Motowa and prosecuted for a violation of the law. In the family section, we'd be dining by candlelight inside our booths and wouldn't be allowed out even if our meals were finished and paid for. Being late to a dinner date often meant an extra 30 minute wait for the restaurant to reopen after prayer time. Conversely, eating too slowly meant that you might be held inside for the same period of time. We always ate out with an eye on our watches.

Shops sometimes also violated the law for westerners in other ways. One such example was the sale of Christmas gear. In late November, some shops sold "festive season" decorations, but the packaging was either blotted out by felt pens or had stickers placed over them to hide all references to "Christmas" which as I've mentioned, is illegal.

I participated in a “medical outreach program" where our hospital sent senior staff out to smaller provincial centres to evaluate and teach them. Because of the restrictions on women travelling unaccompanied, and because women are not allowed to book hotels or stay in hotel rooms by themselves, there were no women in the program. At one hospital's x-ray department, I arrived to find two female Filipino Radiographers working slavishly whilst 25 or so Saudi and a few non-Saudi male Radiographers largely sat around doing nothi Forum Index -> Atheist chat
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