1. I lived in Saudi Arabia most of my life. Not Saudi myself, and am a woman and left Islam. I hate that place with a passion.
I had to wear a headscarf at the age of nine, lived a segregated life style and in fear of half of the population. I was deprived of my own childhood, and the moment I started wearing a headscarf was the moment I stopped going outside to play because other kids and local imams and religious police would give me shit when they saw a girl in a headscarf at the playground or in the street rollerblading. That’s also when my depression started.
I had to have my male guardian’s permission to get an education, get a job and even get paid for my job. For my BA I wanted to major in graphic design, which wasn’t available in Saudi Arabia. I told my parents that I wanted to go study abroad where my brother was. My papers were ready for submission, but my father went ahead and got me admitted into a public university while I was prepared to study abroad. Neither my permission nor presence were needed. I was at least luckier than two of my friends whose parents didn’t allow to go to uni and forced them to marry men twice their age.
I really struggled with freedom of movement. We didn’t have a driver, and my brother hated driving me around, so I ended up not leaving the house for months at a time expect for school, uni or work. When I started saving up and later earning money, I would take taxis after I kept going late to work because of my brother. I got sexually harassed by a taxi driver a few times, and I always made sure I’d write down the car plate number, registration number, and if possible the driver’s name and phone number. One time was pretty bad that I called the police and told them what had happened. I told them I knew the driver’s details, but all I was given was “for your own sake, keep this to yourself.” I later made the mistake of telling my mom what happened, minus the police incident and that I had the driver’s details. I made her promise not to tell any of my brothers, but she went ahead and told them. They treated me like a gullible idiot for not taking down the driver’s details, and ever since then, I wasn’t allowed to take taxis or be with a driver by myself, which resulted in my forced isolation at home again. Thing is, I didn’t give them the driver’s details because I knew they would have just gone and beat him up, and I didn’t want that bullshit, but I dug own grave by trusting my mother.
I was even more and more isolated because I wasn’t religious and couldn’t relate to people around me or even my friends, but I had to pretend to be religious because atheism is treated as terrorism and a threat to national security, and is punishable by death. I couldn’t talk about it even to my closest friends.
There was one time when I was in court, and I see a mother with at least 7 children. She came to me for help because she was illiterate and wanted me to fill out a complaint form for her. Her complaint? Her husband married a second wife and made them live in the same house together, and he beat her in front of her children and second wife. Her problem? In order to file a lawsuit, she needs consent from her male guardian, who also happens to be her abuser. She had no other male guardians alive.
So yeah, Saudi Arabia is a shit place for women, but whenever I protested to the people I knew, I was accused of being too westernized or that I was some oversensitive special snowflake and didn’t know my place.
As sad as it sounds, my father’s death was my ticket out of there. I worked for 4 years, hardly spent anything so I can afford to do my master’s abroad, got my admission letters, then told my family. My mom tried to accompany me and my brothers tried to push for that, but because of her visa status, she couldn’t come, so I got really lucky. I’ve been married to an amazing ex-Muslim for a couple of years now, and was living with him before we got married. My family think he’s Muslim, and they don’t know we were in a relationship before that, and every time I forget my rights and start doubting my self worth as a human being, he’s there to remind me of what I’m worth.
If you’re a woman in Saudi Arabia or any similar place, I hope with all my heart you’ll find your ticket out of there.
2. My father is an offshore oil and gas superintendent so our little family moved around a lot. Around 10ish years ago we did a longish stint in Malaysia which has both Sharia and Civil law. My parents had a pretty rough marriage at the time and they were constantly fighting so they decided that they would get remarried in Malaysia to remedy the whole situation (they got married in Malaysia 20 years earlier too). After all was said and done they threw a huge party to celebrate and unfortunately during this party my mother got a phone call from the Sharia courts that my father had actually gotten married to a Muslim woman behind her back and that my mother had 30 days to convert to Islam before their marriage was considered null and void (Muslims are apparently allowed four wives legally).
You could imagine how livid my mother was and of course it caused a huge fight between them; effectively ending their marriage. I remember my mother going to the lawyers and none of them could help her because Sharia law superseded Civil law and she wasn’t a Muslim. Basically because my mum and I didn’t convert we were wiped off my fathers records and that’s the story of how my dad stranded us in Malaysia with nothing. My mum had to sell all the gold and life insurances before being able to move is all back up to Canada.
3. I lived for six years in Dubai as a western expat. Dubai seems very “modernised” but the law is still sharia, and if they want to come down on you like a tonne of bricks, they can and they will.
It’s always much tougher for South and East Asian migrant workers who are treated like slaves. Westerners do get an easier experience, kind of like expats in Jeddah on compounds where life can be pretty “free” compared to the streets of Riyadh.
In Dubai a lot of westerners took stupid risks, like drugs and so on. Basically if recreational drugs is part of your lifestyle, a posting in the Gulf is not for you. Likewise if you’re an alcoholic, or someone of Muslim heritage who drinks (Muslims will get prosecuted in certain situations for alcohol whereas westerners won’t).
You could get away with living with a partner unmarried, but you needed to keep the bills and rent in one person’s name, and live discreetly. Most landlords will turn a blind eye but if neighbours complain, they’re obliged to act.
The main issue is getting raped, particularly by a local. If you are sexually assaulted by an Emirati, just leave the country. Cut your losses, get the medical help and counselling you need in your home country, but don’t bother pursuing it. Because the perpetrators will almost certainly get off scot free and you (as a woman) may get imprisoned for sex before marriage. As a raped man it may even be worse if you got charged with homosexuality, even if you were straight.
Always remember that it’s one rule for locals and one rule for expats, and literally no one – the UAE or your own government – gives a shit about you if you’re Chinese or Indian.
4. I myself live in the UK but my parents are Pakistani. One time my elder brother went to rural Pakistan in the far north to meet some of his friends relatives. On the way they stopped by a village which was previously Taliban territory and spoke to a guy who had his sister killed. When Taliban were in control, Sharia law was implemented (obviously) and things got violent quite quickly. He mentions how his sister was accused of cheating by her husband. Without question, she and a few other men who were accused of blasphemy (I’m not sure on the specifics in what they did) were taken to the centre of the village. On the rooftop of one of the houses which was used as an ‘outpost’ of sorts for the Taliban had multiple wooden plank structures with metal hooks nailed to the top. A rope was then looped through the metal hook and tied like a noose – I’m sure you could guest what would happen next. The whole village came out to watch these three people be hung with their bodies left on display for anyone who passed by to see. Although the brother didn’t have the “courage” (as he himself put it) to see his own sister die the father did. He described how his father saw her covered in a nikkab be walked up to the noose as the Taliban member felt for her chin and tightened the noose under it. He detailed how he saw her feet struggling and her arms straining. When he came hone the brother said that his father did not speak for months. Some tine later (I can’t remember how long) the village was liberated by the Pakistani military and things eventually went back to normal.
5. I very nearly married a Muslim girl, specifically from Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan does not so much have Sharia Law as law guided by Sharia, but it gave me a greater understanding of the differences.
As others have noted, local law takes priority especially where local law is more restrictive. The biggest understanding to have is that while the outside world largely views Sharia as a set of punishments, for the most part Sharia is viewed as personal governance. This means that they largely expect to be punished according to Sharia and local laws, but expect others to be punished by only local laws.
This impacted us several ways.
Sex before marriage was strictly forbidden. Duh.
I (as the man) was absolutely in charge. This was particularly frustrating on occasion because we were discussing her having someplace that is purely hers (traditionally this has been the kitchen but I enjoy cooking so we were going to have a second bedroom that was specifically hers). Getting past her thinking I could simply decide what was in her space took a lot of talking.
There was no requirement that I be a practicing Muslim, for the most part, but I would have to verbally convert to marry as she is not allowed to marry a nonMuslim.
Pork was a discussed issue, as it is a common meat here in the US. I’m not a pork person anyway, so it was simply easier to give it up (I have largely maintained this and only have pork products about once a year).
She actually wanted permission and forgiveness from me to allow her to work, I as the man had the option. Interestingly, while Sharia requires she have my permission that this would happen in the US means I might not have had the right to refuse.
Consent to sex is completely different in concept. The marriage itself gives right to her body, and the concept of pleasure in it for her was largely limited to the arbitrary requirement that I have sex with her at least twice a year. This was completely open to discussion because our laws are more restrictive on me and less restrictive on her, we decided on a default yes approach (could say no if desired, but should avoid it, she could also initiate and while I could say no I should avoid it).
Use of prostitutes was discussed. Under her views I could engage the services of one or multiple if I ever chose but I had to make sure this would never impact our family. In theory I could also have a personal servant that was, for lack of a less graphic term, full access. This is a modernization of the allowance for a husband to maintain slaves and make use of them in any way.
Knowing there was a strong potential for divorce, we discussed what to do about it. Th exact split we decide on is irrelevant, but it was determined that if we chose divorce I would repeat talaq three times to complete the religious divorce as well.
We had to build our own interpretation of the women must dress modestly. We determined that this meant she needed to dress in a way that did not draw unearned attention. Here in the US wearing a veil will draw attention in most places, exactly the opposite of the modesty requirement. Instead we decided this meant that if we go to the beach, she wears a bikini as that will not draw unearned attention. This would require of her to dress largely American. This was acceptable because I (as the man and therefore absolutely in charge) told her to.
6. I lived in Riyadh for a few years while working with their military. My wife was with me for the first year, but I sent her back home because she was so fucking miserable and I didn’t want her to get assaulted. They are generally more respectful of western women who are escorted by Saudis since it indicates that there is some status there.
Anyway, here are a few points about living there…
Executions happen on Friday. If you accidentally walk up to the crowd and look foreign, they will clear a way and push you to the front of the group. I don’t know why they do this. I asked one of my Saudi counterparts, and he said that it was to show how efficient their justice system is. I personally felt like it was more of an intimidation thing, but I can see both sides of the coin. I’m just glad I didn’t hurl in front of all those Saudis.
My wife could not drive anywhere alone. Luckily, the Saudi’s provided my wife with a male escort. He was a chauffeur and translator. Once my wife left, she sent me a bunch of videos of her ecstatically driving once again. It had been over a year.
Alcohol is strictly forbidden. I worked with a Saudi who was caught smuggling a couple bottles of alcohol in from Bahrain. He had to take leave (military vacation time) in order to get whipped. On the bright side, he had perfect posture when he got back because any bending of the back caused the scabs to start bleeding.
The Saudis definitely were not welcoming hosts. I mean, I had a chauffeur, a great place to live, and a fat paycheck, but they make it very clear that they are “above” you. It’s hard to describe, but it’s like a servant status if you are a westerner working there.
I almost forgot. Homosexuals 100% get killed there. It’s no joke. It reminded me of V for Vendetta. Just being accused of being a homosexual is a death sentence.
In summary, 0/10 would not recommend a visit to Riyadh.
7. Finally a question I can contribute to! Hopefully I’m not too late.
Both of my parents are doctors and have moved to Saudi Arabia from another Arab country. I was born here and lived my whole life in the country so I’ve been under sharia law since I was born(I’m currently 17).
Starting off, everything closes during prayer time and opens up 20 or so minutes after. Shops, malls, you name it. There are no movie theaters in the country. A friend who had let his hair grow for a long time was forced to cut it by the religious police before(probably because he’s “imitating women” or some similar bullshit reason), although I’ve heard they don’t do that anymore. All women wear black trash bags on them so sometimes it’s really hard to find you mom when she’s identical to every moving black ghost in the area.
Pornographic sits are blocked and so are anti-islamic ones. Everything is segregated by gender. Queuing to order from a fast food restaurant in a mall? Seperated by gender. A standalone restaurant? Restaurant is seperated into two parts, for singles(read: males only) and for family(read: family and females). Also, no mixing of genders in the work place which limits the number and type of jobs women can get. Oh and schools are segregated by gender too.
Having partners(outside of marriage) is not allowed and so is displaying public acts of affection. Never had a crush on anyone because I’ve almost never interacted with a girl my age.
Honestly, the whole country is boring. There isn’t much fun to be had and I’m naturally anti-social so all I do is just stay at home play steam games, watch YouTube or do whatever I’m basically on my PC 24/7 since it’s the summer vacation. I’ll also read a book or two every once in a while. There’s an incredible lack of science books in bookstores but I was able to find “Physics of the impossible” by Michio Kaku which I’m currently reading. My parents? They don’t mind any of the stuff imposed by sharia law. Most people here don’t. They never felt what’s it like to have freedoms that people in more socially liberal countries take for granted. Despite being raised as a muslim and living my whole life under sharia law, I’ve become and atheist for almost 2 years now.
8. My father was an Indian Hindu doctor living in Saudi Arabia. A town close to Mecca, though obviously not in the Muslim-only zone.
During Ramzan, you are expected not to eat or drink in public. However, you are not really expected to follow the diet: rooms are often provided for you to eat privately in the daytime.
During prayer times, you are expected to stay silent and not go walking around in public. You are not expected to pray yourself.
Nurses and doctors were often female: they wore a headscarf but had faces uncovered. They took and gave directions from/to men just like in any Indian hospital. Obviously, one man and one woman would never be left in a room alone, including female patients.
Mixing of genders in public isn’t done, but house parties are held often by the Indian community, and behaviors are just like in house parties in India. In fact, house parties with Pakistani/Saudi doctors were also the same: mixing of genders, no veils, no issues.
Alcohol was basically not available, though you could get it if you tried: it wasn’t THAT difficult. Practicing your religion publicly was a no-no; they confiscated idols found in carry-on baggage, but the probability of them actually checking your bag was the same as in the US: exceedingly rare. That was the extent of it: no penalties or jail or arrest.
9. I am a Muslim who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia. I lived most of my life in KSA and moved to Oman 7 years ago.
Now you should know that there are two separate police units that enforce Civil Laws and Shari’a Laws. The ones that enforce the latter are literally called The Ministry of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice whose main function is to limit secularization and westernization, i.e. making sure women wear hijab, people shut down there business places for Salah (Muslim prayer), segregation of opposite sexes, etc all of which you become habituated to when you grow up in a Muslim family.
We had separate schools for girls and boys. Once there was a fire in the girls block. The fire fighters rushed to the scene but the rescue attempt was stopped by the Religious Police. Since the fire fighters were men and the ones who needed help were of the opposite sex. Many students and teachers including my sister died from smoke inhalation and lack of an emergency rescue service. After the incident, the then Governor then lowered the authority of the religious police in the city.
My dad transferred to Oman the same year and we’ve been living here since. Though technically we still live under Shari’a Law in Oman, things are much better here. The people and the Government are much kinder and tolerant. Women can drive. The Waqf Board here not only allows the building of mosques but temples, churches and buildings of other religious faiths as well. We don’t publicly and barbarically behead people.
Saudi Arabia was a bad experience for me and my family. The Government is oppressing, there is no freedom of speech, no freedom of expression, a lot of economic and racial discrimination between the Saudis and the expatriates and with the current ongoing Civil War in Yemen and their defense spendings, they are driving the entire country down the drain.
I still hope things get better one day because we are definitely better than this and we are definitely better than people who are currently representing us.
10. I’m a Saudi Arabian citizen and have lived my whole life here, I can tell you about the phases and levels of Sharia law here in Riyadh, the true origin of terrorism. They teach you from a young age in mandatory subjects from the first grade that the infidels are there for the purpose of stripping you away from all of your “righteousness and angelic traits”.
All infidels deserve to be killed, you hate every other religion our there and especially the jews **they took our beloved palastine away so they deserve to be killed in the most creative ugly way possible, you are all soldiers for Allah and the muslim people will basically “jihad” all over the world one day and gain it back.
The Salafi-Sunni-terrorist phase started around the 1970’s, we arab people call it “Al Sahwah” as in the awakening when the religious police actually became a thing lol, thats when the Saud government started using islam in a way to further silence the people, basic politics there! But it all went down hill after the religious people started having too much influence on the people for the Saud government to handle so they decided to join it rather than to fight it since the religious cancer has spread too much for be cured. that’s when the terrorist Islamic state started.
They only stripped mosques their right to talk politics a couple of years ago, before that every fucking lecture they gave was either about killing the jews or killing the jews, sometimes both.
You asked about life? It’s horrible, but livable. Yeah risking your life over something as simple and as human as sex can be troubling at times but I stopped caring about it, guess that’s my way of dealing with it but let’s not make this too personal. The people here are fucking psychotic, they can actually diagnose themselves and be diagnosed by fucking doctors with “envy” and “witchcraft”. Therapy doesn’t exist because every fucking therapist here gives you “verses of Quran” as a way to treat your Biploar disorder, also schizophrenia and autism can be a demon that’s possessing you. Just thought I’d share some of the fuckedupness this country is living.
I for myself plan to use the free education and get the fuck out of here, if its not for my little sisters I’d probably be either dead or ran the fuck outta here, almost all the people are dumb fucks believing in a fairy god and a fairy life. Almost everyone is hypocritically good, but in fact no one is. The country is slowly evolving, just a few days ago they reached the 1700’s and one day they’ll reach whatever phase we’re in right now, just not fast enough for me to waste my life waiting for this shithole . Like I said it’s livable just not a life worth living. Sorry for the rant but thought I’d share this I’d happily answer specific questions if you any wanted anything
11. I’m a Saudi, was born and raised there. I can remember me as a child, I was not allowed to listen to music or watch movies because they were deemed morally corrupting and forbidden by the religion. The line of thinking goes this way: anything that may has a potential to lead to sex is haram. So people on TV kissing, any kind of affection could have the potential to mess with me. Apart from that. Not many restrictions in childhood iirc and no stark differences in treatment between males and females. Once I hit puberty, things took a turn for the worst. I was not allowed to socialize with the other sex. Any females I used to play with as a child, I could no longer treat them the way as before. I couldn’t talk to them or be alone with them. Otherwise it would be assumed that I was after something sexual. I was basically treated as a horny animal who is not to be trusted around girls. And girls, pick up on this too and learn to be afraid of the other sex. Needless to say you couldn’t date or get to know the other sex. Schools, government offices, restaurants, mosques were all segregated. Shops and malls were policed and at some point, young males were outright banned from entering malls. If you’re a saudi single male, you’re constantly reminded of how undesirable you are. The country has nothing to offer for fun. No cinemas, of course no bars or clubs. Nothing but dining and shopping and some other few things. And in most of these places you’re greeted with a sign telling you, you’re not welcome. For families only. I spent my teenage years driving with friends on the streets, smoking shisha and spending time in one of my friends’ house. I do realize that despite how shitty this was, women had it worse. At the very least I didn’t need permission to do most of this stuff and if I had messed up, my family wouldn’t have come down on me so hard. Nevertheless, it was still a shit life.
I went on to university away from my family. And suddenly I had full access to the internet, got to meet all kinds of different people and my shitty mindset and the way I used to view the world began to change. I still couldn’t speak freely and discuss these new stimulating ideas that I’ve just come across. The way Saudi society is structured makes it really hard to deviate from the norm. Individualism is highly discouraged. As I’m sure you’ve heard about all this arranged marriage business and how the guy’s family go picking his future wife. Of course he has a say. And can refuse but it’s really hard to find a girl on your own and get to know her when you can barely talk and meet her. Anyways, since the future husband and wife have no clue what the other person is like and how good/bad they are. It falls to society (people around them) to determine that and give their input. The family of both parties would start contacting friends and acquaintances of the opposite side to get a feel of what they are like and if there’s any dirt on them.
So if I decide to voice my concerns about religion, become an atheist or do something in my past which is deemed immoral by society and the people around me, I’m pretty much fucked. Very few would be willing to entrust me with their daughter and risk themselves and her getting into trouble later on when/if the authorities decide to come knocking. This has to do with their image as well and how they are perceived by society. If word gets out, their girls may never find suitable husbands and their boys may never marry. Of course it goes the other way. My sisters and brothers may have to bear my sins. So you keep you crazy thoughts to yourself. You questions nothing in public and stay the line. Otherwise people would fear associating with you and you’d be ostracized.
This is getting too long, so I must end it. Most people who say they have no problem with the system are people who are not affected by it. Mostly males. Mostly conservative. Or not, but deep down they have no problem living such a life and accept it. However if you happen to have different opinions and views, are unhappy and want to change something or simply just wanna be left alone to do what you wish as long as you are not causing anybody any harm. You are shit out of luck.
I have to say though that things are changing. Albeit slowly. For instance it’s more acceptable today to talk and be around the other sex. Although it depends on which part of the country you are in. However much of the restrictive laws are still there. Making matters worse is the fact that this slow progress could be simply overturned whenever those governing deem so.
I no longer live there. And hope that I never ever have to go back there, other than to visit family.