- Book: “In The Land of Invisible Women”
- Author: Qanta A. Ahmed, MD
- Publisher: Sourcebooks, Inc. 2008
What goes on behind the impenetrable veil of Saudi Arabia’s society? How do the people live, how do they think, how do they dress on the streets or in their homes, what are their customs and beliefs? How are the women treated; do they have any rights at all, and if yes – what are they?
The 14th largest country by land area in the World, Saudi Arabia is one of the largest Muslim countries. It is also one of the wealthiest, rigid, closed, and least explored countries on the Planet. If you think that going to Saudi Arabia as a tourist, especially if you are a non-Muslim, and God forbid – a woman, is as easy as buying a plane ticket, you are dead wrong.
So how would you be able to learn more about this mysterious country then? Well, you can apply to travel there for work, you might even make a local friend in your own country, or you can always rely on the good, old source of information, that is – a great book.
Dr. Qanta, the author of this book, traveled to Saudi Arabia on a work visa and has spent nearly two years practicing medicine along the local Saudi Arabian physicians and nurses. Since she is also a Muslim by her religion, the author was able to get an insider’s access into the private lives and homes of her fellow Saudi women and men.
The author, who was raised in UK, and educated in U.S., considers herself a modern, ‘Western-Muslim’, and her raw, deep insights into the orthodox, ‘Eastern-Muslim’, ultra-rigid Saudi society are simply invaluable. Besides the obvious, burning question of religion and it’s various interpretations, Dr. Qanta discusses other very informative topics such as: the ubiquitous issue of racism of the ‘native’ Saudis towards foreign Muslims with a darker skin; the struggle of meeting someone and falling in love, in a country where dating is strictly forbidden and most marriages are pre-arranged; divorce, homosexuality, and many other subjects.
It’s not easy being a woman in Saudi Arabia, as Dr. Qanta quickly discovers, as she is forced to cover her body and head when going outside her home or workplace. In fact, she cannot go out by herself, or even meet with her male colleagues for a meal because such mixing of genders is frowned upon and can even be persecuted by law.
How different can Saudi Arabia be for a practicing Muslim? As the author discovered, it’s not really the question of how different this country might be, but more of a question: “How difficult?”.
“I also knew of the terrible culture of secrecy in the Kingdom. I believed it must be linked to shame. In the Kingdom, like many Muslim and Arab societies, matters were weighted between shame and honor. Either something brings honor or it brings shame. And families in the Kingdom appeared to bind all their honor in their womenfolk. Shame was so powerful that everything, even atrocities, must be buried.” p. 389