Muslim culture is one of the religions with the oldest and most extensive histories. It has its impacts on the world's greatest civilizations such as Sultanate of Usmania, Saudi Arabia, and Middle East and in different eras, Muslim rulers have extended their kingdoms to various parts of the world. Muslim culture even has its imprints on various fields of Science and Sociology. Despite all the richness of this culture, it is the one facing major criticism globally. One after another, events are taking place in a sequence which has highlighted the importance of Muslim countries in global Politics and economy.
These days, political decisions taken by the governments of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other Muslim countries have become part of daily news headlines. On the other hand, the incident of 9/11 has changed the global scenario of this world. Policies of many western countries have been altered dividing their regulations into two segregated parts meant for Muslims and Non-Muslims. Every next, we hear about the crisis of oil which is mainly under the ownership of KSA and other Middle Eastern countries. NGOs all around the world have been claiming Muslim countries to suppress human rights especially women's.
The recent event related to Olympics 2012 was a particular eye catching event in which two female representatives of Saudi Arabia participated in the World Olympics for the first time. The news was highlighted by numerous channels extensively. Furthermore, some days back, news related to the same subject made my interest grew in Saudi culture. As per the headline, these women participants were specifically told by their government to stay with their male guardians in every case otherwise they would be subjected to disciplinary actions.
I have Muslim friends from Pakistan, Africa and India and they are quite moderate in their dress code therefore no feeling of oddness exists while talking to them. However, one of my friends told me that despite the similar state religion, cultures of these countries are quite different than the Saudi's. This made my interest grew in Saudi version of Muslim culture. And, in order to do more research, I contacted one of the students from the junior year with the name Huzaifa who is a Saudi himself. Before talking to him, my perception of Saudi culture was rather tinted. For me, all Saudis were supporters of terrorism, enjoying complete affluence, yet have an abusive attitude towards basic human rights (mainly because of the hype created by media). However, the session that I had with Huzaifa has made my vision clearer about this nation.
As per Huzaifa, Saudis have a deep imprint of the religion Islam on their cultural and social values. The main reason for this deep impact is because Saudi Arabia was the region of origination for this religion. Therefore, the basic values of Islam have remained unchanged or undistorted over the course of time. As per the teachings of Islam, a man can keep four wives at one time. This basic principle has been condemned by many NGOs and nations globally but the true meaning of it has been not known to many. As per the original teaching, a man can keep four wives with the consent of earlier ones and only if he can fulfill his duties in a just manner without being biased to one of his wives, then and only then he can have more than one wife. Hence, presence of more than one wife is an acceptable fact in Saudi society.
Since Islam has taught brotherhood and maintenance of family bonds as the first and foremost duties of every Muslim, therefore, a joint family system is observed quite often in the Saudi society. Similarly, exceptional attention is given to the members of extended family. The State language is Arabic which is used commonly in offices as well as in daily lives. As per Huzaifa, some of the families use Pharsi as well. It was quite interesting to watch Huzaifa talking in English in his typical Arabic accent.
As an answer to my question regarding parents / children relationships, Huzaifa mentioned was that despite of the valuable principle of taking care of your family, Saudi culture represents a distance between parents and children. The reason for this observation can be the strictness that parents exercise in their daily mannerism while treating their children. Islam has levied rules in few areas which require parents to be strict to their children if they are falling for sinful acts. However, this attitude restricted for specific instances has becoming part of general attitude as well.
The religious values have governed the overall social structure of Saudi society. As per Huzaifa, men are made guardian for their women by the religion. This very principle is well-reflected in the culture of KSA as women are not allowed to leave their houses without their family men. In fact, Saudi Arabia is the only country where women are not allowed to drive by themselves. On my question regarding if Islam has been strict about women, Huzaifa answered that Islam has offered nothing but well-being of the women. It does suggests that women should take care of their domestic duties but certainly doesn't prohibits them from being social or participate in any business. Even the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was an entrepreneur. However, the strict measures taken by Saudi government are tarnishing the face of Islam and making the lives of women more miserable. Huzaifa's explanation about the requirement of women staying with their guardian explained that incident related to Olympics as well which created my interest in this culture in the first place.
I had a particular concern about foreigners visiting Saudi Arabia as the cultural variations were highly distinctive. In response to my question, Huzaifa answered that Saudis have a certain degree of tolerance towards foreigners. They are treated with respect on their faces. However, even the foreigners and expats have to take care of basic religious values of Saudi culture. Women from other countries are required to wear a black cloak in public however underneath they are allowed to wear anything they want. Similarly, unnecessary interaction with men has to be avoided as much as possible. As Huzaifa added with laughter, "few precautions must be taken in every foreign country."
When asked about overall development in Saudi Arabia, Huzaifa answered that Saudis have a flawed Kingdom structure where those with no credentials and political vision and expertise are made the rulers of the country. This is the reason why despite all the natural resources and undeniable contribution in global fuel industry, Saudi Arabia is still claiming for a higher position in global politics. Over time, Saudi government have made tremendous investments on making the infrastructure better but lesser efforts have been made to formulate a liberal or moderate social environment. Biggest clock tower has been recently made in Saudi Arabia which is visible from Kaaba, the religious hub for the Muslims, and women participations in Olympics is a way forward to women's independence however it is still a long way to go.
I further asked Huzaifa about the principles that have caused conflicts within Saudi society. He answered by saying that women have still not been provided with their basic rights. Physical abuse by their family men, limited educational resources and restricted participation in politics and business have deprived women of their basic rights. Due to this, the regular family structure in Saudi Arabia is observed to be full of tension where there is a clear demarcation between rights of both genders and one has a clear supremacy over the other. The psychology of the youth is also disturbed by this discrimination, on a greater extent.
When asked about racism, Huzaifa explained the Islamic principle of equality to me. As per him, Islam grants no supremacy of one over the other on the basis of race. This principle is well-reflected in even the general religious practices such as prayers and hajj. However, in reality, the discrimination does exist. Saudis consider Pakistanis, Indians, Indonesians, of lower cadre and this well-reflected in their general attitude as well. Complaints of physical abuse have been filed by various domestic workers against their Saudi employers. Similarly, discrimination on the basis of religious sects and social status is also observed. Due to this close, authoritarian structure, the society has been clearly become a victim of depression where a certain segment has supremacy over the other and also the power to exercise their prejudice. As per my opinion, this situation has given rise to the need of counseling. However, the freedom to use the services of the counselor is still questionable.
After having a detailed conversation to Huzaifa, I realized that there is a potential of counseling in Saudi culture. Thinking about it, my chain of thoughts made me evaluate my counseling skills. For treating patients with various cultural backgrounds, the counselors today, are supposed to have cultural competence. This includes understanding their values, traditions,…