Skimming through a magazine, I saw these five shapes, in black outfits, with these words plastered across the picture: "I pray my daughters have a life like mine."
I've blogged about veils --the kind with slits for the eyes, the flowing, cover-everything abayas that Muslim women wear.
"Never would I wear an outfit like that " I thought, as I dug into an article which Karen Elliott House wrote, summarizing her latest book on modern Saudi Arabia. It's just been published. A Pulitzer Prize winner, the author has spent 30 years studying this part of the world.
Karen House was a guest in the home of Loulwa, one of the women in the photograph. Loulwa's home is on the upper floor of a modest size house. In her middle forties, the mother of seven children ages 5 to 20, Loulwa is maid, laundress, cook, school-teacher, and wife -- a loving wife, devoted to-pleasing her husband every other day
... Every other day... Huh?
On the ground floor, the floor below Loulwa's, her husband's other wife -- first wife for the past 40 years -- lives much the same way. The first wife has eight children, and serves them, cares for them, and also is devoted to pleasing her husband every other day.
He's a professor, teacher of Hadith, the words and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. Ever since Muhammad's death, these words have been the daily guide for devout Muslims who believe men are in charge of women -- that righteous women are devoutly obedient -- that serving Allah means serving your husband -- that only by serving God can you enter paradise.
The two wives and their husband are average, middle-class Saudi Arabians, who have been assaulted by technology. They have access to modern shopping malls, the Internet, television, cell phones, drugs, and alcohol. Educated at King Saud University, though Loulwa speaks English haltingly, she clearly and strongly opposes women who want to drive, get jobs, and dress the way American women do.
Both wives' homes are free of "infidel" influences. There are no photographs on the walls, because any human representation is forbidden by the strict interpretation of Islam. There is one television that is set to receive only a religious channel that bans any appearances by women. Loulwa doesn’t want her children seeing faces of unveiled women who have recently been allowed to work as anchors on some Saudi channels. The family’s sole computer, used only under the wife's supervision, is for homework that is primarily for studying the Quran.
Loulwa's teenage girls admire and obey her. Her oldest, age 19, lets her mother control what music she listen to -- proper Islamic music, cannot have rhythm or include a woman’s voice lest a man hear it and be led astray, This daughter, in her black abaya, also a student at King Saud University, said (about her mother) “She is dedicating herself to helping us have a life just like hers.”
What would I say if I met Loulwa? I've conversed with thousands of women all over the word, and never met a woman with whom I couldn't communicate. Even when language is a barrier, you can smile, laugh, frown, fan yourself as if it's hot, or point to your mouth as if you're hungry. You can shake your head yes or no.
It shocks me. It frightens me, that this woman has deliberately shut herself off from today's world, and chosen to live in a time and an age of ignorance,
I want to tell her that if I had a daughter, I would want her to be whatever she chooses to be.
I have written seven, yes SEVEN love thy neighbor posts on Muslims, and have published them in my blog. Muslims live on my street. I like my neighbors. I want to like this woman who lives in Saudi Arabia. But our worlds collide.
If I had a daughter -- dear God, whatever God you believe in, it is life and death important for my daughter, your daughter, all our daughters to be free.`