Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Saudi Segregation

I’d heard a lot about Saudi Arabia’s segregation in malls, ministries, and other public buildings, but wasn’t really sure whether to believe it or not since most of it came from Western media sources, which can be slightly biased, to put it nicely. Anyway, Madinah wasn’t bad at all. Of course I never saw women driving or working in any of the shops/restaurants, but that I had already expected. Makkah however, was another story.

I first noticed the segregation when I went to the Starbucks in our hotel complex and saw a sign saying “Singles”. I looked around the corner and saw another sign saying “Families”. I went into the singles section and ordered, and saw a partition between the 2 sections. As I walked around the mall, I noticed this was the case in every eating place: KFC for example has a line for women and a line for men. There is also a whole separate shopping mall for women.

To be honest, I don’t understand segregation. If we all act like mature adults, surely there is no need to put barriers between men and women in coffee shops. In a mosque, fine, I understand that some women feel more comfortable when men aren’t around, and after having lived in Cairo and gone through a lot of sexual harassment, it’s understandable that you wouldn’t want these men behind you while you pray. However, does every single public place need to be segregated? Is this deep mistrust of human nature healthy?

There are a lot of things about Saudi Arabian culture that bother me. The problem is that because Saudi Arabia has such a prominent place in the Islamic world, these cultural things get associated with Islam. Were mosques segregated at the time of the Prophet the way they are today? Would the Prophet not have allowed women the same access to prayer in front of the Kaabah or the to his tombstone? Would the Prophet have forced all women in Makkah and Madinah to veil (not during prayer or Umrah, but in general)?. These policies seem to go against the spirit of Islam. Are they Islamic or are they Saudi Arabian influences?


Anonymous said...

I say cultural - not religious. I don't see any religious basis for the severe gender apartheid (oops, I mean segregation) seen there in Saudi, or even here in mosques in the US & what I saw when I was in Turkey.

Nancy said...

It surprising to see the extent of segration, KFC? Makes you wonder why they would you would need two different lines? I would think that this would be a result of the cultural influences rather than religious ones though.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Aynur: haha, apartheid sounds pretty accurate! I don't see any religious basis either, but isn't this the case with so many things that are deemed "Islamic" today?

Nancy: I guess the reason for 2 different lines may be they are worried men will harass women. But wouldn't a solution to that be educating men instead of segregation.

Thanks for posting!

أم ترافيس said...

Assalamu alaykum, In your Umrah post you mention how everyone is pushing etc... perhaps it is fair to say the Muslims in general just arent what they were in the times of the Prophet. I for one prefer segregation but that is becuz it is very, very rare to meet any male who will lower his gaze, amongst other things. I cant go anywhere and when needing to talk to a male, he is smily, looks me right in the eye, etc... it is just the culture today and I think probably a big influence from the West. Perhaps this is Saudis way of controlling such inconsistencies.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Umm Travis: I agree, most men today will not lower their gaze or act with any kind of decency in general. I learnt this after 5 years in Cairo. I prefer segregated prayer simply because I know men will not be able to act decently. However, segregation in general seems weird to me, having never experienced it before.
What bothers me is that instead of focusing on improving men's behaviour, Saudi is choosing to segregate, which affects women more negatively than men, since women are limited in where they can go, work, study, and how they dress. Why not target the men and their behaviour, instead of making rules for women?
Like I said, the harassment in Cairo is pretty bad and sometimes I wish things here were segregated, but why should I be limited in where I go and how I dress? Why shouldn't these men change, since they are the ones who are misbehaving (all the while pretending to be "good Muslims").
Also, Saudi segregation tends to be unequal. At Masjid al-Haram women do not have a prayer space that has a view of the Kaabah, and at Masjid al-Nabawi women do not have equal access to the Prophet's tomb. So if Saudi wants to segregate, then fine, but at least do not do it in a way that harms women.
Thanks for posting :)

Lisa said...

I really agreed with segregation as a former niqaabi. It made life easier, and prevented uncomfortable situations from arising.

But, I think we do have to ask if the Prophet would have wanted it to go as far as it has today. The answer is almost certainly no. At every turn, we are making life harder when it doesn't have to be. What needs to happen instead of signs in restuarants, parks, and malls, is a program bent on curbing the bad intentions of so- called brothers.

The vice and virtue police need to slightly shift their focus from girls getting into their own cars, to brothers not lowering their gaze. Reading Chasing Jannah is so scary. Imagining UAE guys who can't keep themselves from stalking is scary. Love you sweetie, GREAT POST!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Lisa: I completely agree, we need programs focusing on men, not segregation that prevents women from doing a lot of things. Why is it always the woman's fault? After all, the Qur'an tells men AND women to lower their gaze. Here in Cairo I don't see a lot of men lowering their gaze!
Love you :)