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Saudis Tweet: Be Kind to Foreign Workers

September 5, 2011 15 comments

This is an excerpt from Arabnews, an English language daily paper from Saudi Arabia:

JAZAN: A number of Saudis have launched a campaign on Twitter asking their compatriots to be kind to the foreign manpower living with them and to spread awareness in society about humanitarian treatment to foreign laborers.

They also tweeted that Saudis should congratulate them on the occasion of Eid, as they do their relatives and friends, and make them part of the local celebrations in order to help them mark Eid as they would in their homeland, Arabic daily Al-Watan reported on Friday.

I applaud progressive Saudis who take initiative when those in power don’t. It’s Saudis like these who are hopefully the future leaders of the kingdom. However, I think it’s sad that someone had to go and start a Twitter campaign to treat foreign workers with respect. I’m ashamed that the situation in Saudi Arabia has come down to this; to remind each other via messages to respect other people. This kind of issue is something one would expect to hear in a speech or Friday sermon. It’s not something one would expect to be the central cause for an awareness campaign.

Treating people with respect and kindness is one of those virtues like cleanliness and honesty that should be deep-rooted and nurtured in a person from childhood. This campaign hangs on the shoulders of parents and teachers; so they should always use an encounter with another person, whether a Saudi or expatriate, as an opportunity to set an example that would teach children to respect all people regardless of race, religion, or status.

A Saudi passing by an expatriate worker. Image courtesy of Galen R. Frysinger.

Samuel Johnson once said:

The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.

Many of my friends are skeptical about this campaign, saying that this is yet another PR exercise by the Saudi government in order to clean its image after Indonesia stopped sending maids to the country and the Philippines possibly following suit. Others are hoping the ‘campaigners’ would take to the streets as well, since Twitter alone cannot reach all the masses. But all are hoping that this campaign reaches every Saudi and expatriate and brings out the good in people. As for me, I’ve learned to take anything about Saudi Arabia in the media with a grain of salt, but I truly hope that this is the start of many positive changes in this beautiful country.

Saudi Sponsorship System – Modern Day Slavery

August 28, 2011 90 comments

The night was young and the cool spring breeze sent a chill down my spine as I wrapped my arms around myself and exited the warmth of the mosque. Isha prayer had just finished and I thought of my evening plans as I tried to locate my sandals among the heap of shoes and slippers at the main door. “Dude, use the damn shoe rack next time” I thought to myself, as I found my sandals and proceeded to walk home, a mere 50 meters away.

The neighborhood street was eerily quiet, but started showing signs of life as people slowly exited the mosque and went back to what they were doing before prayer. There were no birds flying around, no cars moving in sight, save for the few worshippers who came to the mosque with cars. Another sudden breeze blew leaves off the nearby trees and carried with it that unmistakable tangy smell of the nearby Arabian Sea. A little kid blew past me on his BMX bike, looking back and waving at me for approval, to which I responded with a big smile and two thumbs up.

As I walked past the houses, mothers and sisters were busy preparing dinner and the different smells emanating from the kitchen windows tingled my nose and I had a sudden craving for shawarma. I decided to call Ali and ask if he was down for some shawarma followed by some diet-killing Krispy Kreme donuts and that’s when I met Mohammed, my neighbor. He was walking back home from prayer and had just come back to Saudi Arabia from Malaysia a couple of days back. He told me that he has a long semester break and would be in Saudi Arabia for a couple of months and will renew his iqama before heading back to Malaysia. We talked for some time and had to cut our chat short as Ali rolled into my street. A couple of weeks later I went back to Malaysia.

Little did Mohammed know that he might never make it to Malaysia. What was supposed to be a couple of months turned into 4 months and he’s still stuck in Saudi Arabia as I type this.

But first, for those of you that don’t know, Saudi Arabia does not have your usual residence permit system for expatriates. Expatriates have to obtain an iqama (pronounced iqaama), a residency permit that allows them to work and live in the country, through a legal citizen of Saudi Arabia who becomes their kafeel, or sponsor. This kafala system, or sponsorship system, binds the expatriate worker to that kafeel and he has the power to alter the employment contract and/or transfer the sponsorship to someone else. The expatriate worker has no power or say and is under the mercy of his kafeel. Kafeels are normal people like you and me, so majority of them have a healthy relationship with the people they sponsor, but there are always the ones that go out of their way to wreak havoc on people’s lives.

Image courtesy of The Crazy Jogger @ Flickr

Some kafeels, in seeing that the person/people they sponsor are totally under their mercy, exploit them by blackmailing them and forcing them to pay them money. Some of them simply decide to get them deported after the pettiest of misunderstandings. An expatriate can file a legal suit against their employer or sponsor, but often times they are deported before their cases are even reviewed by judges. Other kafeels simply ignore their duty towards the people they sponsor by refusing to get their papers signed for renewing or any other legal processes. Something similar happened to my neighbor Mohammed and his family.

Mohammed’s father is a retired engineer who used to work for the oil giant Saudi Aramco and a respected member of the community who has lived in the same house in Saudi Arabia since the early 70s. Mohammed was born in Saudi Arabia and has lived his whole life there. He has nowhere else to call home. All of his friends are Saudi.

When the time came for the family to renew the iqamas, they found out their kafeel was on vacation in USA. They didn’t worry, thinking he’d be back in time for them to start the renewal process. When a week passed and he was nowhere to be found, they tried reaching him through his numbers, but to no avail. They tried his family. No luck. They tried reaching him through his company and siblings. Still no luck. As each day passed, and with the threat of deportation looming over them, the family decided to take matters into their own hands and try to obtain a new sponsor. As of this moment they are still working on that solution, and I pray it works out for them.

This kafala system is nothing short of modern-day slavery. How is it different from historic slavery where people were tied to a ‘master’? It is a primitive idea that hinders human potential and breeds hatred toward Saudi Arabia in the hearts of the millions of expatriates living inside and outside Saudi Arabia. Sadly, sometimes even children  even exposed to this ideology and understand from a young age that they are not equal with their Saudi peers.

Other Gulf nations have seen the error of their ways and have either done away with the system or ensured migrant workers get justice. Abolishing it will instantly improve Saudi Arabia’s battered image in the eyes of the world and provide it greater influence and flexibility in the global arena. Getting rid of this archaic system which is open to all sorts of abuses will not only win the hearts of the millions of expatriates who suffer the indignity of being under a Saudi sponsor’s power, but make them fall in love with the country and its people.

There’s an Arab proverb that goes along the lines of:

Write bad things that are done to you in sand, but write the good things that happen to you on a piece of marble.

Too often have the winds of time blown away the proverbial writing in the sand; the cries for equal treatment from the expatriate community. Saudi Arabia should change for the better and become a home for all, instead of a home for a few and a prison for many. Saudi Arabia, being The Land of the Two Holy Mosques and a leader in the Islamic world, should be  beacon of hope and a model for human rights and equality.

Islam teaches us the great reward for releasing a slave. King Abdullah has the opportunity to release millions.

30 Days…

September 12, 2007 15 comments

I’ve noticed a trend in some Muslims living in Western nations during Ramadan. Come the holy month, one can observe that they’re afraid to show their religion openly and some even go to lengths to hide their fasting. I’ve observed in some, and heard it from others, and this desire to hide Islam does not serve them well.

A young friend of mine confessed to how she has a hard time dealing with Ramadan. She and her friends frequently eat lunch together and come lunchtime, she doesn’t have it in her to tell them she’s fasting so she makes up a story that she’s joined something new; last year it was the library I think. Considering her situation, I had no choice but to advise her that she must tell her friends the truth, rather than keeping her religious duty a secret and avoiding all the questions they might ask her.

For one, aside from this being a Da’wah opportunity, being frank and open with her friends and observing their reactions will show her just how much they respect her as a friend. Two, through her, they can ask her any questions regarding Islam and receive first-hand information rather than hearing all sorts of stories from the media. Most importantly, she’ll be able to practice her religion more freely rather than suppress it every time she’s around her friends.

Another case is that of the workplace. As some of you can relate, many feel that practicing their religion in a non-Muslim dominated workplace is quite a challenge; not from others, but from within themselves. Little do they know that usually their co-workers will be more than willing to offer them whatever they require, such as a room to pray in. Fortunately, most Muslims I know are respected at work and are even provided with a clean space to perform their obligatory prayers. An example would be an uncle of mine, who while under the watchful eyes of his superiors, and while trying to obtain a much sought after position with lots of competition, still put up Ramadan decorations made by his little kids on his office door for all to see. Subtle, yet thoughtful, since that reminds his colleagues that he’s fasting. Needless to say, all he got was respect.

Yes, I understand; initially it might be difficult and somewhat uncomfortable to do at first, but eventually you’ll wish you’d done that earlier in your life. It’s 30 days out of 365, 4 weeks out of the 52, a single month in the year in which the gates of hell are closed and we are given a chance to invest in spiritual growth and commit ourselves to Allah. Islam is not just a practice; it’s a way of life. And you shouldn’t hide it.

Keep strong M.

Ramadan Kareem brothers and sisters!

 Not the way to spend your Ramadan…

Ramadan routine

Categories: General, Islam, Life, Opinion

Killer Roads

June 8, 2007 9 comments

 

Race
Resembles your average commute on a Saudi freeway – minus the decals

A recent Arabnews article brought back certain memories. Having spent quite some time driving in Malaysia, I have somehow forgotten the many driving experiences and close calls I’ve had on Saudi roads.

 

Related:
Joy Riding – Death Penalty
After 35 Years
Saudi Autobahn
 
 

Of Hope & Despair

April 29, 2007 14 comments

It’s been a long one since I’ve last had time to blog. It’s partly due to exam season now being in full swing. Due to that, I won’t be posting much until exams are over.

Till then, I leave you with a question.

Every night I sleep with a new hope for a peaceful Darfur, with the families of those like Ibrahim having the right to a safe return and a compensation for all they have been through by not only the Sudanese government, but the rest of the Islamic world, for clearly ignoring their cries. Each night, I rest on my pillow with a new hope for a peaceful Somalia, with the clans putting aside their insignificant tribal differences and realizing they have more in common with each other than a Hassawi and a Hijazi. Every night, I close my eyes with a new hope to open them the next morning with news of a liberated Palestine. Every night I sleep with a new hope that the next morning will not start with another report of a bomb in Iraq, where Mohammed, Abbas, and Ali have been reduced to nothing but mere statistics.

But every morning I wake up with that hope flickering like a candle in the wind, and the breeze is picking up.

How much hope is left in you?

Categories: College, Hope, Life, Opinion

Ignorance Is Bliss

March 19, 2007 75 comments

Everyone who knows me personally understands how sensitive I can get when it comes to the media and how it portrays certain races.

The media; whether it be an ad, the news, or movies, always has a way of ticking me off with some un-needed bias. Is it possible for those in control of the media to be so ignorant about how images of certain races are projected by the very program or channel they run? I honestly don’t think so. I dare you to name me a few Hollywood movies that portray Blacks, Arabs, or Hispanics in good light as intelligent or non-violent people. At the same time, try finding a TV commercial in which a minority is projected without stereotyping.

A friend of mine in networking showed me a certain ad and thought I might love it due to its creativity. It had a hint of creativity, but loving it was far from how I felt. Little did she know that it would spark a whole discussion regarding the issue of racial portrayal in the media.

The ad showed a Black boy around his preteen years standing in a kitchen when a Black man comes in and walks toward him with what appeared to be a high tech camera. The man tells the kid to do something ‘cool and the kid instantly starts dancing and wiggling to the camera. We then see people from across the globe literally running to their screens, whether it is their PCs, PDAs, or TVs to see this little Black kid dance around a kitchen. What a marvel!

Tell me…why is the kid dancing?

Black people, just like any other group of people, consist of different people with numerous talents. Why did the ad have to associate the Black kid with dancing? Why couldn’t they portray the kid as a little genius explaining his Science Fair project over the camera to groups of students and teachers from other schools? Why couldn’t they show the kid fixing his toy remote controlled car? Why couldn’t they depict the kid as a finalist in a math knowledge bowl challenging other contenders via video link? Why in the world couldn’t they show the Black man as some sort of professional using the same camera to have an international conference with other doctors while at the same time communicating with his wife and kids?

The possibilities and ideas are endless…but they had to make the kid dance. Then again, I’m guessing that if anything, the guys who made that commercial thought they were doing a good job by actually putting a Black kid on TV. I bet they had no second thought as to how it would make him look. I’m sure a generous lofty reward was handed out to whoever dreamed up the idea of bringing a little Black kid who happens to dance and slapping on some groovy music to go along with his moves. And to think they spent millions of dollars for that ad. Ignorance is bliss.

This post is to be continued…

Aston Martin Sedan?

March 15, 2007 3 comments

Raipde side Rapide top

Alright. When Maserati ventured into the sedan category, I didn’t care much since I’m not a big Maserati fan. But now Aston Martin has come up with the Aston Martin Rapide, a 6.0 Liter V12 sedan. Doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t know…it’s like seeing a Lamborghini pick-up or a Ferrari SUV.