In The Land Of Invisible Women by Qanta Ahmed

If Islam is all about justice, then I want none of it!  This is my personal reaction to this claim made about Islam by the author, a doctor by profession who documents quite a fascinating account of her experiences during her tenure as a physician in one of the hospitals in Riyadh, the capital of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. But that reaction is a highly personal point of view that I would adhere to regardless of the story she tells.  Only, it is has been underscored even more deeply thanks to a book like this.

A light and easy style of writing that chronologically lists her arrival, assimilation, and eventual departure from the KSA, the details of life in the KSA for women, as we learn from her account is one that is not entirely shocking– what with common knowledge concerning the Sharia law as practiced in that country– nevertheless, it is still startling to learn of the many details as they pertain to the daily life and living conditions of women.  Conditions that are deplorable in every sense of the word.  Conditions that reek of the utmost disregard for the sanctity of life itself even in how a sick patient is allowed to receive medical treatment.

And the other conditions that aren’t altogether deplorable are downright revolting for the apparent hypocrisy that is practiced in so many aspects of social life:  in the outright racism among their own people; in the blatant and garish display of flesh and form among their own sex whilst covering themselves in their abayahs in mixed company; in their desperate attempts at artificially reconstructing proof of their virginity even as they go gallivanting with friends and lovers at will; in the outpouring of their pent-up sexual energies in cyber-space via e-mail and telephone even as they are forbidden to allow themselves in mixed company anywhere at all including all public places and many a private place as well; in their socio-religious customs that allows for divorce with relative ease where a woman might have the power to not release her husband, and yet allow her to turn around and present herself as a secondary wife to another man; and finally, the most hypocritical aspect of their psyches in their deep-seated hatred for all things American even as they come in hordes to be educated, trained, and gain professional working experience in the United States.

Despite the author’s claims that there is some improvement in the KSA in general attitudes toward the USA, I remain highly doubtful of this.  If they would devote one-tenth of their passions in perhaps eliminating or atleast significantly dismantling the Mutaween– their moral police force– that they have for propagating the worse possible strain of anti-semitic thought and deed, they would do themselves and the world a huge favor.  Until such time, I shall reserve judgment on their claims to have turned a leaf.

Ms. Ahmed’s book certainly sheds light on many of these aspects of Islamic life and ways in the KSA, and it can only be hoped that it would serve as an eye-opener more for the natives of the KSA than any one else.

While parts of the book read like a textbook on history and social customs of the region, parts of it also read like a cheap Mills & Boon paperback– the kind known for racy romances between a powerless female and an alpha-male.  And while Ahmed provides a follow-up on each of the primary characters in her story from her visit back to the KSA ten years later, she doesn’t make any mention of the state of affairs of her own personal marital status.  One can only hope that she has eventually found love and a strong sense of self in a relationship that extends beyond her working hours.


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