Saudi culture and visiting the sick

Since my last post showed a rather negative side of saudi culture, this post will display one of the many positive sides to the Saudi way of life.
Visiting the patients in hospitals is a very important thing here, it stems from Islam and its teaching to visit the sick.

A patient in saudi hospital is rarely ever left alone. He/she will almost always have a “sitter” staying in the room with them. These sitters are family members, they might be a son, a daughter, a mother or father, a grandson/daughter, aunt or uncle, brother or sister. The most important thing is the patient is never neglected and left alone, he or she will always be looked after by the family. The family might also provide a paid sitter in addition to family members.

Since my last post showed a rather negative side of saudi culture, this post will display one of the many positive sides to the Saudi way of life.
Visiting the patients in hospitals is a very important thing here, it stems from Islam and its teaching to visit the sick.

A patient in saudi hospital is rarely ever left alone. He/she will almost always have a “sitter” staying in the room with them. These sitters are family members, they might be a son, a daughter, a mother or father, a grandson/daughter, aunt or uncle, brother or sister. The most important thing is the patient is never neglected and left alone, he or she will always be looked after by the family. The family might also provide a paid sitter in addition to family members.

As a westerner this came to me as a surprise, a very positive one of course! In western countries like my home country, sadly patients rarely have visitors, they might come on weekends only,or only on holidays if patient is for example in elderly home. Some of these people might have been forgotten in these elderly homes with absolutely no relatives visiting at all..

It would be considered a disgrace and great shame to put ones parents in an elderly home here. Elderly homes do not even exist!There is no need for them, it is an honor to take care of ones parents and have them live in your home.
The sitters take care of all the basic needs of the patients. They will help them eat, even feed them if they cannot themselves, they will assist them to shower and to toilet, and anything else the patient needs. I think this is just awesome! The families here are so close and its amazing to see how dedicated they are. For example, I would bet you no average western man would “babysit” their very ill, possibly demented, bedridden mother. Would a western man change her diapers, feed her, turn her in bed, rub her feet, read her books or recite Quran/read Bible? The average saudi man on the other hand would NEVER say a bad word or get irritated if the mother is demanding, forgetful or confused.
In the Quran there is several verses stressing kindness towards parents, here is one “..be dutiful to your parents, if one of them or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor shout at them but address them in terms of honour.(Quran 17:23)
Type into Google “kindness to parents” and all the top 10 results are from Islamic sites :)

And how about a husbands dedication to his ill wife? They will go through anything to please their wives, they truly are great husbands. This also comes from Islam, the prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said “the best among you (men) are the ones who are best in treatment towards their wives.”
The elderly patients will be the most respected, they might have great great grandchildren visit them!
Children are much valued in saudi culture and family sizes are often large, I’ve come across parents with 17 children!The more common amount is around 6.

A patient might have many visitors at a time, sometimes so they fill up the whole room. They will bring tea or arabic coffee, dates, chocolates, flowers, cakes, pastries etc to offer the patient. When other relatives come they are then served to those sweets also. Sometimes the whole family will eat a meal together in the patients room. You might even see them sitting on the floor on a carpet eating and chatting. Saudis are the most hospitable people I have ever met. They will always invite the nurse to have a cup of tea or coffee, to have taste of the foods, and will generously give chocolates and other goods, even if they are poor they will want to give you something.dallahovalblack

Often the visitors will come in groups of either men or women, and they will visit the patient separately, although if they are close relatives they will go in together. Sometimes when many women visit at a time the whole room will smell like their lovely perfumes, or they might even burn some bukhoor inside the room (mind you it IS forbidden). Bokhoor is a kind or special wood that is slowly burned and the smoke smells really good. This is also used as a welcoming gesture to guests.

Ive been lucky to have met many lovely saudi families and become friends with some.

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  • Tara Umm OmarMay 19, 2010 - 5:16 pm
  • ave mariaJune 3, 2010 - 8:09 am

    Voi, poor Laylah, what you write…
    “Would you bet western man babysitting bedridden mother..” Yes, i do… My father and my brother(has his own family as well) are babysitting my really sick sister, they change her diaper when she has diahhrea, they feed her, they take her to the shower and change her clothes. And my ancle takes care of my granparents, who live near him… That really happens even in Finland!!!
    And everything here is not that great you write, if you take out your rose glasses. In western countries most of the parents are ready to raise up their children, when they have them. They want best for they children, they are ready to help them, when they are in trouble or have problems. And they do not ask anything from the children for themselfs. Even if the child does something wrong, they try to support him, to help him. But here..Childeren are for parents, parents are not for children. If child does something (like marries western ) that is a really big shame for the parents and for the hole family. Children needs to live so that they do not bring shame to the family…and if they do…
    And in the hospital you see the other side of visiting sick as well… Many times familys are sitting next to the patients without saying anything to the patient, without touchign, without even looking the patient. They are more interested what is going on around them, than the patient. But at least they are visiting the patient, as Koran says… And visiting, when they want, when it suits on they schedule, no matter, if the patient has just got sleeping, they will wake her up, even tough she has not slept for many nights before…ReplyCancel

  • ave mariaJune 3, 2010 - 9:00 am

    “it would be shame to put parents to elderly homes here”
    Instead of elderly homes they keep they parents in the hospitals with sitter WHO IS NOT familymember. Even though patient does not need hospital any more, it is easier to keep patient there than take home. Does not matter that there is many other who would need hospital instead. And at the same time the sitters are treated like slaves, 24 hours in the patients room. That is real hospitability!!
    They are just hospitable for their family and treats others like dogs… For me that shows as selfish… I saw a few saudi female sitting and eating in one of the malls in riyadh. Next table sit their sitters. When these ladies had eaten, they throwed their foodplates to the sitters, who then ate the rest. I would do that to my dog, but human… That is saudis hospitability…ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJune 18, 2010 - 4:17 am

    Ave Maria..
    Sounds like you need a long vacation, or change of scenery altogether :D

    I hope you don’t treat your patients with as much disrespect as you like to show towards me. I would assume you do though, because you have such a negative view on them..

    Your bitter hateful comment already tells us what kind of person you are..You generalize the whole nation for what few bad people do.

    Then you take as an example your family, which is UNFORTUNATELY rare in Finland..Good for them for be so thoughtful and caring.

    But see, you generalize only the way around that it suits you and your prejudices.

    I am not denying these things happen, sure! But this was not the point of my post ok?

    I suggest you take off your blindfolds and try to see life in a more positive manner. Being positive is a good thing you know :)ReplyCancel

  • nawaf alotaibiJune 19, 2010 - 8:21 am

    dear ave maria,

    I feel sorry for you first and for the situation your facing in the magical kingdom.

    I would like to tell you that as you have different people and standards in Finland (since you mentioned it).We have the same thing here in fact if you want to live here in Saudi as you are living in Finland just come and hang out with me. and lets see if anyone would say anything about it.

    who are the Saudi’s your talking about!!! we have known tribe’s the biggest are (Qahtani and Otaibi)in Saudi that have culture ,love , and respect for our elder’s. i think your talking about the Saudi’s that just took the nationality (Lebanese)and want to prove something. well just for your info.I come from an incredibly wealthy tribal family and last night i was with my grand father (104 yrs old) in my father’s farm on the ground(well actually it was grass)playing cards and having fun with all of my cousin’s.

    now lets go to the subject that everybody is talk about “marriage”. as mentioned earlier i come from a routed tribal family. while i have 13 of my cousin’s married to Europeans and American’s including my grand father and we are happy all together. so please stop generalizing since you don’t know anything about Saudi Arabia. A good person is a good person wherever he’s from and he’s an advertisement to him self only. ave do you remember Europe’s dark age’s? or you know what??? lets check out 2010 in Finland how many incidents that are inhumane by a lot of people while the law approves it?

    lets sum it up ave in Saudi we have the good and the bad. and we have the good more the bad. It depends on you and the way you look at thing.

    your home sick. E.T. go home and leave us alone since you don’t like our way of life lol.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJuly 12, 2011 - 5:15 pm

    thank you for this post.Lovely reminder to muslims all over the world.ReplyCancel

  • fatoukamounMay 8, 2013 - 1:48 am

    Why did no one comment about the lady throwing the foodplates to the sitters as ave maria said, is it because it is true and common? I am just wondering…ReplyCancel

  • UmmNoamMay 13, 2013 - 6:55 pm

    Dear Laylah,

    first of all alf shukr for your beautifully written blogg – it is not only a pleasure to read but has also contributed to help me out of ignorance about what Saudi culture looks like :-) By now, I am even considering moving to Riyadh (with my job I can be posted anywhere worldwide) because thanks to your day-to-day stories I can picture how everyday life in Saudi Arabia looks – thank you again!

    Your entry about Saudi culture and visiting the sick and the comments have left me very thoughtful.

    I do agree that there are different cultural values regarding family life and care for each other in many Arab countries in comparison to the so called “West” (have you seen the frontier somewhere between East and West? I haven’t yet…). But then again, there are also some other aspects as to how you treat family members and how you care for them, that, in my opinion, need to be taken into account – before judging all the Westerners alike.

    For one thing, no matter which culture you observe, there is always an individual side to it: Am I a person who is able to/willing to care for my parents? Are my parents willing to be taken care of by me? Is it for the best for me and my parents to live under the same roof? Or will it be living hell for both generations?

    Then there is also a “physical” aspect to it: am I physically strong enough to lift my bedridden mother out of bed? Do I have the physical energy after a long day at work to care for her properly? Or wouldn’t she be better taken care of by a professional in a home for the elderly (if such a home exists)?

    And then there is another essential aspect – society and infrastructure (which both has a lot to do with the values you find in a culture): do women work? Or do they stay at home? How many children are there to take care of one or both parents? Is it only one child? Do they even live in the same city? Are there any other options than to take your parents into your home? Because if there aren’t any other options – well, you like it or not, you won’t even ask that question and society will never know whether you did it out of respect for your parents or because there simply was no other choice. Do you and your partner both have to work to earn enough for a living? Do you have kids on your own? Are you a single parent?

    I’m just asking… I am German originally, I haven’t lived in Saudi Arabia, but I have lived in several other countries, among others in Egypt and Mexico – both countries where family is very important indeed.

    But still there was not one single approach as to how to deal with age demented or seriously ill elder family members.

    How much are family members able to shoulder? I personally believe that before one judges someone whose parents live in a home for the elderly (which nowadays in Germany at least have improved a lot and offer from Yoga classes to professional medical care really a lot), it is important to look at those other factors, not only the cultural factor.

    Alf salaam and thank you again for your mind-opening and inspiring blogg :-)

    KatyReplyCancel

  • drtaherJune 13, 2013 - 10:48 pm

    Dear Layla,

    Being a doctor working in the Kingdom, I fully agree with your perception of the hospitality and kindness of Saudis towards their parents and sick family members. It is usual to see entire families descending upon the patient during the vening visiting hours! They all chat, pray together, eat together after spreading out a carpet between two beds, as you observed, and also welcoming nurses to join them for a quick bite.

    Very well-written post. I also agree with the views of one of your readers, that there is no ONE WAY to handle all patient-support problems. Each family will find its own way, depending on their own, individual circumstances.

    TaherReplyCancel

  • […] becomes alive at night and quiets down for the day during the Muslim fasting month. Read more here on how the Saudis usually visit the sick at […]ReplyCancel

  • Bedouin Patients » Blue AbayaMarch 6, 2015 - 7:43 am

    […] or two sitters present at all times. Read more about the way Saudis visit the sick in hospitals here. They will have large families and it wouldn’t be strange to see ones with over 10 children. […]ReplyCancel

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