Takalamy. A Conversation with Young Saudi Females

Last week on the blog we learned of some very primitive, backward and close-minded actions of a few men, hopelessly stuck in the Saudi Stone ages. While a part of the Saudi society seems to be moving backwards, there is another part, less known, which is going in the opposite direction. The western media will rarely show us this side.  So this week, I’m sharing with you something exactly the opposite as last week. I would describe the Takalamy initiative as..

inspiring, empowering, forward-thinking, hopeful, enlightening

Takalamy- She speaks. These young Saudi women are speaking their minds, and you should listen.

“Our Story: Two of our Takalamy team members decided to take on the challenge for their senior project and create a short, complex 10 minute movie. The script was written as a narrative that highlights issues that arise from the clash of traditional vs. modern ways of life for a Saudi female student abroad. Instead, the team decided to place multiple opinions into one voice, by interviewing some of the female college students abroad about their opinions on different topics. We hope this will help Takalamy take its initiative forward, and make a difference to the local community.

We are a number of Saudi females with an objective of creating a platform that encourages the outflow of thoughts and opinions, and make it easy for everyone to voice them. We realize the importance of freedom of thought and speech and hope to give Saudi women, and men, a safe place to practice this freedom.

What drove us to take this initiative is the need to emphasize the importance of equality in the advancement of society. We want to be thought provoking and spread ideas. We aim to be unbiased, open-minded, community oriented, interactive.

Mission Statement: We aim to encourage women to speak their minds aloud in order to express their presence in the saudi Arabian community and help their opinions shape its future.

Vision statement: By breaking gender barriers we aim to expand the notion of what it means to be a woman in Saudi Arabia to embrace and celebrate equality, opportunity, empowerment, self-fulfillment, independence, and development. We want to put the power of words as the force for positive social change.”

 

The following are some of my favorite quotes from the video, which can be viewed at the end of this post.

3 Words to Describe Saudi Women:

 

“Hardworking. Hopeful. Family oriented.”

“Determined. Struggled…. Adaptive.”

“Fearful in the sense that Saudi women realize they are oppressed in certain ways but too afraid to do anything about it, but at the same time they are very strong to be able to withstand those circumstances.

Cultured, because they hold on to their culture and they really love it.”

 

How would you describe freedom?

 

“Freedom is synonymous with choice.”

“The freedom to choose in everything. To overcome social restrictions.”

“To have the tools to live your life to its fullest.”

“The ability to make your own choices and to speak your mind in a society that respects that, even when they disagree with you.”

 

How would you describe power?

 

“Everyone deserves to be powerful over their own self and there shouldn’t be an over-ruling power that tells you and dictates to you who to be and what to do. That is something I believe in. Is that really possible in there being a power over you?”

“Power is media and its influence.”

 

What’s your opinion on male guardianship?

 

“I find that the concept of guardianship is restrictive,

it’s offensive to society, offensive to men and to women.

If I need a male guardian to protect myself from the ‘other men’, what does that say about those other men around me? I think more highly of the ‘other men’ in my society than they do of themselves.

Men should think higher of themselves! “

“I think it is very unfair for a woman to be restricted in the sense that she has to ask permission for everything she does.

Someone is in control of her entire life. “

How can you really reach your limits and do great things if you constantly have to ask permission?” “I hear this all the time:

‘Women are the most valuable jewels of our society, so we have to protect them.’

This is not only a very condescending argument, but also it’s also completely illogical.

You cannot justify dominance based on how valuable the people you’re oppressing are.”

 

What do you think about our society’s perception of marriage?

 

“The type of people I know back home wouldn’t say, ‘I’m not going to marry her because she studied abroad.’ I think it exists though, it definitely does.” “We think in our culture that a man or marriage, completes you, which is so wrong.

Nobody will complete you.

you have to be happy on your own, then find a partner to walk with you.”

“Forty years ago, or even 10 years ago, there was a stigma attached to a girl studying abroad, on her own. But I think in terms of education, we’ve moved a long way from that prejudice.”

 

What’s your opinion on societal barriers we create that limit honest conversation?

 

“You are not you. You are your name.

And your family, and your siblings, and your parents. So whatever I say reflects on them so much that it could harm them. And that is terrifying.

That is what stops so many women from doing things.”

“A lot of people are afraid of society’s judgments. It does not only apply to women. Men, too, are very much restrained in their ability to speak freely. We’re programmed that way,

the suspicion of being judged follows us, no matter how far we are from home.”

 

What is your biggest achievement?

 

“My choice to pursue music as a serious profession. By far, that is the thing I’m most proud of.

It’s my choice and it’s the bravest, hardest thing I’ve had to do.”

“Starting my own fashion house starting with a dress designed with hand-made seaweed paper. One of my dresses was featured in Vanity Fair Magazine which lead to me launching four fashion lines. My clothing is represented in New York, Deli, Bombay, Qatar, Kuwait, Dubai, Jeddah and Riyadh.”

“Being true to yourself in a world that is trying to make you into someone else.”

“Finishing my architectural degree

 finding that thing I am passionate for and pursuing it.”

“Creating a social media site about all the exciting things now happening in Saudi Arabia.”

 

What Advice do you have for Saudi Women?

 

“Don’t be afraid to follow your passion. Go for it.”

“Make success a habit.

You consistently make a commitment that you will work through your fear everyday. You’re going to work your craft every day and make it a conscious decision to put aside everything that doesn’t matter…It’s a habit, a commitment.”

“If you see an opportunity, take it, but don’t compromize who you are.”

 

What would you like to see change in the future?

 

“Men are not always aware of the benefits of change, but we [women] are. The first thing I would like Saudi women to do is to try to change their outlook and ask questions about what they want rather than to be told what they want.” “If we allow ourselves to be driven by fear, the thing that frightens us the most will haunt us. We have to learn to speak up and know we are not alone in the struggle and others will support us.

No one can know the struggles of a Saudi woman better than another Saudi woman.”

“People are starting to realize they can make a change and that it starts from within. Some women are finding a voice for themselves and achieving more because they realize that.” “We’re taught not to ask questions.

Ask questions, questions are fantastic.”

“Change is inevitable.

We can change, and still preserve our culture and our religion.”

Watch the entire video here:

 

For more information:

Website: COMING SOON: www.takalamy.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/takalamypage

twitter: https://www.twitter.com/takalamy

Email: takalamy@gmail.com

Participants: Sara Al Mutlaq, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts. Architecture

Naeema Al Hazza, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, Bio Chemistery (Major) Cinema Studies (minor)

Haifa Al Sudairy, Georgetown Universtiy, Washington, DC, Middle Eastern Studies, focus on Women in Islam

Rotana Tarabzouni, University of California, Los Angeles, Masters in Communication Management, minor in Music

Sarrah Yousoef, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Economics major, Religion Minor

Razan Al Azzouni, School of Museum Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, Fine Arts and Art History, Studio Arts Degree in Sculputre and paper making

Saja Kamal, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts

Dania Al Rashed, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, Journalist and Political Science

Dalal Al Bwardi, Grad Student, Emerson College, Integrated Marketing Communications

 

I’m looking forward to hearing more from the Takalami initiative!succeed

Layla

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  • RawyahSeptember 8, 2014 - 3:09 pm

    I liked the idea and message until I watched the youtube video.

    Rich girls who are not proud enough to speak in their mother language and do not even pronounce their names in Arabic. The setting, the name of the mission in English letters. All of this is “foreign” to my culture and my identity as a Saudi.

    Maybe they wanted a few claps and cheers from the western world they live in. I am sure they will get that because the west likes it when Saudi women reject their heritage. I have seen it and experienced it.
    But the common Saudi women will never have any connection with this youtube video.

    When Manal Alshreef posted her first videos in Arabic and directed it to Saudi people, there was a great response and support from the very poor to the wealthy, the uneducated and the college professors and ministers. But when she gave her speech in Oslo, many turned against her and those who embraced her before, distanced themselves from her. Her mission lost its power when she distanced herself from her people. Just like those girls in the Takalamy video.

    I have seen this video twice now on youtube and facebook. But all those who are talking about it are non-Saudis. Not a single Saudi friend or relative knows about it because no one cares or have heard about them. Which just proves my point that their message is not directed to the Saudi people.ReplyCancel

    • A.September 9, 2014 - 11:00 pm

      As a Western academic whose research is focused on the developments of education in Saudi Arabia, I totally agree with Rawyah.Very well said. Although I somehow appreciate the video, all in all I believe this stuff is designed to please the West. And Saudis don’t need to please the West, they have their rich and unique traditions, they can move forward at their own pace. Saudi ladies studying abroad represent about 20-22% of the female student population, and not all of them resemble the ladies in this video. Saudis, find your own way. No neeed to become American-style Saudis!ReplyCancel

  • EvaSeptember 9, 2014 - 1:31 am

    Why are they not wearing hijab?ReplyCancel

    • ReginaSeptember 10, 2014 - 2:38 pm

      Eva.. because they have chosen not to. And this might supprise you but they dont have to explain themselfs to anyone!ReplyCancel

      • LaylaSeptember 17, 2014 - 4:39 am

        Spot on Regina! Thanks for replying to that one!ReplyCancel

  • dalalSeptember 9, 2014 - 1:48 am

    While I agree that not necessarily the women interviewed represent all Saudi women but I do think they represent the new generation which is moving on.

    I want to point out that there is no way to make such a video and and please everyone. So there will always be someone (normally another Saudi) to criticise and come up and to say ” this is not me”
    “she does not represent me”.

    I have heard this thousand times over and it’s getting old.

    Everyone represents their own self.ReplyCancel

    • ReginaSeptember 10, 2014 - 2:43 pm

      Very true. Its not they language they speak thats important. Its the message!ReplyCancel

  • EstelleSeptember 11, 2014 - 8:09 am

    Asalamu alaikum,

    I agree with sister Rawyah.

    Also, I am perplex about this clivage of two worlds that seems to never want to meet : the people who focus on the (some parts, let’s be honest) religion and the ones rejecting (or at least distancing themselves) the religion because they want to be seen as “modern” or because they consider that they are “moving backward”.

    Alhamdulelah I have met Saudi women that are outspoken, intelligent, working women, successful and determined in their lives but who are also seeking knowledge in their Deen and following the Sunnah of the Rasool of Allah.

    If we follow the Sunnah, how could we be ever considered as backward or close-minded ?

    Islam is a religion that is taking the Good wherever it is and rejecting the bad wherever it is.

    It is a religion that is seeking knowledge in all topics, from sciences to arts, because it is getting us closer to Allah.

    And so much more …

    I believe that we do not have to look nor act like non-muslims to be considered modern.

    Of course, these women may be muslims or not, practising or not. And I respect them all whatever choices they made.

    What I find disturbing is this unique vision of a modern Saudi society which should necessarily use the codes of the West and looks like the West to be acknowledge.

    And this is not only a question of religion. It is using the white people of the West as a standard to follow. A norm to be. The good old colonialist mentality …

    Everything else, that is different, is then considered primitive.

    “I cover my hair not my brain” – anonymous

    I would like to finish with the mention of the last Khutbah I attended where Mufti Aasim Rashid (from BC, Canada) made a speech that was really beneficial to me. And I would like to mention it because it changed my opinion about the flying Muttawa.

    To resume …

    We, Muslims, must not speak ill, ever, of another muslim. Backbitting, mocking, criticizing, etc.

    However, we, Muslims, must also stand against any wrong action commit by Muslims or non Muslims.

    Both are parts of making Jihad by the way (little add from mysef not the Mufti).

    How can we meet these two positions at once ? By taking position against a wrong action but not by degrading the person.

    Who knows, these Muttawa may pray, fast, recite the Quran, make charity and more.

    In another situation, they may make us cry by their goodness.

    Who are we to know who is good and who is not ?

    But at the same time, when they did what they did, we all must declare such action absolutely unacceptable within the standards of Islam. And this action must be judged and, yes, punishment have to be done. Shariah must be applied. Saudi Arabia is a muslim country after all.

    And what was the Shariah at the time of the Khalifa of Umar bin Khattah (RA) for example ? Let’s take only one example. A man came to Umar (RA) because he has been harmed in a unjust manner, in egypt, by the son of a Sahabi. Umar (RA) then gave a stick to this man and said to him in front of the very person who harmed him, “do to him what he did to you”. By seeing his rights respected and the justice been made, the man prefered to forgive the one who harmed him injustly and reverted to Islam.

    Maybe it is time for us to remember our Shariah.

    Maybe it is time for us to remember to please Allah and not the people.

    Do I make any sense ?

    I was really mad at the story of the flying Muttawa, at the point that my blood was boiling inside my veins, but now all I can see is the deep need of education that we all need. As a Ummah.

    You, me, she, he, we.

    Wa alaikum salam,ReplyCancel

  • JeanSeptember 14, 2014 - 4:10 am

    These girls are young. I guess the big question how they will translate their words into their lives as they grow older. Or will they fall back just to simply please others.

    It becomes more difficult if they choose to have children. Enrichening, but for sure in SA, more complex and difficult.ReplyCancel

  • LaylaSeptember 17, 2014 - 4:41 am

    Was it maybe missed that the purpose for the takalamy women was not to represent ALL Saudi women, but specifically, the young Saud women who are studying in the USA on their own? I’ve tried to point that out in the text by highlighting it.ReplyCancel

    • EstelleSeptember 19, 2014 - 4:59 pm

      Asalamu alaikum Dear Layla,

      that is the thing. The young Saudi women who are studying in the USA are not all like this at all. I found the video lacking to show diversity.

      Wa salam,ReplyCancel

      • LaylaSeptember 19, 2014 - 8:55 pm

        Salaam Estelle, you do have a point. Perhaps those others did not feel comfortable to share in this way and that’s why it was difficult to find them for the video?ReplyCancel

        • EstelleSeptember 20, 2014 - 9:40 am

          Asalamu alaikum Dear Layla, giving excuses is a beautiful thing (no irony here, I refer of course to the well know hadith on the subject) and I can’t but approve that. Allahu halem. I just hope that it is the case and not that they were not even asked. Maybe time for you to shoot your own videos ? ;) I’m sure you will do a great job making portraits of saudi women. Wa salam,ReplyCancel

          • LaylaSeptember 20, 2014 - 6:06 pm

            I have a dream to make a photo project with Saudi women in the future :) inshallah

  • KateSeptember 18, 2014 - 2:33 pm

    Asalamwalaykum Layla,

    I stumbled across your blog whilst researching expats views of life in the Middle East and have been surprised at some of your postings.

    It’s quite sad to see articles such as the one above which seem to idealize Western culture and most especially University Education in the US/UK.

    You may be unaware of the high levels of sexual harassment that female students are subjected to whilst studying at these institutions as they are rarely reported on but do happen on a regular basis.

    Saudi gender segregation may appear old-fashioned or archaic but as it’s based on Islamic Principles we should accept the wisdom behind it and celebrate it’s wonderfully liberating effect of unchaining women from the sexualised environment of the Western Education System.

    There really is so much more for young Saudi women to aspire to than sitting in a lecture hall surrounded by men and calling it freedom!ReplyCancel

  • FANovember 6, 2014 - 9:54 pm

    Assalamu aleykum,

    As a revert living in Saudi Arabia I want to say few words on the above article and video. I surely can’t think of the above as “inspiring, empowering, forward-thinking, hopeful, enlightening”, it’s left quite opposite feelings in me, as I’ve “been there” in this “forward-thinking” society and Alhamdulillah I left this life that was taking me backwards and here I am a muslim woman now, left my western country and moved here to a muslim country and live and celebrate my freedom by practicing my religion and wearing my abaya, hijab and niqab, which I put on by my own will! I liberated myself from this western lifestyle with it’s self-worshiping habbits, and now I worship only The Almighty God and follow the Quran and Sunnah of Muhammad (salalahu aleyhi wasallyam). And im not alone who has the same story, so while this bunch of Saudi women who are complaining that they are lacking freedom in their life there are many western reverts who are eagerly leaving this western lifestyle and move to this “freedom restricted” place like Saudi Arabia. Let this bunch of Saudi women who didn’t appreciate this great gift from Allah Islam move to the west and never come back so they don’t poison the rest of the society with their mindset! And let those who strive for Allah Almighty and who wish to worship him alone following His rules completely move here so we have a beautiful and complete muslim society!
    It is the law of Allah: “If, you turn away, He will replace you with another nation. They will not be (disobedient) like you.” Quran 47:38.ReplyCancel

  • […] protected” by the men of their family/society. I recommend you read this Blue Abaya post: Takalamy; A conversation with young Saudi females, you will be very (positively) surprised. I’ve read that a Saudi woman must have mahram’s […]ReplyCancel

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