Never Forget Who You Are

My dearest daughter and son,

While you’re both fast asleep in your beds napping, I’m thinking about the two of you, here in a hospital bed waiting for spinal surgery. All kinds of thoughts are running through my head. You both are always my first concern and I can’t help thinking of what were to happen to you if something God forbid, went terribly wrong in the operation and you would be left without a mother. All mothers have probably thought about this scenario at some point, what would happen to their kids. So I need to write this “letter” , just in case the unlikely happens and you’re orphaned and for a peace of mind before surgery.

I want you to know how much I love you, but I can’t find the words to describe it. I want you to know I will always love you. I want to be sure you always know that you are both very special and beautiful to me. If you were to have to live your life without me here there are some important things I want you to mom

What worries me a lot is you living in Saudi Arabia without me, which is especially worrisome when it comes to you my dearest daughter. As a Saudi girl and woman you are going to face many many hardships in your life and even more so if you live in Saudi Arabia. Unless the laws change, legally you will never become an adult, a man will always make the ultimate decisions in your life. Right now it is your father, but later on, ironically it could be your baby brother that becomes your “guardian”. I want you to go out and see the world, travel and learn new things. You will find out why I love traveling so much, and it will open your eyes and your mind.

My deepest concern is that this country and the current mahram system will hold you as a prisoner both in the physical but also the emotional sense. You my daughter, unlike your brother when he becomes of legal age, will not be able to freely leave this country to study or explore the world. You won’t even be able to visit your family and relatives in Finland if your guardian, whoever it is, decides so. Naturally I have discussed and agreed with your father that you’ll always be able to visit Finland, your other home country. If God forbid, something happens to him and your guardian would be someone else from the family, I fear it’s highly likely you won’t be allowed to leave freely anymore for reasons I’m not going to into now.

This is why it’s of utmost importance that you know who you are and where you come from. You’re just as much Finnish as you are Saudi. Never ever forget that. Don’t let people tell you that there’s something ‘wrong’ or bad about your mothers culture and country. Know that you should be absolutely proud of your Finnish roots, just as much as your Saudi heritage. Finland is the world leader on so many arenas, always making it into the top ten lists when comparing countries worldwide. What makes this even more remarkable is that Finland is a nation of only 5 million people. So you can and should be very very proud.

Learn about Finnish history, how we fought ourselves free from the Russian rule on our own and how the entire nation came forth together to build it again from scratch. Know what SISU means. Sisu, ultimate resilience and perseverance, is what got Finns through tough times and how we survived hardships. My Finnish sisu has helped me through a lot too and I can already see it in both of you. Never give up on your dreams, you can do anything and become anything you want to. If Saudi Arabia does not give you that option then you should go to your other home country to pursue your dreams.

Never become anyone’s puppet or doormat. You should respect your parents and elders and take their advice, but remember that respect goes both ways. Whatever you wish to do and what makes you happy should make your parents happy too. Don’t fall into the trap of people telling you something is ‘haram’ or unislamic, when in reality it’s your Saudi patriarchal, tribal culture speaking. It’s of utmost importance for you know the difference between these two.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you’re a ‘bad’ Muslim,or that your mother was not a ‘real’ Muslim, or an infidel. You are not a bad Muslim. Your mother is not an infidel just because she wasn’t born Muslim or doesn’t dress or act in a certain way. Only God is your judge, not your relatives or your neighbors, always remember that. Don’t be afraid to use your brain and find out, this is what God tells us in the Quran. There is so much ignorance surrounding us here in Saudi Arabia that we need to learn to ignore it and see the true Islamic values from the tribal mentality.

My dear daughter, don’t ever let a man decide on what you wear, ever. You are not owned by anyone, you are your own person and your thoughts matter. Whatever you choose to wear is your decision alone. Respect the culture and abide by the laws, but never, ever let anyone force you. Family honor is not dependent on what you wear, or who you marry; everyone is responsible for their own actions.

My dear son, growing up as a Saudi male in Saudi Arabia you will live a privileged life, much easier than your sisters in many ways. You will on the other hand be handed big responsibilities at a young age. You might be taught that you are to watch over your sister. Never take advantage of that situation. Respect goes both ways. As much as you will watch over and protect her, she will watch over and protect you. You are equal, never forget that. She is just as capable of making decisions on her own as you are. Never undermine her decisions or feelings, or underestimate her capabilities. Always support each other, you are a team, not enemies.

Read and learn about our religion, don’t blindly follow what those before you did, for maybe they were wrong, as God clearly states in the Quran. This means that you should find out for yourself, use common sense and not accept something just because a certain person told you so. If I hadn’t used my brains, followed my heart and listened to common sense, I would never have found Islam. What you will see happening around you is people turning their brains off when it comes to religion. Always keep yours switched on.

As much as I am proud of my Finnish culture, I want you to know that I came to this country because I wanted to learn about and experience the Saudi culture. Most expats will say they came for money. I did not come for money, but to explore. You will learn that your mother did a lot of things differently from others, and that is because she is different. And that’s not a bad thing at all. You, my children are also different. Don’t be ashamed of being different. Take pride in your mixed heritage and don’t let anyone tell you either culture is better than the other.

I want you to also learn about your Saudi roots and history. Explore and get to know the heritage and traditions of different regions. You will be amazed at how colorful and beautiful clothing people used to wear, it wasn’t all a sea of black until very recently. Don’t fall into the trap of the rotten tribal attitudes and thinking of one region or tribe superior to another. Be proud of your Najdi roots, but in a healthy way, not to the point of mocking others. And if you ever hear someone using the term “tarsh bahar,” vomit of the sea, when referring to a person, then do your mother a favor and punch them in the face.

As a Finn, it’s very important to me to keep in touch with nature and animals. Both have always been a big part of my life. The nature and wildlife is very different and beautiful in its own way in both your home countries and you are privileged to be able to experience them both. Always help and be kind to animals. You will find out why your mother is more attached to animals than to many humans. A pet will love you unconditionally, they will be faithful and loyal and never leave or hurt you. God created all animals, they are not unclean to have as pets or evil in way. If anyone tells you otherwise that is superstitions and culture talking, not religion.

I have so much to say but little time. I hope both of you are dreaming beautiful dreams right now, and when you wake up you will continue to dream, and never give up those dreams even when you grow up from your little tiny baby beds.

With my deepest love,
Your mom

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  • Ciara HigginsJune 16, 2014 - 1:30 pm


  • Jodi Braithwaite StrongJune 16, 2014 - 1:44 pm

    Beautifully said. I trust your surgery will be successful and you’ll have many more years in which to pass on these values.ReplyCancel

  • Karen CrociJune 16, 2014 - 2:50 pm

    And now, my dear, you are in surgery. David and I are praying that God give you, A, your children, and your family Peace. None of us can control the outcome, but we can keep you in our loving thoughts. As one who has been through neck surgery, I have been in your shoes. Now you are in mine. And, just as I did, you will wake up, with so much less pain that when you went in, see the face of the one you love, and you will begin your recovery. Mark my words, my dearest friend and sister, Peace and God are with you now.ReplyCancel

  • Mustafa YarowJune 16, 2014 - 3:15 pm

    enough said , get well soon , believe
    me , you will be alright. i have big faith in allah.ReplyCancel

  • KommentoiJune 16, 2014 - 4:40 pm

    Saako kysyä, että mikä vaiva on kyseessä? Syöpä? Jumalan siunausta joka tapauksessa. Ikäviä tälläiset jutut. Rukoilen puolestasi. Toivottavasti elät vielä pitkän elämän.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaJune 22, 2014 - 3:52 am

      No ei onneksi syopa, leikattiin niskasta valilevy joka painunut pitkalle selkaytimeen ja halvausriskin takia se jouduttiin kiireesti leikkamaan. Kaikki meni onneksi hyvin!ReplyCancel

  • RawyahJune 16, 2014 - 4:58 pm

    This was a very touching letter Layla. I hope you will get well soon and that your children will always be your pride and joy.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaJune 22, 2014 - 3:50 am

      Thank you Rawyah, I’m home now and alhamdulillah all went well.ReplyCancel

  • Sadia Monem KarimJune 16, 2014 - 5:16 pm

    Get well soon. Insha AllahReplyCancel

  • Sanna VenhoJune 16, 2014 - 6:13 pm

    Here comes the waterfalls. see ya soon.ReplyCancel

  • Rose Marie HefflinJune 17, 2014 - 11:29 am

    I was in tears when I read it. I’ll keep you in my prayers…….<3

  • TaraJune 17, 2014 - 11:41 am

    Amazing and beautiful your children are the luckiest kids in the world to have you as mother! They should proud of you and I can safely say your husband must be too.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaJune 22, 2014 - 3:47 am

      Awww thanks Tara, i hope my kids think so too :)ReplyCancel

  • AgnieszkaJune 17, 2014 - 8:07 pm

    Hello Layla,
    I hope surgery went well and you are feeling better. Me also as a typical mother first would worry about kids not myself.
    I love your blog. We are coming soon to Riyadh for work so I wanted to thank you for writing so beautiful and informative. Your blog became my encyclopedia arabica :-)).
    All the best, get well and I may se you soon somwhere at the party in DQ -:).

    • LaylaJune 22, 2014 - 3:43 am

      Hi Agnieszka! Thank you for the kind words, I’m happy to hear the blog has been of so much use to you!
      Are you going to be living in the DQ as well? Maybe we can meet up sometime :)ReplyCancel

      • AgnieszkaJune 22, 2014 - 8:33 pm

        I’m glad that you are better. Yes we will be coming in August and we will be living in DQ. I would love to meet. I do not know anyone there yet.

  • RhynJune 18, 2014 - 8:04 am

    Hope your surgery went well, Layla.
    And your children read what you wrote.
    I can’t help but become emotional while reading your letter, though I dont have any kids but I feel your emotional turmoil. I wish you recuperate well and continue caring for your family as well as writing fluidly your thought.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaJune 22, 2014 - 3:41 am

      Thanks Rhyn, doing better already and surgery went well. Inshallah they will get to read this letter when they are older.ReplyCancel

  • whyJune 18, 2014 - 2:28 pm

    why do you live in Saudi, where your children will face all these restrictions, especially your daughter? it’s your responsibility to bring them out of there. It’s your fault if your daughter gets abused by her saudi relatives.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaJune 22, 2014 - 3:40 am

      It’s not as simple as you may think, and I’m not going to get into that in detail anyways..However I find it really unfair and harsh to say ‘it’s your fault if your daughter gets abused by her saudi relatives”. I’m doing my best, and her Saudi relatives are not abusive by any means!ReplyCancel

      • Michelle atkinsonJune 28, 2014 - 3:01 pm

        Ignore Layla, people thrive on getting attention any way they can xReplyCancel

  • Helen Christine BloomquistJune 18, 2014 - 3:27 pm

    Prayers are with you for a full recovery, from Texas. My father’s family left homes in Norway and Sweden to start new lives in America. Always keep connected with “roots”. Not long ago, two of here were contacted by a cousin in Sweden. I was filled with joy to learn that my grandfather’s oldest brother (different mothers) had remained in Sweden and our new found cousin lives less than 10 Km from where my grandfather was born. I am also thankful that the education systems in that area insist that students be proficient in multiple languages. I wish that the U.S. would do the same. May you and your children have many years together, and may all your dreams be fruitful!ReplyCancel

  • Shadia MohsinJune 18, 2014 - 8:34 pm

    So well said. You have taught me something today. Thank you…. I feel inspired from this letter xReplyCancel

  • Umm GamarJune 19, 2014 - 3:21 pm

    These are the words I would tell my daughter. I hope you are fully recovered n continue to care n raise your children into wonderful human beings Inshallah!ReplyCancel

    • LaylaJune 22, 2014 - 3:38 am

      Umm Gamar, thank you and all the best to you and your daughter :)ReplyCancel

  • Charline BrownJune 20, 2014 - 11:42 pm

    I hope you recover quickly. This beautiful letter to your children is exactly what I wish for my granddaughters that are half Saudi and half USA. I so enjoy your website and have felt comfort in many of the posts as I worry about my family and friends half a world away – in Saudi Arabia.

    I have included you and yours in my prayers and will be anxiously awaiting your posts on Facebook.

    With prayers of healing,
    Charline Clithero-Hadley Brown (Kim Mominah’s Mother)ReplyCancel

    • LaylaJune 22, 2014 - 3:37 am

      Hi Charline,
      thank you so much for writing to me, I’m recovering at home, hubby is taking care of me and the kids :)
      All the best to you and you whole family!ReplyCancel

  • AamaniJune 21, 2014 - 5:36 am

    Hi Layla, get well soon.ReplyCancel

  • Hj RadenJune 21, 2014 - 5:01 pm

    Dear Layla, may Allah make you well and healthy again. I can begin to understand what you are going through having lived in Riyadh for the past 10 months.

    Perhaps the solution would be for your children to have dual citizenship?

    Just my two cents.

    Best regards.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaJune 22, 2014 - 3:35 am

      hi there, they do have dual citizenship but that won’t would not mean my daughter could still leave at free will, inside saudi she is a saudi citizen, needs guardian for everything :/ReplyCancel

  • LaylaJune 22, 2014 - 3:45 am

    Hi there Bilkis, thank you for the prayers, surgery went well alhamdulillah now at home recovering, still in lots of pain but getting better day by day.ReplyCancel

  • minkaJune 22, 2014 - 10:17 am

    Wow. I am truly sorry to read this. God speed with the surgery and whatever condition caused it to be necessary. Heal, so your daughter’s freedom won’t be forever taken away. Alive, you can act to protect her.

    I spent some years growing up in the middle east and it left me proud to be a woman of the north. Never, never, never for me – the life of a middle eastern woman. I saw that my freedom was my most precious possession from the example of the oppression of women in the village. Never, never, never for me. Never. And of all the western women who followed their hearts into the middle east you have always seemed the one who maintained a free spirit. You made it seem possible. But what I read in this letter is that unless circumstance break perfectly, it is impossible. You lost freedom by choice but that may have dark consequences for the one you should most protect, your daughter. You are right to be afraid.

    Good luck, I wish you all the healing I can muster.ReplyCancel

  • NabilahzahraaJune 27, 2014 - 4:23 pm

    Assalamualikum Layla , please don’t worry , Allah is with you . In Shaa Allah you will have safe and speedy recovery .ReplyCancel

  • KateJuly 2, 2014 - 6:39 am

    This is a tender letter, and beautiful. I also think you’re VERY brave.
    Because, realistically, the worst isn’t you dying. The worst is your husband dying while you and the children are in Saudi. This is the main reason why my husband and I moved once we decided to have children. We spend our time between the US and Europe, and his family visits us or we meet in Dubai. Everything else is too risky for me (I’m from the US originally). People call us paranoid, but my husband’s sister made an … unfortunate marriage, and that really hit my husband hard. He doesn’t ever want that for our daughters.
    I lived in Saudi for 3 years, and I LOVED it. People are always surprised by that. But, one of the reasons I could enjoy it so much is that I knew it wouldn’t be forever. Plus, I was risking only my own situation – not my children. Had my husband died in a freak accident, I could have potentially made it to a US embassy. But, with children, obviously only I would make it out (unthinkable). And my husband’s family is incredible. They’re not ogres. I would actually love it if they came to live with us! They’re awesome. But, even so, I’d be way too paranoid to risk my children’s future living in Saudi. And I hate saying that because I did have a wonderful experience living there. But, there’s no other way for me to say it – the laws suck, and until they change them, we’re not going back.ReplyCancel

  • PetraJuly 2, 2014 - 4:24 pm

    Pikaista paranemista, kirje lapsillesi nostatti kyyneleet silmiin, todella koskettava kirjoitus. Toivottavasti paaset pian perheesi luo sairaalasta! Tiedan osittain tunteesi vaikka Turkissa tyttareni elamaa ei samalla lailla saadella kuin siella, olin itse kaksi vuotta sitten leikkauksessa ja ajatukset kiersivat leikkauspöydalla lahinna niiden ajatusten ymparilla etta mita jos en heraakaan ja miten tyttö sitten parjaa?ReplyCancel

  • T.July 7, 2014 - 10:01 pm

    I hope you speak Finnish with your children.ReplyCancel

  • LarissaAugust 9, 2014 - 11:38 pm

    This was beautiful. I found myself in this text and have thought about most of what you have mentioned.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousAugust 24, 2014 - 7:51 pm

    Dear Aiti (and every mother in her situation)

    I hope your worries be assured..Saudi society wouldn’t condemn your kids, they are Saudis by law (Jus sanguinis)! Like Western region cities as Jeddah for example, hell even in Riyadh, kids with foreign moms are not treated differently and really from the bottom of my heart I hope society will never change their views on that for your kids sake- I think it’s quite the opposite they’d be praised for if the mother were from Western country (US.,Europe.. etc), maybe they’d be a bully target if the mother were from Asian countries.. I know SOCIAL HYPOCRISY)- I just hope they will do the same to us with Saudi mom and foreign dad! that’s whole level of sexism!!! I’m not Saudi by law and probably never will be.. I’m treated like a foreigner you once were before coming to this country even though I was born and raised here.. I’ve never been to my other home, or outside the country more than the summer..!! This would be problematic if your daughter decided to marry non-Saudi because her kids won’t benefit from her being one.. citizenship is only granted through the dad, not the mother.. if she did marry non-Saudi, society will probably tell her the same thing my mother been told “marry him, stay here but you’re on your own or go to his country”..!! I hope you’ll never worry about her falling in love with non-Saudi for that matter though I know your (or his) country will accept her with open arms..

    Praying for your surgery to go smoothly and for speed recovery :)ReplyCancel

    • LaylaAugust 25, 2014 - 11:32 am

      Thank you for the heartfelt letter, anonymous :)
      I can’t imagine how hard that situation you described must be for the mother, the foreign husband and the kids. I pray things change and the people who make these twisted laws see the true Islam and also start following it.

      All the best to you,


  • WomanInLoveWithSaudiManAugust 27, 2014 - 8:09 pm

    Hi Layla! I’ve been reading your blog since a long time ago but i stoped. I didn’t know about your surgery and all the changes in your life. I hope things get better and i trust everything will be all right!
    I write this for you and this go to the women who are in the same situation as me or in yours.
    I meet a saudi man since 2012 , we used to talk every day, every time, he asked me for marriage this year and i really love him, i feel he loves me too the same way.
    I don’t live in Saudi Arabia neither he does. We live in different countries now, he is studying and i am studying too.
    He told me if we got married i should live in Saudi Arabia, also become a muslim. I don’t know his family, he doesn’t know mine, also he doesn’t know my country and i haven’t gone to Saudi Arabia yet.
    He has to ask a permission so we can get married. I am so afraid of the changes my life will go through after we get married.
    I would like to know Layla how was your life after getting married, also i would like some women who had pass through the same situation share with me her experience and knowledge, it is really important for me. I really love this man and he really loves me too, but i don’t know anything about couple life in Saudi Arabia and how my life would be as a foreing.
    Thank you very much for any help you can give me.
    The best wishes for you Layla and your family, also for the readers of this blog.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaAugust 30, 2014 - 3:11 am

      Hi there, thank you for your message.I know someone who can help you with your issue better than I can..May I forward your email to them?ReplyCancel

  • Dee MangalinoNovember 12, 2014 - 10:09 am

    Your letter is great. it expresses what kind of parent you are. hope every parent is the same like you.

    I would like to imagine how your children would feel reading this letter, 20 or 30 years from now. T.T

    I wish and pray that they will grow-up smart and open-minded.
    The influence of Saudi society will surely take part of molding your children. I am sure that you won’t let your kids be dictated by others.

    I wonder how “WomanInLoveWithSaudiMan” she doing. Would also love to read the side of her story.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaNovember 12, 2014 - 12:22 pm

      Thanks so much for the kind words! It would be amazing if they really did read this letter in 20 years, and inshallah be able to tell me how they feel about it.ReplyCancel

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