Usually, as an expat, when you get your housing allowances, it’s very late. Therefore, you must have your money bag for rent ready to be able to move in. I used to live in an incredibly old neighborhood near IKEA in Riyadh. To our surprise, we discovered that we were neighbors with a prominent sheikh whose name is Shaikh Barraq. Now, I am not that religious. But living in that neighborhood for 3 years was a wonderful experience noting how different, peaceful, and diverse the perspectives of life are.
He has a masjid there and my house was closer to his masjid than his house. He is an old man in his late 80s and he is blind. But let me tell you, of the 3 years that I have been there, there was not a single prayer in the mosque that he did not pray! He leads the prayers himself. Everything is in Arabic, and no one speaks English. His sons may know a little and the surrounding neighbors may know some (none) but not enough to have a basic conversation in English.
The houses there have an old theme and element to it. It is super old and so is the architecture. It reminded me of Rahfa where layers of history lie in between the cracked walls of the homes but the designs and paint are still intact. Even the culture and vibes of the local workers and people living there are conversative. But what does conservative mean? Does it means following Islam? Please note that people who are ‘conservative’ do not consider themselves to be conservative. It is a term defined by a foreign group of people to label ‘people who actually follow Islam’ as such. But if you ask these same people if they view themselves as being conservative, they will say no. They will say that they are freely choosing what they want to do and that is following the rules of Islam. Their idea of what conservative is, is something so different and contrary to what mainstream western popular belief is when defining conservatism. For example, my ‘conservative’ landlord who lived below, who was the daughter of a scholar herself, had wonderful vibrant parties for her daughter’s graduation. These parties are filled with music that conforms to Islam and with dance. I learned new moves. They are not breaking the laws of Islam. This is all within the bounds of Islam. Since their society is segregated by gender like only people who are your immediate sibling, uncle, aunt, parents, spouse etc. can sit together and anyone else who is not, will sit with their own gender. In these parties and gatherings, the ladies are dressed head on with bullet proof makeup, high heels, and gorgeous dresses. When they exit the premises, they put on their full black Abaya which goes from the head to the toes and doesn’t define the shoulders. All of this is Islamic. The point is that no man should see the beauty of a woman who is not his. Therefore, in its most literal sense, her husband will be the first man to ever see her face and beauty with or without makeup. That’s why gender segregation exists in Islam and KSA. It has nothing to do with ‘women’s rights’ or ‘one gender being preferred over the other’. It is a logistical and practical approach to day-to-day activities. Fun is allowed in Islam incase anyone didn’t know. And in its most literal sense, not a single man would have seen any of the ladies. Like that’s so hard to do coming from a western or even a south Asian lifestyle but here, they do it perfectly with respect. They understand it and its their culture to not see anyone else’s wife or daughter…like everyone knows what to do and what the behaviors are. If you are coming to Saudi, you should see this magnificent piece of sociological aspect of Saudi culture and society.
Going Back to Shaikh Barraq
Shaikh Barraq used to give the Khatiras or short lectures and lead all the prayers including Tarawih, Eclipse and occasional Tahhujud prayers. We have had more eclipses in KSA than in the east coast of USA. Pretty cool! SB never misses any prayers, and he walks to and from his house to the masjid. His house is farther from the masjid than my house. Sometimes he uses a cane and sometimes he does not. Sometimes the garbage trucks move the dumpster in different directions and areas. Whenever my husband sees, him, he offers him a hand for help. But he is usually confident and fine on his own. Like people who have all senses can’t even pray all 5 prayers on time but people who have a disability are more alive and with it than those without. When I see him, it is like I am seeing a panoramic view of 1000 years ago. It’s just that vibe. This neighborhood is so old and from a distant, you can see the Olaya skyline. These two put together are tourist attractions, one that can’t be found on a traditional tourist savvy website or book.