CHARLOTTE, NC, May 14, 2014 — Until you have lived under Sharia law, it is difficult to relate to the oppressive denial of freedoms we so often take for granted in the United States.
Recently I received an e-mail from a former colleague who has been living in Saudi Arabia for over 12 years. He was writing to tell a story about how he had been arrested and detained for more than five hours for a seemingly harmless gesture of friendship.
The incident reminded me of a similar situation I personally experienced while living in Saudi Arabia, and it occurred to me that briefly sharing these events might create further awareness of the medieval societies we are dealing with in the Middle East.
A former British colleague, aka Pete, was working in an office with an Indian secretary who was a Muslim woman. As required, she wore the traditional black abaya and head covering though she was not veiled.
One afternoon, Pete received a call from his secretary’s husband informing him he had to work late and asked if he could give his wife a ride home.
Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive, so it is frequently a great inconvenience for them to do even simple errands that are routine in this country.
My associate and his secretary left work, got in the car and started home, not realizing that a mutaween (Saudi religious policeman) had spotted them and began to follow.
While driving along the four-lane corniche highway which runs along the coast, Pete’s cell phone rang, so he pulled over to answer it. It was then that the mutaween pulled in front of Pete’s car to block him from driving forward.
Pete put his car in reverse, drove around the policeman and headed to a compound where he could find someone who spoke English and Arabic to report his pursuer.
Rather than helping Pete, the compound official called local police who came and arrested him for driving a female who was not a relative.
During his five hour ordeal at the police station, the religious policeman and other police officers laughed and joked, all while documenting the incident without asking Pete a single question.
Finally the husband was called to the station, along with Pete’s Saudi sponsor, to verify the story. In order to be released, Pete was forced to sign a quarter-inch thick crime report written entirely in Arabic stating he would never give a ride to any women in the future.
Preposterous as it might sound, I can relate a similar incident in which I was also detained on two occasions for simply taking pictures. The first happened while snapping a shot of a palace that was being built just beyond the walls of my compound.
For that I spent three hours sitting in 120-degree heat in my care while three different law enforcement agencies tried to determine proper procedures. Following that I was taken to jail and held for two more hours before signing a report similar to Pete’s that I would never again take pictures in Saudi Arabia.
The following day, I was stopped again because I had been reported by a local citizen to the Saudi police who saw me taking pictures of a mosque prior to the first arrest.
This time I, too, had to be vindicated by my sponsor before being released.
Admittedly, I was naïve for taking a picture of a mosque. Pete, on the other hand, has been living in Saudi for more than a decade and never gave the idea of giving a female co-worker a ride home a second thought.
The problem with Sharia law is that the rules are constantly changing and always subject to interpretation.
The same is true of Islam. Until Western minds begin to think in a like manner, we will never be able to cope with Islam and Sharia in a reasonable manner.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com).
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