There is something about this country I am not quite sure how to describe. It is almost as though it is a magical place, or like a secret that only few people get to experience. On the one hand Saudi is a modern country with the same technological advances and resources we have in Canada. There are amazing restaurants, art galleries, historical sights, markets, shopping, everything you could ever want or need. But on the other hand Saudi is stuck in the past. The reason why it is so hard to describe this feeling is because so many of the customs are, according to the worldview I come from, archaic and hard to comprehend. Especially with regards to the treatment of women and some of the practices that occur to protect family honour which I am sure you have all heard about. One prominent aspects that differs to Canada is the role religion plays in peoples lives.
Saudi is a spiritual place, you can almost feel it in the air. Perhaps it is because it is the birthplace of one of the worlds major religions. Or maybe it is because religion is involved in all aspects of Saudi life. Call to prayer occurs 5 times per day and is audible in every corner of public and private space. During prayer time, stores close and many areas become deserted as men go to pray in the mosque or in public and women find a private place to pray if the mosque nearby does not have a women’s section. Women are not allowed to pray in public, but men are. It is amazing to see for example, 20 men clustered in a group, all facing the direction of Mecca praying in unison. A friend told me about her experience going to Mecca every month with her husband to walk around the Kabaa that brought shivers to my arms. I was amazed to find out that a Muslim co-worker of mine and myself have the exact same views about what happens to people before they pass away despite having different ideas of God. I loved hearing when my housemate played for me the call to prayer that is sung in Mecca at the Friday noon prayer. It was absolutely beautiful.
During the noon and late afternoon prayer, women I work with find a quiet/private place they can to complete their prayers. Last week, I accidentally walked in on an OT praying in one of our storage rooms. I, of course felt terrible and immediately left. One thing I noticed the few seconds I was in there was the calm feeling that was present in the room. I could see my co-workers face, she was standing facing the door at the top of her prayer mat. Her eyes were closed and she looked completely at peace. I could sense that I had walked in on a private moment where she was communicating directly with God. It felt like I had a glimps into what people who follow Islam experience when they pray. The moment lasted seconds but it was extremely special to me and is vividly imprinted in my mind.
After a month of talking to many people who have lived here for a while they have noted that Saudi is also a place people come to for healing or during a period of transition in their life. It is possible that leaving their life at home behind and being away from their friends and family is what leads to the transition in their life. Or that people are already in the stage of transformation and that is what leads them here. Whatever the reason, I am not surprised that being in Saudi can lead to healing or transformation. There is more time to think than at home because many of the little things that occupy your time such as paying bills, cleaning and driving are done for you. There is more time to focus on yourself and reflect on your life.
There is something about this country that I am not sure how to describe. I hope I did justice to what I have noticed and that you now have a glimpse into how special and spiritual this country is.