by Dania Hanif
I’m adding my views from a non-Arab, expat point of view who was born and raised in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and moved back to the home country of Pakistan after finishing High school.
Being born and brought-up in Saudia, and having fared most of my adolescent life as an ardent and a fond traveler, with jaunts ranging from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere, the journey-judge within me, unequivocally, and in a rare unanimous unison of heart and the mind, has no qualms in arbitrating Saudia as the best and most beloved place among the manifold countries that I have set foot on.
Though the factors entailing the undisputed decision are many and more, I would strive to be as succinct as not to lose the succulence of my narrative.
1. School Life
Arguably the most reminiscent and cherished time in any person’s life are the years and memories they spend and make in their school-going age. I studied at Manarat Jeddah school.
Schools in Saudia were unlike anywhere else in the world; profuse with fun galore, the entire system was also rich in and rife with respect, values and culture.
In my stance, phenomenon and traits of self-discipline and self-integrity are synonymous perhaps with only Japan and Saudia.
I remember during our examination in the confinements of a Saudi-class, whether the invigilator was busy supervising the students or engrossed in a book, the students were so honest and meticulous in their approach that they would not go astray; and refrained from practices that were an antithesis to the very fabric on which their society was built.
The only thing out invigilator would say is “Allah is watching you even if I’m not” and no one would dare look elsewhere while giving the exam, not because of the fear of Allah but the core values and the love of pleasing Allah which was instilled in us from a very young age.
Teacher and mentors in those schools were more like our grown-up friends than imparting the roles of over-bearing and imposing adults. We used to, and still hold them in high and hoisted esteem.
It was a diurnal, terminal custom in our girls-exclusive school to exchange innocent yet affectionate kisses with our female teachers, who used to adore the act.
Though most of the teaching-staff was from across the Atlantic, they relished the unique nexus, admitting umpteen times that they have never been the recipient of this much love and respect elsewhere in the world where they taught.
They often used to tell us how girls in western countries were rude and disrespectful to the teachers whereas young girls in our school wouldn’t stop showering them with love and affection.
Unlike other countries where we often hear that people have been forced to convert their religion, in my school, it was very common to see western teachers converting to Islam by choice because they loved the teachings of the religion which was practiced by the people living there.
They loved how they were treated in that country with love, affection, dignity, and respect. Those assembly sessions in the morning used to be celebrated with congratulatory hugs and kisses and distribution of dates and sweets.
2. Weekends Start On Fridays Instead Of Saturday
Saving the Arabian and Persian diaspora of middle east, the rest of the world prefers Saturday and Sunday to be their merry-making days; the welcome reprieve where they repose and relax; with most people overdoing the lounging.
In Saudi Arabia, on the contrary, with Friday being the week-end and the congregational, Muslim-mass prayers beckoning later in the day, the holiday-drill is enjoyed thoroughly, but differently, the proceedings get underway with the family assembling around the hefty breakfast table and breaking bread together.
This is followed by the men swarming in religious unity to offer the special Friday summons. After the prayers, families re-unite over lunch and share with each other their foregone week’s activities. As the sun sets in the Arabian Sea and night envelopes the sky, a soothing cool settles down on the country.
Families then flock-out to the scenic beaches (often referred to as “Bahr” meaning seaside) or pay jaunts to the behemoth and state-of-the-art malls.
Family breakfasts on Friday (weekend) morning
An atypical culture of locals Saudis is to disconnect from the hustle-and-bustle of the city life. In an attempt to achieve this near-impossible feat in the modern-day frenzy, they find desolated spots, far from civilization, where the sole constituents could only be sand, mad, water and some vegetation.
Under the glittering night sky, they form a huddle and savor on the simple yet delightful Arabic treats of dates and a herbal tea called, Kahva.
The act naïve and crude as it might seem reflects fully and truly on the simplicity and humility of the otherwise arrogant locals.
3. Ramadan -The Month Of Fasting In Saudi Arabia)
The advent of Ramadan shines the Saudi landscape in its most magnificent glory. The holy Muslim month was the followers fast for a full calendar, offers a kaleidoscopic view of the country.
After a rigorous day’s work, the city stirs with life during the night time. Bathing in florescent lights and renewed spirits, there is a sense of celebration all around.
The markets, malls, and super-store stay up and alive till sunrise, attracting hordes and hordes of people.
Unlike other Muslim countries, the reduced working-hours in Saudi Arabia at offices, schools, and all other areas of work ensure that all and sundry could partake in the unusual nocturnal fiesta.
However, the most mesmerizing sight to behold is the time close to dusk; when the practitioner of the Islamic faith is on the cusp of eventually breaking their day-long fast.
The streets proffer an unprecedented sight of unity, compassion, and generosity. People returning late from work or stuck in traffic or just random strangers on the streets are treated by total and complete strangers, and the latter care neither for pain nor for the expense to ensure that their unknown guests are taken care of in the most magnanimous manner.
A sight that is impossible to see in any part of the world except Saudi Arabia.
The meekness and large-heartedness of the Saudis and the people living in Saudi Arabia which is not very often shown or spoken about are absolutely exemplary, leaving you inspired and awed.
4. Guests All-Year Long
Largely and strictly from a Muslim standpoint, the country has an astounding number of visitors that come for the holy pilgrimage year after year.
Paying host to the two most sacred and devout landmarks in the Muslim faith, the cities of Makkah and Madina have a tremendous outpouring, providing ample opportunities to the locals and the expats residing there to welcome their guests.
Our household was never empty of a devotee who had traveled to pay his respect to these sites. And when you welcome and entertain people in the comfort of your own house, you develop a sense of hospitality from a young age.
If at any time, you are privileged to be treated by a local Saudi, you would be humbled. From paying for your meals to being driven around and to the luxury of their domestic savories, they will ensure that all that is dear and important to them is shared with you.
When this much care and love is rendered your way, sometimes it becomes arduous to acclimatize to some other cold areas, literally and figuratively. It is not that one cannot afford or pay for his own expense, it is the gesture, the warmth, the regard one misses.
5. Gender Equality
All the raucous and spurious hue and cry the media propounds regarding the Arab women and expat women being mistreated is not only baseless.
It is down-right ludicrous. Saudi men put women on a pedestal and thus seek to ensure that they are treated with the utmost care, love, and respect.
There might be inequality among Saudi men and women in a jaundiced eye, but in all fairness, the inequality puts women as more superior to their male counterparts.
The respect Saudi men have for a female is reflected by the way they treat all women in public places,
I have never seen women waiting in queues along with men in malls, banks, or any other place because men in Saudi Arabia treat women with so much respect that once you leave the country and travel elsewhere it cringes your heart to see women being disrespected by men elsewhere.
Elsewhere, women are not given priority in public spaces.
Though one disadvantage of having lived in Saudi Arabia in early childhood is that the meaning and definition of respect is so deeply rooted in your head that it is difficult to find men in other countries who live up to the same benchmark that you’ve created in your head.
Having befriended many a local in my time there, I was up-close and personal with a lot of married couples. Never in my presence or absence did I hear that a case of domestic battery, or that a man has mistreated his wife.
I will cut this answer short and end this by stating the fact that I’ve been blessed to be raised in a country like this, and you must visit it once to know the actual reality before you judge it based on baseless news and social media posts.
Written By Dania Hanif Originally Published at Quora