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My Experiences in Saudi Arabia
P Sudheesh Kumar
While I am thankful to Saudi Arabia where I worked for many years, which also gave me a prosperous life, there are also questions that come to my mind when I see my friends from the Muslim community in Kerala behave here. I have some of the best friends from the community and many of them have helped me in times of need, some times more than my own relatives and friends. This is not in any way meant to hurt them but only to raise some questions, which they themselves are not conscious of. Though not Islam by religion I have great respect for many of the teachings in Islam and this write up is not to be misunderstood that way either. This is an eye opener about how an Islamic state works in comparison to a state where the Hindus are in a majority.
While living in Saudi Arabia I have often wondered about this, the freedom the other religions have in India, as a matter of right. The unsaid beauty of the Hindu mind. For every day, almost every hour, in Saudi Arabia a non-Mulsim is reminded of his faith. The Muslims have the Green Card and the non-Muslims Red Card and every time the card is produced to the religious police, Muthava, they show a scornful face. Some times at least they misbehave as well. During the days of 'noyambu', fasting, the Hindus are not permitted to eat either, as a compulsion. People fear to cook or eat even in privacy as it brings stringent punishment if found out. Beating with the cane is a normal practice. For their own survival most of the victims keep silent, not telling about the experience to friends and relatives back home. There have been stray cases where Kerala Muslim friends have informed the local police about defaulters, Kerala Hindus.
While majority of the Muslim friends are loving and considerate there are few who find a vicarious pleasure in persecuting the non-believers, I once heard one of them tell 'how can they be allowed to enjoy like this in 'our own land' …' that about a Hindu who violated the Islamic code in his own room. There are no avenues for entertainment in the country, like cinema theatres, but people including the local population see these in their TV sets. Such violations are not punished. Keeping images of Hindu gods is illegal and those caught doing that are punished, flogged. Many of the Hindus hide the images of gods and their religious books with great effort. Taking it out just to pray, then hiding them beneath the clothes or other materials. The Muthavas can enter anywhere to search and every one fears them. To have the lungi tied up as in Kerala is a violation, also wearing shorts, exposing body parts is un-Islamic, how many ignorant Hindus get caned on the road. Women whatever the faith have to follow the Islamic dress code. During the call for prayer everyone has to stop working, shops down shutters, not doing that invites flogging. Muslims violating these are forcibly taken to mosques. It gives rest but is compulsory. It is said that earlier there was a practice of stopping vehicles as well.
There can be freak cases as well. As a friend said there was a case some time back when some one informed the Muthavas about a Malayalam cassette. The famous song 'Eeswaranorikkal virunninu poyi … rajakottarathil vilikkathe …' was translated by some mischievous Malayali as 'Allah' (Esawaran) going to 'Beg' and this promptly reported. The shocked Muthavas raided all shops, ceased the cassettes and destroyed them. At another incident heard in Riyadh the Malayali Hindus were once having an 'Ona Sadya' in a hotel. Complete with Mundu, Settu Mundu and Vazhayila. As they were devouring the hot Sambar came in the Muthavas. They caned the squatting 'sadyawallahs' and threw away the mysterious looking banana leaves. Some one had informed the Muthavas that it is a pagan cult in India where some infidel god is being worshipped. The Arab Muthavas had no idea what all this meant and came the attack. Some times Hindus themselves report such things to put others in to trouble. And no wonder the smart Keralites have their own 'addas' where they distill alcohol and consume it, also sell some to the Saudis themselves. Many have become rich over night in the teetotaler's kingdom.
Interestingly things are different in areas under the Americans. It is another world within the Islamic kingdom where everything is permitted and the Saudi police stand guard. The arrogant Americans are also often seen violating the codes and no charges are levied on them. Once an young American lady from the US military drove in to a shopping mal, clad scantily, when a Muthava, religious police, tried to cane her. The lady was furious and beat up the Muthava with her chappals and drove away in her car. Though the police chased her she escaped in to the American enclave and no action was possible. These are cases where the religious edicts become question marks. But in the case of Hindus and non-believers from different countries the punishment is strict. It has to be said the same treatment awaits the local people including the royalty. In fact the Arabs across the region prefer Indians, Muslim or Hindu, to Pakistanis, all of whom are Muslims. It is a love beyond the barriers of religion. It is common for them to come to the rescue of the Hindus when they are in trouble. Some of the Kerala Muslim friends willing to go to any extend to help out the Hindus. The others are rare exceptions. But the question remains, how much freedom people enjoy in a Hindu environ and how much in a Muslim environ. This hurts one when some of the Kerala Muslims living in a majority Hindu state make more and moiré demands from the majority.