Two Books from Saudi Arabia

While working on this blog over the past three years, many people have complained to me about the small number of available resources on Saudi Arabia in English, online and offline alike. I think this is one of the reasons behind the increasing popularity of Saudi blogs, mine included. The few books written about this country were mostly by foreigners, and they vary in type of content and quality. But for those interested in reading more about the Kingdom, this summer promises to carry at least two good titles.

girlsofriyadh The first book is Girls of Riyadh, a translation for the controversial novel by dentist Rajaa al-Sanea, who currently pursues a masters degree in the United States. When it was first published in 2005, the novel caused quite a stir for stepping in some taboo areas of the Saudi culture, and was banned for sometime. But today the smash hit is widely available that you can find it even in supermarkets and gas stations. After reading the Arabic edition I wrote that Banat al-Riyadh is certainly not good literature, but it is a good read nevertheless and the writer’s courage to tackle such sensitive issues and standing by her opinions later on are respectable and admirable.

The second book might prove to be even more controversial. Understanding Wahhabism is an attempt to reread Saudi history in the context of an interesting argument: Wahhabism is not a religious movement; Wahhabism is a political movement. The author is Khalid al-Dakhil, professor of sociopolitics at KSU. But this description is probably not accurate. Because al-Dakhil, in addition to other liberal academics such as Hatoon al-Fassi and Matruk al-Faleh, are not allowed to teach any courses. Why? That’s another post.

Al-Dakhik will fly soon to the States, where he will stay for a year teaching at Michigan State University, and some observers here say he could be moving for good. He said in a TV interview last month this is unlikely, but he did not brush off the option completely. It is a pity how this country can be so repulsive to its thinkers and artists.

UPDATE: Also worth mentioning is If Olaya Street Could Talk — Saudi Arabia: The Heartland of Oil and Islam by John Paul Jones, who was a Medical Corpsman during the Vietnam War, and came to the country thinking he would only stay here for a few months, but he stayed here for 25 years where he got married and raised a family. “For the thoughtful reader desiring a solution to the current conflict, this book should serve as a useful counterpoint to such works as “Hatred’s Kingdom,” “The Prince of Darkness,” as well as the titillation of a title like “Saudi Arabia Exposed,” the writer said in an email.

26 thoughts on “Two Books from Saudi Arabia

  1. Assalamu’alaikum,

    Still God Most High commands worship towards Mecca. I love the Holy places & naturally I want to love Saudi Arabia for being geographically blessed by God Most Great to house the Holy Places. I saw on TV how peaceful Mecca is, I yearn to perform hajj. The very history of the area.

    I honestly think Saudis could easily be a gem of a Muslim – mother tongue Arabic, Mecca is just next door. Foreigners had to learn Arabic getting right the pronunciation, save money for years just to cross the globe for hajj. You have it easy, Saudis. So naturally I’d love to hear fantastic news of you, you’re my dear (younger) brothers.

    I still have a beautiful image of Mecca & Madinah. I love it dearly. I don’t know about the things going on in the country much – all I’m asking is I just want to have a beautiful experience, image of the Holy Places.

    Can I have that. Thank you very much I appreciate it. I face that “supposed repulsive” country everyday for prayers, so… I could cry, I want to love that country so much. I truly do.

    Please forgive me if I hurt, I only want the best for everyone.

    May God Bless you always.

  2. In my opinion, Girls of Riyadh doesn’t represent the vast majority of the Saudi society. It only depicts some life aspects of the liberal part of that society which we can’t generalize on the whole society.

  3. Ahmed, are you sure Understanding Wahhabism will be allowed in Saudi Arabia? I doubt a book saying that wahhabism is not a religious movement but a political one will be allowed there. But in Saudi Arabia you never know!

    Nisa, good luck! I hope that when you visit Saudi Arabia you will not be disappointed. Remember what happened to Karim Abdul-Jabbar, the famous NBA player after visiting Mecca!

  4. Crispal, it is very unlikely that the book would be allowed here, but for those interested it won’t be very hard to obtain a copy if they wanted.

  5. May I suggest a book – that is already published-
    The title is: “If Olaya Street could Talk — Saudi Arabia: The Heartland of Oil and Islam ” by an American author: John Paul Jones; who lived in the country for 25 years during the seventies up till the year 2003. The book have had great reviews, an is part biographical, part travelogue and part commentary.
    This is not the “Abu Al Reesh” and “Edward Said” kind of books, so if you are after such propaganda you will be disappointed.


  6. Entropy, actually, just a few hours after publishing this post, John Paul Jones contacted me to point out to his book. I will update the post soon.

  7. John,

    Any ordinary Saudi, who knows a little bit about history, would immediately know that Madawi’s writings are biased. The reason is so clear and you have indicated it yourself by bringing up her family history.

    The best sources that talk about the history of Saudi Arabia are found in Kuwait .. that, at least, what the Saudi historians will tell you.

  8. Saudi Entrepreneur: I’m afraid I’ve grown jaded enough to not expect unbiased history from any source. The biases may differ. The biases may not even be known by the writer. But ‘real history’, I think, is found only through ‘averaging’ what’s being written, while realizing that all which remains unwritten is still part of the history, just the missing part.

    xyz: ‘Teenage diaries’ have a lot to offer, in fact. Two that come to mind, in English, are “Catcher in the Rye” and “Lord of the Flies”. Or, if you want something from girls’ diaries, try “Bonjour Tristesse”.

  9. I loved what Burgess just said:

    “But ‘real history’, I think, is found only through ‘averaging’ what’s being written, while realizing that all which remains unwritten is still part of the history”

    What a smart & mathematically accurate way to “calculate” history !!!


  10. John Burgess & Entropy: there is a big diffirence between Diaries and Novels.

    Mr. Jeans mentioned that “Girls of Riyadh” as a Novel and that is a mistake !!

  11. hello xyz;

    From what I understood from Mr. Burgess, his saying applies to written history in general – and unwritten as he mentioned-, not strictly to “Girls of Riyadh”.

    Speaking of “Girls of Riyadh” I don’t think its a bad idea to recommend it for someone who wants to learn a thing or two about Saudia, regardless of what you classify it under whether its a Diary or a Novel.

    I personally would be very curious and would find a great deal to learn from how the “young” of some country thinks or lives. I believe that would give me a glimpse of what is this country like from the inside, and where it is heading. the more “freely” written the piece of work, the more accurate the information could be. I couldn’t care less about how “artistically good” this author uses the language to express what he wants to say. I am not a critic, I just want to find some information that I can “average”

    Regards to all,

  12. Stay tuned as this book is in production now: “Citizen of the Global Village” A True Story of a Journey from an Ancient Town to the Global Village written by Hamad Algubilan. This is his account of growing up in Uneiza and then spending six years in the US as a Saudi student. The book is written in English and not only describes his experiences as a Saudi student in the US but how those experiences molded and shaped him into the man he now is today. It is an excellent insightful read and speaks volumns for ‘bridging the gap.’ American_Bedu

  13. A book you might want to read is “Paramedic to the Prince” It is by an American Paramedic that spent ten years in Saudi. He worked for the National Gaurd and then on the medical team of King Abdullah. It has good and bad about Saudi. Same as if you ived in the states, you can say good and bad about anyplace. But I think the book is fair and very interesting..

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