January 24, 2012

The expatriates among us


The expatriates among us

By Abdullah Al Alami

Arab News
Monday, 23 January 2012



We need to build bridges between us and people of all religions and cultures based on tolerance

MOST foreign embassies in Riyadh advise their nationals working in Saudi Arabia to get to know the difference between their home-country laws and Saudi law, and to abide by the Saudi laws and regulations. Many, if not all expatriates working or living in Saudi Arabia find Saudi laws and moral standards obviously and considerably stricter than those of their own home country.

The question remains, do we have the legal right to enforce our own habits, norms and beliefs on foreigners living in this country?

Many of my expat friends tell me they moved to Saudi Arabia due to tax-free salaries and a valuable opportunity to save for the future. Others told me they were here to enjoy the cultural experience, take weekend trips to the desert, or explore and study the country’s history and archaeology.

However, most expats remain “sequestered” in compounds far removed from Saudi life. In addition, despite the fact that we are known to be a dignified and hospitable people, high walls like castles from the Middle Ages surround our houses, as one friend told me.

I read somewhere that most female expatriates living in Saudi Arabia are just craving to drive a car, go to a supermarket, visit a friend, take a commuter bus from one district to another or walk freely in the street without restrictions.

In addition, many expatriates complain that they are prohibited from practicing their religion; they would be severely punished should such practices come to the attention of the authorities.

Although Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah called for global dialogue between religions and cultures to promote diversity and pluralism among all nations, we still lack the ability to truly “live” this dialogue and extend a hand to exercise mutual understanding. In his speech a few years ago, King Abdullah asked the world to remember the common belief among all religions. He also suggested that we work out our differences “to make a world of peace.” But have we really?

The good news is that the promises of social reforms made by King Abdullah last year were not expected by the general public and exceeded our expectations. I heard assurances that there will be more to come.

We need to respect the “others,” regardless of their religions or beliefs. It is unfortunate that our schoolbooks still contain some hostility to “the others.” Moreover, in many of our forums we still encourage hatred toward people of other religions. Islam urged us to respect other religions; it did not give us absolute freedom to look down upon those who disagree with our views and beliefs.

Inter-religious dialogue means accepting the coexistence between people with dignity, justice and peace. We need to refine our behavior of dominance if we intend to live and work with people who come from other cultures.

Confining the freedom of other people’s opinions is a matter of fanaticism, extremism, intolerance and exclusion. There is no doubt that extremism exists in the East as well as in the West. There are thousands of individuals who have been misled by the belief that they have absolute freedom to hate and punish people with “different” religions.

However, I know for a fact that the younger Saudi generation wants more modernity and dynamism and I hope that they would lead the road toward peaceful coexistence.

We need to build bridges between us and people of all religions and cultures based on a strong foundation of tolerance.

Tweet: Living in peace is a matter of individual choice. It is not a matter of circumstance

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