The Biography of a Saudi Fraud

According to deep-rooted Saudi standards, beliefs, and traces of family trees, I am not an original Saudi as I do not belong to any Bedouin or Najdi tribe of the Arabian Peninsula. So far, I am not complaining; actually, I see it as a blessing sometimes. Matters of borders and limitations of nationality and origins have never been of my concern. I have been raised by my so-called Saudi family upon believing that Islam has no nationality. I’ve always seen myself as a Muslim woman who belongs to the Holy Lands of Makkah and Madinah along with millions of Muslims from allover the world. That is enough for nourishing my humanity, spirituality, and humble mentality. Yet the bitter fact about me, despite my rejection of any “passport discrimination” among people, is that (by law and birthplace) I am a Saudi. It is a fact that I cannot deny, but at the same time I cannot utter with pride. I am definite that at this very moment my words are being approved by many unoriginal Saudis like myself, and applauded by some Saudi secularists who will use my words against Saudi Arabia. And I won’t be alarmed if some prejudiced Saudis are ruling me out at this instant as an ungrateful outcast who does not deserve the Saudi estimable nationality. Also, at this very moment all my plans are being put on “pause” for I have suddenly decided to reveal to the world some mysteries of a Saudi fraud; of me and a few others who share the same untraditional Saudi background. To those who applauded, cursed, or raised an eyebrow while reading my words, I say: “You all got me very wrong!” This is not going to be a book against Saudi Arabia. I want to be proud of being a Saudi, but I can never feel proud of my Saudi nationality until I live in a united Saudi Arabia; a country that has a true Islamic identity with no prejudice and judgmental nature.

Although I am considered a Saudi fraud because of being a descendant of an ancient Indian family who emigrated to the Holy Land of Makkah in the nineteenth century, I am still being respected by every Indian whom I meet. I’ve been told by some of them that I am a descendant of a royal family in New Delhi who ruled some regions of India four hundred years ago. “So that’s why we’re so dignified and beautiful!” commented one of my brothers sarcastically when he heard the story of the New Delhi ancient rulers. Whether this piece of information is true or not, it doesn’t matter to me, and I am still considered a fraud according to Saudi standards. The word “fraud” might seem harsh or irrelevant to some non-Arab readers who don’t know much about the Saudi culture, but I’d rather be called a fraud than called “tarsh bahar” or “pilgrims’ remains”. “Tarsh al-bahar” is the most commonly used Saudi taboo to insult an unoriginal Saudi. If a person is described as a “tarsh bahar”, it means that he/she has no origins and no roots; he/she is like “vomit” that has come from the sea! And since many Saudis are originally pilgrims who arrived at the Holy Land through sea voyages to perform “Hajj” or to make a living, half of the country is being stigmatized as being “sea vomit” and “pilgrims’ remains”. My ancestors crossed oceans and seas to reside in the Holy Land of Makkah; not in Saudi Arabia. It was not just my Indian ancestors who suffered to reach Makkah two hundred years ago; it was also a group of thousands of immigrants from Egypt, Palestine, Indonesia, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Turkey, Morocco, and many other countries. All those people with all their historical honorable backgrounds are simply called in Saudi Arabia “tarsh bahar”_ the vomit of the sea_ just because they came to Makkah through sea journeys or to perform the fifth pillar of Islam. Ironically, a fact remains; all these “tarsh bahar” or unreal Saudis are the ones who actually contributed to building the Saudi Arabia that we see today.

I am not going to bore readers by historical facts about the old Saudi Arabia, and I don’t want to offend anyone. This is not my point, and I hereby state that I have no prejudices against any tribe, region, or nationality mentioned in this biography. Observations and facts are the cornerstones of my book; no judgment is going to be committed.  I aim at finding a root and I am not ashamed to say so. I am not considered as a Saudi by many original Saudis, and I cannot go back to India from where my grandfathers had come for I know no home but Saudi Arabia, no accent but the Makkan one, and no language but Arabic and English. Now, if I say this in the presence of typical Saudis, they will think that I am joking or that I am crazy. Some might pity  me for (inevitably) admitting the undeniable truth about my Indian origins, but I look at the issue merely as a simple fact which attempting to hide or deny will only make a fool of me, or worse; a liar.

I was born in Jeddah and have lived my early childhood in Makkah of which I have faded yet valued memories. When I reached school age, I traveled to Denver, Colorado and lived there for a few years with my parents who were resuming their higher education. Those were the best of years; I can never deny this even if it annoys many anti-America Saudis. Later, I returned to Makkah with my family and started to live alternatively between Makkah and Jeddah until I finally got married and settled in Jeddah. These “cultural” shifts_ Makkah-Denver-Makkah-Jeddah_ have broadened my vision, added a lot to me, and also confused me a great deal. It might seem to some readers that Jeddah and Makkah are almost the same, but I must emphasize a fact about the two cities; Jeddah and Makkah are as different as Paris and Dublin.

To those of you who think I’m going to share my secrets with the world, I must remind them that this is a “biography”, people; it is not an autobiography. However, it might be a different type of biography, maybe the first of its kind, as it records incidents in the lives of a variety of people. What I’m going to share is more important than the secrets of an unknown woman like myself. It reveals an aspect of Saudis’ lives that is usually overlooked either because it is taboo or because, as some might feel, ineffective. In fact, some Saudis believe that discussing the nature of this country’s people is a useless attempt, and that’s where they fail in seeing the real Saudi Arabia and the essence of the problems that threaten its stability, dignity, and unity.

Some might think that this book is going to record the life of an oppressed Saudi woman. Some might think I am another version of Rania Al-Baz calling for help from America’s number one lady, Oprah Winfery. (Being a woman in Saudi Arabia) is definitely an attractive interesting topic, yet this is not my objective. My primary goal is not to decipher the mysteriousness of the Saudi woman; I will attempt this worn-out task only when it is relevant. I don’t want to completely undertake such a mission because other writers’ books won’t sell if I do this. Having some level of suspense on is always useful in order to keep the Arabian enigma burning and alive. Arabian women, especially women of the Arabian Gulf area have been viewed by the most narrowing stereotypical vision. The world looks at Arabian Gulf women as either submissive humiliated beings, oppressed lustful females, or modern rebellious women who scorn traditions and rebuff religion altogether. The whole universe of Arabian women is confined to such a partial portrait. As I will explain in this book, the real picture is not the one mentioned above. However, I like to confirm to the reader that this is not one of those “women’s issue” books. The Saudi man concerns me as well. The search for the Saudi identity is the goal of this biography. I hope I can answer the everlasting contemporary questions: “Who are Saudis? What is Saudi Arabia?” Through answering these questions, I wish I could find a category that fits me, a world to belong to, and a root to cling to.

June 8,2007

  1. Chiara says:

    Maha–what an excellent introduction to yourself and your book! I would love to do a post with you about your cultural identity for Tara’s blog. It would be a wonderful addition to the blog and follow nicely on the “Desis, Multiculturalism, Saudization, and Marriage” posts done but Abdullhal/NidalM.

    The post could be anonymous if you prefer, or could be substantively linked to what you have already written here.

    Please send me an email to chiaraazlinquestion AT and let me know your thoughts about this.

  2. مها نور إلهي says:

    Thanks, Chiara for your encouraging words! They really mean a lot to me!
    By the way, I tried to post a comment twice in your blog today, but something went wrong and it wasn’t posted…

    I surly don’t mind to share with you my thoughts and stuff about my cultural identity…I’ll email you for the details in the weekend…I have a lot of work these days 😦

    thanks for your interest!

  3. Chiara says:

    Maha–I don’t know why but Blogger has been behaving badly all day today. I see you just got 1 comment through. Don’t be discouraged about commenting. This bad behaviour was unusual.

    I am looking forward to your email!

    Yes, it is that time of the academic year 😦 ! LOL 🙂

  4. Mark Stuart says:

    Dear Maha:

    If only you knew how much i would give to become “Tarsh al-bahar”!

    sales, communication and IT.

    I was born and raised in Europe. Born in a non-practicing Muslim family that often edged on non-belief, I came back to Europe from 10 years living in the US, emotionally and spiritual bankrupt. I have since done some soul searching that led to a true paradigm shift. I realize the true and powerful meaning of Allah’s word (Jala Jalalahu) in Surah 51 v. 56. :

    وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُون
    ” I did not create the Jinns and the human beings except for the purpose that they should worship Me” Surah 51 v.56

    All praises are due to Him, for He opens the door of His Knowledge and His Light to whomever He wills and seals the heart of whomever He wills.

    So i am currently looking for a job in a field where my sales, language,computer and communication skills, could benefit the community and at the same time help me rekindle my true original God given nature of worship.

    If you could or your husband help me in any way possible.

    PS: or if you knew someone who could help me move there, closer to Makkah?

    • مها نور إلهي says:

      Dear Mr. Mark Suart,
      I understand and appreciate your feelings, but believe me being a good Muslim doesn’t mean that you have to live in Makkah or Madinah. You can be much better tahn many Muslims here is Saudi Arabia. If your heart is with Allah, He will always be with you no matter where you are.
      I will try to help you, but I can’t promise you that I will succeed in that attempt.

      Thanks a lot.

      • Mark Stuart says:

        Dear Maha:
        Indeed, wherever you go, here is Allah the Almighty. The land doesn’t’ make a Muslim, but depending on the rules of the land, the environment becomes more or less adequate to one’s worship and standards of living. No matter how bad some Saudis might be, Saudi is still a Muslim country that calls to God 5 times a day, a country where you can meet a great many people. I always wonder why people tend to hold Saudi Arabia to a highest and more stringent standard than any other sister country? Aren’t Saudis humans like Algerians, Egyptians, Malaysian, French….why should they be spiritually and humanly “better”? They have their share of ignorance, arrogance, hypocrites bigots and other human ills, just as we do in the west or in any other country for that matter. The idea that Saudi should be spared the devils’ work is non-sense to me.

        Anyhow, being born and raised in a non-muslim country has its advantages and its drawbacks. Just as living in Saudi i imagine. But isn’t it written in the Quran that Makkah (not sure about Madinah) was blessed by God? Hence, living in a non-Muslim land can certainly not compare with living in a land that God has blessed!

        So no matter what level of help you might be able to provide, i thank you for your time, attention and intention.
        May God accept our fast and prayers on those blessed months.
        Eid Mubarak to you and all your family.


  5. Abu Sinan says:

    Interesting. Whilst I might noit agree with you on many things, I sure do there. My wife is Saudi, but her background is mixed. Some of her mother’s side has been in Saudi since before the time of the prophet, yet her father’s father was from Yemen, her mother’s father was Indonesian and both of her parents were born in Mecca.

    Some Saudis, mostly Najdi/Qassimi need to get over the racial/ethnic prejudice they have, it’s unIslamic. My SIL, who teaches at a university in Jeddah, was called “Hijazi vomit” when she went to Riyadh once. What a wonder Islamic way to talk about a fellow citizen.

    • مها نور إلهي says:

      Thank you so much, Abu Sinan, for your comment. It really pleases me to have people who could relate to my experience.
      Regarding the Najdi thing, you’ll just love my first Chapter which is titled:
      The Hijazi, The Southerner, and the Honorable Najdi 🙂

  6. Faraz Omar says:

    beeuuutifulll… i’m interested in the latter part than the former… because the latter is more important….

    I hope I can answer the everlasting contemporary questions: “Who are Saudis? What is Saudi Arabia?”

    I think coming to this conclusion is very important. This will ultimately help Saudi Arabia. Fundamentally an Islamic state, I think Saudi Arabia is now at a crossroad between Saudi nationalistic ambitions and preserving it’s Islamic roots that actually formed the state it is…

    Knowing who you truly are will guide the nation to success and prosperity. Conflicting fundamentals won’t work. IMO, Saudi Arabia should drop the nationalistic fervor and choose the Ummah that the Prophet SAW advocated…

  7. مها نور إلهي says:

    Faraz Omar
    Thank you so much for your comment.
    Regarding the rest of the biography… I am not really sure if it’s better to post it here or to waith until i finish it and publish the book…I can’t maek up my mind at this point because the rest of the biography is kind of daring, and I am trying to write it in the least offensive way…don’ want to end up in jail 🙂

    “Saudi Arabia should drop the nationalistic fervor and choose the Ummah that the Prophet SAW advocated…”

    Very well said… I can’t agree more!


  8. Faraz Omar says:

    I showed a part of ur post to a Saudi… the tarsh bahar part. He disagreed. He said: though there are some $#@heads who do such things and say such things… he says all Saudis are not like that. He found your post venomous against the country.

    If what he says is right, i think you must change your tone. For example, instead of saying: “All those people with all their historical honorable backgrounds are simply called in Saudi Arabia “tarsh bahar””

    Say “some Saudis” call us tarsh bahar or say routinely we face discrimination by some Saudis… you know that way you will not blame the entire populace for this. Otherwise it will look like a state-endorsed discrimination. Just by a change of tone, you can make wonders by calling for laws against discrimination.

    I don’t have much knowledge about the history n facts about KSA… u may disagree with i have to say. I’d like to discuss more about ur book and would love to read it, offer suggestions, question your facts, edit it, offer tips to improvise etc etc…. if ur interested. But I’d like to know more about u, ur stances n the reasons n facts behind ur opinions etc.

    Do shoot me an email… I can’t find urs on the blog.

  9. مها نور إلهي says:

    Dear Faraz Omar
    Your Saudi friend’s attitude is expected. what I wrote IS annoying, and many people cannot admit even to themselves, and maybe the whole picture cannot be understood well from the introduction. Yet I agree with you about using “some”…
    anyway…I welcome any suggestions, and I will send you an email soon.

    thanks a lot for your interest.

  10. Reality says:

    Dear Maha,

    I loved your intro, and I do not think you should change or alter anything in it. Your book is not about other people’s views of the world and “Saudi”, it is about your views and YOURS alone. So do not start changing stuff because this person or that person will be offended.

    I look forward to reading your book 🙂

    • مها نور إلهي says:

      Dear Reality,
      thank you for visiting my blog and thanks for your encouraging comments…and yes..I am not going to change anything :). I wish I could finish the book soon, but with the load of work I have, my muse just keeps escaping…

  11. Laila says:

    Dear Maha,

    You tackled a very important issue that is, unfortunately, rarely discussed. I don’t recall coming across anything like it, so thank you! I see what you’ve written above is dated almost 3 years ago, is the book out yet? Is there a release date? I am looking forward to reading it…


  12. coralbead says:

    People write about the things that they have experienced, so it’s natural that they get to say some “fiery” stuff.

    As for the person who got offended? Congratulations, Maha! That means your write-up here just hit the spot! It means you drove your point home, and that offended person right now is proof that you can affect people, even through writing. Perhaps deep down inside he may be hiding the fact that he is indeed one of those people you’re pointing out.

    No need to change a thing! Keep going!

  13. Tameem Ahmed says:

    A very good intro Maha. A believer in India is thought to be an outsider, but the “peole of the book” who came in much later are not considered as such. in the west we are considered extremists. A pakistani feels he is superior to an Indian believer. Bangladeshis are considered as trash by Arabic speaking nationalists. this is the way it is and will be until we follow how our prophet pbuh lived and what he taught. All this is brought upon us because of our actions and weak belief.

  14. Tameem Ahmed says:

    Keep up the good work Mahanoor, let me know when your book is finished.

  15. StepIntoTheLight says:

    What a wonderful blog to stumble upon! As a new expat to KSA, it is very encouraging to read about Saudis from a Saudi woman’s perspective. Thanks for writing!

  16. Mohammed says:

    Nice writing about the actual Saudi Arabia we live in. I feel that discrimination is part of saudi culture.Discrimination different classes starting with royals and un-royals Ashraf’s ( dicsendents of Mohammed ) , known tribes, Khadhiri ( non tribal ) Sunna ( crafters) and then blacks and tursh a bahar and this is only depending on origions . Other types of discriminations based on Sunni , Shiti and Sufi’s > This is all state sponsered discriminatios enforced by courts at times of disagreements as in the last case of marriage seperations > I want to thank you for writing about this sensitive area in our culture. And now thre is discriminations between “faithfuls” and “non-faithfuls” in the courts and on the streets

  17. angel says:

    Dear Teacher,

    Interesting!!! Maha Noor elahi is an Indian who cant speak urdu hahaha….kidding!!

    I say thank allah and your four fathers who migrated in times when it was possible and the rulers (who gave you citizenship without checking your DNA ..jk) THere are least hopes now of living in saudi ..i guess many want to live there because of its islamic importance but dont get entry even…

    There is a hadith of prophet of allah where he said don’t take pride in ones lineage and its a trait of jahiliyah.

    your blogs are exposing many hidden and concealed facts about saudi and its living INTERNET indeed is good and bad …It will surely bring a revolution like the one in egypt this case allahu allam .

    I feel ,living in a non Muslim country , SAUDI IS THE BEST because it supports and lets Tawheed prevail …AND feels like saudi must never fall in hands of people who are agsint islam and tawheed .

    The difference of cast,origin are any where on planet its not new or can be avoided ….

  18. I love your writing and your style. I found you wile browsing Twitter. I am a Jamaican American who traveled to the middle east many times as a photojournalist. I am very interested in Arab culture and the Islamic world.
    My best wishes for a great book and please keep writing. You are doing a service that is very great.

  19. Addressing such a critical issue so bluntly and openly is, in itself, an achievement. Let alone your distinguished style and usage of vocabulary that attracts the eyes, minds and hearts of a reader. I look froward to reading the book.

    I wish you success.


  20. Lara says:

    I loved reading the above. Can’t wait to have more. Your words are understood easily, inspite of your robust vocabulary. Congratulations, from a neighbor (Neighbouring Country Resident) who sees in your words a great doctoral thesis. Can not wait to see the development of your assertives.

  21. Dear Maha,

    First, thanks for sharing your blog, secondly, thanks for sharing the introduction to your upcoming book. I also read the comments from an interesting and very diverse crowd above, I loved the hidden interaction between them and the direct one with you, it should tell you something about your audience.

    The idea behind the book is not new, and has been tackled before bluntly and in more discreet ways before. Your book however is a like a story, that unfolds and eventually gives the readers hard insight on our diverse society. Please note, I am a person that can say I am not Tarsh Bahar, or Najdi, but a saudi from Hijaz, that’s all. My father is Bedouin and my mother is not, she is from Jeddah, who many would consider Tarsh bahar material, but she is not in my book. I am the mix of the two, and trust me, I went to hell and back on this identity issue and how our mixed up society affected my thoughts and played me.

    At one point I would be a bedouin, and another a jeddawi/hejazi and in the end, here I am. It’s a subject that might be fought, might be shelved under our great big wall labeled DENIAL? who knows, daring? yes, scary? yes, political? yes.. so I hear you loud and clear.

    You choose to tread on hot waters with a delicate issue, I wish you the best, speak your voice, do not wait for feedback before you complete and publish the book, do not let anyone affect you, say you are right or wrong, it is in the end, your life, your book and idea.

    By the way, In Najd itself, Between Bedouins themselves, this tribal thing also goes on, they would refer to me as Hijazi by the way :), just saying, best of luck!

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