Thursday, April 29, 2010

not religious? what do you mean?

A while back I did a very short internship in my trade here in Riyadh where I got to mix with expats from all over the Middle East and Africa. Being the only non-muslim at work and starting during Ramadan, I covered my head to be sure not to offend people, and then felt weird about uncovering after Ramadan was over. This made people at work curious about my religion, and I had a few people ask me whether I was Muslim or Christian.

When I first answered that I was neither, and that I was in fact not religious at all, the looks I received from people were of complete and utter dismay and confusion. I felt like I had just told everyone my mother was a dolphin, and that's why I have flippers for hands. When I tried to explain myself, it only caused more confusion, so I gave up and just decided to tell everyone I was Christian and that I just hadn't been to church in a real long time. This calmed everyone's feathers down, except maybe God, who might have been offended by my hypocrisy. I came home and told hubster what happened at work and he nodded his head. He said that he found that certain groups of devout people here view Christianity as an acceptable alternative to being Muslim, because at least Christians are still people 'of the book' so to speak. But to not believe in God or to not be religious at all is just seen as catastrophically poor are basically a lost soul. What kind of person would choose to be a lost soul???

Obviously that was a select group of fervent believers that I was working with, but I think it's very interesting that at home in Toronto in my circles, I am the norm, and it's the people who are religious that are 'misguided.' I've been on both sides of that fence, and I really don't think either side is right or wrong, better or worse - it's just a matter of personal preference. Whatever you choose, as long as you are happy, have love in your life, and are at peace with the world, then you have my personal approval. Just don't be surprised if you show up here as a staunch atheist and are met with double takes from a local who goes to mosque five times a day ;)


Tara Umm Omar said...

I had a feeling you weren't Muslim and just assumed you were Christian. Mystery solved!

fazzhpb said...

I am not religious earthier, mom is Christian father is Muslim. I decided that this religion thing is way to confusing and chose to be nothing! Which I agree is a hair rising news to people here. My colleagues at work are western expats so no drama there. When I first arrived to Riyadh I had a meeting with a local client and after the meeting the usual women/alcohol chat was opened by the client and somehow the entire conversation was shifted to my background, I am Canadian with Turkish/Arabic stretch from dad’s side and German stretch from mom’s, and eventually asked me what my religion was!!!! I thought that super rude!! Any ways I explained to him that I respect any religion but I am nothing!! He wanted to convince me that since my dad is Muslim then I am by default!!! I argued back! And that caused him not pick up my calls later on to organize another meeting!!!!!! What an Idiot !

Firas AK

Alexia said...

Been faced with this situation many a times but it all starts when you are sitting back home (in canada, australia, germany wherever...) and you are trying to fill out the visa application forms: RELIGION ?
Arghhhh ! so frustrating! Why do we always have to classify ourselves, explain and label? I am a black, hispanic, asian, caucasian F/M, christian, muslim, hindu, buddhist, jain, zoroastrian born in zimbabwe, hong kong, greece,new orleans.. to african,hawaiian, japanese parents, raised in malawi and living in timbuktu!
In order to avoid all these explanations I stick to one religion, even if it is not my belief, I chose one nationality, even if I am a mixed Shawarma and still claim I live at my parents place (even though I moved out 14 years ago) as I can not be buggered to explain the reason for having a change of address irregularly every 10 months anymore!

Orchidthief said...

Tara - I think a lot of Westerners are like me, especially the younger ones.

Firas, thanks for sharing - some people can be very very touchy about this subject. I don't think it should have anything to do with business, but unfortunately people do form impressions of each other based on it.

Alexia, it's true that a lot of people live complicated lives and many times you can't tie your history into a designated label or even fit it into a box! I find it such a culture shock to be in an environment where people even care to know what religion you practice.

IA said...

i am so excited to have found a canadian in riyadh. I plan to move to riyadh from toronto in 3 months (visa processing delays) and would like to find torontonians in riyadh to handotu with.

I fyou are aware of any groups/clubs/ events for TDOT ppl and or canadians, do let me know.

p.s I loved reading your blog as it was refreshingly optimistic and helpful.

Orchidthief said...

hello ia and thanks for your comment. There are lots of Canadians here in Riyadh, so I don't think you will have trouble finding them. There's a webring you could join called Canadian Community of Riyadh (CCOR)you can email at canadianwomensa at hotmail dot com that maintains a listserv for events and it's a great way to find out what's going on. Can't say there's anything or anywhere specific where you will be more likely to meet Canadians as our embassy doesn't hold regular functions for us, but all you have to do is get here and get out.