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Racism in the blood

Racism in the blood

Saudi Arabia’s long running struggle with racism has rarely been publicized, until now. Tareq Al Haydar, a Saudi novelist, has highlighted the racism inherent in his nation’s society, and forces Saudis to confront discrimination in their nation


March 16, 2009 10:01 by

Even though slavery has been abolished, the word “abd” (Arabic for slave) continues to be used to describe a black person. Al Haydar said many Saudis like to define their identities in opposition to the other. “People gain their sense of self-worth from the fact that there are others who are lower than them on this (arbitrary) hierarchical tree,” he said.

“The word ‘khadheeris,’ meaning ‘questionable lineage,’ was always used to describe a person who doesn’t belong to a tribe and there is no way a family descended from a tribe would allow their daughter to marry a man of questionable lineage,” he added.

The Riyadh-based writer pointed out that racism in the central region is, unlike other parts of the world, more verbal than physical. Al Haydar says he feels Saudis live in contradiction. “We pride ourselves at being Muslims, but Islam ended slavery,” he said.

Perhaps racist views are culturally inherited. Not long ago, Saudi Arabia was mostly a desert with warring tribes and clans. In that climate, people clung to their tribes to survive. As a modern nation with people living in an urban setting, the survival element has gone, but the mode of thinking and behavior remains.

Last March, Sheikh Adel Al Kalbani was appointed by Saudi’s King Abdullah as the first black imam of the Grand Mosque in Makkah.

“People didn’t believe that a black man would have such a position but I think the fact that he’s black should be an afterthought, a non-issue,” Al Haydar said.

He thinks Saudis can change the way they think about racism and tribalism. “I think it has to start with raising awareness. Islamic scholars should tackle this issue head-on and explain to people how this kind of behavior is un-Islamic. Also, schools should be firm in tackling these issues. Moreover, the government needs to establish rules to stop these kinds of attitudes,” he said.

Al Haydar has still not secured the right to distribute his novel in bookstores from the Ministry of Culture and Information. “I have very little control over this, but of course I would love to see my novel sold at local bookstores and hopefully available at school libraries,” he said.

The book, however, is available for sale at the Riyadh International Book Fair.

First seen in Arab News. Edited by Kippreport.

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