Dare to understand unexplored assumptions that govern your life.
THE PAINTED VEIL OF SARAI
It started to dawn and Sarai awoke to the chirping of a red-breasted
tropic bird. She yawned and stretched to the rhythmic melody of the song-
bird. Sarai touched the side of her bed, the oak wood hand-crafted in fine
detail and scrolled in lavish designs of ornate lions feet and eagle wings.
With her right foot, she gently felt the hand-woven carpet and with her left
foot followed the circle of the colorful mosaic patterns. Gently, she
placed her right foot and stood in a ballet position. Stretching her arms
high and taking a deep breath on her toes, Sarai danced to the canopy and
wrapped her bosom and waist in silk flowing linens embroidered with
yellow, lavender, sage, and pink flowers. She loosened the silk around her
bosom, walked to the huge window, and drew a light tapestry blind. She
sat on her satin chair and opened her eyes wide, admiring the landscapes
embellish with camel daisies and brightly colored perennials. The
landscape of Sarai’s home was like a brush stroke of a painting only seen
in an upscale gallery.
Slowly, she walked to Father’s study to offer tea and bring him the
morning paper. Father always awoke before dawn to prepare his work for
“Father, the debate is in the paper and Prince Al-Wajeed will be the
lead person for the debate.”
Father stuffed papers in his briefcase. “Mahout is taking you to a great
place for your class assignment. Yesterday, Mahout and I drove to the
desert to find a place. I spotted a place full of various desert flowers in
bloom. This place is magnificent and gorgeous for painting. Remember,
be ready at eleven.”
“Yes, Father I’ll be ready. Thank you for my escort. Father, will you
speak to the prince? Please, plead for the women in our village. You are
an influential man and can press the need to change the law.” Sarai helped
Father with his coat.
“Have a good morning and may Allah be with you at the council
Sarai walked with Father to the front door.
“You’re the best, Father.”
Father left for his daily prayer at the mosque. After the prayer, a group
of men had an appointment to discuss the village problems and submit
proposals to the prince. Once per week a meeting was set aside; however,
today the men had a chance to speak in person with him.
The Prince of Interior led this hot issue and, being a popular prince,
encouraged women to drive and be independent.
Sarai walked to the laundry room. “Mother, the Prince of Interior
petitioned a change in the driving law. The cleric protested and found any
change an abomination and sacrilegious. The story hit the headlines of the
Mother folded the laundry neatly. “Why are you so interested in the
“Mother, what happened seventeen years ago?” Sarai asked.
Mother’s left eye twitched. “Why do you want to know?” She folded
the towels quickly hoping an end to their conversation.
“Uncle told what happened. You know, the arrest. The women were
brave for driving.” Saria took the towels from her mother and placed them
in the dresser.
“Did the protest include the veiling of women? Is it true the veiling
followed the protest?” Sarai walked to Mother and touched her shoulder.
“Mother, you are lovely unveiled. Cleopatra would have envied your
natural dusty- rose cheeks and jet black hair falling to your waist.”
“My destiny is veiling. The fear of taking it off becomes unbearable,
because the moral police appear at every corner.” Mother bowed her
head in shame.
“You experienced moments of freedom.” Sarai squeezed Mother’s
“You experienced the freedom of driving. I want those days, Mother.”
Sarai’s mother smiled and remembered driving the BMW into the
Capitol, protesting with forty-seven women. It was a historic day when
each car circled the city and stopped in front of the Prince of Interior’s
palace. She clung to her driver’s license and stood proudly, like a true
believer, holding a protest sign. The prince was furious and scolded the
demonstrators for their boldness and violation of the Sharia law. Moments
later the women were handcuffed, shuffled into a police van, and detained
by the moral police.
“Every woman was released to her husband and
signed a pledge to
submit to the law and her husband. The following year a religious edict
was issued by Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz, prohibiting women from
Before the arrest Father encouraged me to obtain a drivers’ license and
be independent from him for shopping and meeting appointments,” Mother
“The most common excuse given for why women are not allowed to
drive here is that it's for their own safety and protection. This excuse of
safety doesn't really refer to
the dangers of having or causing accidents. What it actually refers to is the
potential for women to have more freedom and to not be under the direct
control of a man. The thinking is that a woman driver would have more of
a chance to hook up with someone of the opposite sex if she wanted to,
which is a big no-no in this country. The funny thing is that I have spoken
to many women who drive outside this country, and they have all managed
to avoid becoming unworthy - which is what some men think of all women
drivers elsewhere in the world.” Mother smiled.
“Where did you receive your foreign driver’s license?” Sarai asked.
Mother took Sarai’s hand and both sat on the couch.
“Seventeen years ago Father, and I honeymooned in France. Papa
encouraged me to take a driving course. Those six weeks with your father
were like paradise. Papa hired a private tutor and prepared me for the
The tutor, being fluent in Arabic, English, and French, did well to prepare
me to pass the written test, and the driving test.”
“What happened? Tell everything.”
“I passed. The experience was so marvelous. We dined in a fine
restaurant and I had my driver’s license in hand. The next day I drove to
the Rivera and we spent three weeks dining and sight seeing.” Mother
“Tell me more,” Sarai pleaded.
“You were conceived at the Rivera. It was a summer day and the whole
day we sunbathed on the beach. Papa loved my bathing suit. That day he
could not take his eyes off my yellow bathing suit because he adores
yellow. From reading my diary ,I know you were conceived on that day.”
“Mother, what are you saying? Beach, sunbathing, and a yellow bathing
suit. Wow!” Sarai laughed.
Mother held Sarai’s hand. “It’s wonderful to live in France. The ladies
are free to wear swim-suits and sun-bathe at the beaches. I read my diary
often to re-live those wonderful days. My desire is to live in France. But,
how can we? Father is bound to the kingdom and his position does not
allow him to leave.”
“I didn’t know you and Father honeymooned in France. Wow, a
French driver’s license.” Sarai hugged Mother.
“Father does his best to provide us with a chaperone. We don’t have
the money to pay anyone to take us around, and you can’t depend on taxi’s.
The taxi is either late, or so many women depend on them, there are not
enough taxi’s to serve,” Mother replied.
“You never told you owned a yellow bathing suit.” Sarai said softly.
“Yes, your father’s bathing trunk was black with yellow trim, and that
day we sun-bathed on a jumbo orange towel with yellow flowers. After
the beach I drove to the hotel. Father encouraged practicing and honing my
driving skills. When we arrived at the hotel your father whispered my
name in my ear.
‘My love, Anai, I am so proud of you.’” Mother deepened her tone.
“Imagine being conceived in France, a country where women can be
free to sun-bathe, drive, and imagine freedom from the veil.”
Sarai daydreamed of an egalitarian society. Her closet was loaded
with stylish designer’ clothes and high heels to match, but tucked neatly in
a corner hung a black abaya and several veils.
“Can ladies vote in France?” Sarai asked.
“Yes, ladies can drive, vote, and work in the marketplace as men do,”
“Oh, Mother, I’m happy for you.
How romantic wearing a yellow
bathing suit and sun-bathing on a jumbo orange towel with yellow
flowers. How lovely Papa’s whisper.” Sarai said joyfully.
Sarai did not appear different, and like her peers she practiced daily
rituals, obeyed the rules, and feared the moral police. Sarai’s
environment did not permit protesting, and freedom of speech in public
was void. The only freedom Sarai possessed was within her imagination,
entertaining colorful scenes: What would it be like free from the veil, to be
able to drive, to go to a place without a male escort, to ask the Kingdom
for an art gallery permit?
The past few years Sarai saw a growing movement toward a more
progressive society, but at every turn, calls for change have been met with
opposition from the ultra-conservative and very influential religious
faction. A few days ago, the fourth annual Jeddah film festival was
cancelled just hours before it was to begin. No reasons were given for the
cancellation, which was handed down by the Interior Ministry. Many
cultural activities are prohibited.
Any form of dance is non-existent except at private functions, like parties
or weddings where women dance but men are not present, music is
frowned upon by many, and even simple innocent book fairs have been
Sarai left with Mother to the prayer room and quickly dressed after the
morning prayer. It was almost eleven o’clock and time for her escort
Sarai’s assignment for the university was a finished painting of some sort
and she chose the desert flowers in
Sarai loved the desert, where space and time were free from the chains
of tradition. She loved the wild stretch of land far removed from moral
and dress codes.
Yesterday, Father briefed Mahout to wait in the car and watch her from
a distance, because being with a woman alone was prohibited by the law.
“Mother, Mahout is taking me to the desert for my class assignment,”
Sarai said happily.
“Do you know him?”
“No, your father appointed him to escort you,” Mother replied.
“He is from a fine family and a student at the university. According to
Father he is a graduate student of engineering and very promising.
Sarai looked in the mirror for a last minute touch-up. Carefully she
tucked in her embroidered yellow blouse underneath her black skirt.
Wrapped around her tiny waist was a huge belt. She looked in the mirror
and approved herself while she twisted and fastened her hair with a
“How do I look? You like my yellow comb? Is it the color of your
bathing suit?” Sarai said, “Come and see.”
Mother approved her pretty embroidered blouse and her black skirt with
the huge belt.
The moment Mother kissed Sarai the front doorbell rang. Mother puts on
her abaya and opened the door for Mahout.
“Good-morning,” Mahout said politely.
Mother eyes lit when saw the handsome young man dressed so
“Sarai, Mahout is here.”
Sarai walked to the front door and met Mahout.
Mahout could see only her eyes underneath the abaya and veil.
“Mahout, take care of Sarai. Here is plenty of water and baklava. The
desert gets very hot.” Mother handed him a basket.
“Sarai, do you have all your palette and paints?”
“Yes, Mother,” Sarai replied.
the basket and water to the trunk of the car. Sarai sat in
the back seat and placed her palette of many colors beside her. Mahout
looked at her from the rear view mirror and Sarai’s bright brown almond
eyes captivated him.
There is something about this girl. She is a rare beauty, Mahout
“Sarai, yesterday your Father and I found a place twenty miles from
here, a lovely place of desert flowers in bloom,” Mahout said softly.
He is good looking and gentle, Sarai thought.
Mahout drove twenty miles and pointed to the left.
"We must turn here. Almost there.” He smiled.
Mahout drove to the site of the desert flowers in bloom. “Sarai, look
desert flowers in bloom. Can you walk on that far?”
“Of course,” replied Sarai.
“Let me help you with your palette and water.” He helped Sarai to a
place one-quarter mile from the road, where he set down her supplies and
“I have lots of homework. I’ll wait until you’re ready. Take your time,
desert flowers are beautiful and your painting will equal their beauty. Take
your time and feel the magic of the desert.” Mahout walked back to his car
and Sarai placed her palette and paints on a sheet and set the easel in its
place. She looked at the desert while she prepared to paint and waited
patiently until time and space negated into total silence.
“Free at last… only for three hours… free at last,” she sang.
She took a
deep breath and whirled a dance taught by the Sufi’s. To the Sufi, dancing
in circles transport’s the person into a relaxed state of mind. Sarai
twirled her left foot next to her right foot in perfection until she found
herself relaxed. She twirled for fifteen minutes and re-arranged the abaya
and veil. The abaya and veil restrained the flow of the Sufi’s dance and
minutes later she removed her outer garment and veil.
The sand of the desert was
like a painting; today the sand was tranquil.
Last year, Sarai experience a sand-storm in a rage, moving large bodies of
sand from one direction into another. Today, the sand was quiet, adorned
with blooming plants. Sarai unleashed creativity the moment she removed
her abaya and transcended beyond time and space.
“Mahout, bored with studying, decided to take a look at her painting.
He locked the car and walked to Sarai. He saw her without the abaya and
He looked frantically over his shoulders for the moral police, because
being with a woman violated the law.
“Mahout, do not leave. Come and enjoy with me the desert flowers in
bloom,” Sarai walked to Mahout.
“Sarai, you know it is against the law to see a woman without the abaya
and veil,” Mahout said.
“Yes, I know. Mahout, look at the beauty of the desert. Please sit and
She is so beautiful. Her eyes, jet black hair, a yellow comb…her
breasts, so lovely, protruding like small buds underneath her yellow
blouse. A tiny waist and a large belt show her hips and small
curves.This is unacceptable in Islamic law, Mahout recalled from the
“Sarai put on the abaya and the veil. If the moral police see you, we’ll
both be arrested and flogged.” Mahout picked up the abaya and veil.
“Why do I have to wear this?” Sarai took the abaya and veil from him.
“Mother did not own an abaya until she was arrested seventeen years
ago.” She dropped the garments.
“But a woman is required to wear it,” Mahout explained. “It’s the law.
A woman’s face and body must not be seen.”
“Why, Mahout? Why?” Sarai asked.
“The woman has control over her impulses and the man does not.
Allah created them as such,” Mahout explained.
“I don’t believe it. I should have the right to dress without an abaya
and veil. The justification for the abaya and veil is an insult to you. Why
do you have to oppress to control the impulse?” Sarai asked. “The veiling
is control. Can’t you see both of us are victims of this unjust law to control
by the clerics to serve their own purpose? Without the abaya and veil, I no
longer control your weakness, and you have the opportunity to control your
impulses.” Sarai looked at her black body armor.
“You don’t have to wear the abaya and veil for me, and my impulse is
in control. The
law requires it,” Mahaout explained.
“Okay, if you can control your impulse, the law is flawed. Why is it
necessary to wear the abaya and veil?” Sarai asked.
Mahout understood exactly what she meant. Thinking quietly, looking
at the abaya and veil, Mahout said softly, “You speak the truth. Wearing
the abaya and veil is to control the impulse of the man, a myth taught by the
cleric. I represent all men and it is an insult to manhood to curtain the
woman. Even so, what can we do to challenge the law and the kingdom?”
He took the comb from her hair. “You are right. A law without
justification and a law that imposes direct or indirect violence is an
unjust law. This comb is a pledge. I will support you. You are free, and
this yellow comb is our first symbol to untwine an unjust law.” He gave
Sarai the comb and untwined her hair. It fell to her shoulders.
Mahout sat looking over his shoulders as Sarai finished her painting of
the desert flowers in bloom. She gave the painting a last stroke of sage
Mahout looked at the painting and could believe the experience in the
desert with her.
“Let us go on Sarai,” He said softly. “The drive back to your house will
take a while, and I promised your father to take you back on time. Wait,
what you are going to do with the abaya?”
“The destiny of the abaya and veil belongs to the desert,” Sarai said. “I
am surrendering my abaya and veil to the desert flowers in bloom.” She
took one flower and gave it to Mahout. “This is my inspiration. The beauty
of the flower is possible only if the
environment is supportive.”
Mahout dug a hole with his hand to bury the abaya and the veil “Yes,
Sarai, to grow and develop you need a good environment.”
Sarai covered the garments with sand. Mahout held the palette and Sarai
In Mahout’s shirt pocket was her comb, and both walked to the car
parked by the road. Sarai sat in the backseat not wearing the abaya and
veil. She looked so stunning with the jet black hair touching her shoulders
that Mahout could not take his eyes off her.
“Why was your mother arrested seventeen years ago?” Mahout asked.
“My mother was arrested and flogged in public, because she and forty-
seven women protested. The ladies drove their cars to Ridjah and ask for
basic human rights.
Father took Mother to France and hired a tutor from a driving school to
help her pass the driving test. She did. Father was in France for business
and made it also a holiday for Mother. They enjoyed themselves at the
Rivera and Mother wore a one-piece bathing suit,” Sarai said.
Mahout took the comb from his shirt pocket and in a soft voice said, “
The comb from your hair is not only our symbol, but your mother’s as
well. Your mother is very brave.
What happened after the protest? Did she go to trial?”
“No, Father signed a pledge and promised he would monitor her
movement. Father escorts her to every appointment or hires an escort.
Many years ago she asked to open an art gallery, but Father failed to help
with the papers. A woman cannot enter a public building staffed by men to
obtain a business permit. Mother is an artist like me.
We enjoy painting, but her creativity is drained and opportunities passed.
Mother is a
servant, a house-slave, and bound to a curtain; unjust laws sapped the life
from her,” Sarai said softly.
“But what really galls me is the fact that mother was a female driver with
a proven track record of safety and skill and years of experience - and she
is not allowed to drive, yet frequently I have seen children - specifically
young boys - driving who are definitely too young to have a driver's
license. I've seen various accounts that range from seventeen up to twenty-
five, and just about every age in between. All I do know is that many of the
drivers I have seen here are nowhere close to approaching their
seventeenth birthday, let alone twenty-five. One day I was crossing the
street in a quiet residential section of town, and I was almost run over by a
car driven by a boy who looked as though he couldn't have been a day over
ten. These young boys drive, stretching and craning their necks in an effort
to see over the steering wheel. Many of them have to sit on pillows. I don't
know how they can possibly reach the gas pedal, or more importantly, the
brake pedal! This is not something I see everyday because I am not out and
about every day, but it happens with enough frequency that I am not
shocked any more when I see it - just angered that I am not allowed to
drive here, yet these spoiled little brats can. As in many countries of the
world, most boys here are raised to believe that they are superior to their
sisters and are given special privileges just because they were born with a
little extra appendage that girls don't have.”
“I can see the unjust law, and the oppression in the name of Allah. But
how can we change all that - you know, the abaya, veil, driving privileges,
business permit, and dependency, which we see as an illness in our
How can we challenge an unjust
law if the monarch has absolute power and the senior family members are
Can we change all that?” Mahout looked lovingly at Sarai.
Almost five miles from Sarai’s home Mahout noticed the bold black
letters, “moral police“ on the white control squad car.
“Sarai, lie down, the control squad is behind us.”
Sarai plunked herself into the backseat and crawled into a fetal position.
“They’re closing in.”
The police stopped and a squat little man dressed in an immaculately
pressed khaki uniform got out. The uniform made him look even rounder
and shorter because of the big balloon like “wings” that stuck from his
trousers at the thighs.
He wore a peaked cap that shaded his face. His knee-high black boots,
polished to a shine, had hard soles that were loud and impressive as he
marched up to Mahout.
The officer ran his left hand through his thick jet black hair and with his
right hand held a long thick sable colored shaft.
“He is approaching us. Lie still.”
The officer threw a glance and rubbed his parrot shaped nose shaking
his head and lifting his shaft.
“What is this? What do we have here?” The officer tapped Sarai with his
“Who is this woman?”
“Her father asked me to escort her for a class project,” Mahout replied.
“Sir, you are in violation of looking at a woman who is unrelated.” the
“I am taking her home,” Mahout replied.
“Miss, will you step out. What happened to your abaya and veil?”
asked the officer.
“Sir, the abaya and veil are buried in the desert,” Sarai said seriously.
“Why are the abaya and veil buried in the desert,” asked the officer.
“Sir, I am not bound to a unjust law, and I buried them in the desert,”
Sarai said softly.
“You know, you have to wear the abaya and the veil. It is the law,” the
officer raised his voice.
“Sir, I will no longer wear the abaya and the veil. Arrest me. Mahout
and I agree that the law is oppressive, not only for the woman, but also for
the man. It is a unjust law staged by the clerics to control us.” Sarai cried.
“Sir, will you convince her she must wear the abaya?” The officer
whacked Mahout on his back.
Mahout dropped to his knees and pleaded with him to grant Sarai a chance
to wear the abaya and veil. He asked the officer for an abaya and veil.
“Okay. She must obey.” The officer urgently called for a female guard
“Arrest me. We buried the curtain permanently. Remember the words
of The Prophet, may he rest in peace, that a grave cannot be disturbed?”
“Lady, you must put on the abaya and veil. Maybe the desert sun
confused your thinking,” the officer thumped her with his boot.
Sarai was determined to protect her freedom. “I cannot accept the abaya
A squad car arrived and a man dressed in a white flowing robe and a
long white headdress held on top with a black round turban opened the
door. A woman guard got out and walked briskly with the help of a
Her perfectly laced black boots stood boldly underneath her tailored black
abaya as she approached the officer who was hovering over Mahout
squinting at Sarai.
“What do we have here?” asked the guard leaning on her staff holding an
“A dress code violation.”
“Do you see how she is dressed? She is an example of virtue,” the
officer pointed to the guard’s abaya.
“Put on this abaya.” The guard scuffled and forced the abaya on Sarai.
Sarai choked in her tears as she heard the click of handcuffs on her
The chauffeur grabbed Sarai and Sarai felt kicks from her boots shuffling
her in the backseat of the squad car. The guard sat next to Sarai and the
driver took rapid looks at Sarai’s teary eyes smeared with blood.
“Look, what you did. You dulled my polish.” The guard spit on the red
spots on her boot.
The squad car stopped at the moral police head quarters. Sarai was
pushed out of the car and dragged into a filthy bathroom, full of water and
dirt. The guard kicked Sarai into the room.
“Take off your clothes,” the guard ordered.
Sarai slowly took off her clothes and handed them to her.
“Now, squat and remain in that position.” The guard threw her clothes
in a latrine.
“You are sinful and you are going to burn in hell.”
Sarai felt hopeless. She was very submissive giving up hope.
“Pick up your clothes and put them back on.”
Sarai put on her clothes dripping in urine. As she put on her bra and
panties Sarai imagined her place in the desert. Her head swam and spun,
as she put her blouse to soften the blows.
I let her beat me because I have no other choice. I feel every kick and
hit. Every part of my body hurt and my eyes burn from unshed tears.
This woman who calls herself human is not going to break my spirit. I
am not going to let her see my pain. I am not going to let her see my
anger, or how much it hurt, Sarai thought as she summoned memories of
her mother driving in France and sunbathing in her bathing suit.
The guard covered her with an abaya and made her sit soaking wet in a
place that reeked of refuse.
“Sit and wait for your father’s punishment.”
Sarai’s father came to the moral police quarters and a senior
read the allegation.
“Your daughter is in violation and for her sake we taught her a lesson.
Sir, you are an outstanding citizen with impeccable manners. Our
department decided to release her. After an frank incense bath, her bruises
should be treated with pequi oil,
honey, yellow kaolin, nilotica shea butter, lemon oil, and peppermint. Her
bruises should clear up quickly.” The chief of police tore up the paper
work and brought Sarai to the foyer.
Father was shocked and in an trembling
voice asked, “Sarai, my darling,
what happened to you in the desert. Are you suffering from a fever. Are
“Father, I am free from the abaya and veil. I buried them in the desert
among the beautiful desert flowers. I was liberated the moment I took off
the abaya and veil. I was able paint the desert in flowers in bloom to
perfection. The death of the abaya and veil changed my spirit. I feel alive.
No longer will I wear them. One must shed falsehood and Allah has
removed the veil to see the truth of how this bad law is. I am not like
Mother. I’d rather die than to submit. I can only be an artist if I am free.
Look at the painting, Father.” Sarai bowed deeply and cried loudly.
Sarai’s father looked at the painting and could not believe his daughter’s
hand could paint with such perfection the desert flowers in bloom. He t
touched her painting.
Her painting is her testimony. Allah fills her with grace and unveils an
unjust law. I believe Allah reveals his glory. Sarai’s father walked to the
other side of the building where the moral police were holding Mahout.
“Mahout, what happened in the desert?” He asked.
“Sir, your daughter buried an unjust law in the desert. Allah graced her
the moment she removed the abaya and veil and revealed truth about this
unjust law,” replied Mahout.
“Are you going mad? What truth did Allah reveal to my daughter?”
Sarai’s father asked.
“Sir, why we veil our women and cloak them so they can can’t be
seen? We cloak our women because they are seen as sexual objects.
According to the clerics, she is seductive and because a man is weak the
woman must behidden to help cope.
Apparently, we are not capable of controlling our primitive instincts,”
“What, we can’t control our urges?” Father yelled.
“Isn’t because we are afraid and use the abaya and veil as an excuse to
control and save the patriarch? The truth is, sir, we are afraid of her
ability to be our equal partner.
Because of our weakness we limit her opportunities and her anatomy
becomes her destiny, “Mahout argued.
“Sir, the clerics conditioned us to believe women are seductive and tempt
men. The man, because of his weakness, must be controlled. The control,
according to the clerics, is a woman must not be seen in order for her not
to tempt the man’s evil thoughts and uncontrollable impulses. According
to the clerics a woman can have control over impulses, since they are
stronger than men. In order to help the man to be stronger, she must
become weaker. The way to make a person submissive is to make that
person a servant. That is what we did with our women by enforcing unjust
The moral police released Sarai to her father and made him sign a
pledge that his daughter must comply with the dress code. The moral
police cited Sarai’s father for disobedience. Sarai’s father took his
Sarai’s mother tended her wounds and anointed her flesh with all sorts of
oils and herbs.
“The cleric is unyielding and harsh in practice and the kingdom yields
to their will. Most of us know no other way of life. In their devoutness and
embrace their lot in life, and wholly support, defend and uphold what they
believe, Allah has decreed. Please, reconsider your destiny as a Saudi
woman.” Sarai’s mother sobbed.
“Yield to The Prophet’s instruction. Men are to lay injunctions on women
kindly, for they are prisoners having no control of their own persons. My
daughter, from an early age the male child is taught that women are of little
value; they exist only for his comfort and convenience. By the time he is
old enough to mate, he considers her his chattel, not his partner,” Sarai’s
“I’ll try for Father’s sake.” Sarai said softly.
“When I married your father he beat me once. He quoted the Quran and
said that men are guardians of women. That day I had a terrible headache
anddidn’t finish setting the table for dinner. I argued and told him I was
sick. He became angry and whipped me and at night he held me in his arms
and said it was for my own good. I was weeping. My head was pounding.
I asked him for mercy but he said I was like a field and he has a right to
plow and cultivate as he wills. He changed after he did his business and
saw my bruises and never whipped me again. Because he felt ashamed he
took me for a holiday to France and allowed me freedom in having a
drivers’ license.” Sarai’s mother bowed her head in shame.
“I am sorry, I wanted you to know only the good things about your
Mahout’s father came the next morning to pay his fine and the moral
police released him to his father’s custody. Mahout’s father signed an
agreement that he must not have any fellowship with a woman who
disobeyed the law.
Mahout’s father was angry
because Mahout was under the influence of a young woman who claimed
to be awakening from an unjust law and was ordered to sever the
relationship with her.
The news spread like wild-fire about the arrest of Sarai and Mahout.
Many students agreed with Sarai about the gender laws but how could
they challenge unjust laws? Sarai refused to wear the abaya and veil and
her father did not know what to do. The moral police monitored Sarai
and Mahout, but the vow between the two to disobey bonded Sarai and
After her wounds were healed, her father convinced her to veil
Father drove her to the university veiled, hoping his daughter had put aside
her ideas of independence. Sarai held her painting in her left hand and
covered her face with her right hand walking in the classroom.
Today was important because her peers would critique the painting of the
desert flowers in bloom. She walked to the classroom and most of the
students looked at her, not knowing what to do.
Sarai sat down and waited for the professor. The art teacher entered the
room and critiqued the painting of the students. Sara was the last to
“Sarai.” called the professor.
Sarai showed her painting, and the students found the painting of desert
flowers in bloom flawless.
The professor complimented it. The painting of the desert flowers in
bloom excelled any other painting.
“Sarai, share with us your experience,” the professor said.
Sarai removed the abaya and veil. “Professor, the desert flowers in
bloom are free.”
Sarai faced her peers. “The death of the abaya and veil represents the
beauty of the desert flowers in bloom.”
“I removed the abaya and veil as my testimony. As a woman I must
restore health to our society. Nature bestows every human with raw
energies of inherited genes, which can only be nourished in an egalitarian
society. By unjust laws, women are denied developing what nature has
bestowed upon us.
Why do we have to wear the abaya and veil? Why do our parents select
our marriage partner? Why are we denied a business permit or entry to
this building without a male? Why are we denied to drive car? Why are
we denied to travel? Our society is sick and to take a stand is the
beginning of change. The individual transforms society because society is
corrupt and not capable of transforming. Society cannot change the
individual. As a woman I will not live under these circumstances. I am
ready to be arrested and stand trial. If my day of judgment is isolation and
jail, so be it. In jail my mind lives free,” Sarai replied.
“Sarai, put on the abaya and veil,” demanded the professor.
“No, I will not,” Sarai responded.
The teacher sent Sarai to the headmaster and the head-master contacted
the moral police of the university.
The university had special men hired by the kingdom for the sole purpose
of whipping women. Two men entered the arena. One held the Koran
under his arm and another carried a long bamboo whip, extending to seven
feet and a
cat-of-nine tails type of rope, made out of wool and camel hair with knots
at the ends of the tethers. The knots were made out of metal or hard, cloth-
“This is Sarai. She violated the law. She is unworthy.
A woman must
be covered. Her disobedience causes man to sin. Righteous women are to
be devoted and to guard what God has guarded even though out of sight.
Under Article 121 she receives 90 lashes. Shall I use the long bamboo
whip or the cat-of-nine-tails?”
The man bellowed and knocked her on the concrete slab.
One woman shouted, “Use the cat-of-nine-tails.”
More women shouted, “Use the cat-of-nine-tails.”
Sarai crawled into a fetal position. I let him beat me because I have
no other choice. I feel every lash. Every part of my body hurt and my
eyes burn from unshed tears. This man who calls himself human is not
going to break my spirit. I am not going to let him see my pain. I am not
going to let him see my anger, or how much it hurt, Sarai thought as she
summoned memories of her mother driving in France, sunbathing in her
bathing suit, and her paintings displayed in an upscale gallery in Paris.
A woman tightened her veil and shouted, “The Prophet says to the
believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their
modesty. That they should not display their beauty and adornments and
should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty
except to their husbands, their fathers, sons and uncles. Why should Sarai
be saved? Whip her.”
The man holding the Koran pointed his finger to the woman. “Yes,
is rewarded in heaven."
Sarai was severely beated as she looked at her class mates who circled
around the square. A small group supported the flogging, but most stood
stiff and tight lipped as a cleric read verses from the Koran and regarded
her as a sinner in need of punishment.
Within one hour Sarai sat next to a female guard in the back seat of the
The ride took Sarai through the congested downtown section. Cars
changed lanes haphazardly and stopped suddenly at red lights. The
buildings were squeezed into city blocks, and throngs of people walked
the paved streets, so me disappearing into stores. As the control squad
drove from the city, spaces widened, and only a trace of civilization lined
the paved highway.
Sarai looked out the front window, eyeing a single sand-colored building
in the distance. The control squad turned off the paved highway onto a
A cloud of brown haze followed the van as they pulled up to a large
wrought-iron gate leading to the main entrance. The officer spoke
over an intercom, and the gates opened. The control squad drove to the
building and stopped. The officers left the van and approached the
Sarai and the officer walked into an overwhelming stench of stale urine
and rotting meat. Sarai’s nostrils burned, making her eyes water. The
guard spoke with one of the guards, flailing her arms in several directions.
Her facial expressions were almost comical as she seemed to go through a
ritualistic display, bargaining for favors. Turning to Sarai said, "You
follow that woman."
Sarai pulled a corner of the scarf over her nose and followed the armed
security guard through a locked steel door and into a long corridor. The
unpleasant odors worsened the deeper they trudged into the building. She
gagged a couple of times, but reminded herself she was there against her
will —she had to be strong. Naked light bulbs hung on long, black cords
from the tall ceilings, illuminating the grimy hallway in a dim light.
Although she did her best not to brush up against the walls, dust and spider
webs left their gray marks on her dark abaya. She was cautious on the
hard-packed sand, straining to see and to avoid the potholes in the well-
worn path. As she ventured further into the darkness, rats scurried past,
sometimes running across her feet. Sarai held her breath to keep from
screaming. She passed several empty cells on either side of the corridor.
Each of them had a shallow pit in the center for urination and defecation.
Dead rats lay beside rancid human waste—all of which was rotting. In the
distance, she heard whimpering and what sounded like the cry of a small
child. She came to the end of the hall and faced a large wooden door. The
guard pushed her rifle to one side so she could reach a set of keys attached
to her belt. She yelled something to nother woman behind the door. She
unlocked and opened the door, gesturing Sarai to walk through. Sarai
hesitated. If she went through, would they let her out?
She looked at the guard as she passed and thanked her. She nodded her
head, looking down at the floor.
A second guard greeted her with a crooked smile, exposing a missing
As the guard slammed the door, dust fell from the tin ceiling, Sarai
scarf to shield herself from the falling dirt.
The stench was worse in these corridors, and her nostrils, already
burning from the putrid smells, felt like flames reaching deep into her
skull. She could taste the repugnant odors in her mouth and gagged. She
fought the temptation to turn and run. She wanted air. There were no
windows, just a six-inch space between the roof and the walls for
ventilation. She couldn't breathe and, choking, concentrated hard to stop
from retching. She passed a cell where women huddled on the floor.
When they saw her, they bounded to their feet, pressing against and
reaching through the bars. They were dirty, skinny, and pathetic. Sarai
jumped backward, escaping their desperate attempts to grab onto her. The
guard pulled a long stick from inside her abaya and shouted at the
prisoners, hitting the stick against the bars. The women screeched and
shrank back, then cried out in the darkness. Sarai’s knees were
about to give out when the guard called out, “Come!"
She said a silent prayer for them, trying to block out their haunting,
Their cries echoed through Sarai, their despair etched on her soul,
She scanned the cell, the sea of women crammed together. "Oh my
goodness, a baby! What's a baby doing in there?" she gasped.
A woman stirred, then stood up.
“Sarai? Sarai is that you?"
Fatima was promising art student at the university. She was accused to
tea with an unrelated man and sent to ninety days in prison and one
Fatima clutched her dusty clothes as she staggered forward. Her long,
black hair was tangled and matted, her dirty face streaked with tears. The
other women in the cell crowded Fatima, pushing her into the iron bars.
"Get back," she shrieked. Fatima shoved and they backed up, disappearing
into their pitiful places deep inside the cell.
"Please don’t leave me here. Please, Sarai, please!"
Sarai swallowed hard and fought to suppress tears.
"Look what these bastards do. Look at the women in here."
Sarai looked around. Her eyes adjusted to the light, she saw several small
"Why are there children in prison?"
"Their mothers are charged with prostitution and are going to be killed on
"Yes—stoned to death."
"I don’t know. I just know that every one of them was raped. Even the little
"Not the children!"
"They are offspring of prostitutes. They’re no good."
"No good? They are innocent children."
"To them, they are not innocent. They are born with the sin of their
"Nonsense, they're defenseless children!" Sarai stiffened.
"No! They products of devil’s work. They are—"
"They are sick people. They pretend to be so pious, hiding behind their
Koran, using it as an excuse to abuse people. I want them all dead." She
"Fatima, you haven’t been raped, have you?"
"No way. I won’t let these lousy pigs touch me. I fight and scream.
Those women don’t fight. They've been taught to be submissive. None of
the guards have been able to rape me, and they won’t as long as I have the
strength to fight them off."
"Oh, Fatima. I wish there were something I could do."
"Just get me out. Sarai, Please."
“Okay. Time go," the guard said.
"I have to go, Fatima." Sarai said helplessly. The guard motioned
Sarai to walk.
"Sarai, get me out of here. Help me!"
Fatima’s pleas resonated down the halls, unceasing, lingering, chasing
Sarai until she burst through the front doors and straight into Father’s arms.
The prison guard gave Sarai’s father an order to go court.
The warden mocked Sarai’s father and yelled, “Why can you not control
your daughter? Are you the man of the family? Who is the head of the
household? The police department spared your daughter and your family
from shame. You served the kingdom for decades and your record is
white like a sheet of paper. Your
daughter failed to listen. She is going to prison, the one we showed her.”
“No, No, Father not prison.” Sarai collapsed in her father’s arms.
“After a frank incense bath cover the bruises with pequi oil, honey,
yellow kaolin, nilotica shea butter, lemon oil, and peppermint. Her bruises
should clear up quickly. The court hearing is written on the citation. I am
so sorry she has dishonored your name and home.” The warden said
Father retained a lawyer, Abdeen Hussain Abdullah, a man educated in
Europe. He was well read and understood Sarai’s argument. Abdeen said
the only soluton to Sarai’s liberty was for her to leave the country.
“Sarai’s determination is her destiny not her anatomy.” Abdeen sighed.
Sarai clarified her argument to her attorney and pointed out that, if
convicted, she would find liberty in prison worthy, as opposed to living as
a prisoner in a society obeying unjust laws.
The students at the university silently observed the case and, scared of the
moral police, no one dare to support Sarai’s argument. The news traveled
to the cleric who petitioned to the royal family to pass the case quickly and
prohibit the media. The senior members of the royal family complained
about Sarai’s unruly behavior. The religious police were ordered to
monitor the obedience of the segregation law at the university and arrest
anyone who joined the protest with Sarai and Mahout.
A few brave women in support for her plight were silenced and forced
to sign a pledge to abstain and refrain from speaking to the state controlled
media. Others who openly criticized the king’s heavy reliance on the
advice of the clerics were also arrested
and forced to sign a pledge to cease harboring destructive thoughts.
Mahout and Sarai’s family spent much time implementing a plan and
discussing Sarai liberty and perhaps leaving the country. Mahout
proposed marriage to Sarai and to live in France with Mahout’s uncle,
Father agreed for Sarai to marry Mahout and leave the country, but Mahout
was afraid to ask her for marriage because of his father’s warning. After
much thought Mahout asked Sarai’s father for her hand.
Besides Sarai’s attorney, her father was the only male allowed to visit
Just before the trial, Father visited and was distraught because he could
not convince her to marry Mahout.
“Sarai, Mahout offers his hand in marriage and live in France with his
uncle, Azil Abdeen.”
I love Mahout but I do not want to marry. I have to leave the country, but
without Mahout,” Sarai said.
“You know the law pertaining to travel. Women must have an escort,” her
“But, that is the purpose of going to court because I am not obeying
Sarai replied calmly.
“If I marry Mahout, I will not have the opportunity to find out who I
An order from the royal family asked the court to hold a private
hearing, to hear the arguments and force Sarai to pledge her irrationality
and obey the law. No family members were allowed except Father. The
judge heard the argument and made his
“Sarai Hussain, you are charged
with three counts. Count one is
disobeying the modesty dress law. Count two is openly criticizing and
harboring destructive thoughts to your peers at the university. Count three
is openly criticizing anti-discrimination gender laws as unjust laws,”
announced the judge.
“I read your statements to the religious police and is it true and our anti-
discrimination gender laws are unjust laws? Miss. Hussain, please
address the court and in your own words, please tell me why these laws
are considered unjust laws?”
“Your honor, a birth of a child is a great blessing for parents. I was
born as a curse to Mother and a burden to Father. Mother lives as a
prisoner in her own house. She is denied freedom of movement. Driving
and traveling is prohibited, unless she has a male chaperone. She cannot
work because of restraint and public policy. She wants to obtain a
business permit, but is short of having a male to complete all the papers.
The cost of hiring a man to begin and complete all the necessary papers
required by the ministry is economically out of Mother’s reach. Father is
busy and not able to meet appointments, so she depends on a hired driver.
The affordability of hiring a male to drive is an obstacle difficult to
overcome. Mother and other brave women were arrested seventeen years
ago because of protest to drive. Our laws denied her the privilege and her
bravery backfired to an unreasonable punishment. Her punishment she
endures to this day is damaged self-esteem. She finds herself worn-out,
old, and unworthy. Mother is only thirty-nine years old. Unjust laws
crushed her youthful spirit and shattered her dreams into a thousand
pieces. She is a painter, but her empty canvas rots next to an ironing
board. The religious
police for years have monitored her obedience. In her womb, she prayed
to Allah for a son and in her pregnancy, she feared of giving birth to a
Since birth, my anatomy is deemed seductive and must not be seen by the
world. The world waited in celebration for my birth, but because of my
anatomy I cannot partake in the celebration . I am considered seductive.
My body is hidden underneath the abaya to control the suffering of the
man. I have been told because of his weakness, not being able to control
his sexual lust, a woman’s body is hidden. My anatomy is my destiny.
Our anti-discrimination gender based laws are contrary to forming a
healthy society. The laws are unjust and to make a contribution to society,
I cannot pledge to obey unjust laws. Like my mother, I cannot drive,
travel, vote, and I am denied opportunities enjoyed by men.
The day I took my abaya and veil off is the day I realized the necessity
to invent illusions to control society. A few bright minds protest; however,
those in power marginalize and minimize those brave souls who see things
The rest of society suffers from apathy. Today, I am judged by a patriarch
who rules in a patriarchal society where women are a second-class sex.
A woman is denied using tools to her advantage, including my being who I
am, a woman. The man is free to fashion but a woman is kept beneath a
Allah created man and woman equal and free. An egalitarian society is a
just society because of opportunities using talents, a necessity, to realize
potentialities bestowed by genes in the state of nature. Your honor, the
distribution of the kingdom serves a patriarchal society to shield the power
of the king
and his royal family. The absence of the abaya unveils the necessary
illusions, a need by a few to control the mass. Do what you will, Your
Honor. Unjust laws damaged my mother’s intelligence, mind, and body.
Not only for my sake but for mother. My body aches with pain but no
amount of whippings and insults can break my spirit.”
The judge, bewildered, shook his head as he heard the argument from
Sarai, but failed to acknowledge her plight. He asked for a recess and
Father talked to Sarai’s attorney.
“What is Sarai’s punishment?”
“Sir, you must sign the pledge to vow obedience because your daughter
will be declared incorrigible by the court,” Abdeem replied.
“Insane! I sign under pretense?”
“Yes, after you sign the pledge we shall implement your plan,” Abdeen
Father realized his daughter was no longer a child but a
possessed keen insight.
“Yes, I’ll sign the pledge, and I’ll take her to Egypt to my sister’s house.
Sarai is live in a place where she is freer. Egypt offers opportunities
denied here,” he replied.
The judge entered the court room and asked if Mr. Abdeen had any
questions before sentencing.
Abdeen faced the Judge. “Sir, Mr. Hussain is asking full responsibility
and agrees to sign a pledge to keep Sarai at home. Sarai is to be
supervised by her father and her father is responsible for her complying
with the dress code.”
The judge asked Sarai to rise. “Sarai, you are in your father’s custody.
He is to
supervise you and make sure you follow the dress code. Your father is to
monitor you for two years and report to the court your progress. Sir, the
court is appointing a counselor to treat Sarai for her psychological
She is very sick, sir. Your daughter is very sick. Take care of her. To
place her in a rehabilitation institute is a disservice. The court decides to
place your daughter in your care, and she is prohibited to travel. As an
outstanding citizen of our community, I believe this is the best for Sarai
and her mother.
May Allah have mercy on her and may Allah give you strength to help
her through her mental illness.”
The judge faced Sarai. “Sarai, you need help. Your father is to monitor
you for two years, and you are not to leave the house unless escorted by
you father. Also, an arrangement has been made to treat your illness.
Sarai, you are very ill and placing you with your parents is my decision.
May Allah have mercy on your soul.” The judge slammed his gavel three
times ending the hearing.
Father signed the pledge and left the courtroom. Sarai agreed to living
with her aunt in Egypt and her aunt assured her there was no dress code
and she would be able to drive and enjoy other opportunities for a woman.
Sarai’s father covered Sarai and held her tighter, then he escorted her out
of the courtroom. Father pulsated with disbelief at how the judge depicted
her being ill. What was ill was the oppression of women. “Shameful,
Father repeated placing Sarai in the car to go home.
“Sarai, please forgive me. Your keen insight saves my soul. Your
mother suffers and the people are scared of the kingdom. No one dares to
challenge. I am taking you to
Egypt. There you’ll have more freedom. I’ll support you, darling. Oh,
Sarai how can I make it up to your mother? How?” Father asked in tears.
The order of the judge was firm and an appeal was unheard of to
challenge him, who was one of many senior members of the royal family of
Sarai was under house arrest for two years and the order included her
education and counsel for her illness. This was an unbearable task for the
Mahout waited at Sarai’s house for the judge’s decision. Her father in
tears sat down with Mahout and said, “The judge ordered two years of
house arrest and treatment for her mental illness. The judge points out
Sarai’s illness, but we know we have the illness. Half of our society is
oppressed and in truth our society is dysfunctional. How can we take
Sarai to Egypt? My sister lives there and policies of Egypt are freer than
the policies set by the kingdom. In Egypt people vote and just recently a
woman judge heard a case in a high court. Also, the dress code is your
choice and the country offers mobility.
Sarai can obtain her driver’s license and be mobile to travel.”
Mahout loved Sarai and agreed to help her father find a way to et her out
of the country to Egypt.
Sarai took her painting of the desert flowers in bloom to Mahout.
“I have lost my will to live. Burn the painting and take the ashes to the
desert of the flowers in bloom. Like the ashes, my mind and body will be.
I will not eat nor drink.
”Sarai embraced him.
“Oh, Sarai, you carry our ignorance on your shoulders. Yes, your life is
precious and destiny is sinful it is based on anatomy. I am so sorry I acted
cowardly. I am deeply
ashamed. I will find a way to take you to Egypt. My eyes behold you, and
my heart treasures you, my beloved,” Mahout whispered.
Sarai and Mahout embraced with an encouraging look from Mother.
Mahout would find a way to her to Egypt without any strings attached.
Mahout loved her, but Sarai needed time alone to fulfill her destiny in a
supportive environment. Mahout left after sharing a cup of tea and
consoling the family until the clock chimed midnight.
Mahout and Father, through a group of human-rights defenders, met one
esteemed member, Abdullah al-Hamid. Mr. Hamid was one of three
prominent reformers whom the king had pardoned. He agreed to help
Mahout and Father once Sarai’s wounds healed. Hamid arranged an
Egyptian passport and transportation for Sarai to leave her town for
Jeddah and Duba, in the north-east pat of Saudi Arabia. Duba is a port city
and ferries and ships operate from here for Egypt and Jordan. Sarai spent
her last hours with her mother and father. The young lady felt sad leaving
her parents and Mahout. She hugged the three over and over.
The hour of departure was near and father drove her to an isolated place
by the desert of flowers in bloom. Father and Sarai sat in the dark until the
driver of a stretched Lexus flashed headlights twice and, having
identification as an Egyptian and passport to match, Sarai left her father.
“Sarai, you will be safe in this place. Many people are here to help you.
People I trust. Here s money to help on your journey.” Father hugged her
Sarai enters the Lexus and left with three men disguised as prominent
Her instruction was to crawl into a fetus position and the chauffeur
slipped her passport
underneath the carpet. Two men sat in the back to hide Sarai and their
white flowing robes successfully camouflaged her tiny body. The robes
were bright white and stood out like men of high rank. The vehicle was
ordered to stop mid-way by police.
“Where are you heading?” asked the police officer.
“I am taking the distinguished gentlemen to Duba for an important
“Prince Ben-Aziz-Bill has a council meeting for tribal leaders nearby.
We represent the entire area outside Jeddah. I have sealed petitions.”
“May I see the petitions?”
“If you insist. What is your name?” asked the man sitting in the back.
“I need your papers and the petitions, please.”
“Mr. Kazaan, do not displease the prince. A broken seal will be a risk
“You may go.” The officer handed back the identification and the
“What would the officer find if he removed the seal?”
“Nothing. Empty papers cut in squares.”
Driving north to Duba, the senior human-rights defender whispered her
new name of Fatima and handed her an Egyptian passport. The senior
defender took her to a man dressed as a fisherman, and he stored her on a
large commercial fishing boat. The man’s face was creased and his
wrinkles draped. He soothed Sarai with a warm smile.
“Coming to Egypt illegally is not simple, and to be honest, quite
of those who tried to do it have paid dearly, some of them dying
asphyxiated in the hull of a cargo ship, some others freezing to death in
Those who are caught are sent to prison. But you are safe here. I have
shepherd these fish for six decades, and they call me, ‘the old man of the
“Oh no, I have seen the women’s prison. I’d rather die among these
fish than to go back.” Sarai shuddered, clamping her clammy hands to a
stowaway fish crate, terrified of being caught. The fisherman smiled and
stored Sarai among large fish and left the Gulf of Suez to Suez.
gave the fisherman a new set of clothes for Sarai,
including a white veil which looks more like a scarf.
“Your mother packed a yellow blouse and a yellow comb with a black
skirt and shoes,” the fisherman said.
“Thank you,” Sarai replied.
“Cairo is a good place for you because around half of Egypt’s
residents live in urban areas with the majority spread across the densely
populated cities of greater Cairo. Cairo is the triumphant city of our
glorious capital and the cradle of civilization, ”the fisherman boasted.
The well-known commercial fishing boat reached the port to unload fish
and Sarai quickly changed her clothes and folded the abaya and veil in a
neat square. Sarai placed the squeezed abaya and veil in a plastic bag and
put them in a duffle bag. She would take them with her and dispose them
at her aunt’s house.
Sarai’s uncle met Sarai at the port, thanking the fisherman for hiding
and transporting her safely. Her uncle’s car was waiting and her aunt
“I’m Zama, your aunt. You were very young when I left Saudi.
uncle is Egyptian and after many efforts the kingdom approved my
departure to reside with him, “ her aunt said in a pleasant voice.
“I love Egypt and was happy to leave the kingdom. I love Shaeed and did
not want my marriage arranged by my parents. Everything else is history.
You can live with us, but your father send a message that the central
intelligence agency of the kingdom is looking for you. Your father and
mother sent money and Saheed arranged a flight from Cairo to Paris.
Mahout’s uncle, Azil Abdeen, and his wife learned of your plight and
couldn’t believe how brave you are.
You can live with them and Azil will petition for political asylum. Your
father has connections in high places. Mahout’s uncle married a French
woman, and he joined his wife in Paris,” Zama said softly. “If you like
Cairo, you can stay, but it is a risk and we have to plea for political
asylum. I believe France is your better option.”
Zama and Sarai sat in the backseat as Saheed drove the car to their house
in greater Cairo. Zama’s house stood gracefully on one third acre of
land. It was spacious and Zama had creatively prepared Sarai’s room.
Sarai considered her option to go to France.
After Sarai settled in Zama’s house, she had a few weeks to think
about the offer and painted on the veil. Her round trip ticked was
purchased by Saheed for Paris. This would be a real challenge to start a
life as a free woman in a democratic society, and an opportunity to utilize
her talents as an artist. She could see herself painting on canvas and
meeting lost of people.
Is it possible I could earn a living as an artist? she thought. Maybe an
and mingling freely with other artist, exchanging ideas and art.
She wanted to call her father and mother, but Zama instructed her not to
call or be in contact. She missed Mahout, but living a life in Cairo meant
complete separation from her parents and the man she loved. The airline
ticket on her dresser and permanent separation from her parents and
Mahout was too much for the young woman.
“Zama and Saheed, thank you for this ticket. I must leave Cairo and
take the flight to Paris. Separating from my parents and Mahout is
Again, I am not free. I must have contact with my parents and Mahout.
Not speaking to them is another form of bondage. Father always has
official business in France, and hopefully he will bring mother like in the
Thank you so much for your efforts,” Sarai said softly.
“Good, Sarai, the flight is your destiny because of your efforts. Your
artistry will bloom because of the environment you have chosen. You will
have many opportunities there as opposed to the kingdom and Egypt. Here
you have to constantly look over your shoulders. A few more days and
Paris awaits you. Paris is a city of artists, which will inspire and unfold
your potential, which was denied at birth,” Zama said triumphantly.
Zama and Saheed took Sarai to the airport, and she kissed Zama at the
“ I have never met a lady, who is so kind.” Sarai embraced her. The
gate process with Saheed simplified Sarai’s entrance. There was no
luggage to process but the one duffle bag she was allowed to carry on the
At the final gate Sarai said, “Thank you, Saheed. When I arrive in Paris,
please send this package to the judge of the high court.” Sarai took the
package from her duffle bag.
“What is this, Sarai?”
“A note,” Sarai handed him the package.
“What does the note say?” Saheed asked anxiously.
The note was addressed to the Honorable Judge of the High
“My name is Sarai Hussain and the high court declared me ill. Please
find enclosed a painted veil no longer needed.”
“Praise Allah, Sarai,” I shall send the package. Saheed admired her
He waited until Air France lifted Sarai to her freedom.
She looks lovely in her yellow blouse and yellow comb so beautiful in
her jet black hair, Saheed thought, waving goodbye.
The package arrived a few
weeks later to the judge who heard the case.
The servant opened the package and removed a veil. He gave the veil to
the honorable judge. The judge looked at desert flowers in bloom hand
painted in magnificent color on the white veil. A little note was attached
to the veil.
The judge read the note aloud, “Sir, please find a gift from Sarai, who
does not require a veil. My gift is my last veil, a painting of the desert
flowers in bloom. May this be a symbol of freedom for every woman in
Saudi Arabia. Sarai.”
The distinguished judge wanted to cut the veil and burn it. He ordered
the servant to bring a razor, but the judge could not cut the veil. He looked
at the veil and for just one moment, he saw her truth. Yes, nature can only
blossom and bloom at best if the environment is good, the Judge thought.
The judge walked to his private garden, a huge one half acre, and looked at
an oak tree and a cypress tree.
“Do you see those two trees?” the judge said to his servant.
The servant, confused and not knowing what this was all about, said,
“Yes, I see the trees Your Honor, Your Royal Highness.”
“You know, the oak tree and the cypress tree cannot grow if planted close
together. I planted those trees knowing they must be planted far apart in
order to grow beautifully. Oak tree and cypress trees can only grow to
their potential when planted apart. Each of those trees is gracious when it
He looked once more at Sarai’s veil.
“I can’t destroy this veil. My hand will not allow it. Be silent
no one.” the judge whispered. He folded the veil fourfold and hid it in a
golden jar. He sealed the jar and placed it on his executive desk. He
closed the door to his study and prepared for another case.
Years passed and the golden jar remained sealed on the judge’s executive
desk, untouched. Each day the judge wanted to break the jar to behold the
beauty of Sarai’s veil - a painting of desert flowers in bloom.
The memory of Sarai’s courage, her words of wisdom, and her eloquent
style had a grip on the judge so that his death wish was to break the golden
jar and honor Saria’s painted veil as a symbol of compassion, love, and
freedom for her society.