A Saudi Welcome. By Omar Hayat – Life and Society


"MUHAMMAD", the young Saudi boy, who appeared no more than 7 years old, shouted at my colleague, a respected senior Engineer from Syria who had been working in Saudi for many years.


My colleague turned to me, rolling his eyes in sad resignation, and said, "Welcome to Saudi Arabia!"

I had been in Saudi only a few days and had already witnessed some things which were worrying, amongst them, the disrespect of non-Saudi workers. If you looked like a foreigner (not wearing the Saudi ‘shammagh’ and ‘awqaal’ (head-dress)), respect for you would go out of the window.

Have patience, I had to keep telling myself. I came here to this blessed place to improve myself as a Muslim by living amongst people who are from the land of Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alaihi wassallam). You will find good and bad people everywhere in the world, even in the ‘civilised’ West. At least the Saudis do not hate me for being Muslim – a hatred I had witnessed first-hand whilst living in the West. Hopefully, I will see something good from someone soon…

That soon was almost instant as a few days later, whilst at work I witnessed something amazing.

I went out to pray and grab a bite for lunch. After finishing my prayer, I realised that I had missed the turn for Emmy's drive-thru from where I had planned to get a sandwich and a juice. As the detour to drive back to Emmy’s was long as the restaurant was on a one-way street, I decided to walk, which was approximately a 10 minutes journey.

The sun was blazing and the midday heat was relentless. I started sweating profusely but the thought of a juicy chicken fajita sandwich kept me going!

On reaching Emmy's, I saw there were three cars waiting in the queue so I went behind the last car and 'joined' the queue on foot.

After a minute or so of waiting, the man in the car in front beckoned to me. I went to see what he wanted. He told me that he did not like me standing there in the heat and that I should sit and wait with him in his car. Never having seen anything like it and coming from the very nonchalant culture of the West, where this kind of familiarity is rare, I felt a little uneasy at his request. Although he was an elderly Saudi gentleman, he had a lady sitting with him in his car which added to my uneasiness. I thanked him for his kind gesture but refused politely. However, he was having none of it. Due to his persistence and to show an older Muslim respect, I reluctantly got into his luxurious all-leather Grand Marquis, which was so cool that it made me instantly forget the sweltering heat I had just been standing in.

I made myself comfortable. To my pleasant surprise, the gentleman spoke fluent English. He told me that he and his sister were on their way to visit their mother in hospital. As we chatted, our turn arrived and we placed our orders.

The food was served and as I was about to pay and thank my host for his kind gesture before getting out of his car to leave, he preceded me in paying. When I tried to pay for my lunch, the Emmy’s waiter told us that he had already deducted the money for my lunch too, to which the elderly gentleman replied, “excellent!”, showing his approval at the waiter'initiative. I tried to reason with him, telling him that he had already been too kind but he was not intent on listening. I, almost in embarrassment, thanked himgraciously and tried to get out of the car but he said that there was one last thing left to do – drop me off to where my car was!

I sat there in complete silence, almost too shocked to talk. I had never experienced such hospitality from a stranger whilst living in the West.

He did not even bat an eyelid as if to tell me that his gesture was nothing special. Without speaking, he was saying, “for us Saudis, this kind of hospitality is the norm.”

Needless to say, that was one of my tastiest lunches ever!

It’s been almost 2 years since this incident but whenever I think about it, it still brings a smile to my face and warmth to my heart. Since then, I have seen my fair share of Saudi arrogance and Saudi goodness! But overall, I have to say that the good points greatly outweigh the bad points.

Take one small example. Whilst sitting in a taxi yesterday, I asked the Pakistani taxi driver how long he had been living in Saudi. He told me he had been here for over 27 years and dearly loved the place. It had helped him and his family live comfortably and made him feel safe and secure unlike in Pakistan where he felt real danger, especially in some places, every time he went out.

“Welcome to Saudi Arabia!”, my Syrian engineering colleague had said to me. After the above incident, I truly felt welcomed.

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