Saudi Arabia: Shari’a Law Meets Reality

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THE FOLLOWING is based upon my personal observations of Saudi Arabian society as an English language teacher over a four-year period. Throughout my time in Saudi I lived in four cities: Jubail, Dammam, Medina, and Riyadh.

The first thing one notices in Saudi Arabia is the segregation of the sexes, which is virtually complete in both public and private arenas. Only once did I enter a Saudi house and see a mother and daughter unveiled. One leading advisor to King Abdullah did utter a recent pronouncement that a man could fraternize with a woman who was not his wife only if he took some of her breast milk. Another scholar, worried about the increase of women going out in public on their own, advocated that groping such transgressors should be a male Muslim’s duty.

Consequently, men and boys grow up in highly homosocial environments. Not surprisingly, same-sex acts and relationships abound. To be sure, the punishment for homosexual acts under Shari’a law is death by beheading. However, in the four years that I was there (2009-2013), there were no executions; nor were there any significant clampdowns on expressions of homosexuality that I was aware of.

In my four years in Saudi Arabia, I personally was propositioned on the street by three men and by many of my students. I knew of several Westerners who were in gay relationships with Saudi men, and two active gay male circles. There is also a well-known Starbucks coffeehouse in the center of Riyadh that’s known as a gay meeting place, where many an expatriate has picked up a partner for casual sex. One very straight Saudi student of mine bemoaned the fact that “Saudi Arabia has too many gays, over twenty percent.” One of my eighteen-year-old students was in love with Justin Bieber and said he had no need of women.

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