In the Land of Invisible Women by Qanta A. Ahmed
Qanta’s visa has run out and has not been renewed so she has to make up her mind about where to go next. She’s a new doctor who has been training and living in the United States, in New York. When she is offered the chance to serve at a national hospital for a year in Saudi Arabia, she takes the job. Qanta knew that she would be entering into a different world, but she thinks because of her Muslim upbringing that it will not be that bad. Qanta is both right and wrong.
Upon landing in Saudi Arabia, Qanta can’t do anything without a man. She even has to wait for a man from her job to come and take her out of the airport. She can’t drive a car. She has to wear a veil. She cannot travel out of the country without the permission of a man, usually this would be a male family member, but because Qanta’s family is not Saudi, Qanta gets permission from her employer.
In the hospital Qanta soon encounters many strange and interesting things. She meets Bedouin women who have facial tattoos because they are tribe leaders. She meets women who are feminists. She meets men who are feminists. She treats abused children. She treats abused wives.
During all of this, Qanta is able to learn more about her religion. She learns that the Sharia law practiced in Saudi Arabia is not the practice intended by her religion. Qanta is even able to go to Mecca to complete the Hajj. After her year is over, she is glad to return elsewhere, where she can be a free woman.
What I liked
This book was very interesting. I had a pen pal from Saudi Arabia for a while and I cannot imagine living her life. She couldn’t drive anywhere on her own. It was crazy. It’s neat to learn about a different place from a personal view, especially a view of someone who is marginalized in that culture. It’s where you get the truth about the particular culture that you’re investigating.
What I didn’t like
While Qanta’s story is highly interesting, I hate it. I don’t hate how Qanta told her story or the story itself. I hate the stuff that happened in it. Nobody should be treated like Qanta was treated, or how any of the women are treated in her reflections. Women aren’t second-class citizens. They shouldn’t have to hide under robes because their bodies might be seductive to men who apparently don’t know how to control themselves. They should have equal rights as men, here, and anywhere in the world. The fact that there is still a country treating women like this is insane. They’re using a religion prerogative to demean and discriminate. Remember what I’ve said, religion is supposed to inclusive not exclusive. When you put a bunch of restrictions on somebody because of religion you’re being exclusive and that’s not how religion works, or it’s not how it’s supposed to work.
I lived under somewhat strict religious guidelines for quite a while. To a degree, I was marginalized because I was a woman, but there are people who have it worse. Too much of Qanta’s story reminds me of memoirs I’ve read about women in the FLDS compounds.
Even in my less strict religious tenants, I’ve still heard the argument that women are supposed to cover up because they might be tempting to men. If you believe this, you’re essentially admitting that men don’t know how to control themselves. It amazes me how none of this affects the machismo of the men trying to enforce these silly rules. Double standards and fuzzy logic I guess.
I couldn’t go to Saudi Arabia.
Could you go to Saudi Arabia?
Would you want to go to Saudi Arabia?