My name is Faisal Bin Hawil. I am an American of Saudi Arabian origin. Both my parents are born Saudi Arabians living in the United States of America. Saudi Arabia is a country situated in the Arab Middle East formally known as The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, which loosely translated to Arabia of the Al-Saud was approved in 1932, less than 10 years after the state was unified by empire founding ruler Abdulaziz bin Saud. Since it is where Mecca is and where Medina; the place where Prophet Muhammad was laid to rest, Saudi Arabia is indeed the divine home of 20% of the world’s Islam believers. It borders Jordan, Iraq and Kuwait (Wilson 6).
Until the Discovery 101 class, my knowledge of my background and identity was very sketchy. Most of my relatives reside in Saudi Arabia and they rarely visit. I had therefore never gotten an opportunity to enquire about my roots. I have always assumed and called myself a Saudi American due to my background and current location. The Discovery 101 class challenged me to seek to dig up my past and learn more about my cultural ethnic and racial background. Thanks to my mother Fatuma Maimuna, who is an inspiration and very valuable person in my life, I got to find out about my customs, traditions and history of our family by interviewing her.
Fatuma Maimuna was born to Raheem Isaack and Aisha Abdul on the 20th of November 1956 in Riyadh City, Al Riyadh province of Saudi Arabia. Her parents named her after her father’s grandmother. Her family members nicknamed her ‘Fatu’, short for Fatuma. She was the third born of six siblings and a member of a family of 12 including her 2 cousins, grandmother and aunt. They would dine together as children while their parents, grandmother and aunt dined separately. The food was mostly prepared by the mother and grandmother. Her favorite food was biryani rice.
Her family being practicing Muslims, they celebrated the Eed festivities; the Eid Al-Fitr and the Eid Al-Adha. The Eid Al-Fitr is the first of the two yearly celebrations. It is the celebration of the end of the fasting period. It is also a family holiday, an equivalent of a Christmas and Thanksgiving in the USA. The Eid Al-Adha marks the end of Hajj. The family gets together, a lamb is killed, a big household repast made and food or gifts donated to the poor (Janin and Besheer 117, 119). The holidays were a very crucial part in her childhood memories as she recalls them with great fondness. All her relatives from far and wide would gather together. She got to play with her cousins who lived away and visited seldom. She also recalls the celebrations upon birth of her two younger siblings. They got to eat her favorite biryani rice and drank her favorite soda.
Fatuma says that during her childhood days, the world was more peaceful than it is now. Young men were very religious and respected all alike unlike these days. The society was more tolerant and the family more united. These days, she says the family is made of up to five members only. She recalls her family of twelve and how everyone lived happily, united and protected one another. She also chuckles at how technology has changed the communication and reduced the world to a global village. During her time, it took ages before people got to communicate unlike these days of electronic mails, telephone and video calls. In her childhood, her grandmother dedicated herself to bringing them up in the proper ways. Her grandmother, Binti Halima would share with them stories in the evenings. Fatuma claims that these days’ people are too occupied to have some personal time together.
Fatuma vividly recalls stories from her grandmother about how their great grandparents established the kingdom that is Saudi Arabia, the capture of Al Riyadh in 1902, the collaboration with the British and how their family finally settled in Al Riyadh. (Tim 35). She also remembers stories about their forefathers who were pastoralist traversing different areas in search of food and shelter. Her great great grandfather was a famous trader who dealt in the business of jewelry.
I got to learn a great deal from my mother, the sacrifices she has taken for us to be together as a family. Fatuma met my father Abdul Majjid while she worked as a secretary at the Saudi Arabia US embassy headquarters. My father worked in the USA but was a frequent visitor of customs since he was a business person. Though initially reluctant, she accepted his proposal after 3 years of courtship and quit her job. She recalls how my father went to his parents to tell them that he had met the girl of his dreams. My paternal grandmother then asked around about my mother’s family and in the end went to my mother’s family to ask for her hand in marriage. A date was put for the engagement at a mosque. During this period, her mother taught her about the institution of marriage and how to be a good wife and mother. Shoura was presented to both families as the wedding drew closer. Weeks leading to the wedding, baklava and several tasty foods were prepared. The wedding was held on the 16th of May 1978. Fatuma recalls the ceremony fondly, how pretty she looked in her dress. There was lots of food, very many people in attendance. The men offered lambs to feed on in merry. Shourba, salads and chicken was also in plenty.
My mother’s love for my father is a great lesson in marriage for me. She truly adores my father and says the honesty they practice and devotion to Allah is the one thing that has sustained their marriage. She loves the fact that he is a kind, humble and a man with a good heart. They sort out everything in the family amicably but also remind us that there is not a perfect marriage. They may have little disagreements but it’s only human to do so. I am really proud of them.
My parents decided to name us after our grandparents. I was named after my father’s favorite aunt while my brother Ali Hassan was named after my mother’s father. My sister Fauziah Hassan is named after mother’s step mother. She believes that the good traits of those we were named after will flow down to us. She believes it has worked as we are very good children and have never failed the family.
My mother tells me that my dad is from the Makkah, the location of Mecca though he comes far from the capital. Due to his many businesses, he decided to move to the USA to join with his uncles who lived here. Her uncle was a member of the mayor back in Saudi Arabia. All her family members are practicing Muslims of conservative faith. They pray five times a day, take part in Ramadhan, follow the teachings of the Holy Quran to the latter.
James McBride’s The Color of Water proved very resources to my interview. Ruth and James both had a time when they questioned their backgrounds. Ruth has to harmonize her background cultural traditions and spiritual beliefs with her interaction with black people and her belief in Christianity. James and Ruth both decide to grasp all from their pasts while appreciating that they seek to forge on and discover their own lives not clouded by their pasts.
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri also brings out the theme of identity. Ashima cannot bring herself to utter her husband’s name even in his death. She fails to comprehend that his name and identity are intertwined. This generates a gap between the identityof Ashoke and his name. Gogol initially having been ashamed of his indian name and origin, comes to terms with it and learns to appreciate his past when he gets married to his old friend Moushumi Mazumdar.
To conclude, through exploring The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri and James McBride’s The color of Water I came to a better identity of my past. My interview gave me a clearer understanding of my background as well. Just like Gogol, I realized why I was called Faisal Bin Hawil and what it means to me and my family. I accepted my identity like James and Ruth. I am named after my father’s favorite aunt and I am proud of it. I am a Saudi American and all these contribute to the person I am to date. My name is Faisal Bin Hawil and I am proud of my heritage.
Niblock, Tim. Saudi Arabia: Power, legitimacy and survival. Routledge, 2013. Print
Wilson, Peter W. Saudi Arabia: the coming storm. ME Sharpe, 1994. Print
Zubaida, Sami. “Islam and the Politics of Community and Citizenship.” Middle East Report 31.4; ISSU 221 (2001): 20-27. Print
Janin Hunt, and Besheer Amrgaret. Cultures of the World Saudi Arabia printed in china. Times Media Private Limited, 2003. Print