An American Woman in Saudi Arabia – Sabeeha Rehman


My presentation is about my observations of Saudi culture while living and working at a hospital in Riyadh. It is a place where my husband and I went on a two-year contract and ended up staying for six years. I will share episodes which will likely dismantle some of the misconceptions about Saudi women; the culture shock I experienced and the ease with which I and many of the expats adapted to what is perceived to be a restrictive lifestyle. I will share my observations about a woman’s place in the corporate culture and the contradictions in the lifestyle. Offered an influential position at the hospital, I had to seek my husband’s permission to work. Imagine my shock when hanging out in a lingerie store, I am approached by a salesman, or my fear in encountering the morality police, my surprise at discovering the freedom in the abaya, and my confusion in learning that Bedouin women were driving in the desert when city women could not. I share the experience of being there when the towers fell on 9/11, the impact of the invasion of Iraq, the passing of King Fahd in the hospital I worked in, and I take the listeners on a spiritual journey of the hajj. In closing, I will draw attention to how much has not changed: that despite recent edicts to relax some of the rules, tradition endures.

Short bio:

Sabeeha Rehman, an author, blogger and speaker on the American Muslim experience, is best known for Threading My Prayer Rug. One Woman’s Journey From Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim. The book was Short-listed for the 2018 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, won Booklist and San Francisco Book Festival honors, and was listed among top memoirs by Readers Digest. She has given over 250 talks in nearly 100 cities at houses of worship, academic institutions, libraries, and community organizations, including Chautauqua Institution. Her writings have been published in The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, New York Daily News, Forward, The Baltimore Sun, and Washington Jewish Week. She has co-authored with Walter Ruby her second book We Refuse to be Enemies. How Muslims and Jews Can Make Peace, One Friendship at a Time (April 2021). Her third book It’s Not What You Think. An American in Saudi Arabia was published in October 2022.