How to get Shot in Saudi Arabia!

Machine gun… as salam ‘alaykum wa rahmatullaah,

This story is not so much a “how to” as much as it is a “do not do under any circumstances.” My family and I were on our way to drive to the Corniche, which is a long strip of boardwalk and ocean-side beach, when we turned left onto Amir Naif Street. There we saw a beautiful display in the middle of the roundabout which looked like pots; all of them spouting water and while this one was not as exceptional as some of the others in Jeddah, we felt it was at least worth a photo. I turned the car around in the roundabout, stopped at the concrete divider and we took out the camera, and that is when the trouble started…

Suddenly, I could hear men screaming from behind us and a man came running out to the car with a fully automatic machine-gun. He was yelling in Arabic, “What are you doing?! Give me the camera!!” I handed him my wife’s digital camera, put my hands up and said in English, “Here it is!” I put my hands up. He didn’t speak a word of English, and although my spoken Arabic is somewhat broken, my understanding has greatly improved from being here for over four months.

“Get out of the Car!” he responded in Arabic. That I clearly understood, and he gestured me to follow him to a security spot, gaurding what I assumed was the Prince’s house where we were joined by a second army guy with an even bigger machine-gun.

“Give us your papers!” the first one said. Now, because this beach area was hardly fifteenminutes from our house, I didn’t bring all of my identification. I mean it is not like I was driving to Makkah or Madinah or something. They both looked at what little identification I had and took turns questioning me, both of them with fingers on their triggers. “Where’s your papers?” I explained I live in Jeddah, I wasn’t traveling (needing my papers) and we were on our way to the Corniche. “Where is the benefit in photographing near here?” Again, in broken Arabic, I explained that we were driving along, saw the small center-piece in the middle of the roundabout and stopped for a picture. The other said, “Where are you from?” I answered that I was from Canada. He said, “La, aslan aslan, enta min fin?” Meaning, “No, originally, where are you from?” Good thing it was not my first time being asked this, as so often when I tell people I am from Canada they say the above phrase, as if they cannot believe that a Canadian would have converted to Islaam. I told them I am originally from Canada, that I became Muslim, that I was a Muhaajir and that THEY were the Ansaar (helpers of those who migrated) who were about to shoot me.

Did I see their fingers ease up off their triggers? Yes, al-hamdulillaah, they eased up in their disposition, one of them even smiled at me and asked seeking clarification, “Before you were a Christian, then you changed to become a Muslim?” “Yes.” I answered, “And I moved to Jeddah to make Hijrah.” I must have still looked scared because the other guard said to me, “Don’t be afraid, you’ re Muslim and we’re Muslims, and now you’re with the Muslims.” I told him, “Look at you! You guys come running up to my car with guns and tell me not to be afraid? I swear by Allaah! I was afraid you were going to shoot me in front of my wife and daughter.”

Now they put their guns by their sides and told me to wait until someone else arrived. I didn’t understand exactly what they said after that, but I knew we were waiting for someone with more authority than them. Now, I am no stranger to guns, growing up in Sault Ste. Marie with both sides of my family being hunters, fishers, and one of my Grandfather’s a trapper, I was accustomed to seeing and even using rifles. In my wannabe gangster days, we even had our hands on handguns, pumps, and other weapons. Let me tell you though that it is an entirely different experience when you’re standing before a man with a fully automatic machine-gun and he’s ready to use it on you.

They told me to wait again and to not be afraid until a Ford Crown Victoria pulled up and a heavily decorated man with a beret on his head and three stars on his shoulders stood before me. He wasn’t very tall but he looked at me for a second, gave me salaams and I responded, I went to go on speaking but he gestured me to stop. He looked at what little identification I had and asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was an English teacher. He asked me where I taught, I remembered I had a School’s business card on me and I gave it to him. He said, “This school is right over there in Shaa’tee district?” I said, “Yes, it is behind Prince Mamdooh’s house.” He asked, “You know Prince Mamdooh?” I answered, “We sit in his house sometimes on Thursdays.” Now he looked at me carefully. 

I thought to myself that maybe it wasn’t a good idea mentioning Prince Mamdooh’s house since he might think I am collecting information about the Princes and their palaces. He said, “Don’t be afraid.” I nodded and he asked, ‘Is that your car?” I nodded again. “Your family is with you?” I said, “Yes, and they too must be afraid.” He handed my papers to the first guard and told him. “No problem, he doesn’t look like a …(word I couldn’t make out), he has a car and a family, let him go.” He turned to me and said, “Take pictures along the corniche, but to photograph near government (Hakoomah) buildings is impermissible (Mamnu’).” I told him after today, it would never happen again.

The second security guard handed me back my wife’s camera and identification and patted me on the back and said, “See? Everything is o’kay.” I nodded, gave the Salaams and as I was leaving they asked me to make du’aa for them. They were very nice brothers and I made du’aa that they never have to shoot anyone and that Allaah protects them because sometimes, evil terrorists make these guys targets for doing their jobs, and while I was admittedly shaken from the experience, I remembered that just after Ramadhaan someone stormed a security checkpoint and killed one or two officers. They have a difficult job to do, I got back in the car, handed my wife the camera and after the Salaams said, “No more pictures today, o’kay?” She nodded and I we drove to the corniche, I told her everything that happened. It took me over an hour to completely calm down but finally I was o’kay and enjoyed the rest of the day with my family.

More next time…

Canadian Muhaajir

Published in: on March 9, 2007 at 12:33 am  Leave a Comment  

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