Reflecting on 2017 and it feels like it went on forever. In many ways, this was a monumental year for women. So many things were gained and so many things were lost.
My biggest gain came in September, after a 9 month battle in what is perhaps my crowning moment here in KSA. On that fateful day, news came that I had officially won a great victory for hundreds of women working in the private sector in this region - against what was largely considered "an insurmountable" enemy - someone holding a very powerful position in the hierarchies...
Initially, when it all began, I didn't see it as having anything to do with me. But then, when things got progressively worse and the behaviour could not be categorised as anything other than verbal, emotional and psychological abuse to these women - I could no longer stay silent. I reckoned that I was appointed as The Mentor, their Mentor - and what kind of Leadership would I display if I stayed silent during the most outrageous atrocities I've ever witnessed in the Kingdom - against young and naive professional women who didn't know how to fight back?
What made this victory so great was the magnitude of it. I was initially told by everyone, EVERYONE - from the people at the bottom, to the people high up in the ranks - that any attempt to take down this Tyrant would be futile. I can still remember the pity in some of their voices. They told me that there have been many attempts from people far more powerful, with far more resources, and even they didn't come close to dismantling the pyramid of evil headed by Mr. Tyrant. What surprised me most was that the locals here, in their own country, were terrified of him - as was everyone else including the British and the Americans - all of them refusing to stand up against him.
And so it happened that God put me on that path one day, when Mr. Tyrant decided to do what every despot does when faced with a dissenter - he wanted to silence me by threatening and intimidating me which was ultimately his first and biggest mistake. Never underestimate the power of someone who has nothing to loose. It is also a grievous mistake to undermine someone who has no regard for consequences. Anyone who knows me, knows that my sadistic tendencies extend (but are not limited) to spending my entire life waiting for the fool who would even dare to threaten me in any capacity, just so that I can make an example of them.
Those were dark days (like, literally; the sun set at 5pm and it was winter) and they were tough on my health, mind and soul too. I was absolutely livid, and I decided there and then that I was not going to rest until I did something about it. I was fully prepared to wait for however long it would take, until a time came when they had long forgotten about me - and that's when I would strike (because... those are the other sadistic tendencies).
In the meantime I decided I would pray. I prayed, dear reader, not because I'm some kind of beacon or monument to righteousness. No, I prayed because I wanted God to guide me to the exact plan of action - down to every tiny detail - so that I would not transgress in any minute way that would impede the maximum punishment that I wanted for this excuse of a human being.
See, in Islam, we're allowed to strike back but only in equal measure to that which was inflicted upon us. Any more than that, even in the slightest instance, makes you the oppressor and ultimately, the one to be held accountable. What I wanted for Mr. Tyrant was every ounce of public humiliation and disgrace, equal to that which he liberally dished out on a daily basis to hundreds of young female professionals who were looking for a chance to build themselves up in the emerging economy.
And so I visited the holy city of Makkah, enraged, and quite demanding. I was quickly placated and could feel God telling me to calm down. Patience. It will come. It always does.
I prayed for Justice specifically because I didn't want Karma. Karma was not good enough for him. See, Justice is more deliberate. It's intentional and it is something we're entitled to whereas Karma would be letting the autocrat find his retribution elsewhere. I wanted him penalised for his actions that were carried out in the "here and now", in that specific environment, in that specific context - and I wanted him to know who it was that brought him to trial. So I put my name on all the documentation.
My biggest obstacle were the women. They were all willing to fight for the cause, but were caught up in their own internal wars among each other - different tribes, different opinions, different values... all very strong and independent and vocal and opinionated among each other - but not enough for them to do this on their own.
They were happy for me to be their leader, but that meant I had to spend a large amount of my time and energy rallying the troops, trying to resolve their differences and uniting the factions - trying to get them to see the bigger picture, the bigger enemy. Lord! If my ancestors could have seen me preaching Islam to the Arabs in the middle of the desert, in the most conservative city in the world; the very people the religion came to in the first place; I'm sure they would all die again. The situation was just incredulous.
There were some among my mentees and protégés who started off strong, but as time wore on, so did their resolve. I understood how they felt. Many of them had families, children, husbands and parents to take care of, and they couldn't emotionally commit to a war on that level. They still supported us, but ever less vocal and invested as time wore on.
Then there were others that were whole heartedly steadfast and dedicated to the cause with nerves of steel - out for blood. I was so proud of them for their courage against all odds, in the face of fear, in a culture that doesn't promote speaking out (and actually punishes it). They were willing to fight for their rights until the very end.
For the committed, I had to constantly remind them that everything good was worth waiting for. Patience. After all, how many times haven't I been here before? How many wars hasn't God won for us over the years? (2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016?). ALL of them! I had faith that if I put the required effort in, and then relinquished the matter into His hands, that something would happen. I even made peace with the fact that if something didn't happen and nothing came to pass, that at the very least I did what I could do to defend myself and the ladies that were under my charge.
After what felt like ages, came the call. It was done. Ding dong the bitch was dead, and his accomplices exiled to the south. I received many calls that day, from all over the world. People were astonished. I could hardly believe it myself.
There were many weeping with joy, telling me that I had changed their lives forever. It felt good knowing that for once in my life, I made a real impact on others and that it would be reverberated into time, carried from generation to generation - but as flattered as I was, I can confidently state that it was not me, it was all God's work. I was merely His instrument.
Our little revolution seemed to inspire the ladies and while I felt happy at the victory I knew in my heart, there were some life-changing lessons that I had to learn, that I had come here to learn, and in some strange way this was the culmination of that:
1. Firstly, we can't stay silent in times of injustice, no matter how inconvenient it is for us, or how large or strong the enemy is. I initially did not want to take part in this fight because I was so exhausted from every battle or injustice I've fought every year for the better part of a decade. So I didn't want to fight this year. But I came to understand that it was not for me to decide. God put me there for a reason and every battle I had ever fought before was preparing me for this - the war.
2. It is upon everyone to take action - not just a select few. When we were working together, we were strong, unwavering. There is an undeniable power in numbers. The greater good depends on everyone - everyone has a role to play, there is no room for hypocrisy and those for whom the fight is inconvenient because they hope to save face.
3. In the Karma vs. Justice debate, Justice will win in times where action is required to correct transgressions.
4. Traversing the earth these past 35 years, I can truly state that the only sense of purpose we have comes when we're serving others. This purpose doesn't come from acquiring things or drowning in materialism, or when we're indulging in things that only benefit us. Like Pope Francis said a few months ago in a riveting TED talk (that still haunts me): "Our lives are intertwined. The only future worth building includes everyone".... "Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude. It is the path of solidarity, the path of humility. Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly."
Here's to a more peaceful 2018. Inshallah.
Happy New Year everyone.