Why in English?

Written by Khadega Al-Sunaidar on Saturday, 29 March 2014. Posted in Jemen

I want to have the right to ask "why"!

I have a lot of debates, arguments or fights, sometimes, in my mind as everybody does. But the strange thing is that when I focus on the language I use I find it's English. Hmmm, I am an Arabic-native speaker, so why do I speak with myself in English?

That really drew my attention and so I put big question marks. Then I started to dig deep in myself looking for an answer. I received these theories from me: 

Maybe I use English because it is connected to the culture of freedom of speech. In English-speaking countries you can express yourself and thoughts openly. Maybe because in my community I do not have that right; I can't ask, I can't argue, I can't question, especially when it comes to religion-related issues. I remember hearing this kind of replies to people, who dared to do it: "How dare you to question a religious man opinion/fatwa! Oh, that is forbidden to be asked about! Who you are to argue with such a knowledgeable religious sheikh? Keep in mind that you are one of the public, he is from the elite!"
I am talking about issues that are not clearly stated in the Holy book and Al-Sunnah.

On the other hand, I see that people in English-speaking countries are able to ask questions regardless of the topic and they have the choice/right to reject or to accept each other opinions or differences. It is part of the culture. I am talking about having the right to question unrealistic/vague religious-related opinions (especially fatwas) based on mutual respect. That is what I am talking about.

There are many things, which, as a Muslim woman, I need to understand why. Like, why I cannot drive a car in Saudi Arabia and I can in my country Yemen, while both of them are Islamic countries? Why I can go to Egypt without a chaperone to have a good time, while I can't go to Makkah, Saudi Arabia, to do Omrah "small haj"? and both of them are Islamic countries. Why it is o.k to do the "Big Hajj" without a chaperone easily, while it is forbidden to do Omrah, the "small haj" in the same country? Why is gender mixing (men and women) forbidden according to men of religion, while you find it happens in the Holy Mosque in Mekkah? Why, why, why and a lots of whys, that I do not want only to ask, but also to reject opinions of many of those who call themselves "men of religion". Not because I like doing that, but because my daily life is affected by their Fatwas.

I argue and question things in my mind in English because I do not feel safe to utter/speak my mind in Arabic. I am scared of being accused of infidelity as the culture of arguing based on mutual respect, especially about religious issues, still does not exist in my culture - particularly when the result is refuting/rejecting the other person's (shiekh) opinion.

Maybe I use English because I know that those who speak more than one language are more open-minded as they are exposed to different cultures. I believe that language is not only a tool of communication, it is the key that opens the magic door for a wider beautiful and adventurous experience. It clears the vague about other cultures, traditions, histories, and philosophies. Knowing other languages gives you the chance to live different lives in the same time, sail in more and more knowledge and explore other worlds beyond the borders. So, when I argue with me in English I expect me to understand and contain me. The same thing in writing, when I write in English for Arabic natives who speak English I expect them to accept and understand me. I will not be considered the black sheep in the herd of whites. Or maybe because in English I have more self-expressing vocabulary than Arabic and that is why I feel more comfortable using it. There are no taboos. 


I believe in knowing your limits especially when it comes to religion and respecting others. But what I do not believe in is oppressing or fooling others with silly, unaccepted opinions that are issued in the Name of God. What I do not believe in is attacking others for simply asking why?
What I reject is those men of religion who consider themselves above questioning and see themselves as Gods. What I hate is the culture of blind obedience. I want my language back. I want my identity back.

About the Author

Khadega Al-Sunaidar

Khadega Al-Sunaidar

I was having tea with a young female friend, who then worked as an English teacher, and we discussed women's rights and the professional perspectives of women in Yemen. All of a sudden she said: "Oh, you have to meet Khadega. She can give a lot of insight!" And so Khadega and I met. We met only once in person, but have been in contact ever since. And whenever Khadega writes and tells me about her life and experiences in Sanaa, I am enthusiastic about her critical views, her courage and her humour. I am keen on spreading her views.