Partying in Jeddah: The elite immunity syndrome

Published: December 14, 2010

Everyone has the right to party - unless they live in Saudi Arabia

A recent US consulate cable released by WikiLeaks describes a Halloween party at an elite residence in Jeddah; the funds of a prince, alcohol, ‘working women’ and a scene resembling ‘ a nightclub anywhere outside the Kingdom’ was highlighted.

The news caused a burst of outrage.

I came across more than one online forum where comments ranged from:

I wonder what kind of Islam Pakistan has imported from Saudi Arabia’


‘If anyone still blindly have faith in these low lives gutter mentality people’.

It disturbs me that there is such outrage over a nation that is run by a monarchy-the very concept of which is alien to classical Islamic governance. However, it disturbs me more when I see this reaction constantly justified by the idea that the Saudis seem to have greater religious responsibility placed upon them than the rest of the Muslims.

I am a Pakistani Muslim and remember being taught from an early age that the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) last sermon touched on the equality of all Muslims. Since when are we ‘importing’ Islam from the Saudis? And if we are, we need to ask ourselves why. Is not the very crux of Islam not to follow blindly but to think and act intelligently for the sake of eventual personal accountability?

So, should the behavior in this party enrage us as Muslims? Of course it should. It goes against all basic tenets of our faith. But are we really outraged because we feel the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is protecting this sort of behavior? We all know that the similar lifestyle exist all across the Muslim world-especially amongst the elite. Aha! Maybe that’s the culprit-the ‘elite’.

The issue might be deeper. Perhaps it is about class. Interestingly, an article in The Express Tribune states how Pakistanis are ‘flogged and given death for such crimes’ but the Saudi ‘elite’ enjoy these guilty pleasures with no hindrance. True, most people in Pakistan indulging in these activities are liable to punishment. But the elite, (like in most countries of the world) are above the law. I have a number of friends in Pakistan who engage in “Jeddah WikLeak like” activities daily. Not one of them has ever been worried about being flogged.

To me, this issue is a microcosm of a much larger issue-the immunity of the elite to most laws. Even if the case is about a drunk under age driver running over a poor pedestrian, or the embezzling of charity funds-one section of our society is always safe from the law.

According to the Islamic Sharia’ fornication and backbiting are both major sins in Islam-why is it then that our daily newspaper headlines do not outrage us this way every single day? It’s time we took some personal responsibility for our own faith, and realise Islam does not only prohibit alcohol and mixed parties. It includes abstaining from bribery, corruption, cruelty, illicit killing and even defamation. This goes for everyone – even the elite.


Zahra Shah

A doctor from England who is currently pursuing a career in paediatrics in Pakistan.She is the founder of Semazen The poetic Messenger.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • faraz

    And nobody objects to the dozens of wives which saudi monarchs have. What about the 4 wives limit prescirbed by islam?Recommend

  • Ghausia

    Well, I like the end. I kinda get the feeling of making an issue out of a non-issue in this blog, but I like where you’re going. Its like boozing around is the height of evil, but anything below that scale is acceptable; bribery, corruption, beating our hired help, etc.Recommend

  • parvez

    Nice article.
    You ask why are we importing Islam from the Saudis ? We are not, they are exporting their version to us. It is a package deal which comes along with the oil and money hand outs which we can not refuse.Recommend

  • Amna Mela

    I really liked this piece! Good job.

    This is so true:

    “Even if the case is about a drunk under age driver running over a poor pedestrian, or the embezzling of charity funds-one section of our society is always safe from the law.”

    I know exactly what you’re talking about. Recommend

  • Hassan

    i <3 Jeddah! :) Recommend

  • Saad Durrani

    The whole entry looked like a mess but the last paragraph is ART.Recommend

  • http://N/A Zahid Sheikh

    I like comments by Pervaiz. It reflects the reality, or the actual state of affairs. Pakistan has been a battle ground of Saudi Arabia and Iran for many years. Both the countries has been exporting their ideologies and producing blind followers. They use our soil to show their muscle to each other, using their loyal and paid workers. Since Pakistan is dominant by sunnis, so Saudi’s invested a huge sum of money to export their own version. In fact, they have done similar job in several Western European countries and successfully produced a brain washed and blind faithful ‘Sulfis’ in these countries. Recommend

  • Ishtiaq

    Writing an article in against to all this crap, and than confessing having “friends” indulged in similar activities. Great.Recommend

  • Ammar

    Umm, Zahrah, the article in the Tribune was talking about Pakistanis and other citizens of poor developing countries being flogged for such things in Saudi Arabia – not Pakistan. Which is sort of the crux of the issue – the blatant institutionalized discrimination that exists in the Desert Kingdom in which all non-Arabs and non-Whites are treated as third class citizens in the supposed bastion of Sunni Islam.

    In Pakistan, people generally do not get flogged as a state-inscribed punishment for partying, elite or otherwise. (For now, at least)

    But you kind of missed the point and went on a moralistic rant about how you think corporal punishment is necessary for all kinds of sins (according to your conveniently monolith conception of ‘Islamic Shariah’). Well did, m’dear.Recommend

  • The Only Normal Person Here.

    In a nutshell: Double standards.Recommend

  • Hasan

    Pakistan have no say in ‘Islamic’ matters. Even our clergy looks up to Saudi Arabia to authenticate their ‘fatwas’. Madrassah’s around Pakistan is run by Saudi donation. Our clerics are mere beggars to the Saudi donors. No wonder they treat us like peasants. Beggars cannot be choosersRecommend

  • Talat

    Your choice of words, such as “enrage, outrage”, suggests you have an inclination to do the same. I am not suggesting you are into these things. The fact of the matter is that we are now well aware of hypocrisy of Saudi royals, they don’t surprise us any more. Recommend

  • Assad


    Actually even that comes with the caution in the Quran

    Treat them equally
    And we know you will not be able to treat them equally


  • mmok2k8

    Why is everyone so suprised? Pakistan gets money from everyone they can….so the money from SA is not the only reason. If it were the money then the US has given Pakistan the most so Pakistanis should be trying to emulate them, but instead they have this unwarrented hate.

    Think people! When every part of human nature is seen as BAD and EVIL…the underlying human nature will not change. It is not possible for people to be forced to change….what happens is the SURFACE, or what society sees and is willing to see, is the only thing that changes. People here only care what others (neighbors, parents etc) think of them on the surface. They do not look to Allah for guidance….they are ruled by a shallow teen mentality of popularity. Nothing more, nothing less.

    It is not natural to supress the human need for contact with others or to have your parents pick who you will create the next generation with. Survival of the fittest is how the human species evolves. When men and women cannot even be alone toghether or even hold hands in public, you find the unnatural advent of men holding hands and women holding hands just to get some human contact!!! The homosexual rate, and more sickening the rate of rape here is outrageous, yet no one will see this and admit to the underlying issues. It is always dismissed as a lie or a propaganda from some fake enemy. Pakistanis are so good at denial.

    When something is forbidden, humans find a way to satisfy that need…and when normal human ways are forbidden it is forced into an underground and most devious and perverse way and most often very extreme. It happens everywhere in the world and has throughout history. Drugs and alcohol are no exception. When the normal casual use is denied it is human nature to develop an intense “forbidden fruit” mentality, upon which when that fruit is available underground it becomes abused. Think of a child, who when given an unlimited amount of their favorite food will gorge themselves until they throw up, and then go back for more!

    The people are too confused with “Do as I say, Not as I do.” Ostrich syndrome is pervasive and no one wants to change that. Pakistanis and SA do not realize how rediculous they appear to the rest of the world. Until you can admit there is a problem there is no way you can treat the underlying cause and work towards a cure. This will never change, Pakistanis are happy pointing the finger at everyone but themselves. Honesty does not exist in this society, not even within an individual about themself. This goes double for the Mullah’s and politicians which are just the same thing wrapped in different packaging.Recommend

  • Mahvesh

    Um, if you think we have nothing to do with Saudi Arabia’s brand of Islam or aren’t effected by it, you’re sadly mistaken and hence the whole basis for this blog has been proved null and void! I’d suggest poring over Ammar’s comments to get a gist of the actual issue at play here. And if we were ever to get flogged for partying, rest assured the whole concept of that would be because of the import of Saudi Wahabiism. Recommend

  • NC

    Good piece :)Recommend

  • Amna Kausar

    This is was a good piece. And yes, we definitely need to take responsibility for our own faith. Recommend

  • Yasser Khan

    Well, Just to summarize, you cannot stop anyone from partying inside their houses, it will result in chaos and far as elite is concerned you have highlighted right pointers, though things do happen behind closed doors but the public atmosphere and law implementation is excellent here.Recommend

  • Adil Mulki

    Good PieceRecommend

  • Muhammad Adnan Khan Qadri

    Saudis with the help of british (super power of that time) played an active part in stoping the revival of Islamic Khilafah just after its end in 1926 and start ruling the holy land on the basis of nationalism rather then the pure bond which is above all racism, culture and nationalities. They treat their citizens as superior human beings having every civil right but for muslims of other countries “stay away”, thus breaking the concept of Ummah but still they export their “brand” to save their kingdom and to stop the revival of Kilafah in the holy land which eventually may stop their rule.Recommend

  • http://na prasad

    Zahra, as a young woman you should be advocating for removing of all prohibitions. The lesser the prohibitions the lesser the hypocrisy. Did you stop to question as to why the Jeddah parties made news while the American diplomat in delhi did not speak of similar parties in goa or anywhere else?

    I am assuming that you take your religion seriously – but isnt it unfair to expect everyone else in society to do the same? Religion like eating, drinking, drugs, sex and everything else must be done in moderation. Recommend

  • Amna

    At the end of the day it is all about accountability. No one should be above the law, and laws should be implemented the way they are meant to.

    And you are very right, why the heck do we feel the need to follow Saudia Arabia to feel we are following Islam? Just cause they are Arab does not make them anymore Muslim. Recommend

  • Deen Sheikh

    Wow Z
    Well written
    The core crux of the issue in a country like ours is the lack of the live and let live attitude, everyone should have a right to live their lives how they deem fit, yet ironically have u noticed how quickly people jump into the defensive band wagon, when religion is involvedRecommend

  • Talat

    Mr. MM no one likes to read long comments. keep them short…Recommend

  • Tabassum Razzaq Qadri

    Well, I know everyone really don’t see himself. Every muslims of the our pakistan not have faith of Allah I think, in the real sense…..Recommend

  • Ali Hassan

    Very nice post.
    In Saudi everything is allowed inside of compounds.
    If not satisfied they have the “Cauesway” to enjoy weekends in Bahrain.Recommend

  • Nadir

    Everyone is equal, some are just more equal than others.

    Today we hear the unsurprising news that:

    sources told Dawn that two accused – Ali Riaz, son of property tycoon Malik Riaz, and Walid Khan, marketing manager of Bahria Town – have left the country in the wee hours of Sunday.Sources said they were taken to the Banazir Bhutto International Airport in a tinted glass vehicle of a senior officer of the capital police as they boarded an international flight around 4:30am. A contingent of the capital police`s commandos escorted the vehicle in which the senior police officer and the two accused were travelling.

    Money talks and always trumps, religion, decency, nationalism, patriotism, empathy or common sense. Recommend

  • Nicholas Sharaf

    Ah well. At least they know how to throw a rager =pRecommend

  • mmok2k8

    I’m not a Mr… Funny how you jump to that conclusion though. Why do people need short messages? Is there a problem with your attention span? I used just as many words as needed to express my views. :) No more no less. Recommend

  • Uzma

    nicely put zahra. we always try to ignore the reality or put it the words of sharia by voilating. this is destroying our fondation as well as ideologyRecommend

  • kalim

    at times i feel that we (pakistanis) are desperate contractors hired by arabs to practice their brand of islam, which they dont want it in their countries.Recommend

  • Hasan Munir

    I happened to visit there for performing Umrah,it’s very easy to meet your girl or boy friend in the sacred places.
    i can’t say any more about that people.Recommend

  • Obaid

    can we please fix ourselves before worrying about someone else’s faith or practice? please?Recommend

  • saqlain bangash

    because the saudi’s image in most of our population is very pious one.they consider them totally washed from such unislamic activites.or we can say that we as a nation cant face reality..Recommend

  • Robin

    Why do you want to regulate what people do in the privacy of their homes? Is that the Islam you want? Pretty soon you will have video cameras in every Muslims bathroomRecommend

  • Nashad

    In Saudi Arabia, they have actually two Islamic systems, one for the rich/ruling elite and the other for the poor ordinary muslims in the saudis’ streets. The free, yes, absolutely free life-style of the rich families is beyond even the imagination of the richest of the rich of the western world. It is a sad story that most of our present-day ills and ailments, have their roots in the financial help to mullahs and madrassa institutions, of course for the noble cause of Islam. Recommend

  • Ajaz Hussain

    There is no Saudi Islam ro Pakistani Islam. Islam is islam wherever it is and its a universal relegion. there must not be deference between islam in US and Saudi arabia. The basic value system is same around the globe for a muslim there may be litle bit cultural deferences whcih are acceptable but Islamic Values should not be compomised at any cost.Recommend

  • marYam

    this is just 2-3% of the people..who involve in such activities…i have been in jeddah for 23 years…and…i was born n raised along with the elite….

    i dont agree much with the writer …anyone anywhere who has money can bribe their way out of law…Recommend

  • http://x Farzandasheikh,

    @Tabassum Razzaq Qadri:
    Yes! we of the pakistani roots, are the people who have practically no faith in Allah Almighty and have absolutey no fear of God in our hearts. That’s why we are regarded as the worst of all people in the world. If we practice Islam in our words and acts, we would be exactly what God calls His followers as the best of all nations, Khair-e-Ummat. But alas! we are the worst and not the best of all people.All this makes our heart bleed and you may not believe that we have such laws in our country which means that if a pakistani, belonging to a particular sect, recites the Holy Kalema-e-Tayyaba, and poses as a muslim, it is a is punishable crime with a sentence of three years imprisonment. Innalilla…..Recommend