the port city, which grew to two million souls only six years after I landed there. I was most looking forward to seeing the home where my husband had grown up, and was not disappointed. Auntie Allia’s home was located in the Mushraf area of Jeddah, a comfortable neighborhood with a number of shops and mosques nearby. My new home was a lovely two-story house that, although not elaborate, was a perfect place for us to begin married life. I was pleased to learn that Auntie Allia and her husband had made arrangements for Osama and me to have an entire floor to ourselves, which gave us our privacy. I remember feeling as much at ease in my new home as if I had lived there for many years. Although I was so busy settling in that many of the details of those early weeks are now a blur in my mind, I do remember that it was a lovely time for me. My daily life was so radically different from my childhood in Syria that my husband allotted much of his time to explaining patiently how important it was for me to live as an obedient Muslim woman. “Najwa,” Osama said, “for me, you are a prized pearl who must be protected.” Smiling reassuringly, he promised, “Just as the hard shell of the sea protects the exquisite pearl, I will be the hard shell protecting you.” I felt proud that Osama wanted to protect me, as he slowly brought me to an understanding of the reasons behind the need for a female’s isolated life. I never objected because I understood that my husband was an expert regarding our faith. My husband and I decided that I would not continue with my formal schooling, although I privately educated myself on religious matters with my husband’s assistance. Osama was so well versed that he made a good teacher. Osama’s own father had been a devout Muslim who demanded that his sons honor the faith. None had heeded their father’s counsel more than Osama.
For this worthy purpose I spent many hours sitting in our pleasant garden, eagerly reading the Koran, Islam’s most sacred text, which contains the revelations that were given by God to the Prophet Mohammed (May peace be upon him). The Hadith is also very important, and is called “The Traditions,” or written reports of Prophet Mohammed’s words and deeds. Although many scholars and clerics can recite the teachings by heart, I was surprised that my young husband could recite both sacred texts without referencing a single page. I wanted to be able to do the same. Jeddah, an alluring city of contrasts, continued to be a great pleasure for me. The heartbeat of old Jeddah was still alive. There were many traditional homes with charming small balconies bolstered with lattice screens to shield the women of the household, who could entertain themselves by sitting quietly and looking out upon the busy streets, being observers of life rather than participants. Some people said that in the old days the enclosed balconies were welcome sanctuaries, protecting occupants from insults and robberies.
- Fall '14
- Ordinary People, Bin Laden family