Saudi Arabia killed my father. There was no violence. No Frank Gardner-style hail of bullets. There was no sound of shrill sirens. Crowds did not gather to witness robed figures dancing in the shadows. The wound was not visible to the eye. His was a murder of the heart. A silent, unseen weapon that twisted and killed without pity or remorse. It was the death of a dream.
My dad had been brought up to hold a deep reverence for the ‘Land of the Two Holy Sanctuaries’ – Mecca and Medina. As a youngster growing up in Allahabad, India, he resolved to one day make the pilgrimage to Mecca. It was the land that witnessed the birth of Islam, where all Muslims could feel that they had come home. Saudi Arabia was a concept he cherished. Ultimately, it broke his heart.
He was already in his fifties when he had an opportunity to work in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s gateway to Mecca. There was much hand-wringing, family conferences were held, but he was convinced the positives outweighed the negatives. He had travelled to England as a 20-year-old in 1960, leaving behind everything and everyone he knew in the hope of securing a better future. He had faced loneliness, racism and untold challenges. This would be an altogether different dislocation. We would all benefit in the long term. It was decided. He would embark on this wonderful new life that would bring him as close to his faith as was possible. It would be a privilege. His wife and three teenage children would stay in the UK with the promise of frequent visits to allay any misgivings.
Wadjda directed and screenplay by Haifaa al-Mansour, produced by Gerhard Meixner and Roman Paul. Released Koch Media
In Arabic. Saudi Arabia, 2013