The Author in East Jerusalem

 

About Jean Sasson

    Jean Sasson grew up in Louisville, Alabama, a small southern town with a population of only eight hundred.  As a child, she was fascinated by stories of countries and cultures different from her own. This curiosity continued into her adult years, ultimately propelling her to find work in a foreign country.  In 1978, she took a job as an administrative coordinator at the King Faisal Hospital and Research Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. 


Biography...

The Author in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 1978

 

 

When Sasson first arrived in Saudi Arabia, little of Western civilization had penetrated Saudi culture.  At that time, as a “guest” of the country, she chose not to question the obvious secondary status of females in the Kingdom, where women were forced into marriage, sent into isolation for small infractions, and even sentenced to death at their husband’s command.  “I felt I had not traveled to Saudi Arabia to change its culture and any efforts that I might have undertaken would have been unwelcome and ineffective.”

During her ten years of living in a Saudi neighborhood in the Kingdom,  Sasson developed a strong network of friendships with Saudi women.  Through them, she began to understand the day-to-day reality of being a female in a male-dominated society where Arab women are without legal recourse from individual acts of violence and cruelty.  Sasson clearly states that, “Although I did have the pleasure of meeting and befriending a number of Saudis who lived customary lives minus the dramas highlighted in my books, I was a sad witness to appalling oppression against women, everyday occurrences that in most other cultures would be seen as shocking violations of human rights.”  Although she reacted with horror, Sasson still did not feel that as a single Western woman, she was in a position to bring about change in a rigid social system that has been in place for the last two thousand years.

 At an Italian embassy function in 1983, Sasson met an extraordinary Saudi princess, the “Sultana” of her books.  Establishing an instant rapport, they began a friendship that has grown and strengthened over the years.  Although they were from diverse cultures, they found themselves to be true soul mates.  From Sultana, Sasson learned even more about the harsh truth of life behind the veil endured by Sultana, her sisters, and her friends, many of them members of the royal family. 

 In 1985, Sultana requested that Sasson write a book about the injustice of life for women in Saudi Arabia.  The author was initially reluctant to take such a step, although she ultimately revealed it to the world with Princess, (1992) and Princess Sultana’s Daughters, (1994).  “My revelation came in April 1991, following the liberation of Kuwait, when I returned to Saudi Arabia after a one-year absence.  I was expecting to see gains in the status of women, but instead, their small victories had been taken from them.  That visit helped to focus my mind on the realization that the story of Sultana and her sisters must be exposed, and it would take a woman who could bridge both Western and Eastern cultures to tell it.  I was destined to be that person.”

 Sasson makes it clear, that, “the ongoing injustices against Saudi women, and other Muslim women in the area, originate from primitive cultural traditions, rather than from the Muslim faith.  The Muslim faith founded by Prophet Mohammed actually guarantees many rights for women; however, too often, the men who interpret the words of the Koran, and the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Mohammed, appear to twist meanings to suit their desire to keep women in a secondary position in society.  Anyone who has carefully studied the Prophet’s sayings and deeds, gets a strong sense that he was a tolerant man who had enormous affection for his wives and a devotion for magnanimity when it came to women.”

 While speaking on this issue, Sasson continued, “I have been puzzled by the fact that a number of Muslims have completely misunderstood the books written about Sultana and other women in Arabia.  I question whether or not the people who denounce the books on Sultan have actually read them.  There is not a single incident in the books where the Islamic faith is condemned.  If anyone claims otherwise, then they are blindly criticizing rather than speaking from a point of knowledge.  However, the men who misinterpret the Koran and apply their misinterpretations to women are soundly criticized. 

 “The Princess and I strongly hope that the men in power will ensure that change will come to the social customs within the Muslim world.  As a matter of fact, it is my desire that women worldwide gain the recognition and status that they deserve.  Sadly, injustice against women is alive and well in too many countries, including western nations.  However, readers should bear in mind that these three books focus on one woman, her family, and friends who live in Saudi Arabia.”