Transcript of Ahmed Al-Rajhi interview in English

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Transcript of Ahmed Al-Rajhi interview in English
Al-Hadi, Esam ( Translator )
Jardee, Barbara ( Transcriptionist )
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Arab Immigration Oral History Digital Collection ( local )

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University of Florida
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Ahmed Al-Rajhi, Draft 1, Page 1 Ahmed Al-Rajhi (date of interview) (location of interview) Interviewed by Translated by for University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries Transcribed by Jardee Transcription 31:22 minutes Tr.Â’s note: NarratorÂ’s son, Ali Al-Rajhi is also present and makes a comment. Interviewer: Welcome, Mr. Al-Rajhi. Th ank you for being with us. Will you please start by sharing any personal information a nd details about your self and your life. Ahmed Al-Rajhi: Such as what, exactly? Interviewer: You may star t by stating your full name, your home country, your birth, and any other personal detail s you wish to mention. Ahmed Al-Rajhi: My name is Ahmed Al-Raj hi. I am from what is now called Saudi Arabia, which is really the Arabian Peni nsula. And I currently live here in America. Interviewer: Since when have you been living here? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: I have been living here for twenty-two years. The reason behind my coming to America was that I wanted to provide a good education to my children. Interviewer: Where do you currently reside and where have you been living before? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: I was in Virginia, then I m oved to Orlando, then I moved to this city because of the university where my sons study, thanks to God. Interviewer: Can you share with us so me details about your own education? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: In our days, the maximu m education you can reach was high school, and that was the highest education I had. Interviewer: Where did you have your high school education?


Ahmed Al-Rajhi, Draft 1, Page 2 Ahmed Al-Rajhi: It was in Al Tais [phonetic], in a school called Fagif [phonetic]. Interviewer: Do you remember what year you finished your high school education? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: Unfortunatel y, I donÂ’t remember what year exactly. I donÂ’t even know the exact year I was born. Interviewer: Do you know what y ear you first arrived in America? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: I started coming to America a long time ago. Interviewer: And what year did you come here to completely and finally get settled? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: ItÂ’s a bout twenty-five years ago. Interviewer: Mr. Al-Rajhi, the purpose of this interview is to create a personal documentation for the Arabs who get settled here in Florida. How do you see the Arab community and its role here in Flor ida? Do you see it as an integrated community with other societies? Do you see any cultural, so cial, economic role that the Arab community may be playing, like other communities? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: My contact with the Arab community is very limited and rare. There are no cultural or economic links that tie me with them. You may call it a kind of limited friendship. All that I care about here is the education of my children. Education in all Arab countri es is the worst. I seek a good future for my children. Thanks to God, I found it here. Interviewer: You had your high school e ducation in Saudi Arabia. Why do you think education in the Arab countries is the worst? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: You know how education in our countries goes. It is old-fashioned, and following the old Egyptian curriculum, which is now to tally obsolete. It is a


Ahmed Al-Rajhi, Draft 1, Page 3 kind of education that is out of touch and doesn’t c ope with the present time needs. Interviewer: Is this the reason? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: Of course it is the r eason! If you take a look around, you’ll find most of the Arab and the Gulf countries disp atch students to study here. Why do they do that, if they have goo d education and good culture back home? What does it mean to focus on studying about the Saudi family or your [numary?]. These are things that are long gone. It’s a kind of education that is used to justify things that have no value. Here I give my children a chance to be cultured according to the community they are a part of. Interviewer: I know that your son, Ali, is a Ph.D. student. Your other son, Monsur [phonetic], also had his education here, a nd your third son, Ibrahim, and also Halit [phonetic] and the girls. Do you have a ny role in directing them to choose a specific field of study, or is it completely up to them? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: No, no, no, I am totally agai nst dictating my child ren to join specific fields of study—not like what we have b ack home, that everyone wants his child to become a doctor. If another person had his son become a doctor, I, on the contrary, give them their freedom to choose. This is their future, and they have to choose the path that makes them get there. My role is to put them on the right track. Besides that, I leave them to lear n from another important school, which is life. They have to learn some life less ons. They have to learn the value of money. They have to learn how to co mmunicate and get inte grated with other communities. This will teach them the m eaning of life and how to live it. We are


Ahmed Al-Rajhi, Draft 1, Page 4 students in this great school, and will remain students there until we die. Graduation from this school means deat h. All in all, I don’t choose for my children; they choose what they want to do. Interviewer: Do they consu lt with you about their choices? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: They may come and ask me but I always tell them, “It is not my business, it is yours. You may do it if you like it. Otherwise, find something else.” I don’t impose anything on them. Sometimes they may come and tell me this and that about the Pakistani Mus lim Brotherhood, or I personally know many fathers who impose on their children to b ecome a doctor or this or that, which leads in many cases to falsification of certificates. I am not like that, and I don’t have these things. I just tell them to keep themselves on the right track, because it is their future, not mine. You know such ills exist in our communities. Interviewer: It is known that the Al-Rajhi family is a big business family, and has proven to be effective in the field of financial and business sectors. Do you work in the business field? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: I was created to be in th e business field. I was a soldier first, and served in the air force. Then I left it, and I started my business. The business field gave me the opportunity to get in t ouch with foreigners, such as Americans, Swedish, Koreans, and many other nationalit ies. I found communities that greatly differ from ours, and life that is totally di fferent from ours. I entered the world of business, but I have also been aware th at one day your fortune will decrease, and it is not wise to build my future, and my children’s future, on a soft base. This is because material fortune is not sustainable, it comes and goes. This is why I took


Ahmed Al-Rajhi, Draft 1, Page 5 the decision of coming here, and not to cont inue living there, to make my fortune bigger. For that reason I brought my ch ildren here to secure a good future for them. I wanted them to grow up as a new generation, not a backward one living in a backward society. It is unfortunate that almost all of the Arab societies are backward, about 99.9 percent of them, just like the percentage of any elections there. I don’t want to bring up people lik e that. Some people may criticize me for bringing up my children in what that make s them unable to speak the language of Koran. I don’t care. They understand the Koran, and they understand the religion, and they know that God is one. That’s it. They understand the religion. Thanks be to God my children are relig ious. They don’t smoke or use drugs. They don’t follow the unlawful. Thanks be to God. Interviewer: Going back to the business field…. Ahmed Al-Rajhi: I work in the real estate fiel d here. I did some investment in this field. Now after my children grow up, I decided to stop working and go back to the country to live my last days there. Interviewer: By “the count ry,” you mean Saudi Arabia? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: Yes. It is better to go and see my family and relatives. Nobody’s certain about life and death, so it might be good to go for some time. What’s important is that I have completed my mission, and thanks be to God for that. Interviewer: Let me ask you, Mr. Al-Rajhi…. Ahmed Al-Rajhi: Please, don’t call me Mr. Al-Rajhi. You may call me Abwali [phonetic], or just Ahmed Al-Rajhi.


Ahmed Al-Rajhi, Draft 1, Page 6 Interviewer: Good. Mr. Abwali, my questi on is that if your children, Ali, Monsur, Ibrahim, Halit, and the girls, decided to go back to Saudi Arabia to live and work there, what would your reaction be? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: This goes back to them, not to me. They are old enough to know what is right, and what is wrong. In fact, I told them to go and try. Interviewer: Do you think it will be a good experience for them? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: I have no idea. They shoul d try and find out for themselves. Everyone should try for himself. It is not me an ymore who tells them what is right and whatÂ’s wrong. They should try and fi gure out if they will like it or not. Interviewer: Related to this issue is the subject of your chil drenÂ’s private lives. Ali is here with us. In a short period of time, they will start thinki ng to build their own family lives, getting married, and things of the like. Do you think, from an Arabic perspective, it might be better for them to start their family life in Saudi Arabia, or here in America? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: This goes back to them. It is not me who will get married, it is them. They are the ones who will choose for their life. They will have to choose with whom they will be living. Interviewer: But we, as parent s, give advice to our children. Ahmed Al-Rajhi: I donÂ’t. They should advi se themselves. They are from a different generation, and they have their own wa y of thinking. I donÂ’t advocate bringing my inherited myth and ill beliefs a nd impose them on my children. I leave everyone to live according to his environmen t. I am not ready to fill their minds with how things looked like in the past. I want them to experience life in their


Ahmed Al-Rajhi, Draft 1, Page 7 own way. And life is a process of expe riences. I don’t care if one of them chooses to get married to an American or a Jew. This is th eir own life. Do you understand what I mean? Interviewer: I just wanted to know your posit ion as an Arab father, because I know that some Arab fathers are very strict when it comes to these issues. Ahmed Al-Rajhi: No, no, no, I don’t like to interfere in such ma tters. Ali is here, present with us, and he knows I never interfere. Ali Al-Rajhi: It is just for advice. Ahmed Al-Rajhi: They come and ask me. I say my opinion and tell them, “Either take it or leave it. Take it, but if you don’t like it, throw it away.” I don’t get mad or upset. It is their choice. We are a ge neration that has its own way of thinking. The way you think is different from the wa y your son thinks. Your son looks at life differently from the way you do. Your wife looks at life differently. Everyone has his own way of thinking. This makes it hard to involve [i.e., impose?] your opinion on others. Interviewer: Mr. Abwali, you mentioned that you traveled to ma ny places outside Saudi Arabia. Would you please tell us wher e did you go, and what countries have you visited. Ahmed Al-Rajhi: I went to many places. I went to the Far East, I visited Singapore, Thailand, Bangkok, India, and Pakistan. I traveled all over Europe. Interviewer: What countries in Europe? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: I went to Sweden; E ngland; Paris, France; all these places. Interviewer: Were they short visits or did you stay for longer periods?


Ahmed Al-Rajhi, Draft 1, Page 8 Ahmed Al-Rajhi: Some of them were just s hort visits, and others are for longer periods. I lived in Italy for five years. I was in Rome for five years. Interviewer: Do you speak Italian? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: Yes, I do speak Italian. I also lived for a long time in Greece. Interviewer: For how long did you live in Greece? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: You may say I liked the coun try, so my visits were to live there for some time. I didn’t live in Athe ns, I lived in Salunika [phonetic]. Interviewer: For how long did you live in Greece? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: Most of my visits were just passing by Salunika. I had a girlfriend there that I used to stay with. I felt very comfortable there. Interviewer: Do you speak Greek? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: A little bit, but I speak It alian more because I li ved in Italy longer. Interviewer: Were these trips and traveling for business purposes, or just for visiting? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: Some were for business, othe rs were for private personal issues, such as seeking medical treatment, like the one when I had surgery in Italy. I also worked in the attach office with my brother. Interviewer: Did you travel in the Arab countries? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: I traveled a lot in the Arab countries. I have been to Beirut and Ead [phonetic]—however Ead is very unfortunate I found that it is unwise to visit Arab countries, because of the bad and pr ovocative treatment. I don’t like it. The best was Beirut in the old days. Interviewer: You mean the days of Al-Hamera [phonetic] Street?


Ahmed Al-Rajhi, Draft 1, Page 9 Ahmed Al-Rajhi: We used to have a house in Sheep-a-nee-ah [phonetic] before the civil war broke out. These were the days of Al -Hamera Street and the [white horse?]. These were the youth days, and I had to enjoy them. I always insisted on enjoying my time. I experienced love with all [unclear]. Interviewer: You mentione d earlier that you may be planning on going back to Saudi Arabia. Ahmed Al-Rajhi: I am planni ng to go back to visit my family. IÂ’m longing to see my brothers and sisters and their children. Interviewer: How often do you get in touch with them? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: I always contact them, I ta lk to them, and they talk to me. They sometimes come to visit me here, thanks to God for that. Interviewer: I also want to ask you, Mr. Abwali Al-Rajhi, you are a Saudi and Muslim citizen. What do you think you may have offered to the American society? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: God bless this country. In fact, I am proud of what this country has offered me and my children, that we woul d have not been able to get from all Arab countries. They give us things that couldnÂ’t be easily given to non-citizens. You know that people are not always the same. You may find those who may be good and those who may be bad. You can Â’t generalize, based on one sample. Interviewer: What I mean is that America is a product of a blend of cultures. My question is that do you feel that the Arab and Muslim community may have offered any contribution to America? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: No. They did not offer a nything. They only attempt to spread their backwardness, and to make the world ta ke the same path they are taking.


Ahmed Al-Rajhi, Draft 1, Page 10 Interviewer: Then do you think that the genera l opinion that most of the Americans have towards the Arabs and Muslims is correct and justified? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: I think it is correct and justified. Amer icans want peace, while nobody there wants peace. I also read and came acr oss things they do there that appear to be very weird. I think they—Arabs and Muslims—have to get rid of all the ill imaginations of their brain, and also of those who control the Arab countries, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, who keep le galizing property, killing, criminalizing others as they want. This is too much. Islam has become like a comedy. Interviewer: But Mr. Abwali, now there se ems to be an awakening movement in the Arab countries. I don’ know if you are following the news of what’s going on, [unclear] movement in [unclear]. Ahmed Al-Rajhi: I am not following the new closely. I didn’t know about the situation in [Ead?] until this past Friday, when I came to pick [up] my wife. I asked them, “What is going on?” and they mentioned Ead and [unclear]. This is an Arab habit. I truly hope that ther e will be democracy. We want true democracy. It is true that we don’t want democracy to be only superficial and a lie. Interviewer: Is this possible, to have true democracy in the Arab countries? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: I don’t know. Interviewer: But you have been living in America and in Italy. Ahmed Al-Rajhi: I personally don’t think it is possible. Ther e is no foundation. Interviewer: Why do you think that is the case? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: Because everyone wants to rob the others. We don’t have in Arab countries a middle area. It is either up or down.


Ahmed Al-Rajhi, Draft 1, Page 11 Interviewer: For a person like you, who has b een brought up in Saudi Arabia, worked for the Saudi Air Force as you have menti oned [a few] minutes ago, and have long life experience either in Saudi Arabia or abroad, how do you thi nk the situation in Saudi Arabia will look like fifty years from now? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: I wish all the best for th e country, and I wish all the best for the people. I wish peace, which is a more important thing. Interviewer: My question is about your own reading of the situation there. Do you think that the situation will remain as it is after fifty years? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: I donÂ’t th ink so. With all these rising generations and emerging technologies, they have begun a new era of open-mindedness. I hope that my six children will contribute to the welfare of all Arabs. Interviewer: We still have four minutes left, and I have a final question to ask. Considering that all your children had th eir education here, what do you think the most important advantage is that the American schools still have over the Arabic ones? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: I have been carefully following my children throughout their elementary, middle school, and high school e ducation, and I have been with them all the time. I visited their classrooms and witnessed the educational process on site. ThereÂ’s absolutely no discriminati on based on who their father might be, or things of the like. Monsur received an appreciation certificate from President Clinton. Halit got one from George Bush, the father. We received a number of appreciation certificates. There is no di scrimination based on this one being a son of a president, or another one being a s on of a donkey. No private schools that are


Ahmed Al-Rajhi, Draft 1, Page 12 completely reserved for this or that group, similar to what we have in Saudi Arabia, or like what you have in Suda n. So schools that are reserved for important people, while other ordinary peopl e go to other schools. Here all are equal, and schools are all the same. Thanks be to God. Thanks to God. Thanks to God. Their grade are al ways “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” and no “Fs.” They join many programs, such as the NASA program and other programs that are designed to help poor people. Child development here is different fr om what we have there. Interviewer: Does that mean schools here are ideal? Ahmed Al-Rajhi: It is better than what we have, by a million times—a million [times] a million times. What is one example of a good thing that our education system provides? Nothing. We have nothing. The system you have in Sudan may be following the old Egyptian curriculum of the [unclear]. Isn’t that correct? Those who come to teach English know nothing more than “this is” and “that is.” What English language is that?! And how can you understand it? Interviewer: Thanks fo r a very good interview. Ahmed Al-Rajhi: Thanks to you. I am ready any time you want me to come. [END OF INTERVIEW]