Is KAUST radical? Women with hijab, women without hijab, men with thobe and shimal and men in jeans and a shirt keeping their culture and religion while learning and researching together at KAUST.
It is easy to slander and to destroy, but building and creating something new takes time, patience, and commitment. God is the great creator, Satan is the great destroyer.
For weeks, KAUST has been criticized for its mixed men and women classes. KAUST’s detractors are mostly anonymous and are using internet tools like YouTube, Facebook, and e-mail to spread images, half-truths, and lies about social life at KAUST. Whether their reasons are political, religious, or personal jealousy, this small minority is trying though any means necessary to illigitimize KAUST. Their attacks are very misleading.
KAUST-ians have come from every continent on the globe and many of us have left family, friends, and other careers to come to KAUST. We have only been guests in the Land of the Two Holy Mosques for three months, and now we are surprised, confused, and a little hurt because of the hostile messages of a few extreme voices. Is this how Islam treats foreigners? Is this how we should view Saudi Arabian hospitality? The voices of an angry minority are given too much credit right now.
When I traveled to Jeddah to buy food on Wednesday, I was asked by a stranger if there were bars at KAUST. KAUST has no bars! The king would never allow something like that at his university!
Our detractors, who are spreading lies, do not understand why we have come to Saudi Arabia. Social change is not KAUST's mission - our primary mission is to promote learning and research in the region for the benefit of the world.
God is the great creator, and science is a profession ordained by God. We, the KAUST-ians have come to KAUST from many countries to learn so that we can create new knowledge and improve on existing technologies. Improving desalination could satisfy the thirsty. Growing food in the desert could feed the hungry. Solar power could provide light in dark places. Red Sea research can lead to new medicines to heal the sick. Engineering research could help us make better use of the resources God has blessed us with. These are only a few of the reasons we have traveled to Saudi Arabia.
I did not come for entertainment (does anyone come to KSA to be entertained?) – KAUST has no bars or dance clubs or even a working movie theatre; I spend most of my time in the library or the laboratory. I did not come for money – I could have had a larger stipend at graduate school in the USA. I came because of KAUST’s potential to promote scientific research and learning in the Middle East.
Right now it is the angry voices which scream the loudest. They are trying to paint KAUST as an immoral institution which is leading righteous Saudi Arabian adults astray, but I have faith that good will and reason of the majority will prevail over slander and deception. Once the citizens of Saudi Arabia have a chance to know us better, I think they cannot help but like us. The problem is: building relationships takes time, but relationships can be damaged by only a few words, or a few pictures.
After all of that talk about our detractors, I have a story about a friend. Abdullah confided in me some weeks ago that he used to hate Americans because of what he saw on TV, and what he heard in the news, but after coming to KAUST and meeting real Americans he has changed his opinion and wishes that others would too. Abdullah's story encourages me because there are some Americans who also think the same way about Saudis. This one of the reasons I believe I am at KAUST - to build bridges and clear up misunderstandings.
Saudi Arabia is a complicated place, but I am still glad to be here. We will do great research at KAUST, and I have faith that truth will prevail. Sometimes it just takes time.