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Monday, July 16, 2012

Saudi Arabian Serial Killer Mystery

Some of the readers of this blog may have been thinking that I've gotten too academic lately.  Sorry, folks.  This blog is meant to reflect the variety of my reading.  I need to do better at this.   So I am posting my review of the mystery I recently read.

Kingdom of Strangers is the third in a mystery series by Zoe Ferraris that takes place in Saudi Arabia.  This is my choice for Saudi Arabia in the Around the World challenge on Goodreads.  It's also the best of  the series at this point.  I was intrigued by the first book, Finding Nouf , because it brought us into the world of the Bedouins.  The second switched the primary viewpoint to Katya Hijazi who I find more complex and sympathetic than Nayir, the main protagonist of Finding Nouf , but I otherwise found it unmemorable.  In this third book, Ferraris unites intense character drama with social commentary and cultural insight.  So it's not only better fiction, but more provocative than the previous two volumes.

The narrative is enriched  by a switching of perspectives between Katya Hijazi and Ibrahim Zahram who are both investigating a serial killer case that is centered on women who emigrated to Saudi Arabia for employment.  There is a great deal of focus on the exploitation and abuse of these women.  I imagine that many readers will think that the title refers to the foreign labor which has become a large proportion of the population of Saudi Arabia.  Yet as I read about the lives of the protagonists and the secrets they kept from those closest to them, it seemed to me that Saudis are also very much strangers to one another.

From a cultural standpoint, I learned a great deal about Saudi culture.  There were so many unique aspects of  crime investigation in this environment.  They might arise in other Islamic nations, but there are variations in the approach to Islam throughout the Islamic world. One would not expect that criminal investigation would be the same in Egypt, Turkey or Pakistan as it is in Saudi Arabia.  Much is made of the incredulity of the detectives working with Ibrahim Zahram over serial killings happening in their country.  They were convinced that serial killers are an American problem.   Mystery lovers who have read widely certainly know better.

I was most fascinated by the types of dreams.  I think that the difference between Rahmani and Istiqara is that Rahmani are unexpectedly sent by God while Istiqara are requested as the answers to a prayer.  Both are gifts from the divine.

The practice surrounding Istiqara seemed to warrant further research.  Here are some resources for those who are interested in learning more:

Islamic Academy  where it was suggested that one should pray for the dream for up to a week, but stop when you received an answer.  There were also interpretations of the significance of colors in the dream.
Sunni Path Islamic Academy where it is stated that Istiqara is a prayer for guidance and a dream isn't necessarily the form of guidance that the petitioner will receive.  This site also advises that it is permissable to have someone else who is a particularly devout individual to do these prayers for you. 
Dua'a Site  When I searched for a definition of Dua'a, the results I received seemed to indicate that it means prayer, but it also means the practices surrounding prayer.  This site told me that prayer for Istiqara could include the use of a rosary.

Since I hadn't previously heard of Islamic rosaries, I did a search on that subject.  Here is what I found.

Islamic Rosary Beads on Wikipedia  This article revealed that there are two standard lengths of these rosaries and that like Catholic rosaries they have been utilized to count repetitions of a prayer.  Yet it also said that some Wahabis consider the use of a rosary too un-traditional a practice, and that they are used most often among Sufis.  I am aware that Sufis are persecuted heretics in some Islamic countries. 



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