Thursday, April 21, 2016

Post Reading: Raif Badawi, The Voice of Freedom - Ensaf Haidar

Raif Badawi #FreeRaif Ensaf Haidar


Title: Raif Badawi, The Voice of Freedom: My Husband, Our Story
Author: Ensaf Haidar and Andrea Claudia Hoffmann
Published: 16 March 2016 by Little Brown
Source: Publisher
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When Raif Badawi and Ensaf Haidar fell in love with each other as adolescents, they did so in violation of every moral precept in the strictly Islamic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. During their clandestine love affair, the young couple had no idea that, more than a decade later, Ensaf's love for Raif would attract the attention of politicians from around the world as the blogger's wife now mobilises global public opinion in an effort to save her husband from murder at the hands of the Saudi judiciary. With a courage born of desperation, she is fighting from exile in Canada to secure the release of the father of her three children, and is bringing great pressure to bear on the murderous regime in her native country.

Ensaf Haidar tells Raif's and her own story: the story of their shared liberal ideas and her fight for her husband's release.


Ensaf Haidar's Raif Badawi, The Voice of Freedom: My Husband, Our Story is the kind of book that sticks with you. Having finished it in more or less one sitting, I couldn't stop thinking about it for a long time. Days after having turned the final page of this powerful non-fiction piece, I was scouring the web for Badawi's work, Haidar's interviews and updates on the trial.

I was obsessed.

What started out as an endearing love story of Ensaf Haidar's and Raif Badawi's secret courtship soon takes an unexpected turn. This candid first person account tells the story of one man's struggle to fight back against systematic injustice within his own society. Religion and faith are often exploited by political leaders to drive their own agendas. Raif echoes these very sentiments on his blog when he calls for a separation between religion and state. Free Saudi Liberals, Badawi's blog and an open forum of sorts raises important questions about the existing justice system and encourages citizens to speak of reform. This soon draws the attention of Saudi public officials who threatened and harassed Badawi to shut down his site. Raif's own father expressed his disapproval of his son's liberal nature and his online activism. This was used by other more powerful individuals with ulterior political, social as well as religious motives. Ensaf speculates that individuals who wished to silence liberals funded Raif's father for the videos. After being at the receiving end of multiple threats to their safety , Badawi and his family attempt to leave the country but Badawi is forcibly detained by the officials.

Haidar and her three kids flee to Egypt, then Lebanon, then Canada where they gained political asylum. In 2013 Raif Badawi was sentenced to 7 years in prison and 600 lashes for multiple charges including insulting Islam and apostasy. But soon after his sentence was increased to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison - 50 of which has been already administered (the video of which can be found on YouTube. Fair warning - the graphic content may be a trigger for most people). Badawi’s friend, brother-in-law and lawyer, Waleed Abulkhair, is also now in prison, his crime defending Badawi against the charge of apostasy.

This is not just Raif's story, it is also the story of a lone woman's remarkable courage. Ensaf Haidar was brought up as a sheltered young woman who despite getting an university education was not expected to have any ambitions let alone aspire towards a career. But circumstances force her to leave the land that she thought of as her home her entire life. As a foreign woman in a foreign land, Haidar has come so far despite her upbringing, the lack of support from her family, her limited capabilities and the language barriers that she had to face. In her interviews, she comes across as a petite and soft spoken young woman but she is a force to be reckoned with. Even prior to Raif's imprisonment, Haidar's intelligence and bravery shines through when she speaks of the hurdles that she had to overcome in their married life. When Haidar first stumbles across Badawi's blog she finds it difficult to reconcile the husband she knows with the man who runs the blog. She states that despite Badawi's calls for a re-look at the gender roles in Saudi, he practiced the very same thing he preached against. So she challenges her husband to practice what he preaches by confronting his own prejudices first. Haidar soon gets involved in Badawi's activism work and she even publishes her own piece in a local publication, Al Hayat. The sheer honesty and candidness of Haidar's story shines through when she describes the hurdles that she had to overcome during her marriage. I am truly inspired by this woman and her love for the man who's currently being punished for the crime of speaking his mind. 

There's so much controversy surrounding Islam and freedom of speech, most of which are due to wrongfully perpetuated myths and biased media reporting. The Quran and Hadith are crystal clear in it's support for freedom of religion and freedom of expression. Accordingly as a Muslim, I believe that one should live and let live.

Reading some of Raif Badawi's writings, I've been struck by how simple and completely non-violent his requests for reform are. As a blogger, this book made me step back and acknowledge my own privilege. While I believe that absolute freedom of speech is a myth, I can't deny the privilege that comes with living in a democracy where freedom of speech is guaranteed by the country's constitution (whether it is actually actioned is a whole other story thanks to Sri Lanka's long history of widespread suppression and censorship, especially of those who are critical of the local government). This is why it's important for those of us who enjoy the right to freedom of speech to speak up against the injustice faced by Raif Badawi and countless other victims of censorship.

Little, Brown Book Group and English PEN  have been incredible in creating awareness about the #FreeRaif movement. Not only have they been in instrumental in helping Ensaf Haidar in her road to getting published but they are also held a special vigil to raise awareness about Raif Badawi's plight. Additionally, world leaders who have the power to do more may need to re-evaluvate their own relationship with leaders of Saudi Arabia and take a stand on this issue. Raif has been recognized globally for his work with multiple accolades but the biggest award, his freedom is yet to come.


4 Stars


Raif Badawi, The Voice of Freedom: My Husband, Our Story is a powerful account of one woman's fight for her husband's freedom. An absolute must-read for advocates of free speech.



What are your thoughts on Raif Badawi's plight? Do you believe that International leaders should take a more active stance on such atrocities?


  1. I honestly am at a loss for words- this is the first time I'm coming across this and I can't even imagine why there hasn't been more talk about this. Here we are sitting and talking about democracy and freedom of speech and what not and an innocent man is being tortured somewhere just for expressing his opinions online? What is this world we are living in? I'm looking forward to reading this book and doing my bit in shedding more light to this. Great review, Nuz- and THANK YOU for sharing.

    Ruzaika @ The Regal Critiques

  2. So glad you blogged about this book, it might have passed me by otherwise! I only know a little about Raif Badawi because of Amnesty international petition. Saudi Arabia is such a difficult case, since the West is usually all over condemning Muslim states but not this time. Perhaps when their oil runs out. As such we don't get as much information in the media about cases like this.
    It's wonderful that Haidar is trying to fight for her husband and with it against such a regime. I'll have to read her story, she sounds like an amazing person and activist!


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