Swear to Allah, I Luv Ya Babe!

Starting an underground yearbook in Saudi Arabia

Hilal Isler
6 min readApr 15, 2018


Original art, for The Aerogram, by Nirja Desai.

I attend an all-girls conservative high school in Saudi Arabia. Our uniform is gray, grazes the ankles, and resembles something Queen Victoria would wear at bedtime. All we do is dream about boys, read contraband American teen magazines, and hide from our principal at prayer time.

In the twelfth grade, my best friend Tara and I lobby for a yearbook. We approach Principal Tagreed in her office, to ask for permission and money. She looks up from her enormous slate desk.

“Why aren’t you at prayer?” she barks.

“We’re menstruating, Miss,” Tara says.

“Seems you two are constantly menstruating,” she says.

The principal says no to giving us money. She says we’re forbidden from publishing a yearbook, on account of photographs being un-Islamic.

“What about no photos?” Tara says.

“What about photos, but only of us doing holy things?” I venture.

“Zero photos,” she says, unibrow quivering in disgust. “Zero photos, zero yearbook, zero everything.”

Tara and I leave her office that morning, ditch our Islamic Studies class, and hide inside the broom closet so we can plot.

“My dad can get them printed for us at a discount, no problem,” Tara says.

“I have money,” I say. “Allowance money, saved up.”

“Don’t be crazy,” Tara says. “We’re not going to pay for it.”

Tara says we’ll charge fifty Riyals a pop, upfront. Each girl will get her own page, which would bring us to 26 pages, plus a few more for other things: a letter from the editors, a best-of list. We’ll have a poll like they do in American high schools: Most Likely to Succeed; Funniest.

“What about something like ‘Best Smile’?” I offer.

“Put it in. ‘Best Smile,’ ‘Best Legs.’ Put it all in. Something for everyone. We’ll make double our money back.” She raises her hand. “I call editor because I’m a Sagittarius.”

“Oh, come on!”

We are whisper-shouting at each other. We are in the hall closet, crouched next to the toilet mops…