The role of women in the Muslim cultures and societies has been of very little importance as they are considered minors and do not possess any independent identity away from their male relatives. The monopoly of male theologians and jurists in Middle Eastern Society is liable for the most exclusive and conservative interpretation of religious laws that have subjugated women in the society and politics. Despite the fact that the religious texts like Qur’an and Sunnah award equal status to men and women in the society, disregard to the women’s basic human rights has been prevalent in the Saudi community.
Ban on women is driving and denial for driver’s license to women is a sheer instance of this oppression of women. The denial of fundamental rights to Saudi women has led them to protest demanding their rights to vote, drive, work, and avail health care and educational facilities.
This issue has become controversial among different religious scholars, intellectuals, and social reformers in Saudi society. The Saudi government has a challenging situation before it in context of the social currents of change within the Muslim community and specially the women. A new vision cherished by the Progressive Muslims in pursuit of a pluralistic and just social system is striving to provide justice to human beings around the world living in poor and polluted environment.
They are being oppressed and marginalized. Saudi women’s campaign regarding their right to drive has maintained its existence largely on grassroots social media backing. Now, as the circumstances require, this issue has to be looked upon by the international women’s rights advocates. UN Women may play a significant role in spreading the awareness regarding Saudi women’s campaigns for their rights to drive, and working with the Saudi women and Saudi leaders to find a substantial solution on realistic grounds.
The status of women has been a significant matter of debate worldwide. Women, in all patriarchal societies faced total suppression for several thousand years. The male dominated societies conferred all important rights and benefits to the men and women were devoid of all fundamental rights. Gradually, it became an accepted law that women are inferior to men and it is their duty to remain confined to the household errands for the smooth running of family life. Social attitudes are so invasive that even the religious scriptures are transformed in accordance with their interest. The patriarchal societies exploited the fair and democratic norms made for women in religious writings to keep their higher status persistent in the society. Like many other religious scriptures, the Qur’an also had to go through the same providence.
In the past, implications of several restrictions on women such as purdah (veil) were justified in pretext of shielding their chastity. The inevitability of purdah was associated with the morality of women. The Muslim community considered woman vulnerable who needed support for her protection and man was considered her protector.
An explicit example of this male dominance can be seen in Saudi Arabia where women are still not permitted to travel alone and need some close male relative to accompany them while commuting, however there is no such mention in the Qur’an. The vulnerability of women was due to sociological conditions that became theological in course of time. Shari’ah laws have changed due to many confrontations and problems over a period. Hence, it can be productively applied to the new and transformed situations (Engineer, 1992).
The role of women in the Muslim cultures and societies has been of very little importance as they are considered minors in the society and do not possess any independent identity away from their male relatives. Starting from the late1970’s, the interest on the issue of women’s status in the Muslim world has been increasing among the scholars. Literature on the subject of women in Islamic societies was witnessed in abundance in the 1990’s. This research was influenced by the prevalence of women’s movements around the world in the1970’s. Moreover, the national governments and international organizations started focusing on the issues related to women in view of economic development. The initiation of women’s movements and public activities in this regard promoted the research on the women’s issues within different disciplines in academics (Offenhauer, 2005).
Saudi Arabia does not promise gender equality by law, rather promotes gender discrimination, facilitated by the state’s version of Islam that is incorporated in its governmental and social structures. The religious scholars known as ‘ulema’ are rigid enough in considering changes in the social framework and mainly regarding issues related to women. The discrimination between men and women is seen as equilibrium between the rights and duties that are prescribed to men and women by Islam.
However, strong movement towards the development of women is taking place in Saudi demanding their rights for voting, driving, working, and availing health care and educational facilities. The reign of King Abdullah ibn Abd al-Aziz-al-Saud has definitely shown some optimistic signs in the form of opportunities for women in the women-only manufacturing and shopping malls, government commissions providing women’s needs, hospitality business and opening courses in engineering and law for women.
However, many other issues need still to be addressed like the limitations in the work opportunities for women, discriminating family law, and lack of mobility etc. Women are not allowed to drive a car and need to seek permission of a male guardian to travel by air. Further, with respect to civil rights, Saudi women are not allowed to vote for municipal council‘s first elections. Islam is integrated into the judicial system and governance of Saudi with such interpretation that it brings about gender inequality. Saudi women are afflicted by gender bias in many fields including access to justice.
The Saudi Islamic Law in accordance with Shari ‘ah does not recommend equal status to women mainly in relation with family law. Women have to put up with many restrictions concerning their personal conduct and are in command of their male relatives (mahram). The hierarchy of Saudi Arabian social system gives privilege to men over women and elite over the ordinary people and it is replicated comprehensively in the kingdom’s law (Daumato, 2010).
According to the reports submitted by the U.S. Department of State, on human rights practices in all the members and some non-members countries of the United Nations, “Women in the Islamic Kingdom of Saudi have few substantive political and social rights, and they are not equal members of society. Women, including foreigners, may not legally drive motor vehicles or ride bicycles, and there are restrictions on their use of public facilities when men are present” (Women and Human Rights,1993, pg.451).
The report states that Saudi custom encourages many non-Muslim women also to adhere to the stricter dress codes like wearing loose fitting clothing. Instances of genital mutilation and domestic violence are also common in Saudi. However, there is no government record of such cases and authorities do not look into these matters seriously. Moreover, the press also advocates the ‘strict disciplining’ of women through its ‘Islamic advice’ columns (Women and Human Right, 1993).
According to a premier U.S. human rights organization called Human Rights Watch (HRW), the condition of foreign women working as domestic helps in Saudi is quite depressing. They are imposed labor, have to bear physical and sexual abuse and pursue the restrictions imposed on the Saudi women in general, like wearing scarf, not walking alone and not joining the company of men who is not a relative (Haniffa, 1998).
The monopoly of male theologians and jurists in Middle Eastern Society is liable for the most exclusive and conservative interpretation of religious laws that have subjugated the women in society and politics. Women are denied the supreme positions in government in view of the Hadith (a report of the deeds and sayings of Muhammad).The women representation in parliaments is very less in the Arab nations in comparison to the other countries of the world.
However, some Muslim nations have been led by women leaders. However, the U.S. has always claimed to be the custodian of human rights all over the world, but its foreign policy in the Middle East and especially in Saudi Arabia exhibited many flaws and errors. Muslim women victims of oppression did not get as much media attention in the U.S.as their Jewish and Christian counterparts do. The favoritism excluded the Middle Eastern women from the compass of American foreign policy (AbuKhalil, 2000).
This indifferent attitude of the international community towards the monopoly of Wahhabi monarchy may be linked with the fact that Saudi Arabia is a top oil-producer country and the royal family has friendly relations with the U.S. The young Saudis are considered to be promoting terrorism, by the Saudi authorities, if they protest against the exploitation of their human rights. The Saudi women need international attention for bringing in reforms in their position in the society and avail their basic human rights like the women from the West (Halimi, 2012).
In such state of affairs the appeal of the U.S. Senator; Marco Rubio seems like a ray of hope for protecting the basic human rights of many people in different parts of the world. In view of the misery of the underprivileged, the U.S. Senator Marco Rubio(R-FL) has requested the United States and the other U.N. members to go up against the candidacies of the countries that are not permitting basic human rights for their citizens. He stated, “No one can honestly say that countries that actively oppress their people or look the other way when fundamental freedom are assaulted should sit in judgment of others’ human rights records”.
Physical abuse and confinement is imposed on them on asking for their rights. Women are suffering from biased treatment of male dominated communities; freedom of expression is being snatched by confinement of the journalists for supporting human rights of the miserable. The indifferent attitude of the government towards human trafficking and violation of religious freedom are beyond acceptance. Therefore, he has urged to oppose their inclusion in the U.N. Human Rights Council.
He stated that, “I urge the administration to not only oppose their election, but also hope our representative speaks forcefully against their candidacies and appeals to the other General Assembly members to align with the aspirations of all people who are being denied fundamental rights and freedom” (Rubio: Human Rights Abusers Have No Place On The UN Human Rights Council, 2013, Para 1).
Saudi women are expected to get the right to vote in the elections for municipal councils in the year 2015 and this step, though taken late, is considered remarkable for uplifting the status of women in Saudi Arabia. The delay in such actions in Saudi Arabia is also indicative of the disparity between the Arab culture and the Western world. The sluggish pace of changes can prove hazardous to the growth of people and specially the women. Ban on driving car and opening bank accounts, dependency on male support for obtaining passport, going to school or commuting for other purposes are other issues that need a fair treatment in view of fundamental human rights (Sztokman, 2011).
Every Saudi woman has a male guardian right from her birth until death. At birth her father is conferred the guardianship and after marriage her husband acts as her guardian. A widow has to depend on her son for all interactions and activities. Child marriage is not banned legally and father’s decision regarding this issue is considered right. These circumstances definitely call for reforms in the social and legal system of the kingdom. The prevailing dissatisfaction among Saudi women regarding their liberty, civil rights, and independence can be witnessed in the form of some movements like the driving campaign.
However, there many women are still in a perplexed state of mind about their willingness to changes. They are satisfied with the status quo allotted to them. They even speak noticeably of their confrontation for changes. A Jeddah woman Rawdan AL-Yousif came forward for the defense and reinforcement of the guardianship system in 2009. The campaign was called “My Guardian Know What’s Best for Me”.
The supporters were against any changes and appealed the king not to surrender to the campaigns and international human rights organizations asking for modifications in the guardianship system. Further, the need to include public places like hospitals and malls (hospitals and malls are the only public places excluded from this segregation) under the gender segregation law was also raised by many Saudi men and women (Al Nafjan, 2011).
There is a lot to be done to materialize women’s civil rights, even after Saudi Arabia signing the UN Convention on the All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The subject of civil rights for women has remained on the paper only, since the laws regarding male guardianship and gender segregation are deeply-rooted in the minds Saudis, leaving women to remain minors forever. They require permission from their male guardian for almost everything including their education, work, medical care, travelling etc. The legal obligation on Saudi Arabia by consenting the UN CEDAW regarding the civil and human rights of women has yet to be materialized (Saudi Arabia: Women’s civil rights yet to materialize, 2008).
A burning example of suppression of women’s human rights is Saudi Arabia where denial of driving rights to women has led some women to go out and protest for their human right to drive, which will be the scope of this paper.This issue has become controversial among different religious scholars, intellectuals, and social reformers in Saudi society. Despite the fact that the religious texts like Qur’an and Sunnah award equal status to men and women in the society, disregard to the women’s basic human rights has been prevalent in the Saudi community. Ban on women’s driving and denial for driver’s license to women is a sheer instance of this oppression of women.
Saudi women are facing a very rigorous tradition that does not accept women to live independently or go out alone without a relative male or a husband. It is considered as an immoral behavior that has to be treated with punishment according to Islamic law. This issue has gained international attention, as the people from other parts of the world are shocked to know how women in this world are still deprived from their basic need, which is the freedom to commute independently.
Legislation, edicts, or other governmental actions to put the policy in place
Constitutional monarchy in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia incorporates absolute monarchy by putting the government and the military both under the command of the king. The second person in command is the Crown Prince, who is appointed by the king himself for assistance in the activities related to the government. The government structure also includes a Cabinet consisting of 22 ministries involving different parts of government like education, finance, foreign affairs, etc. For assisting the king in the legislative matters, there is a Consultative Council (Majlis Al-Shura) comprising 150 members. This council is appointed by the king for recommending new laws and making amendments in the existing laws. The term of this council is for four years; however, it can be renewed for next term (About Saudi Arabia, 2013).
Development and authorities of the Consultative Council
Consultative Council has always been a part of Islamic political system. In 1926, the King Abd-al-Aziz considered the expansion of the traditional Consultative Assembly (Majlis al-Shura) by amalgamating the Hijazi and Najdi institutions. However, the religious leaders from Najd (‘ulama) did not like the idea and issued a fatwa in 1927 that stated that no civil law would be accepted if it does not comply with the Shari’ah law.
In spite of the disapproval, the Hijazi Majlis al-Shura was not disbanded officially. The then Crown Prince Faysal, proposed renewal of the Mazlis when the U.S. President John. F. Kennedy put pressure on him for bringing in political reforms. Eventually, a national Consultative Council was established by King Fahd in 1992. However, this Majlis al-Shura, too, comprised of the appointed members instead of elected members. Many Western perceived it as an advancement towards Western based parliament, but King Fahd identified it as a means of institutionalizing involvement of public in the political procedures via an Islamic compliant institution.
This institution worked as the advice-giving and consensual body, which legitimized the decisions taken by the government. In 2002, Crown Prince Abdallah, expressed his interest in building a national interactive consultation on governmental reforms following which, in 2003, some prestigious persons from different realms of the community appealed for the formation of constitutional institutions.(Long, 2005).
Consultative Council was enlarged in July 1997, including 90 male members and thereafter in May 2001, the number increased to 120 members. In 2005, the number of the members of the Consultative Council increased up to 150. The Council has female advisors too. However, there number is comparatively less. There were 13 female advisors in the Consultative Council of Saudi Arabia in 2011 that were promised full membership by King Abdullah.
King Abdullah established the Allegiance Commission in 2006 for the selection of a king and crown prince for the succession of either. The Commission includes sons, grandsons and great-grandsons of representing the offspring of the founder of the kingdom, King Abdul Aziz. The eligible successors for the place of King and Crown Prince include only the direct descendants of Abdul Aziz (Saudi Arabia, 2011).
Saudi Arabia comprises of thirteen provinces. Each province is governed by a governor, a deputy governor, and an advisory Council who work for the development of the province.
The judicial system of Saudi Arabia has originated from the Islamic law or Shari’ah. The uppermost post in the legal system is authorized to the King, who is empowered to take the final decision on any issue and has the power to issue pardons also. The legal system comprises mainly of Shari’ah courts for dealing with cases (About Saudi Arabia, 2013).
The scope of authority of each branch of government related to the policy
Islamic law has been the support and origin of the basic system of government, ever since the foundation of the modern kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932 by the late King Abdulaziz bin Abdelrahman Al-Saud. He was aware of the upcoming requirements that the state would have to meet to flourish and thrive conveniently and to facilitate adaptability to the changing times. Therefore, he laid the foundation of a modern constitutional regime. The state was led by the modern government in place of the tribal rulers. During 1950’s and 1960’s, the Council of Ministers and twenty government ministries were established.
The executive and legislative branches of the government comprised the king and the Council of Ministers. In this way, the long prevailed Islamic system of conference and discussion was formalized in the modern government. The majlis represents the conventional system of meetings where people can approach the King and leaders at different government levels and put forward important issues of concern and talk about them. The nature of the state, its aims, and duties and the nature of association between the government and the governed have always complied with Shari’ah (About Saudi Arabia, 2013).
Dr.Al-Muhanna, a prominent Saudi writer has illustrated the legislative and oversight functions of the Shura council. Al-Muhanna (as cited in O’Brien, 2011) states that the Saudi ruler, “should consult his people, because Allah ordered His Prophet….to consult the Muslims by saying: ‘and consult them in affairs.’ This order is directed to the Prophet, who was supported by revelations from Allah, and should apply to the ruler who must follow his footsteps” (p.46)
The Council has a significant role to play in the legislative process. The Shura Council also supervises the departments of the Council of Ministers. However, the King holds the supreme power in taking decisions. Hence, the current policy of women’s driving rights comes under the authority of the Consultative Council as it represents the conventional system of meetings where people can approach the King and leaders at different government levels and put forward important issues of concern and talk about them (O’Brien, 2011).
Though Shura Council member Dr Hamad al-Zulfa had submitted a memorandum on the issue of women’s driving in the Shura Council, but in reality, it was only a tactic to test the opinion of the people and speculating the mind-set of the common person. The outcome was depicted in the form of strong public opposition of the policy. Hence, the government declared that it would be reckless to take any decision on this issue at this stage (Craze, 2009).
Government policies and the affected people
In Saudi Arabia, the law has to be followed by all people living in the kingdom. No liberty in the name of migrants or foreigners is bestowed on the people. The code of conduct, dressing manner and other obligations are imposed on the people living there including citizens and immigrants both.
History and Cultural Background of the Policy
The Legal system of Saudi Arabia is incompatible to women’s freedom. Gender discrimination, facilitated by the state’s version of Islam is incorporated in governmental and social structures of Saudi Arabia. The domination of male theologians and jurists in Middle Eastern Society is liable for the most exclusive and conservative interpretation of religious laws that have oppressed the women in society and politics. Modernization has led some Saudi women to seek their human rights like their counterparts in the rest of the world. The ban imposed on their basic civil rights such as right to drive by the Saudi Government has instigated them to protest against it and defy the ban.
In past twenty-three years, Saudi women have expressed their strong discontent against the act on women’s driving. Women in Saudi are enforced to be dependent on the males for commuting. In 1990, forty-seven Saudi women had protested for this cause by driving in the streets of Riyadh and landed into prisons or put their jobs on risk and were prohibited to travel. In June 2011, around fifty women participated in a similar campaign to show their discontent against the arrest of a Saudi women’s rights activist. Since 2011, the public interest and support on the issue of women’s driving has been more prominent than the other social issues in Saudi. The campaign has gathered huge online support; however, the number of actual campaigners is not so impressive (Boghardt, 2013).
Another major demonstration of this sort took place on Oct.26 2013 when women defied the authorities and drove. Their campaign for change sent a clear message through social media with many videos posted by Saudi women showing them behind the steering wheels (Jamjoom & Smith-Spark, 2013).
The Saudi Arabia police department arrested 14 Saudi women who were protesting by driving cars individually in different areas across the state such as in Riyadh, west-Makah, Al-Shargeya, Yanbu, and Jeddah. There were some others activists who were planning to drive car as well, but retreated from protesting because they thought that this act is considered as challenging the authority. These activists believe on gaining all the rights for Saudi women especially the right to drive car because it has been delayed for a long time; however, they do not believe that protesting on streets would help them to acquire these rights.
After this incidence, many Saudi women started a new online campaign spread across the Kingdom and has gained a large acceptance within the Internet society, and has established around 16 thousand signatures that support allowing Saudi women to drive car (Humaid, 2013).
The detention of Tariq al-Mubarak on 27 October, a schoolteacher and columnist for a London based Arabic newspaper, by the Interior Ministry’s Criminal Investigation Department of Saudi Arabia has created a stir among the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). They have demanded his instantaneous release as his detention is an act of suppressing the right to express and represents the state’s approach towards the fundamental human rights of the people. Tariq-al-Mubarak had shown his support for the Saudi Arabian women’s driving campaign through his column in Asharq al-Awsat that condemned several discriminations forced on the Saudi women including the ban on women’s driving (Saudi Arabia jails journalist for backing women driving,2013).
Saudi women are protesting with an intent that they should be granted the right to drive like the women in other parts of the world. In 2012, a court agreed to hear the first lawsuits in this connection. The Saudi women considered this legal push indispensable after requesting for so many years for lifting the ban on women’s driving. Their appeals and protests have been ignored by the Saudi leaders for a long time. Instead, they have been detained and rebuked for such activities. Finding no breakthrough, the women decided to change their approach and go for a legal push into the matter.
However, there are no written legislations putting ban on women’s driving in Saudi Arabia, but the depressing attitude towards women’s position in the community, following the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, forces them to be dependent on the males. They are not allowed to get driver’s licenses and have to endure imprisonment or pay fines in case of defying the ban. The supporters of the ban justify it by saying that the strict instructions in the Quran do not allow women to join strangers specifically men.
The supporters of the campaign put forward their view that the ban compels them to pay thousands of dollars to the male drivers per year or depend on their male relatives for travelling. A 22 year old Saudi woman Manal al- Sharif who is also a computer consultant, had started the campaign Women2Drive in 2011by driving and getting her video recorded while driving. She was arrested for this act for about a week. Her application for the driving license was declined by the Saudi officials.
Ms. Sharif took the challenge to come out and speak for her fundamental rights. She spoke on CNN and BBC about her case and reasons behind it. International exposure is considered important for evading the punishment for standing in support of the right to drive campaign. In response to the lawsuits, the court resolving issues between the common people and the government has decided to look into the case.
This can be considered a major move as such issues have been dealt by the religious courts in the past. A local newspaper reports that Saudi authorities have proposed to form a new commission to deal with several social issues including the current issue of women’s driving. However, the government has not substantiated the report, but this move has created a stir among both the supporters and opponents of the campaign (Knickmeyer, 2012).
The prospects of freedom and basic human rights of Saudi women will be determined by the retention or reform of the custom. The authorities leave the question to be answered by the society. Answering a question regarding women’s driving issue in 2000, the minister of the interior, Prince Naif Bin Abdulaziz said that the decision of the society would be considered significant in this matter. The government’s attitude for bringing in reforms in this policy seems to be illusory (Craze, 2009).
However, Shura Council member Dr Hamad al-Zulfa submitted a memo on the issue of women’s driving but in reality it seems to be a mode to test the opinion of the people and speculating the mind-set of the common man. The outcome was depicted in the form of strong public opposition of the policy. Hence, the government declared that taking any decision on this issue would be impetuous. The issue of women’s driving is treated with so much panic by the Shura Council members that a Saudi writer Ali Saad al-Musa has described it as a “snake in the Shura Council” (Craze, 2009).
On October8, 2013 three Saudi women who are members in the “Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia” have advised the assembly to recognize the Saudi women’s right to drive car. In addition, regarding this issue the Gallup organization conducted an opinion poll in 2007 and found that there is about 55% of men and 66% of women believed that Saudi women should be allowed to drive car (Humaid, 2013).
Islamic basis for the policy
Islam is interpreted with different connotations by the Muslims and the non-Muslims as well. The term implying trust and compliance has been misinterpreted representing violence, irrationality, and totalitarianism. Islam’s claim to equality and universality has been confronted by the state of women, minorities, and slaves in Muslim world. These groups have faced legal disposition defining their inferior status in the society.
Hence, the Islamic state was based on an incongruity between the legal limitations of some groups and the philosophical theory of equality for all beings, which is fundamental to Islam as a prevailing religion. The abolition of slavery has left only two major groups, i.e. the women and the minorities, to be tested in terms of modernization and equality. Therefore, the issue of women liberation has evoked much stir in the discussions about democracy in the Muslim world (Afkhami, 1995).
Islamic law (Shari’ah) and women’s rights
In Saudi Arabia, issues related to all aspects of life like political, economic, and social are seen in the context of Islamic law or “Shari’ah”. The two main sources of the Islamic law or Shari’ah are the Qur’an and the Sunnah (a collection of the sayings and traditions of Prophet Muhammad). The literal meaning of Al-Shari’ah, is the pathway to be followed. The principles and commands of the Qur’an are considered as the chief source of direction under the Shri’ah. The Sunnah shapes the second stage of the Shari’ah. The Sunnah represents Prophet Muhammad as the model of conduct that is to be followed by all believers of Islam.Besides Qur’an and Sunnah there are secondary sources too, called Ijma (consensus) Qiyas (measurement) and Ijtihad (effort) (Ramadan, 2006).
These secondary sources help in dealing with the situations when the appropriateness of the Islamic teachings has to be established regarding a particular case. Therefore, it requires some time and efforts by the religious leaders and scholars to decide, by either consensus or individual effort, that a particular issue or behavior is acceptable and corresponds to the Islamic teachings or not.
In spite of all these provisions, many issues still need resolution. Various issues have popped up due to modernization and awareness that have caused tribulations in the Islamic world. The issue related to women’s freedom and women’s driving right in particular, has created a stir among the opponents of the policy that include religious leaders, government, and majority of men in the society. Hence, the social conditions are adverse for the successful implementation of the policy that allows women’s to drive in Saudi Arabia. Many justifications given by the opponents of the policy do not relate to the teachings of the religious texts, but they are inherited through generations even before the Islam appeared.
The basis of women’s rights in the Qur’an
Islamic law originates from the Qur’an that embodies the actual world of Allah as it was revealed to Muhammad. The Qur’an does not acknowledge it as a law, but it serves as the basis of Islamic law besides containing specific commands. The policy of women’s right to drive finds its basis in the principles of the Qur’an that bestow equal rights to both men and women. The religious leaders and the government have been ignoring the demands of the Saudi women justifying that Allah holds this behavior immoral.
However, there is no discrimination enforced on women by the Qur’an. Equal status is given to men and women in rights, duties, and worshiping. Women are given right of inheritance and her approval is considered significant for marriage. The Quran proclaims that men and women are expected to work in the similar way in aspects like promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice. According to the Quran:
“The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise” (Al-Tawbah, n.d., verse 71).
Islam considers men and women equal in the regard that both possess a soul and the purpose of their creation by Allah is alike. Their respective deeds and misdeeds would be rewarded and punished equally. The Qur’an bestows the Garden of Bliss to both men and women for their righteousness and good actions (Hasan, 2004).
“And whoever does righteous deeds, whether male or female, while being a believer – those will enter Paradise and will not be wronged, [even as much as] the speck on a date seed” (Al-Nisa, n.d., verse124).
The interpretation of the Qur’an done by religious leaders is usually influenced by the social conditions and prevalent customs of that place. Women are considered subservient to men in Saudi Arabic society. They are treated as inferior to men and do not have their own identity. However, the Qur’an maintains that men and women both are required by God (Allah) for the purpose of succession on the earth. He has created this world and both men and women are complimentary in fulfilling this purpose. According to the Quran:
“And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, “Indeed, I will make upon the earth a successive authority.” They said, “Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?” Allah said, “Indeed, I know that which you do not know”” (Al-Baqarah, n.d., verse 30).
The denial of human rights to the women in Saudi Arabia is contrary to the principles and teachings of the Qur’an as there is a clear mention that Allah has bestowed same honor and respect to both men and women:
“And We have certainly honored the children of Adam and carried them on the land and sea and provided for them of the good things and preferred them over much of what We have created, with [definite] preference” (Al-Isra, n.d., verse 70).
The dejected state of women in the Saudi community and forced deprivation of rights is symbolic of the male dominance in the society. The Qur’an does not justify the suppression of anyone on this earth. The preservation of the status of men and women and the inviolability of their life holds similar state to Allah, as the Quran says:
“Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, [even] after that, throughout the land, were transgressors” (Al-Maidah, n.d., verse 32).
Women, who constitute the equal proportion in the world, deserve equal rights like men. However, many women still await the response of their government and society with respect to their basic civil rights. Women in Saudi are protesting to get the right to drive but are being sent to jails and punished for their defiance. Religious scholars advocating this suppression claim that their religious laws hold such activities by women, immoral and indecent. However, the Quran has emphasized that the women are the source of human race who are establishing generations and hence should be treated with dignity. According to the Quran:
“O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah, through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever, over you, an Observer” (Al-Nisa, n.d., verse 01).
Men and women are complementary to each other in marriage and seek love and affection from each other. The notion that women are inferior to men and is born to serve him is wrong. The Qur’an emphasizes that there should be affection and mercy between in a marital relationship. The Quran states:
“And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought” (Al-Rum, n.d., verse 21)
The prevailing discrimination based on race color and gender does not find its roots in the Qur’an. Allah has assigned similar duties to all human beings. They are born in different genders, colors and races, but that is not the basis of their piety.
The righteousness of a person is the determining factor of his piety in the sight of Allah. Women asking for their human rights cannot be blamed, as immoral and defying the instructions of Allah as they are not forbidden to have these rights. As stated in the Quran:
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted” (Al-Hujurat, n.d., verse 13).
Qur’an is the primary resource of Islamic religion texts. All the texts state men and women alike with no discrimination. The Quran emphasized that the differences among them, in the eyes of Allah, are based on their piety, which is their inner virtue. When there is no discrimination made between men and women in the Qur’an and all human beings are considered equal by Allah, they should be given the same status by his followers also. It is evident that the restrictions on women’s freedom are imposed by the male religious leaders to maintain male dominance in the society. In view of the policy regarding women’s driving, it is apparent that their right for driving car has been taken from them unreasonably whereas the Quran always authenticates the equality among people regardless of their gender, race, and color.
The basis of women’s rights in Sunnah
The Sunnah reflects the prophet’s traditions and attitudes among his people and his family. The Sunnah was inherited from the prophet by his friends and documented, protected and carried through generations until now. The prophet’s friends were feeling honored to follow his guidelines and his life style because they are interpretation of the teachings, values, ethics of the Quran and the prophet’s wisdom. He was considered the role model for them, as still is the case with the majority of Muslims.
Sunnah refers to the sayings and practices of Muhammad. The formally collected and compiled written accounts of the sayings and traditions of Muhammad are called the Hadiths. The Hadiths have to be followed by all Muslims in their everyday practices. These include all aspects of life including social, political, personal etc.
The sayings of Prophet Muhammad are also suggestive of equality between men and women. On being asked about the rights of a wife, Muhammad said:
“Feed her when you take your food, give her clothes when you wear clothes, refrain from giving her a slap on the face or abusing her, and do not separate from your wife, except within the house” (as cited in Women in Islam, 2010, p. 22)
The Prophet declares that people should be behaving in their best possible manner with their wives and said:
“The most perfect believers are the best in conduct and best of you are those who are best to their wives.” (as cited in Women in Islam, 2010,p.22)
On the matter of husband wife relationship, the Prophet said that in a marriage both man and woman have equal rights and duties. Both are liable for each other’s well-being. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in his last sermon said:
“O People, it is true that you have certain rights over your women, they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under God’s trust and with His permission. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Treat your women well and be kind to them, for they are your partners and committed helpers…..” (as cited in Women in Islam, 2010,p.19)
The prophet did not recognize or prefer a gender above another neither the Quran. The preferences are created by human beings. The only criterion that determines the difference between Muslims is the piety, which is measured by Allah only. The conservative Muslims believe that restricting women from their fundamental rights would protect them from the evils and corruptions that come with some aspects of modernization. Such beliefs and conducts take the Islamic world many centuries back to the era of ignorance existing even before the Islam, whereas in the first Islamic era women were much developed, worked besides males, occupied senior positions, had remarkable position in the history, and availed more rights than the present times.
Therefore, the differentiation that has been imposed in many aspects between genders in the new Islamic world is not inherited or originated from the Islamic religion and teachings, but males created it as the dominant population to justify their superiority over women.
Many issues, that have popped up due to modernization and awareness related to human rights, necessitate interpretation in the context of the religious law. Where certain issues do not find any specific mention and guidance in the Qur’an and Sunnah, the religious scholars and leaders depend on human reasoning. From earlier times, religious leaders adopted various methods for deducing and applying the teachings of Shari’ah for such issues through reasoning. There are two main methods of reasoning. The popular method of reasoning is collective reasoning or consensus among the Muslim religious leaders.
This collective reasoning or consensus is known as Ijma that helps the learned scholars and Islamic leaders to deal with certain controversial issues of their period and offer some way out to the community. According to Iqbal (Ramadan,2006), “Ijma is the most important notion in Islam.”(pg.17). He believes that collective reasoning and consensus will be useful in setting up stable legislative institutions in the Muslim society. However, following the death of Muhammad, due to the political division of the Muslim population and long distances, Ijma has not been applied successfully. Therefore, the Ijma recorded in that period continues to be source of the universally recognized Islamic law.
With the advancement in computer technology, social sites, and other communication methods, it may be perceived that Ijma will be an active method of bringing in better resolution to the controversial issues of modern times like the current issue of women’s driving right in Saudi Arabia (Ramadan, 2006).
Like Ijma, Qiyas is also a form of reasoning, but unlike Ijma it is an individual’s independent efforts to bring out analogical deduction. A person has to be qualified and have good knowledge of Qur’an and Hadith to exercise Qiyas. Being eligible for Qiyas makes one eligible for participating in Ijma. Qiyas was acknowledged as a valid device for extract law from the Qur’an and Sunnah, but only where there was no previous instance by Ijma.
People from Muslim community have been demanding stable institutions for the better application and perpetuation of Islamic ethics. These institutions will be useful in resolving controversial issues that originate from the obligations and agreements enforced by Islam. This practice will take place in two forms. Firstly, it will adhere to the age-old jurisprudential principles of the Islamic Golden Era and secondly, it will work for devising innovative approaches of finding solutions to the existing concerns that are beyond the scope of the ancient rules and guidance of Islamic law (Ramadan, 2006).
Ijma and Qiyas may play significant roles in bringing in reform in many aspects of the Muslim society. The interpretation of the controversial issues emerged with modernization is necessary in the present day context. The urge of Saudi women to have their fundamental rights may find its solutions through the application of the Ijma or Qiyas. Religious scholars and the ruling authorities need to make collaborative efforts to provide adequate interpretation of the Islamic law in view of the current social context.
Contemporary arguments within the religious community about the policy
The consequences of Mohammad al-Zulfa’s proposal for permitting some women to drive was not expected to take such a huge stance. This proposal has definitely triggered off the conflagration in the highly conservative society of Saudi Arabia. There is no mention of such prohibition in Qur’an, but the Islamic scholars and religious fatwas have put many restrictions on the Saudi women in the name of Islam. However, the role of women has always been subservient to that of men in most of the religions.
Women are considered as meek and incapable in deciding their own morality. Many religions including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam encourage the idea that women are meant only for looking after the family, rearing children, serving men, and providing them pleasure. These religions do not confer religious authority to the women justifying that they are the source of sin and temptation.
With modernization, there have been improvements in the state of women in the developed countries, but no changes are observed in the underdeveloped countries as religion holds the supreme place there. In Islam, there are separate halls for prayer for men and women. The prejudice related to the participation of women in politics refrain them from being a significant member of the community. In all respects, they are given the second-class status in the society (Khokhar, 2006).
The Sharia looks at any controversial issue by weighing its interests and corruptions. According to the Shari’ah if there is any issue that may raise more corruptions then interests, it is forbidden. In case of the women’s driving policy, the religious leaders believe that the abuses of this policy are related to the environmental and economic consequences rather than religious ones. It is perceived that policy may be considered if it brings more interests than the corruptions and prove beneficial to the women. They emphasize that the legislation associated with the policy, may change with the approval of the King Abdullah who is the guardian of the state and holds complete authority. He, who has the last word and the full authority, might pass this policy and then the people should follow him with obedience (Humaid, 2013).
In case of women’s driving in Saudi Arabia the bigotry shown by the religious leaders, exemplify minimum chances of reforms in the kingdom. The women protesting for lifting ban on women’s driving were called as sleazy, showing immoral behavior and going against the religion. Moreover, these women were called as ‘dishonorable’ in a list entitled Know Your Enemy. These women had to face the criticism and annoyance of the conservatives who demanded punishment for them as per the religious law. According to Craze (2009) Sheikh Abdulaziz Bin Baz issued a fatwa stating:
“[The idea of] women driving has been talked about a great deal, and it obviously leads to much corruption, such as provocative dressing, mixing directly with men, as well as committing sin…..The exalted laws prevented practices that may lead to sins….God almighty ordered…believing women to remain in the house and wear the hijab and avoid flaunting their beauty to those outside their immediate family because…that leads to promiscuity which in turn destroys society” (p. 28).
The Saudi government has a challenging situation before it, in context of the social currents of change within the Muslim community and specially the women. The strictness and rigidity shown by the royal family over the crucial matters of women’s freedom is being protested in order to protect their human rights within the Islamic environment. However, the Saudi society also, is not prepared for changes in the system as revealed by the rejection of the debate over women’s rights to drive.
Most Arabian families hire drivers coming from other Asian countries. This paradox relating to women’s driving raises questions about the authenticity of their guardianship that allows them to go with the hired drivers instead of letting them to drive alone. The advocates of women’s right to drive policy claim that women driving their cars by themselves would be much safer than being in the company of hired male drivers who are strangers to them. Such behavior by the guardians would commit violation to the Islamic teachings by putting their mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters with strange male drivers alone, whereas by allowing women to drive car would reduce such violation.
There are instances, where women have no males in their lives because of divorce, family problems, death of the guardians etc., and cannot afford to have their own driver. These women face many problems as they are forced to remain confined to their places. The women who have no male relatives in their lives would be more subjected to the crimes like to sexual harassment, rapes, and even killing on hiring a driver who is not unknown to them.
A new vision cherished by the Progressive Muslims in pursuit of a pluralistic and just social system is striving to provide justice to human beings around the world living in poor, polluted environment, being oppressed, and marginalized. “Progressive Islam encompasses a number of themes: striving to realize a just and pluralistic society through a critical engagement with Islam, a relentless pursuit of social justice, an emphasis on gender equality as a foundation of human rights and a vision of religious and ethnic pluralism.”(Safi, 2003, pg.48)
These Muslims are trying to illustrate on the strong tradition of social justice from within Islam from sources as diverse as the Qur’an and Hadith to more current authorities and spokesperson such as Shari’ati. Their practical flexibility is apparent in their pluralistic theory. They believe that the Muslim community cannot expect justice and progression unless or until the Muslim women are conferred equality (Safi, 2003).
The intended and unintended effects of the policy
Even though no proposed action has been devised and assembled against women driving, still the outlaw in the nation is making a gesture towards, bearing a witness to the fact that the rights of women are constrained and limited in Saudi Arabia. There are the examples of the preconceived and done on purpose upshots of the proposed actions. A high tech specialist for Saudi government, Maha al-Qahtani, showed resistance against the policy by driving for 45 minutes around Riyadh along with her husband seated next to her (MacFarquhar, 2011).
Her disobedience to the policy is related to nationwide right-to-drive campaign which included more than forty women who took up a grave stand to express objections on the road conveying that for Saudi women driving has turned out to be a taboo. According to them, their campaign was on the tune of the one in Egypt and somewhere else in the Arab world popular as the Arab Spring (MacFarquhar, 2011).
To pacify the women revolt, King Abdullah got agreed to grant women the right to vote and participate in municipal election scheduled in 2015 but ban on driving still remained a burning topic among these women.
This was the intended effect of the policy that Manal al-Sharif, a woman from Saudi Arabia started a campaign for right to drive and spread the fire of her mission through social media sites. She opened Twitter account by the name of ‘I will drive starting June 17.’ She posted her video on You Tube which showed that she was driving an S.U.V. She also managed a Facebook account to push the removal of the driving ban. She got arrested and was sent to jail for nine days. But the campaign seemed to be very powerful and it affected many women (Oates, 2011).
Earlier, when Saudi women endeavored to stand against the ban, they were penalized intensely and the nation stood mute. But this time the panorama was thoroughly contrastive. The government’s brutal treatment for Sharif was tremendously criticized. The social media sites like Twitter and Facebook were filled with the comments in defense of Sharif. There was colossal parley over this matter. The members of these sites condemned the actions of both Saudi Arabia’s ruling princes and the clerics.
A woman in Jidda wrote on a social media site “Are you accusing a woman of being a sinner because she went to jail for driving? What kind of religion would come up with that?” (MacFarquhar, 2011, p.60).
The activists in Saudi recognize the fact that social media cannot only bring about the alterations in the policy, it can in some ways accentuate and uncover the issues.
Some more intended effects can be seen of the ban on driving in the country. Five more Saudi women who challenged the country’s religious traditions were caught by the police in the Red sea coast of Jeddha. And later roughly 50 more women were punished by sending jail for challenging the ban on driving. The news disseminated through various media channels and the local authorities were in a towering rage. Oh, But what a sigh of relief! Tremendous international support swarmed up to assist the dauntless maneuvers of these women. According to Change.org, more than 100,000 people from 156 countries have encouraged the mission of these women who started the campaign for driving in Saudi Arabia (Gibbons, 2011).
The effects of the policy would be that Saudi women would wish for more independence, liberty and civil rights. However, it is not very clear that most of Saudi women will embrace this change with open arms. Apprehensions of the burden of more personal responsibilities after acquiring the right to drive could drive them crazy to a little extent. Shouldering those responsibilities for they find themselves incapable of, might turn out to be a nightmare for most of them. A Saudi woman mentioned that “I see how American women have to run around the city running errands, and I don’t want to open that door. As long as women driving is banned, no one will have these expectations for me,” (Al Nafjan, 2011, p.42).
Saudi women will yearn for their own identity and self-determination. These women have this realization that liberty and rights will come with responsibility. It will give them and their daughters the individuality to follow their happiness (Al Nafjan, 2011).
There are the Saudis who have liked the segregation of the genders. The Saudi women are treated as perpetual minors in their own country. Their law does not permit a woman to go alone out of the house. Any of the male from the family will accompany them. But the movement for getting the right for driving will of course try to bring in limelight such kinds of issues, which Saudi women will definitely want to be solved.
The policy will not only give them the right to drive but also will create new ways to the challenges to the other restrictions like demand for leaving and entering country without the guardian’s permission (Al Nafjan, 2011).
Fatma A., a 40 year old divorced woman whose father also died, was not allowed to leave the country since she was not having any male company. Her guardianship was transferred to her 23 year old son. She mentioned that “My son is 23 years old and has to come all the way from the Eastern Province to give me permission to leave the country” (Perpetual Minors, 2008, p.3). Such kinds of incidences have fuelled the anger of the women in Saudi. According to a Saudi Woman, “I’m not proud to be a Saudi woman. Why should I be proud of a country that is not proud of me?” (Perpetual Minors, 2008, p.3). It seems the policy for right to drive will encourage the women and they would seek for the right to travel abroad alone.
Some other issues like child marriage have not been scanned under any law. Still there is no ban on child marriage; rather the decision is totally left at the choice of the girl’s father. The effect of the policy could be that this issue would also be emphasized by some other activists in Saudi, which may attract the attention of the law makers and there could be chances for this also to be resolved.
The inadvertent reverberations of the policy will be that the women in Saudi will be enlightened about human rights and may demand for more rights. According to Saudi activists driving rights are stepping stones towards forthcoming development.
Al Nazifan, an activist states that “I can’t say I want a woman minister, I can’t say I want to see democracy… I can’t say all of these things without being able to drive a car,” (Gibbons, 2011, p.85). King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz is guided by Islamic council that issue religious edict and the ban on the driving is the part of such kinds of religious edicts.
These women are restricted to many areas such as employment, education, medical care etc. A Saudi woman (2006) in favor of getting the right for education said, “Education is a compulsory religious duty. No one has the right to deprive women of that” (Perpetual Minors, 2008, p.6). A Saudi businesswoman mentioned to get the right of employment, “Women need jobs and an income, but they are sitting there fighting about technicalities. Women need jobs not only to support their [nuclear] families but also their parents. We need to find a way to bring these women into the labor force” (Perpetual Minors, 2008, p.6).
The risk of violence at home is much in Saudi against women. They need a legal guardian to file a complaint against any violence. The unintended effects of the policy for right to drive would be that the women will know about their own identity and will be able to stand by themselves against any violence if it happens with them.
The policy for right to drive would awaken them to get more human rights and fundamental freedoms in many areas like social, cultural, political, civil, economic etc. They would definitely seek for equal rights as men to study, work, travel, and marry without discrimination and to access healthcare.
The known or likely abuses of the policy
The opponents of the policy present their views regarding the corruptions that may crop up with the freedom to drive car. They point out that allowing women to drive will raise issuing regarding their safety. Women will be mixing with other men outside their relations, which may follow with violation of marital commitments. Further, some women may lose interest in performing their responsibilities as homemakers and mothers while utilizing their freedom of movement. The women may have to bear additional responsibilities that would overburden them with multiple tasks to perform.
The reconciliation of the policy with international law and the U.N. declaration of Human Rights
The UN special reporter declared after her the visit to Saudi Arabia in 2008, that “lack of women’s autonomy, freedom of movement, and economic independence; discriminatory practices surrounding divorce and child custody; the absence of law criminalizing violence against women; and difficulties preventing from escaping abusive environments” were prevalent in the Saudi society(2010 Human Rights Report: Saudi Arabia, 2011).
However, some modest decisions are taken by King Abdullah in the past in the form of women’s participation in politics, opening first co-educational university in the kingdom and appointing the first female deputy minister of the kingdom, but he seems to be retreating from continuing the reform process ever since the Arab turbulence initiated. Suppressing political protests, protests for women’s human rights and condemning the demonstrations in favor of democracy in countries like Tunisia and Egypt. He is entirely supported by the clergy that issues fatwas, putting restrictions on such protests (Said, 2011).
Saudi women’s campaign regarding their right to drive had maintained its existence largely on grassroots social media backing. Now, as the circumstances require, this issue has to be looked upon by the international women’s rights advocates. Hence, the promoters of the Women2 Drive campaign in Saudi have asked the top diplomats and women rights supporters the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the EU’s high representative of foreign affairs and security policy, Lady Catherine Ashton to intervene. In view of the ongoing protest, Hilary Clinton stated:
What these women are doing is brave and what they are seeking is right.[…] I am moved by it, and support them.[…] But I want to again, underscore and emphasize that this is not about the United States. It’s not about what any of us on the outside say. It is about the women themselves and their right to raise their concerns with their own government (Mack, 2011, Para4).
The tone of Hilary Clinton is undoubtedly that of an ally to the government of Saudi Arabia. However, an extensive approach was expected from her in this issue in accordance with her image of a global rights sponsor. She has been known as a strict believer and advocate of women’s rights. She had once rebuked the Canadian Prime Minister on neglecting the issue of safe abortion and contraception from G8 maternal health funding scheme. Her indifferent attitude is an indication of the United States reluctance to put its relationship with Saudi Arabia in trouble. Lady Ashton also reacted in the similar restrained manner and called the Saudi women activists “courageous” in their struggle for their rights.
The passive reaction of the two top diplomats and women’s rights crusaders from the U.S. have given a clear indication to the Saudi women that their political ties and interests are more crucial than the women’s driving rights issue, hence, they need to look for some other support in this connection. The indifferent attitude of the government towards human trafficking and violation of religious freedom are beyond acceptance.
Therefore, he has urged to oppose their inclusion in the U.N. Human Rights Council. He stated that, “I urge the administration to not only oppose their election, but also hope our representative speaks forcefully against their candidacies and appeals to the other General Assembly members to align with the aspirations of all people who are being denied fundamental rights and freedom”
The new strategy introduced in 2010 by the UN Women, a superagency, to protect the rights of women at global level can help the Saudi women in their struggle for the fundamental rights. The UN, unlike the U.S., does not have any obligation owing to the bilateral relationship with Saudi government. Instead, the UN may influence the Saudi government as it has active participation in the UN Human Rights Council and UN Women boards. The UN Women has been acclaimed for its progressive efforts all around the world. Their first flagship report Progress of the World’s Women discusses the progress and drawbacks in the women’s rights at global level.
The efforts of the superagency are being acknowledged by the global community. However, it is surprising that it does not discuss the condition of Saudi women explicitly, taking into consideration their oppression in the name of Islamic law. UN Women have an opportunity to utilize its newly found global support for the current Saudi women’s rights movement. UN Women may play a significant role in spreading the awareness regarding Saudi women’s campaigns for their rights to drive, and working with the Saudi women and Saudi leaders to find a substantial solution on realistic grounds (Mack, 2011).
U.S. Senator; Marco Rubio has come up for shielding the basic human rights of many people in different parts of the world. In view of the misery of the underprivileged, the U.S. Senator Marco Rubio(R-FL) has appealed the United States and the other U.N. members to go up against the candidacies of the countries that are not permitting basic human rights for their citizens (Rubio: Human Rights Abusers Have No Place On The UN Human Rights Council, 2013).
The gender discrimination in Saudi Arabia is supported by the state’s version of Islam that is incorporated in its governmental and social structures. The religious scholars known as ‘ulema’ are rigid enough allowing for changes in the social framework and mainly regarding issues related to women. The discrimination between men and women is seen as a way of maintaining balance between the rights and duties that are prescribed to men and women by Islam.
There is no written legislation putting ban on women’s driving in Saudi Arabia, but the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, forces them to be dependent on the males. However, strong movement towards the development of women is taking place in Saudi demanding for their rights to vote, drive, work, and avail health care and educational facilities. The issue related to women’s freedom and women’s driving right in particular, has created a stir among the opponents of the policy that include religious leaders, government, and majority of men in the society. Hence, the social conditions are adverse for the successful implementation of the policy that allows women’s to drive in Saudi Arabia.
Many justifications given by the opponents of the policy do not relate to the teachings of the religious texts, but they are inherited through generations even before the Islam appeared. In case of women’s driving in Saudi Arabia the bigotry shown by the religious leaders, exemplify minimum chances of reforms in the kingdom. These women had to face the criticism and annoyance of the conservatives who demanded punishment for them as per the religious law.
Saudi women’s campaign regarding their right to drive had maintained its existence largely on grassroots social media backing. This indifferent attitude of the international community towards the monopoly of Wahhabi monarchy may be linked with the fact that Saudi Arabia is a top oil-producer country and the royal family has friendly relations with the U.S.
Therefore, there is an urgent need to look into this matter from a humanitarian perspective on behalf the oppressed and deprived Saudi women. The debate over Saudi women’s right to drive car is causing much uproar in the Muslim community. People having different attitudes towards this issue put their own point of view. Whatever be the reality, it is certain that Saudi women deserve equality on humanitarian grounds.
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