Human Interest

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Saudi Cleric Supports Women Drivers

February 24, 2008 12:05 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
An Islamic scholar in Saudi Arabia says he found nothing in Islamic law to justify his country’s prohibition on women behind the wheel.

30-Second Summary

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Earlier this week, Sheik Abdul Mohsen al-Obaikan said that “in principle, women driving is permitted in Islam.” This statement runs counter to Saudi Arabian law, which forbids women from driving on the grounds that it would allow unrelated members of the opposite sex to mix.

The government does permit women to hire male chauffeurs, however, if they gain written permission from a close male relative.

Al-Obaikan’s edict is a positive step in a decades-old movement for sexual equality on the road.

In 1990, 47 women in Saudi Arabia’s capital city Riyadh grabbed their male relatives’ cars and drove down the street in unison. The mutaween, the national religious police, arrested them. Their passports were confiscated and they were forbidden to hold jobs for two years.

Some 16 years later, Saudi women took to the information highway in lieu of the paved one, and circulated an online petition to be sent to King Abdullah Al Saud. Last month, female activists took up the cause again, and are pleading with the king to lift the ban sometime this year.

Saudi women have fought to achieve, and subsequently to retain, civil rights during the country’s 80-year existence. It has been a slow process. Women work in many sectors—albeit apart from their male colleagues—and account for over half the enrollments in the nation’s universities.

Mona Elthawy writes on ArabLife.org, “Those young women and the driving petition gatherers were also serving notice to those in the West who believe that Saudi women are doing nothing to change their lot.”

Headline Link: ‘Islamic Law Permits Women to Drive—Scholar’

Background: Sharia law

Historical Context: ‘Women’s Drive for Rights is About More than Cars’

Opinion & Analysis: ‘Saudi Religious Police in Firing Line as Women Petition King for End to Driving Ban’

Reference: The inside word from Saudi

Related Topics: ‘Saudi “Witch” to be Beheaded’

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