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Women to Drive in Saudi Arabia – and More to Come!

The Saudi royal decree issued on Tuesday, September 26, restored to Saudi women their right to drive and thus reinforced, though belatedly, entitlements inherent in Islam since more than 1400 years.

KARAMAH is thrilled to congratulate our sisters in Saudi Arabia, and share in their celebration. The drive ban on Saudi women, which has been in place for more than a quarter century, was oppressive not only to women but often to their families as well. Consequently, this was not just a “women’s issue” but an issue for the whole of the Saudi society, socially and economically.

Saudi Arabia’s King is the custodian of two of Islam’s three holiest sites. As such, he has a solemn responsibility to protect the Islamic faith, its laws and practice, from undue influences and encroachments rooted in negative cultural and other extraneous considerations. King Salman’s order today reminded everyone that the ban barring women to drive, was culturally mandated from its inception and had no religious basis in Islam.

Effective June of 2018, Saudi women will be able to drive legally in their country, which remains governed according to Islamic law; for Islamic law was never the problem. The problem was cultural assumptions about women that had distorted that law. Today, life in the rapidly modernizing kingdom has exposed the insidiousness of these assumptions and disposed of one of them. The Saudi ambassador to Washington, D.C., and son of King Salman, Prince Khalid bin Salman, stated that Saudi women will not need the permission of their husbands or fathers to obtain a driver’s license. This statement brings forth another controversial issue in the kingdom, that of “guardianship” over women. This is a misunderstood and often misused concept across the Muslim World. However, it is refreshing to note that a few years ago, Moroccan jurists re-examined the concept of “guardianship” critically and provided good insights into the original meaning and intention of this concept. As a result, the Moroccan government readjusted Moroccan family laws to reflect this new understanding.

The Muslim World is waking up to modernity and beginning to discern centuries old patriarchal cultural influences that have been interpretations of Islam. Fresh jurisprudence, based on the best of the Islamic traditions, has been growing. KARAMAH has been engaged in this effort for over two decades. So we are pleased to see these developments take root and blossom.

On the ground, many developments have occurred as well. In Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan, new laws supportive of women have been promulgated, and old patriarchal ones have been revoked. Muslim women have also become more involved in everyday life, in business, politics, law, medicine, academia, and may other careers. Most recently, Halimah Yacob was elected in Singapore as its first Muslim woman president. These remarkable events show that times are changing and that the time has come to finally enjoy all the rights and privileges of being a Muslim woman.