Driving back stereotypes in Saudi Arabia

Driving back stereotypes in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia's female population is still unable to drive in the kingdom, but rumours of reform to the rule has rekindled the debate around the issue.
4 min read
16 Nov, 2014
Some Saudi women have challenged the driving ban (AFP)

When reports emerged that the Shura council had recommended a partial lifting on the ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia the prospect alone took the world by surprise.

Saudi Arabia is the only country on the globe where authorities refuse to grant women driving licenses. But there is growing support in the kingdom for reform.

Excitement soon turned to disappointment, however, when hours later, Mohammad al-Muhanna, a Shura council spokesman, denied the reports. No one now knows for certain whether the recommendation was issued or not.

One is at a loss trying to understand those who believe they can stand against the power of life. Those who oppose women driving defend something that cannot be justified by religion, logic or practice. 

What do those Saudis who stand against women’s rights in this field think about their neighbours in the Gulf who allow their women to drive? Particularly since their neighbours’ laws are also based on Islam, and abide by the principles of Gulf culture. Like Saudi Arabia, these countries are still deeply conservative, respect the teachings of Islam, and use the legacy of tradition to enforce discipline and morality.

So what exactly do those who oppose women driving in Saudi Arabia object to, when in other Gulf countries women have driven for decades?

Granting Saudi women the right to drive is only a matter of time.

Logic before doctrine

There should be no proof neccessary that women should be entitled to drive or that driving is a necessity in today’s world. As the old poem says, “If daylight needed proof of existence, then nothing can ever be understood.”

If Islam was properly understood, it would be clear that there are no restrictions on women driving, nor does the mind or simple logic support this view.

From a purely religious viewpoint, it would be better for a woman to drive herself rather than being in a car with a chauffeur or a taxi driver, in other words, men outside the family. 

In my opinion, you cannot cheat in such a situation by shoving children and a maid into a car with the woman and the driver. As is said in a hadith that quotes the Prophet Mohammad, “He who avoids doubtful matters clears himself in regard to his religion and his honour.”

From a logical point of view, modern life has opened new horizons for women in the public sphere. Women have excelled and proven their competence. We need a better and deeper understanding of Islam to cater to the opportunities that arise from modern life.

Women are teachers, university professors and deans. How can we trust them with the minds of the youth and the integrity of the institutions they run if we still do not trust them with themselves - denying them the right to drive on a main road or travelling alone?

It is completely illogical to say women lack the capacity for driving while and suggest men are more rational just because of their gender. There are enough men with weak minds who lack faith and morality, making it impossible to trust them with anything. So does it make sense that they enjoy freedoms that women are denied?

Winds of change

There is no smoke without fire. According to news agencies, it appears that the Saudi Shura council did send a memo to the authorities last month regarding the issue. It also appears that the recommendation did not receive the response expected by its senders, so they denied ever sending it.

Granting Saudi women the right to drive is only a matter of time. Those who insist otherwise are fighting a losing battle. They will have no choice one day but to bow to the winds of modernity and lift this completely anomalous ban. They cannot go back in time. They are imposing a ban as a way to swim against the currents of life and history. It won't last long.

I do not see much difference between those who support a ban on women drivers and the practices by the Islamic State group, for which there is almost universal condemnation. The Islamic State group turned Muslim and non-Muslim women into maids and slaves, violating their honour and selling them in markets, subjecting them to all sorts of humiliations and inhumane treatment. Their low moral sense is unmatched.

But both sides have the same mentality and violate everything agreed on by humanity. They are driven by a selective formalistic mentality that picks what it deems fit from historical texts, while ignoring religious teachings and the principles behind the texts. It also ignores objective reality and wisdom, which is said to bring good to those who have it.

It is their backwardness that renders the Islamic State unacceptable, not the group’s desire to topple Arab regimes. 

And those who support a ban on women drivers display exactly the same backwardness.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. It was first published on 12 November.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.