Posted in Articles،English Content

Living Two Lives


Every time I leave the country, as I stand before the passport control officer in his usual military attire, I hold my breath on two accounts. My first fear is that a travel ban – an oft-received punishment by people like me, human rights advocates – will see me sent directly back home again.

My second is that my father, my assigned male guardian according to Saudi law, decides to revoke the travel permission he granted me. I can envision my father doing this either out of fear for my own safety or else as a response to the ongoing pressure he receives from people around him or from our al Sharif tribe. It’s strange the way that other countries punish activism with exile, yet in Saudi it’s the other way around: those who protest the system are doomed with internal exile! There is a well-known saying timidly mumbled by Saudis amongst themselves:

“The best place in Saudi is the airport through which I leave the country”.

The moment the passport control officer stamps my passport, an indescribable feeling rushes through my veins. The cage door is open; I’m a free bird once again. But how can one’s own country be a punishment in and of itself?

I could list tens of reasons, but personally I find that the agony of living in duplicity tops them all. The saying I quoted above reveals a lot about the forced duplicitous nature of the Saudi people’s existence: adhering to the the abnormally extreme societal and religious restraints imposed on them on the one hand, and living a normal life – or the life they want to live – on the other.

What follows is a list of just a few examples of duplicity in modern-day Saudi Arabia:

1- Although cinemas are banned in Saudi by law/fatwa, there are more than 170 cinemas in Saudi Arabia. All of them are located in residential compounds that Saudis cannot enter. Now add to that the huge Mega and Virgin stores that sell movies on DVDs, not to mention the fact that most prominent satellite Arab channels are owned and run by Saudi money.

2- Although alcohol is also banned in Saudi, it’s not difficult to find local alcohol dealers who will deliver whatever your heart desires to the privacy of your own home.

3- There are more than 10 million non-Saudis living in Saudi. Everyone knows that they come from different religions (Christianity, Hinduism, etc.) but when it comes to official numbers, Saudi authorities insist that the Saudi Arabia’s population is 100% Muslim.

4- Saudi law bans women from traveling without a Mahram (a male relative that woman cannot marry). But a woman can travel without a Mahram as long as if her “guardian in charge” gives his written permission! Similarly, when it comes to the issue of women driving, fatwas ban women from being alone with a non-mahram even if he is her cousin or brother-in-law. Yet, it is entirely expected that she will use a non-mahram driver.

As a Saudi woman, I am forced to live double the duplicity just to survive. When I got a job offer from Saudi Aramco back in 2002, my family had to guard the fact that their daughter worked in a mixed environment and that I lived alone 850 miles away from the “surveillance” of any male guardian.

Saudi Aramco was the first company in the Kingdom to have men and women work together in the same office space. According to the previous Saudi labor Law, a mixed work environment was prohibited. The new labor law that was passed in 2005 (3 years after I joined Aramco) annulled that particular regulation. It also annulled the rule that required women to have a male guardian’s permission in order to work; nevertheless, most employers in Saudi still require it. I remember the first thing a friend said to me when she found out that I worked in a mixed environment: “You will never get married”. The irony: I married a Saudi co-worker, whom I later divorced.

Hypocrisy is also very useful when dealing with impractical and sometimes absurd laws. Take the Ministry of Higher Education as an example. There are now over 27,500 female students participating in the King Abdullah international scholarship program. My elder sister, a doctor, was one of them, until they stopped her scholarship benefits two years ago. The reason? She was not accompanied by a male family member while studying abroad. Ministry of Higher Education official statistics show that half of applicants to the program are females, but the number who are actually eligible is reduced dramatically by their inability or unwillingness to comply with this bizarre requirement, which authorities argue is based on Islamic fatwa. Those who have basic knowledge of Sharia (Islamic law) know that only one of the four Sunna scholars considers a Mahram (companion) to be a mandatory requirement for a female traveling abroad. So a male companion while residing in another country is not required!

Female students come up with creative workarounds to be able to study abroad. Some marry (on paper) just for the sake of having a male companion, and when they travel abroad, each of the marital partners leads their own life until the program is finished. Other female students take the male companion for the first few weeks to finish the paperwork and show a face at the Cultural Attaché office.

When I was detained in 2011 and sent to jail for being a woman driving a car, I met Hana, a 26-year-old woman who was waiting for more than a year for her male guardian to bail her out. Even when a Saudi woman prisoner has served her sentence, she cannot be released until her appointed male guardian has bailed her out. I brought Hana’s issue to the jail warden’s attention. He told me he was aware of her problem, a common one when the girl’s family is ashamed by her and refuse to accept her back, and that he was in the process of finding her a husband to bail her out! I couldn’t believe my ears!

Officials say that they are applying Sharia laws, while clerics say that they are protecting customs and traditions. At the same time, society enshrines customs and traditions, while laws codify them. It is all becoming a big mishmash where you have no clue who is responsible and who is to blame for the enforced living of a double life or for Saudi’s attempts to build an Islamic Utopia on behalf of the whole Muslim world, even when a large number of us are just pretending rather than genuinely believing in it. I once read a funny comment on this polemic situation: “Saudi authorities solve the world’s problems with money, and Saudi problems with fatwas”.

Hypocrisy in the Saudi system extends from officials to its religious establishment, with a knock-on effect in its society.. The infamous Saudi cleric Al Arifi, who happens to be the most followed Arab on Twitter, is the perfect embodiment of the religious establishment’s dilemma: it must strike a balance between preserving its grip on the Saudi society, which it does through rigid interpretation and intolerance to difference, such as the Shia’a, whilst simultaneously gaining acceptance from an international community that does not welcome displays of intolerance. Al Arifi is known for tweeting opinions of hate against the Shia’a in the Middle East, and encouraging Saudi youth to go for jihad in Syria against the infidel Alawi. Surprisingly, however, all those views were overturned on his last visit to London. The headlines about his visit went something like this: “Al Arifi calls Sunna and Shia’a to unite and renounce differences”!!

Living a double life creates so much pressure on those forced to do so., You get a sense of this when reading Saudi tweets, the only podium where we can voice our views. The tweets usually revolve around three things:

1- Harsh criticism of one another and extreme curiosity about others’ personal lives. People show off the superiority of their own faith by questioning the conduct of others..

2- Harsh attacks against Shia’a and anyone who is different. If you are different, then you are our enemy, even if your opinion is the only thing that is different about you.

3- Harsh attacks on anyone who dares to question clerics or challenge a status quo.

Surprisingly, Saudis who live abroad seldom tweet about such issues! Or if they do, at least not in such harsh way. Maybe because they are relieved from the daily pressure we face within Saudi that causes everyone to get on your nerves as a result of the slightest interaction.

I have always wondered how to end the agony of living two lives, following two standards, being two-faced… It has to start with the people in power; here I mean the government and the religious establishment, and I am witnessing some progress. The government uses religion to control people, but when religion tries to control the government, things don’t go so smoothly. When the religious establishment tried to stop women from being part of the Shura Council in September 2011, for example, the government completely ignored their demands.

It was a big debate in Saudi, probably the second biggest after the debate on women driving. The same religious establishment that is known for resisting almost every new thing that arrives in Saudi ends up making heavy use of that thing almost every time. TV, radio, women’s education, satellite dishes, internet, camera phones and social media, to name a few. The excuse is always that they are using it for a good cause. But the truth is that people obey at the start and boycott, then with time, you find everyone using what was initially declared haram.

I see more and more Saudis, especially the young ones, stand up for what they believe in, even if it earns them a great deal of criticism and attacks. I see them challenge the once-unchallengeable, mostly when they come back from abroad and start realising the comparisons. For me it’s a baby step, but this is how babies learn to walk! One day, when my daughter makes decisions about her major in school, whether or not to wear hijab, the husband she wishes to marry, the movie she wants to watch in the cinema, I will know she will not feel what I feel every time I leave Saudi. Because she will be as true to herself there as she is anywhere else in the world!

Published April 18, 2014
http://www.islamistgate.com/596

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Posted in Articles،English Content

When will Saudi women drive?


Every time I meet someone from outside Saudi Arabia, the conversation always ends in the same question: “How long do you think it will be before women in Saudi are allowed to drive?”

I wish I had a simple answer for this issue, which should, by basic human rights, be much less complex than it is. But before I address this, I will answer another common question: “Why don’t – or rather can’t – women drive in Saudi Arabia?”

In fact, the Saudi government has never issued a royal decree stipulating the ban, nor even imposed a system. (In Saudi Arabia, there are systems rather than laws: from a religious point of view, laws are considered to be in violation of Shari’ah, because they come from a human perspective).

The ban is merely based on the Ministry of Interior, which was issued in 1990 in response to the first women’s movement demanding the right to drive. The decree, which forbids women to drive on Saudi Arabian territory, did not specify a punishment.

It was reasserted by the Ministry on October 25, 2013, one day before the date on which Saudi women had chosen to launch a third driving campaign which is still held on a monthly basis.

As represented in statements given by the new Interior Minister Mohamed bin Naif and his father who was the former Interior Minister, Naif bin Abdulaziz, both insist that the Interior Ministry is an executive and not a legislative body, that it is not responsible for the ban.

If we examine the Basic System of Governance, which corresponds to something like a constitution in the rest of the world, Article 8 states “governance in Saudi Arabia is to be conducted on the basis of justice, equality and consultation in accordance with Shari’ah”. And if we look at the Saudi system relating to traffic, we do not find any provision or stipulation preventing women from obtaining a driving licence.

These are the only two sources we have to consider in connection with this issue. The statement released by the Ministry of Interior in 1990 is rendered null and void by the fact that it was not based on the governing system.

But on the occasions that I and many others have tried to obtain a driver’s licence from the traffic department, we have been surprised, upon entering our identification numbers into the relevant system, to find an error message appearing on the screen: “The ID number entered belongs to a woman, it is not possible for a woman to obtain a driving licence”.

When I raised the issue with the administrative court in November 2011, wishing to make a case against the General Directorate of Traffic, and pointing out the lack of legal ban preventing a licence being issued to me, my case was referred to a special committee at the Ministry of Interior. In other words, to the very party I wished to prosecute.

When you hear the words “special committee” in Saudi Arabia, you know your case has been relegated to oblivion. And this has remained my fate until today.

We can conclude from all this that the Interior Minister is the executive body as well as being the issuer of the ban and the body that upholds it, which contradicts the statements made by both the Saudi Interior Ministers.

Now, a review of some of the reasons people give for the ban. Firstly, financial: influential families control the visa market for drivers. If they allowed women to drive, these families would lose huge financial returns from a market in which official figures indicate the existence of around a million drivers and which unofficial numbers suggest could contain as many as two million.

And secondly, a fatwa issued by Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Baz, issued concurrently with the Ministry of Interior’s 1990 decree and forbidding driving based on the Islamic principle of prohibiting that which might eventually lead to sin.

The justifications cited by the prohibition fatwa are nothing more than suppositions about what will happen to society if women are allowed to drive.

This has led to a situation in which denying women the right to drive, something which has no basis in the Muslim law, has taken precedence over prohibiting women to be alone with a non-Mahram male (which is prohibited in Shari’ah), as the woman inevitably must be chauffeured around.

In my opinion, the real reason is much simpler than all this. If a woman had asserted their right to drive since the day cars arrived in Saudi Arabia, it would by now be a routine matter and we would be dealing with none of the current clamour and uproar.

This is the reason that Bedouin women and women from the countryside drive comfortably outside of the city without being subject to hindrance or criticism. The banning of women from driving in the city is a result of the system of state that has been systemically imposed upon it; women in Saudi Arabia are considered minors under the law until the day that they die.

We will return now to the question that, in recent times, has become an ever more frequent topic of discussion: when will women in Saudi Arabia be able to drive? Many assume that the issue of allowing women to drive will be resolved with a royal decree, as happened with the appointment of 30 women in the Shura council in September 2011.

This decision, which was followed closely by many parties interested in the Saudi state of affairs, represented an attempt to improve the image of Saudi Arabia after a scandal involving an imprisoned woman driver garnered widespread attention.

But those who know anything about the distribution of power in Saudi Arabia know that there are several different competing parties within the royal family, each with its own ideologies and interests.

They also recognise that King Abdullah does not have the powers required to issue such a decree, and that the subject of women driving is entirely in the hands of the Interior Minister Mohammed bin Naif; the King has no authority when it comes to this department.

Will a positive decision be issued by the Ministry of Interior? That seems improbable. More than 24 years after the first attempt to abolish the women’s driving ban, there seems not to have been a single breakthrough; there are no driving schools for women, nor any female traffic police.

Saudi police are still intent on stopping any woman who dares to drive, booking her car and summoning her guardian-in-charge to sign a pledge not to allow her to do so.

The authorities, in effect, show no leniency towards women drivers, as we who were demanding the right to drive hoped they might have done. The authorities also worry that responding to demands to allow women to drive will damage the prestige of the state and open the door to other popular demands for social and perhaps political change.

When will women be able to drive? We must recognise that the Bedouin woman never ceased –since the horse and donkey were replaced with the car, or the side-dagger with a rifle – to use new inventions to ease her life and affairs. Whether in the farmlands or the desert of Saudi Arabia, not one of her fellow men dared to doubt her chastity, her morals or her religious belief.

Meanwhile, the woman of the city has willingly parted with her rights and allowed everyone to compromise them, or else to use them for political gain or as a red herring to distract people from more salient issues.

In my opinion, freedom is a personal decision, not a political one. When the Saudi woman realises this fact, she will get in her car and drive it as many times as it takes for it to become a common sight, forcing the authorities to regulate the phenomenon rather than prosecute it.

And when she learns that rights are seized rather than granted, she will recognise how to eliminate the male dominion that has been imposed on her and cast her as a minor her whole life.

http://www.islamistgate.com/566

Posted in Articles،English Content،منال الشريف

Rein In the Saudi Religious Police – My piece in NY Times


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — In an incident that has reverberated throughout Saudi Arabia, two brothers, Saud and Nasser al-Qaws, aged 22 and 24, died last fall after their car was forced off a Riyadh bridge by members of Saudi Arabia’s religious police. The officers, members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, allegedly objected to the patriotic songs the brothers were playing on the car stereo. They pursued the men at high speed, ramming their car three times before finally pushing it off the bridge. One of the young men was killed immediately; his brother died shortly thereafter.

Cellphone footage of the incident in September, captured by a passerby and posted online, caused a public outcry. Attempting to mitigate the fallout, Sheikh Abdul Latif bin Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, head of the religious police, went on a public relations offensive. “The truth is that the pursuit took place,” he told Al Arabiya TV. He condemned the incident and said an investigation was underway.

Long considered one of the country’s taboo subjects (along with any criticism of King Abdullah), the commission, also known as the mutaween, is now one of Saudi Arabia’s most controversial issues. Tapped to lead the force in 2012, Mr. Sheikh today finds himself facing both scathing public attacks and worsening internal conflict.

The government, for its part, is wary of clamping down on the mutaween for fear of inciting a conservative backlash and is walking a fine line between the religious police and an increasingly angry populace. While dismantling of the force is unrealistic, this delicate moment opens a window of opportunity for Saudis. By continuing to voice anger and disapproval, the public may provide Riyadh with the leverage it needs to demand police adherence to regulations already in place, and slowly weaken the commission’s influence.

The commission was formed in 1940 to enforce the implementation of Shariah, or Islamic law. It began its rise to prominence in 1979, after religious fanatics seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca, denounced the royal family and called for new leadership. In the aftermath of the bloody two-week siege, Saudi clerics were given plenty of funding and a free hand to regulate morality.

Today some 4,000 members of the mutaween patrol the streets, enforcing dress codes, the strict separation of men and women, the observance of daily prayers and other behavior that it considers to fall under the purview of Islam. Women, for example, are forbidden to drive.

Although the force was initially embraced by Saudis, who are still predominantly religious and conservative, a series of incidents has increasingly soured public attitudes toward it. In 2002 in Mecca, 15 girls died in a school fire, prevented from fleeing by mutaween who claimed the students were inappropriately covered. In 2007, a dozen mutaween entered a Riyadh family’s home and fatally beat a 28-year-old man whom they suspected of illegally possessing alcohol. The man’s death outraged Saudis, and a lawsuit was brought, one of the first instances of legal action against the force. The charges were subsequently dropped, but the suit helped open the door to criticism, including by the press.

Today, Saudi opinion of the commission is at an all-time low. Resentment grew last year when King Abdullah increased the force’s budget to $390 million. The spread of smartphones has made it easier to disseminate evidence of police overreach, and it is now more difficult for the force to sweep accusations under the carpet. Despite this, the fact that most cases brought against the commission still end in acquittals or dropped charges has done little to endear the religious police to Saudis.

Now, internal fault lines seem to be widening as well. Mr. Sheikh is increasingly coming under attack by the force’s more conservative members for being too liberal and too Westernized.

Shortly after taking over in 2012, Mr. Sheikh spearheaded a series of reforms aimed at bringing the mutaween in line. Volunteers were no longer allowed to join mutaween patrols; the confiscation of phones and other personal belongings was forbidden; workshops were introduced to teach mutaween how to deal with the public; the police could no longer receive funds from private businesses. Chief among Mr. Sheikh’s reforms was a ban on car chases — but the incident last September made it painfully clear that his orders were being ignored.

In a controversial October interview with Rotana, a Saudi TV channel, Mr. Sheikh admitted that one of his most trusted confidants had recorded their conversations for use against him. The interview appeared soon after reports surfaced in the press of an attempt to murder Mr. Sheikh in a hit-and-run, allegedly ordered by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr. Sheikh may not be able to rein in the mutaween, but there are signs that social media may be helping to counter the commission’s repressive regime. Saudis have thwarted several attempts to restrict phone and Internet use over the years, including a 2004 ban on camera phones (still forbidden in areas reserved for women only). The country’s current smartphone use is the third highest in the world. Despite strict regulations on Internet activity, Saudis are among the largest adopters of Twitter in the Arab world; 4.9 million Saudis were on Facebook as of early 2012.

Last October, a woman in Qassim, considered Saudi Arabia’s most conservative region, lashed out at a member of the religious police who demanded that she cover her entire face (she was wearing a veil that left her eyes exposed). “Don’t provoke me!” the woman retorted. “Do you think we don’t know our own religion? We know our religion, and covered up before you even existed. The full facial cover is not forced upon a woman!” A 42-second video of her response blew up on Saudi social media. Using the hashtag #Don’tProvoke, people tweeted messages of support, criticizing the officer for berating a modestly dressed woman, and for doing so in front of her children. The public outpouring was a rarity in a country where, when it comes to confrontations between men and women, it is generally accepted that women are to blame.

Her response highlighted the perception that the commission is an intrusive body that seeks to impose a narrow vision of religion on Saudi women. Equally noteworthy was her rejection of the officer’s definition of appropriate veiling practice. After years of relying on the teachings of a single religious authority, the websites and social networks the mutaween have fought so hard to repress have facilitated the spread of alternative views.

A nearly 75-year-old police force can’t be disempowered overnight, and those like Mr. Sheikh who attempt to liberalize it risk fomenting a dangerous backlash. But, aided by social media, the doctrinal foundations of the religious establishment are finally beginning to crack. A broad-based, grass-roots show of anger against the mutaween may be the push the government needs to finally weaken and perhaps eventually dismantle the religious police.

Manal al-Sharif, a women’s rights advocate from Saudi Arabia, began a campaign in 2011 to let Saudi women drive.

Posted in Articles،English Content،منال الشريف

Has Hijab Become a Social Symbol?



Famed Saudi writer Manal Al-Sharif has a thoughtful look into hijab. She says that a recent survey shows that the Muslim headscarf is considered as a social rather than religious symbol.
A recent survey from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research conducted in seven Muslim-majority countries (Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey) found that most people prefer a woman to completely cover her hair, but not necessarily her face.

While public opinion in many of the surveyed countries expresses a clear preference for women to dress conservatively, many also state that women should be able to decide what to wear for themselves as long as they adhere to a conservative dress code.

Overall, most respondents agree that the most appropriate way for a woman to present herself in public is with her hair and ears completely covered by a white hijab.

This opinion is shared by 57% of survey respondents in Tunisia, 52% in Egypt, 46% in Turkey and 44% in Iraq. In Saudi Arabia, 74% say the burqaa or niqaab, which cover the woman’s face fully, are the most appropriate forms of public attire.

The figures above illustrate two important points. The first is that Muslim societies still consider the hijab a social symbol of conservative practice and chastity, regardless of the fact that its appearance, colour and way of being worn differs from one society to the next.

The second is that even in the most secular Muslim countries, such as Turkey and Tunisia, the hijab has retained its importance, indicating that it has become more of a societal imposition than a religious one.

This might represent a return to the true origins of the hijab in Muslim societies, where it was imposed on women by societal pressure and expectations. It is worth mentioning that in the absence of this important study, many outside the Muslim world believed that the hijab is imposed by political and religious authorities only, just as it is in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan, where are all women – Muslim and non-Muslim alike – are obligated to wear one.

In telling the story of how the hijab came to be imposed, the history books and the Prophet’s Biography describe how hypocrites in Medina harassed women in the street if they believed them to be among the women slaves.

The wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) complained about this, and the verse of the jalabib was revealed: “O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their jalabib (loose-fitting garments) over their persons: that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested (Al-Ahzab 59).

Through their dress, it was now possible to differentiate the free women from the slave women when they walked in the streets. The biography books describe how Umar, the second Caliph in Islam, forbade the slave women if they copied the free women’s way of dressing.

As the judge and intellectual Mohamed Said Al Ashmawy explained in his book “The Truth about the Hijab and the Evidence of Hadith”, this reason for wearing jalabib – for distinguishing between slaves and free women – might be rendered obsolete by the non-existence of female slaves in the modern era.

According to the fundamental principles of Fikh (Islamic jurisprudence), the existence of the rule is intrinsically linked with the existence of the reason; if the rule exists, the reason must exist too.

Regarding the famous “verse of the hijab”, which is quoted by Quranic interpreters to justify the imposition of a religious veil, those who oppose this view point out that it was revealed with regard to the Mothers of the Believers (Wives of the Prophet) in particular, and that it does not refer to non-revealing clothes but rather to the non-revealing divide between the Prophet’s Wives and whoever talks to them.

The new generation of Muslim women is a questioning generation, influenced by science, technology and the Information Age. I recall the time a girlfriend from an American Muslim family asked me why women cover their faces in Saudi Arabia. I told her what I remembered from books and what we had been taught about it in the madrasa (religious school): that it is sinful (a3ura) for a woman to show her face. “What is a3ura?” she asked me. When I tried to translate the word literally, I became aware for the first time that in using this word, we compare a woman’s face to her genitals.

“Are you really telling me that God creates my face, places four of my five senses there, and then instructs me to conceal it because it compares with my genitals?” she said.

I didn’t have an answer at the time, but our discussion formed the beginning of a long search to find the origin of the hadith I had told her about. I found that no such hadith exists, and that it was merely a fabrication being used to subjugate woman to cover their faces, an imposition which is contrary to human nature.

Other justifications that we hear for the imposition of the hijab pertain to women’s allure to men and the fact that without the veil, she is exposing herself to the risk of harassment.

But despite wearing of the hijab being a widespread practice in Egypt, it has the highest rates of sexual harassment of all the Arab countries. And this raises questions about why we continue to punish the female victims and impose restrictions on them, instead of enacting a law which would deter the men from harassing in the first place.

But perhaps the biggest blow dealt to advocates of the hijab in the Muslim world came at the hands of a prominent religious institution in September 2013, when Al Azhar University awarded a doctorate with distinction to Sheikh Mustafa Mohammed Rashid for a thesis in which he argues that the hijab is not an Islamic requirement.

When the oldest institution and religious authority in the Islam world acknowledges that the veil is usually a social obligation, we can consider that a new precedent has been set.

As long as the hijab continues to be spread by political, social or religious forces, or women are held accountable for its appearance or colour; as long as laws are enacted that deny or impose its being worn, the hijab will remain a highly controversial topic.

It is a subject that is used to make condemning decisions about women, and that differentiates women from those around them in a world where differences and distinctions are being broken down on a daily basis.

Published on Islamist Gate February 9th, 2014

http://www.islamistgate.com/376

Posted in English Content،Speeches

Activist: Women still can’t drive in Saudi Arabia, but ‘things are changing’


By Bonnie Washuk, Staff Writer

Lewiston-Auburn |

Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 11:35 pm

LEWISTON — There’s a New England connection to the woman who
received worldwide attention in 2011 for being being jailed for driving in
Saudi Arabia, a country where it is illegal for women to drive.
Activist Manal al­Sharif spoke to a packed Bates College audience
Wednesday night. She’s been named by Time magazine one of the 100 most
influential people of 2012, written about by the New York Times, CNN and
the Wall Street Journal, been given international awards for freedom and
called “fearless.”
Al­Sharif said she started the “Women2Drive” movement after living and
working in Nashua, N.H., for a year.
The right for Saudi Arabian women to drive is symbolic, she explained, for
the guardianship system that exists in Saudi Arabia, where women are
considered “minors” all of their lives. Women must ask permission to do
anything, even leaving the house, from their male “guardians” — fathers,
husbands or, for widows, even their sons.
When she came to Nashua in 2009 on a work exchange program, the
computer engineer discovered there was no public transportation. She
needed a car, but first needed a license.
She signed up for drivers ed, learning how to drive with teenagers.
Beaming, al­Sharif showed off her drivers license to the audience to
applause. After living like an American for a year, she returned to her
country and became frustrated by not being mobile.
Saudi women travel the world, work as doctors and save lives, yet they
need a man for transportation. “Something is wrong here,” she said.
Instead of complaining, she acted.
In May of 2011, on Facebook she called on women to drive. She got support
and threats that women who drove would be raped. Women were scared. In
June, al­Sharif took the lead saying, “’I’ll show you, I’ll drive.” She drove
her car for 10 minutes as a friend shot video. “I had no clue what would
happen after that,” she said.
The video was posted on YouTube and became a worldwide hit. She was
arrested and jailed for nine days.
Bonnie Washuk, Staff WriterNews of the arrest went out on Twitter. “It was really amazing what social
media created,” she said. “It created a global support system.”
It was the time of Arab Spring. The world reacted in anger to a woman
jailed for simply driving.
“People around the world called for my release. This small act created a
huge wave.” Al­Sharif showed a picture of a Romanian woman protesting
with a sign, “Cars for women, camels for men.”
Al­Sharif’s family went to the king and apologized for her behavior. She was
released. Al­Sharif suspects it was the pressure from social media that
contributed to her release.
In the United States, people use social media to meet old friends or keep in
touch with family. “In our world, we use it to start revolutions.”
Saudi conservatives slammed her and the idea of women driving. “This is
my favorite,” al­Sharif said, showing a newspaper article with a headline of
a cleric warning if women were allowed to drive, the virginity of unmarried
women would be lost. He said there’d be illegitimate children and more
divorce.
Supporters of the “Women2Drive” campaign posted the story online. “It
was all over the news,” al­Sharif said. “The whole world was mocking
them.”
Eventually, she ended up losing her job and had to move. Today she lives in
Dubai. When she goes back to Saudi Arabia to visit her son (her ex­husband
has custody), she gets detained at security. When public speaking, “it’s
balancing when to say so much,” she said. “Sometimes you say something
huge and you disappear for two months.”
Saudi women still cannot drive. They are still “minors” of their fathers,
husbands and sons. But a change is underway, al­Sharif said.
She’s written against the guardianship system, expecting flack. That didn’t
happen. Some men agreed, saying they were sick of their woman depending
on them for every single thing.
“It’s changing, slowly,” al­Sharif said. “It’s not going to happen today, but
maybe it will happen in my daughter’s generation, if I ever have one.”
Her son will hear bad things about what she’s done, she said. Someday he’ll
ask her about it. “When he comes that day, I will have an answer,” al­Sharif
said.
But if her son ever becomes her guardian, “I’ll kick his butt,” she said to
laughter.

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

http://www.sunjournal.com/news/lewiston-auburn/2013/09/18/activist-women-still-cant-drive-saudi-arabia-thing/1424989

Posted in Articles،English Content

I hate you but won’t leave you


The comments that I receive in my email and on my pages in social networking sites make me happy whether an encouragement or criticism. May Allah have mercy upon whoever reveals to me my faults, old people say…

I also receive my share of insults and ignore them, in accordance with the saying of Imam Shafi’i: “If the fool speaks, don’t respond to him as silence is the best answer (for him). If you (do) speak to him (then) you have supported him (i.e. his foolishness by giving him importance); and if you left him (without speaking/answering), then in anguish he dies.”

However, there are types of comments, that I receive, make me wonder in which category they belong to. I mean comments such as; « how I hate » or « I looked for your page just to inform you about my hatred towards you ». There is a very weird person who, whenever I post something on my page, leaves a very long comment that starts with mocking my profile picture and my forehead, passing through the usual betrayal charges, and concluding with a cursing prayer for me and whomever read for me without leaving one comment on the article itself! This reminds me of the famous Hijazi saying: «I swear to God I would never leave you not for sake of love but for annoying you».

I tried repeatedly to understand how a person would waste all this time and effort, not only of having all this hatred for others but of also searching for them to express this hatred. I consider hatred is one of the most negative emotions that only kills a person just as fire burns wood.  Rarely this feeling affects the person we hate, and rarely he cares to know what we feel towards him, especially if he is not part of our personal lives. Once I wrote jokingly in «twitter»; «I have never faced threats and feelings of hatred except in the cyber world, and I have never met one of them face to face in the real world! cowards! ». I received immediate mentions from three people confirm their deep hatred for me, and their willingness to meet me in person to express these feelings. None of them live in the nearby, therefore, I sent them my Skype ID to make a  video call to understand this enthusiasm to hatred … None called until today!

Someone once said, “My friend was harshly insulting you. Therefore, I asked him “Have you heard from her?” He replied,” I heard from people” and I asked him again “Did you read any of her articles, or watch one of her interviews?” He answered, “No, I did not want to, but people say …”  I interrupted him saying, “People, people, nothing destroyed us but people!”. My simple answer to his friend is this, if the conception formation of a person depended on the words of people, then what is the benefit of the mind that God gave us?  The friend of that person reminds me of myself during my teenage years. A wild campaign against the late Dr. Ghazi al-Gosaibi has been launched describing him of being atheist and prohibiting reading his “impudent” books. Being influenced by such harsh opinions, I hated this person until I read one of his books by accident. At that moment I regretted having not read all of his books, and for my feelings of hatred towards him without proof … I learned then that every story has two sides thus, never make one sided judgements. Listen to both sides and then “Follow your heart, even if you were told otherwise“.

I conclude my article with this e-mail that has touched me a lot:

(For the first time I read for you. Much of what I have towards you has changed. I knew you initially through the topic of Women2Drive and its consequences, surely from newspapers, social networking sites, and from people talk. However, I’m a person who does not believe in any cause, the strange thing is according to the increasing gossip of others, I automatically hated you.

Your article was as a making up meeting between you and me. It released me from all the negative emotions that I felt towards you, and not because of your attitudes as I told you before!

In all cases, the value of our life lies in the struggle for a lawful right no matter how we suffered.)

Posted in Articles،English Content،منال الشريف

Congratulation for your marriage to another man…. My Love


During a session of “girl’s talk”, where Eve enjoys backbiting Adam, this story was mentioned:

“He called to find her crying. He asked; what is wrong?

She replied; I had a marriage proposal and I should go now to meet his mother.

He said; Wipe your tears my love, to not destroy your beauty in front of my mother.”

The local version

“He called to find her crying. He asked; what is wrong?

She replied; I had a marriage proposal and I should go now to meet his mother.

He said; Wipe your tears my love to go to meet his mother. He might be better than me and love you more than me. Congratulation for marriage in advance!”

Many comments from anti-Eastern men followed this story. Comments like: “men hold a girl in suspense for years with dreams and illusions of getting married, then when he wants to get married, she is the furthest option of his future wife”. Another: “even if he married her, he will keep considering this a favour of him or he will humiliate her because she fell in love before marriage, and some cases he might doubt her or marry again.”

These were my friends’ comments however; I had a point of view that Eve might not agree with:

It is easier to blame others for our misfortunes. Eastern women play the role of the victim like professional inferiors. Men control her whether he is a father or a husband, or even sometimes a brother or a son. Society plays a role in creating this idea when it convinces her that she is less than a man. She cannot take the control of her own affairs, although she is responsible for managing her home affairs. She is not close to the perfection that men have reached despite all their shortcomings. Male will remain superior to female. The worst is when those brand-new habits that underestimate the women turn to be written laws using doubtful hadiths to back them up. I call them brand new habits because they appeared during my Mother’s generation but not in my Grandmother’s generation. – God rest her soul – who raised her children after the death of my grandfather, planted her land and managed her house, her sheep and all her own affairs by herself.

A Mother is blameworthy when she puts in her son’s mind indirectly that he is better than his sister is, allowing for him what is forbidden for his sister to do and ignoring his mistakes while punishing her daughter for committing the same mistake. A girl is blameworthy in case she derives confidence from the number of her suitors. when she sets her sights on the man she loves even if he did not express an intention to marry her, making him all her life while she is only a part of his life which he can replace with another whenever he wants. She is at his disposal, and feels happy for his privilege even if he causes her sadness and forgives his faults, while she does not expect the same.  She has to be an angel, not a normal woman to win his love, his heart and the wedding ring, which she may not ever see.

The wife also is blameworthy when she waives her right of being a full-fledged partner of a man in his life, sharing the same responsibility of housework and raising children. Does the wife know that legitimately she should not serve her husband, or even take his permissions in her personal affairs, yet share his opinion only? Does she know that guardianship means managing her affairs, serving her and not a matter of owner and slave as we see today? Even the divorcee is blameworthy when she gathers all her things in a bag with her broken heart and leaves her marital house believing that this protects her dignity? Ignorant or ignoring that it is her legal right and the right of her children to her house? How did things overturn? Then she asks why does a man humiliate her? However, she humiliated herself first when either she waived her rights out of ignorance or out of love. Eve is the first to be blamed for diminishing her rights, even if it was her moral right to be respected! Yet, the man is one who wrote the rules in the woman’s life and she followed without any questioning!

FACT:

The dream of every man is to be the first in her life; however, the dream of every woman is to be the last in his life.