Home > Democracy, Human Development, Religion, Women's Rights > Saudi women drivers still a hot issue

Saudi women drivers still a hot issue


Crossroads Arabia highlighted an opinion piece that originally appeared in Arab News about the Saudi government’s refusal to hear arguments allowing women to drive. And despite the Shoura Council’s call for women’s suffrage in local elections, it allegedly repeatedly denies requests for women to take the wheel.

Again, this is a classic example of a minority religious belief exerting disproportionate power over a country’s political machinery. It has happened in Saudi Arabia and it has happened in the United States — this is not uncommon around the world. In fact, Israel institutionalized disproportionate religious influence at the government level in order to get ultra-orthodox Jews on board with the Zionist movement and formation of Israel. Under that agreement, the state agreed to keep all state-run facilities kosher and permitted the rabbinate to set the standards for marriage and citizenship. Those institutions continue today despite immense resentment from Israel’s mostly secular population.

But as I noted last week, many people have interpreted the Qur’an through custom rather than text. In this customary interpretation, women are subordinated to men in society. Apparently the Shoura Council believes voting is a right but that driving is a privilege and can therefore be denied to certain groups of people that may be considered impure in some way.

It must be stressed, however, that this is a minority view. Islamic academics who study the Qur’an have continuously noted that interpretations denying rights to women are not stated in text:

Muhammad Abdullatif Al-Sheikh, a Saudi scholar, said that the ball was now in the court of the political leadership since the issue was political rather than religious.  “Islamic teachings, which did not prevent women from mounting camels and horses, would not forbid them from driving cars,” he wrote.

It’s another classic example of a loud, zealous religious minority with a strong hold on a nation’s political and social fabric. It’s important for Americans to understand this is indeed a minority. If the tides of revolution are truly mounting, then those minority groups could be swept in the undertow.

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  1. June 11, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    To be fair, even in the US, driving is considered a privilege, not a right. That’s why it’s relatively easy for a state to pull someone’s license for infractions. It doesn’t have to go to trial–as it would were driving a right–as privileges can be rescinded by agencies as well as courts.

  2. June 11, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    John,
    I agree with your point and probably too loosely used words that have a pretty clear definition in this context. But it is every upstanding citizen’s right in the United States to attempt to earn a drivers license. The same cannot be said in Saudi Arabia. I just felt my point needed further clarification in light of your comment.

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