Thursday, May 27, 2010

MTV True Life Video

There is a new MTV video that was recently aired featuring four Saudi youths and the realities they face living in Saudi Arabia. Each of them is trying to make changes in their country in their own way while still remaining true to their Islamic heritage. There is lots of talk here in Saudi Arabia about this show. Many Saudis are upset that it shows Saudi Arabia in a bad light. My feeling is that these young people are being truthful and have hope that change will come while many Saudis continue to be in denial about problems within their own country. Speaking out for change is something that can get people into trouble here. I have to admire these young people for having the courage to do so. I would love to see the majority of Saudi people supporting the truth of this video and facing the challenges it presents head-on.

Fatima, a young enterprising Saudi woman CLICK ON PHOTO TO WATCH VIDEO
Fatima is a beautiful young Saudi woman of 20 who has started her own business - making colored abayas instead of the traditional black color that most women wear here. Since she is a female, she is forbidden from riding a bicycle in public so she dresses up as a boy and takes her bike out for a spin. I love the images of her standing below the world's largest bicycle in Jeddah - a very famous sculpture that I have featured on my photo blog.

Ahmad is a political activist who is working toward establishing equality in women's rights and others' rights. He faces continual disappointments but doesn't give up.

Aziz is a young man who disagrees with the strict gender segregation in Saudi Arabia. It's heartbreaking when the girl he's in love with, although he's never met her in person, dumps him.

Breeze of the Dying is a heavy metal band comprised of a group of young Saudi men who face difficulties trying to express themselves through their music in the country of Saudi Arabia. They are misunderstood as devil worshippers and only want to play their favorite kind of music in a country that restricts them from doing so.

An hour in length, this documentary is an accurate portrayal of the way things really are in this country and is well worth the time spent watching it. I recognized many of the background scenes shot in Jeddah and have published photos of many of the sculptures and mosques on my photo blog. My feelings at the conclusion of seeing the video were mixed - I was overjoyed that these young adults want to see changes in the same ways that I do and that they are actually trying to do something about it. But I was also saddened at the same time because of all the obstacles they face in trying to do so.

Saudi Alchemist wrote a very fair assessment of the show in his blog post about it.

Click here to watch the MTV documentary.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Here - Drink This!

Warning: Please go to the bathroom to relieve yourself BEFORE reading this post. I don't want to be responsible for you wetting yourself... don't say I didn't warn you.

Just when you thought some things couldn't get any more bizarre in this part of the world than they already are, a learned Saudi cleric, Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Al-Obeikan, is doing some quick backpedaling after publicly supporting a fatwa (religious ruling) which basically says that it's okay for working women to breastfeed male co-workers, as this would be a legitimate way of getting around gender segregation in the workplace here in Saudi Arabia.

Three years ago, an Egyptian sheikh caused quite an international ruckus when he was asked in a televised interview about whether it was acceptable for an adult male to drink the milk from a lactating female co-worker in order to establish a maternal bond of sorts, thereby precluding the strict gender segregation rule in the workplace. As if the question itself wasn't bizarre enough, the fact that he answered a resounding "YES!" was enough to provoke widespread shock and disbelief, as well as plenty of head shaking and hair pulling.

According to Islam, if a nursing mother breastfeeds an infant who is not her own on five separate occasions, a legally recognized familial bond is established between the two of them, plus the nursing donor's immediate family. This means that if the child is a male, when he grows up, the gender segregation issue does not come into play - meaning that the woman and her daughters would not have to cover up around him and they can socialize together. Apparently this is done frequently in Saudi families between sisters so that gender segregation won't affect the families getting together once their children are grown, since all the cousins would then be considered "milk siblings." At the same time, it also means that these cousins would not be allowed to marry each other, as is often done within Saudi families. This also implies that there would logically be no chance of any illicit sexual relations between any of them since that would be incest.

75-yr-old Syrian widow Khamisa Mohammed SawadiThis milking bond came into question last year when 75-year-old Syrian widow, Khamisa Mohammed Sawadi, who was living in Saudi Arabia, was arrested and sentenced to 4 months in prison and 40 lashes because two young men (one of them her "milk" son) entered her residence bearing several loaves of bread. The two young men were also arrested and sentenced to about the same punishment as the old woman. The last I read about this case was in December 2009 stating that all appeals were denied for all three and that the sentences stand. I have to admit that at 50-something, it might be hard to believe that the woman actually breastfed her husband's nephew. But why on earth would it be a crime in the first place to be kind and considerate to an elderly woman? Something is seriously wrong for this to be a crime.

Saudi Sheikh Al-ObiekanSheikh Al-Obiekan seemed to think that drinking a woman's pumped breastmilk out of a glass and not suckling directly from the woman's breast is a perfectly reasonable and acceptable way to skirt around and avoid the strict religious ban on gender mixing in this society. But in a bizarre twist to this already unbelievable story, another equally intelligent and enlightened religious scholar and voice of reason disagreed with that (don't get too excited just yet!). This other guy said that the milk should be suckled right from the woman's breast! Forget the fact that Islam also says that nursing should be done during the first two years of a child's life and mentions nothing at all about the ridiculous notion of woman nursing a grown man.

I'm just trying to imagine a prim and proper Saudi woman here covered in black from head to toe whipping out her breast - five separate times, mind you - and offering it to an unrelated man just so she can legally work with him! The whole image is just so absurd. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. Don’t these religious scholars have more important issues to worry about than to continually fantasize about womens' breasts? And what exactly are they trying to do to Muslim women? And how is the woman's husband supposed to take all of this?

SaudiWoman wrote a great post which documents the Arabic newspaper articles covering this story.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Street Terrorism in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia ranks dead last in the entire world in traffic safety. It has the highest number of deaths due to traffic accidents of any country in the world. This short video makes a huge impact. The statistics speak for themselves and are very grim indeed. This reaffirms my position in support of women being given the right to drive here: Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving, yet it ranks solidly at number one for the most traffic accidents and deaths. To me, there is WAY too much testerone on the roads here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Looking For Her Father

Kimberly B., daughter of Abdulrahman Al-Omran

Kimberly B. (pictured at right) is 44 years old and has never met her father. She has never felt the warmth and strength of her father’s arms hugging her. She’s never heard the sound of his voice. She doesn’t even know what her dad looks like, although she must resemble him because she looks nothing at all like her mother’s side of her family. Kimberly has gone through her entire life up to this point wondering and dreaming about her father, longing for a connection. She has scant information about him, but she is hoping it’s enough to help her find the father she has longed to meet all her life.



Abdulrahman Al-Omran (or El-Omran) is from Saudi Arabia. In the mid-1960s, he traveled to the United States to pursue his college education. At the time he was a young man in his mid-20s. Described as tall, dark and handsome, Abdulrahman enrolled at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington. It was here that he met Kimberly’s mom, Diana Divine, a gorgeous 20-year-old part-time model with curly brown hair and brown eyes who was studying business. The attraction was immediate.

Diana quickly became infatuated with Abdulrahman – she loved his brown skin, his easy sense of humor, and the charming way he always teased her. They fell in love. When Diana became pregnant, Abdulrahman wanted to marry her and take his young family back to Saudi Arabia with him, but Diana was afraid of moving there. Kimberly was born in January of 1966. She was adopted at birth by Diana’s sister. Diana thought this would be the best thing for her baby.

Diana Divine (Kimberly's birth mother)Abdulrahman moved away to continue his schooling at UCLA, eventually graduating in 1970 from Santa Clara University in California. Kimberly believes he studied Physics, Math, and Science, and Diana recalls that Abdulrahman told her he wanted to become an engineer for ARAMCO. Diana (pictured left) and Abdulrahman eventually lost touch. She believes that Abdulrahman’s father was in the import-export business and the family was well-to-do. Diana also remembers that Abdulrahman had several brothers, one of whom was named Aziz. Aziz might have been one of Abdulrahman’s roommates in nearby Portland when he attended Clark College.

Kimberly has always had a fascination with Middle Eastern culture, art, customs, and history for as long as she can remember. The only possession and reminder that she has from her father is a prayer rug that he left for her. She longs to know more about her Saudi father and his family and wants her own three children to know about their Saudi ancestry. She has tried for many years to locate him, but to no avail. Her interest in locating him is natural and honorable and would satisfy her lifelong dream of meeting her father. She also feels that knowing her father’s medical history would be useful.

Diana Divine (Kimberly's birth mother)Says Kimberly, “My father probably has a wife and many children. I would just like to meet him and have him meet his grandchildren. I have always wanted to know more about where I come from. I have had an identity crisis being raised in a Western 'Caucasian' family that I don’t always fit into. I was told I look just like him - I do not look like my American family at all. And I sense that I am a lot like him. I naturally relate more to the Arabian side than to my mother’s Irish- English side. I love my family but I feel something is missing that is a big part of who I am. I sometimes feel lost because I was not raised in my real culture. I was told his family is wealthy, but material things do not matter to me. Making a personal connection to him is much more important to me. I am ok with the fact that he may not want to know me or acknowledge me. I would be happy just seeing a picture of him. If we find each other and he doesn’t want to be a part of my life, I am prepared for that. I just have this feeling that he would want me to find him. I can’t explain why I feel drawn to him as though he wants to be found. “

Today Abdulrahman Al-Omran would be about 66-70 years old. He probably lives in Saudi Arabia somewhere. He might spell his last name as El-Omran. It is not known what area of Saudi Arabia he is from. If you have any information about the whereabouts of Abdulrahman Al-Omran, please email me at: susieofarabia@gmail.com

**********************************************************
Many thanks to a reader, who was kind enough to translate this post for the Arabic speaking readers out there.


تبحث عن والدها

كيمبرلي (في الصورة أعلاه) تبلغ من العمر 44 عاماً و التي لم تجتمع قط بوالدها السعودي الجنسية عبدالرحمن العمران. كيمبرلي لم تشعر بالدفء والقوة التي تمنحها إياها معانقة والدها لها. انها لم تسمع صوته بل لا تعرف حتى ماهو شكل والدها ومن يشبه، على الرغم من أنها يجب أن تشبهه لانها تبدو مختلفة تماماً بل على الإطلاق مقارنة بوالدتها وعائلتها التي قامت بتربيتها. قضت كيمبرلي حياتها حتى هذه اللحظة تتساءل وتحلم بوالدها ، والشوق للقاءه يأسرها. لكنها لا تملك معلومات عنه الا القليل و لكنها تأمل انها كافية لمساعدتها في العثور على والدها الذي تتوق لرؤيته طيلة أيام حياتها.

عبد الرحمن عمران (أو العمران) من المملكة العربية السعودية. سافر إلى الولايات المتحدة لمتابعة دراسته الجامعية في منتصف الستينات 1960، في ذلك الوقت كان شاب في منتصف العشرينات. يوصف عبدالرحمن بأنه رجل وسيم طويل القامة ، أسمر البشرة إنضم إلى كلية كلارك Clark College في مدينة فانكوفر بولاية واشنطن. ومن هناك التقى بوالدة كيمبرلي ديانا ديفاين بـشعرها الأجعد البني وعيناها البنية و كانت تعمل كعارضة أزياء لجزء من الوقت و تدرس تجارة في الوقت ذاته كـ طالبة منتظمة بالكلية. عندها كان الإنجذاب بين عبدالرحمن و ديانا مباشراً.

و سرعان ما فتنت ديانا بـ عبد الرحمن فقد احبت بشرته السمراء ، و خفة ظله ، و الطريقة الساحرة التي كان يغازلها بها. و وقعا في الحب ! وعندما إكتشفت ديانا أمر حملها أراد عبد الرحمن أن يتزوجها و يصطحب عائلته الصغيرة مرة أخرى إلى المملكة العربية السعودية، لكن ديانا كانت تخاف من الذهاب إلى هناك. ولدت كيمبرلي في كانون الثاني لعام 1966 وعند ولادتها طلبت أمها من أختها أن تتبناها حين ولادتها لتضمن لها مستقبلاً أفضل.

انتقل عبد الرحمن بعيدا لمواصلة تعليمه في جامعة كاليفورنيا ، وتخرج في نهاية المطاف في عام 1970 من جامعة سانتا كلارا Santa Clara University في كاليفورنيا و تعتقد كيمبرلي انه درس الفيزياء و الرياضيات ، والعلوم. و تتذكر ديانا أن عبد الرحمن قال لها انه يريد ان يصبح مهندسا لشركة أرامكو السعودية. ولكن في نهاية المطاف فقدت ديانا أي وسيلة إتصال بـ عبد الرحمن و ذكرت إنها تعتقد أن والد عبد الرحمن كان يعمل في مجال الأعمال التجارية، الإستيراد و التصدير. ديانا تتذكر أيضا أن عبد الرحمن كان له إخوة عدة ، واحد منهم كان اسمه عزيز أو عبدالعزيز و ربما كان واحدا من شركاءه في السكن في بورتلاند Portland قريباً من كلية كلارك.

كيمبرلي كانت دائما مبهورة بـ ثقافة الشرق الأوسط ، و الفن ، و العادات العربية ، والتاريخ بشكل كبير. الشيء الوحيد الذي تملكه كيمبرلي من والدها للذكرى هي سجادة الصلاة التي تركها لها. و قالت إنها تتوق لمعرفة المزيد عن والدها السعودي وعائلته وتريد أن يعرف أطفالها الثلاثة أصولهم السعودية. و قد حاولت لسنوات عديدة تحديد مكان إقامة والدها ، ولكن دون جدوى. تقول كيمبرلي أنه من المهم تحديد مكانه وهذا شيء طبيعي بل مشرف أيضاً لـ ترضي حلمها مدى الحياة من لقائها بوالدها. وقالت إنها تشعر أيضا أن معرفة تاريخ والدها الطبي سيكون مفيدا لها.

وتقول كيمبرلي "ربما والدي لديه زوجة وربما كثير من الأطفال. أود فقط الاجتماع معه وحمله على لقاء أحفاده. اردت دائما معرفة المزيد عن أصلي. لقد كان لدي أزمة هوية عنيفة حيث نشأت في أسرة أميركية لا تصلح لي. و كانو دائماً يخبرونني أني أشبه أبي لأني لا أبدو كـ عائلتي الأميركية على الإطلاق. و انا اشعر أيضاً بأنني أحمل الكثير من الشبه بأبي. أنا أميل بطبيعة الحال أكثر إلى الجانب العربي من ميلي لجانب أمي الايرلندية الإنجليزية. أنا أحب عائلتي لكني أشعر أن هناك شيء مفقود هو جزء كبير من هويتي. أشعر أحيانا بالضياع لأنني لم أنشأ في ثقافتي الحقيقية (ثقافة والدي). قيل لي أن عائلته ثرية، ولكن الأمور المادية لا تهم بالنسبة لي. إجراء اتصال شخصي بوالدي هو أهم بكثير بالنسبة لي. أنا مدركة للحقيقة أنه قد لا يريد أن يتعرف إلي أو يعترف بي. و سأكون سعيدة لمجرد رؤية صورته. و إذا وجدنا بعضنا البعض ، وإذا كان لا يريد ان يكون جزءا من حياتي ، فأنا على استعداد لذلك. أنا فقط يتملكني شعور انه يريدني أن أعثر عليه. و أنا ليس بمقدوري تفسير شعوري المندفع بأنه يريدني أن أجده."

اليوم من المتوقع أن عبد الرحمن العمران يبلغ من العمر حوالي 66-70 سنة ومن الأرجح أنه يعيش في مكان ما في المملكة العربية السعودية. و من الممكن أن يكون إسم العائلة يكتب على هذا النحو El-omran و ليس لدى كيمبرلي او ديانا معلومات عن مكان معيشته تحديداً.

إذا كان لديكم اي معلومات عن مكان وجود عبد الرحمن العمران ، يرجى الكتابة على العنوان التالي susieofarabia@gmail.com :

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Painting the Nursery - Pink or Blue?


Ihad a revealing conversation with my sister-in-law Bee and her daughters the other day that got me to thinking about life, and the ignorant and selfish ways people behave at times. One of Bee's daughters, Emmy, is pregnant with her second child - her firstborn is a son who is now two and a half years old. We were discussing her pregnancy, and one of the girls said that my mother-in-law (and Bee's mother) told her pregnant grand-daughter that she should name the new baby after my husband. The girls all giggled a bit and when I asked what was so funny, I learned that Emmy is expecting a girl - a fact that they are concealing from my MIL because she doesn't seem to care about girl babies.



Bee then proceeded to talk about when she gave birth to her first three children more than 20 years ago - all girls - and how her mother did not help out and rarely came to see her after each of the girls were born. But when Bee finally gave birth to her fourth child - a boy - her mother immediately packed her bags and moved in with Bee and her family for a period of time to graciously help out. The girls don't necessarily feel that their grandmother doesn't love them, just that she seems to favor male offspring over female. Emmy even said that once she gave birth to her son, she felt that her grandmother really changed in her feelings and respect towards her, elevating Emmy quite a few notches in status.


Bee and her daughters seem to think that many other women of grandma's generation think this way. I have heard of women here being divorced, tossed aside or looked down upon because they only produced female offspring. It's an idiotic way of thinking because basically, without getting into an involved debate about genetics, science has proven that the sex of a child is almost always solely determined by the male sperm. And not only that, it is yet again, another example of how women are faulted for everything and anything wrong with many societies, irregardless of facts to the contrary. I admit I was a little surprised to hear all of this since I mistakenly believed that this type of thinking was a thing of the past. I don't recall ever hearing something like this in my own culture. In fact, I remember hearing most often that the parents didn't care what sex the child was, as long as the baby was healthy.


So I was wondering about this cultural phenomenon here and if it exists in other places around the world, especially among older women like my Saudi MIL. I've read that boy babies are preferred in many Asian countries and other places, and that throughout the ages, female infanticide was common - which I don't understand because without girls, there will be no more babies born at all, period. In China alone, its "one child per mother policy" has had disastrous results for baby girls, who have been aborted or abandoned by the hundreds of thousands every year since its inception in 1979. It is estimated that by the year 2020, about 30-40 million young Chinese men will have no women to marry and mate with. What does this mean? It means that already young women in China are being kidnapped and sold as a child-bearing commodity to the highest bidder. This is nothing short of sexual slavery. It is harmful to society and upsetting to nature's delicate balance to deny girls their rightful place in the cycle of life.


Yes, I know that all men, deep down, want a son - some kind of macho thing, I'm sure. Boys can carry on the family name, and there's still those old-fashioned notions about boys that they can take over the family business and can support the family, etc., when in today's world, girls have proven just as capable of doing these things as boys - as long as they are given the opportunities. I also know that there are many mothers and fathers out there who cherish and adore their daughters. But I'm wondering if there is an obvious preference for boy babies in your country or culture?



For more information, please read another blogpost on this same topic on My Reflections and Musings by Jenn.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Cleavage = Earthquakes! Suntans = Jail!

I
try not to talk about religion very much on this blog because it is such a volatile topic that people get really worked up over - and I am clearly no expert in this department. I read and hear so many different and conflicting interpretations all the time, it's difficult to decipher "what is" and "what isn't" when it comes to religion. People believe so many different things and always seem to make it so complicated, when it shouldn't be. And then when I ask questions because I don't understand, some people think I'm being disrespectful - when I really just want answers. So it is with trepidation that I write this post.



Recently, however, there were a few news reports coming out of the Middle East regarding religion that I found were just begging for questions to be asked.

Sheikh Ahmed Al-GhamdiFirst, one of the most significant stories concerns Sheikh Ahmed Al-Ghamdi (right), the head of the Makkah religious police, who has come out with a few extremely controversial comments regarding traditional Saudi Islamic behavior. The Sheikh is preaching that gender segregation is not supported by Islam and that it represents cultural extremism as it is practiced in Saudi Arabia. The other issues the Sheikh has made waves about recently concern the enforced closings of businesses during prayer times and men praying in the mosques together. Al-Ghamdi says that businesses should not be required to close during each of the five daily prayers. He went further to say that nothing in the religion says that men must pray the daily prayers together in groups at the mosques. I like this guy! I really like him!

At the very least, Sheikh Al-Ghamdi has ruffled the feathers of the religious police in KSA, as he works for them and it is their job to enforce these religious ideals that Al-Ghamdi now claims are unnecessary. His liberal statements are totally out of sync with those of the mostly conservative religious scholars in KSA. Other religious clerics have slammed Al-Ghamdi for his heretical remarks and some people have called for his dismissal or even death. It was initially reported that Al-Ghamdi was relieved of his duties, but within a very short time that statement was retracted allegedly due to intervention from someone within the royal family. Al-Ghamdi's fate at this point is not clear. To read more about this controversy, please see Saudi Woman's opinion piece called "The Man of the Hour."

Photo Credit: AFP/GETTY - King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan of Saudi Arabia pose with Saudi womenMore repercussions have surfaced in the wake of Al-Ghamdi's remarks when a group photo of Saudi women with the King and the Crown Prince of KSA made headlines around the world of late, further fueling the fiery flap on the issue of gender mixing. The profound significance of this photo is that it seems to indicate that on the highest level here in Saudi Arabia, opinions are changing about men and women socially mixing together. Another kicker is that most of the women in the photo are not wearing the traditional face veil (called niqaab) that a large percentage of Saudi women always wear when out in public. Indeed religious police in KSA have scolded many women for not having their faces covered.

Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-BarrakBut then, on the other side of this gender mixing tug-of-war, in this article in Arab News, you have this Saudi religious cleric, Abdul Rahman Al-Barrak (right), urging that "modernists" be ignored. He said that "liberalization of women was one of the major outcomes of the enemies’ plots" and decries gender mixing as "keys for evil."

Another news making story came out of Iran when a religious cleric there blamed earthquakes on women who did not dress modestly. Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying, “Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which consequently increases earthquakes.” You know, I was okay with what he said until those last four words...


I have a feeling that this guy is just basing his statement on the fact that seismologists have been saying for 20 years that there is a high likelihood that Tehran, the country's capital city, will be hit by a major earthquake in the near future. Interestingly enough, Tehran sits amidst dozens of fault lines, yet has not suffered a major earthquake for 180 years. I'll bet that when and if the earthquake happens, Sedighi just can't wait to say, "See? I told you so!" and of course, women will be blamed for the natural disaster!


And now, in expectations of this earthquake blame game, women are already being punished - just in case - in Iran. It has been announced that women sporting suntans will be arrested! Why? Because it violates Islamic values - what?

Do people REALLY believe stuff like scantily dressed women cause earthquakes? Seriously? If you know of any scientific explanation, please fill me in.

Are there other places, outside the Muslim world, where religious police ensure that women are dressed modestly enough and if they're not, they can be sharply hit about the ankles with a stick or suffer other consequences? Or where men are rounded up at prayer time to go pray?

How exactly is a woman with a "healthy glow" violating religious values - especially if it is not known where/how/or with whom she got the suntan in the first place? Do YOU agree that having a suntan is a valid offense that someone should be arrested for?


Do other religions around the world even HAVE religious police that make sure its followers behave "morally" according to the religion?

Should religion be FORCED on people? Are Muslims in KSA "enslaved" by religion? Since there is "no compulsion in Islam," why do people in KSA not have a "choice" of whether they want to be Muslim or not? Why do I always hear and read that there is "no compulsion in Islam," yet clearly here in KSA, that is not the case? And why, too, is it even necessary for there to be religious police here in the first place, especially since there is supposedly "no compulsion in Islam?" What does it say about a religion that needs religious police to enforce its religious doctrines? And isn't that considered "compulsion?"

I've asked a lot of questions here - I invite civilized, respectful discussion, without attacks and insults, please...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Young Saudi Man Speaks About Women Driving in Saudi Arabia

This post is a paper written by a young Saudi man, age 23, who is currently a student in Texas. His compelling arguments are very timely in that there has been much talk lately about the possibility of the ban on women driving here in KSA being lifted.

The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is located in the Arabian Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam; the home of Mecca and Medina, the two holiest cities of Islam and the focus of the annual Islamic pilgrimage. In the late 1730s, Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab started a religious reform against Shiite and local paganism tribes in the peninsula and was later welcomed by Muhammad ibn Saud, head of the Saud family. They both swore a traditional Muslim oath promising to work together to establish a state based on Islamic principles. However, it was not until 1932 that the kingdom was founded in its modern form. King Abdul Aziz’s forces advanced westward to overthrow the Ottoman from the western region. He was proclaimed king in 1927 and the country was named the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932. The kingdom’s political structure is an absolute monarchy with a constitution based on Quran and the teaching of the prophet’s interpretation of Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab, which is referred to nowadays as “Wahabi interpretation of Islam.”

During the 1930s, the ARAMCO consortium, including Standard Oil of California and other firms, began looking for oil in Saudi lands and discovered huge quantities. Saudi oil is close to the surface and therefore it is very cheap to extract. The discovery of oil gave the Kingdom its strategic importance in World War II and thereafter and contributed to its rapid economic development and rising prominence in world affairs. The kingdom’s large oil revenues contributed to the fortune of the Saudi Kingdom and did not produce a concomitant social revolution or modern civil development such as occurred in some of the Gulf countries.

Human rights in Saudi Arabia have been drawing much international attention lately; the country’s international democracy index ranking is 161 out of 167 according to the Economist. The press and the internet are both regulated and censored by the government, and freedom of speech does not exist. Women of Saudi Arabia live under a strict Islamic law in which they are treated like property. They are subservient to men in every way; they are segregated from males in society, not allowed to drive cars, may not travel in or out of Saudi Arabian cities without a designated male guardian or permission, are not allowed to vote, and are denied the ability to represent themselves in a court.

Many of these laws have no basis in Quran and are based on the "Wahabi interpretation of Islam” which stresses the regulation of social norms according to a mix of traditional Arab values and the Islam religion. Women’s main purpose in the society, according to this interpretation, is to provide for her husband and to be an obedient housewife -a very traditional role that has been challenged due to modernization and is being challenged nowadays as women are asking for less restriction to perform their daily modern life. Women’s right to drive is one of these challenging issues with two sides; the liberal Saudis that call for it and the traditional conservative Saudis that stress the traditional role of women and are against it. The current Saudi political system bans women drivers, but several recent legislative attempts have made it to “Majlis Ash-Shura,” the advisory council to the king in regard to the lifting of the ban. Saudi women should have the right to drive because the ban is unconstitutional, is against women’s rights, and is increasing the number of immigrant personal drivers.

The Saudi constitution is the Quran and the teachings of the prophet Muhammad. Much of the country’s legal and court system is based on the Wahabi interpretation of both texts. The kingdom also enforces a social code based on the same interpretation through the committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vices. The Saudi society is mainly a male dominant society; women are to stay home while men work and provide for their families. Women are not allowed to hold public office, be judges, or work without a male guardian’s permission. While legally women are allowed to pursue an education, hold jobs, and buy property, traditional conservatives still regard women as inferior and dependent on their male guardian. Women from liberal families are usually more independent. There are, however, legal limits to the freedom of women. These limits are set to promote the traditional society which regards women as dependent. Several laws are established only to women that restrict the freedom of travel, the freedom of seeking employment, and the freedom of pursuing higher education pursuant to the permission of a male guardian. Many of these regulations are claimed to be based on Islamic values from the traditional conservatives. While much of it has no roots in Islam, the concept of “prevention” is commonly used to back these regulations.

In the issue of women’s right to drive, Abdel-Mohsin al-Obaikan, a senior Saudi religious figure, has confirmed that Islamic law does not prevent women from driving. The same view is shared with another well-known cleric, Mohsin Awaji. “Majlis Ash-Shura,” the advisory council to the king, has ruled in 2010 that the ban is enforced for social reasons and has no religious backgrounds. This ruling has raised the question of whether constitutional limits do exist in the Saudi political system and to what extent Islamic based regulation is actually based on Islam.

Conservative Saudis argue that the ban is legitimate because of the concept of prevention. They argue that if women were allowed to drive, they will have to uncover their faces and interact with non-related males, which could lead to adultery. Islamic laws prohibit adultery and therefore to “prevent” people from committing this crime, regulations must be set. This argument is flawed, however, since Saudi women are legally allowed to uncover their faces and to interact with non-related males, which the current system is forcing them to do so. Women currently are forced to hire male immigrant drivers to drive them around, which contradicts the conservative argument of prevention of gender interaction.

Several factors have an impact on determining the state of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. Dr. Saleh al-Sheikh, the minister for Islamic affairs in Saudi Arabia, states, “I believe in equal rights for everyone according to their circumstances… Women do have rights, but they are based on our view of their obligations in life.” Religion, society, culture, and the government all have an impact on women’s rights. While Quran calls for equalization between the genders’ rights, the Wahabi religious interpretation views women as second class citizens with limited roles in society and bases most of its regulations on the concept of prevention. Segregation between the genders is enforced in public places and schools; conservatives argue that such regulations are enforced to prevent “Khalwa” which leads adultery. In December 2009, Sheikh Ahmad Qassim Al-Ghamdi, chief of the Makkah region’s committee of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vices, stated to Okaz Arabic-language daily newspaper that gender segregation has no basis in Islamic law, and has been incorrectly applied in the Saudi judicial system. Al-Ghamdi said that the teachings of the Prophet make no references to gender segregation and is therefore permitted under Islamic laws.

Social and cultural norms also play a key role in determining the state of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. The male dominant society sometimes looks upon women as commodities to be sold. Marriage contracts are typically an agreement between the husband and the father of the bride, in which a certain amount of money is agreed upon “Mahar.” Forced marriages are quite common in Saudi society. The “Mahar” is paid to the father, who in return forces the girl to be married to the husband. The current legal system requires the bride to sign the marriage contract. However, the system also promotes the dependency of the woman on her male guardian, which makes it difficult for her to make independent choices, and therefore, is forced to submit to her guardian’s will. The “Mahar” is an Islamic principle meant to show the economic ability and the good will of the husband to provide for a family, has no restrictions, and should be given to the bride. Some conservative families take advantage of this principle and force their daughters to marry the highest bidder for economical gain. Liberal Saudi families tend to promote the independence and freedom of choices of their daughters and rarely ask for “Mahar.”

On the issue of women drivers, liberals argue that the ban is against women’s rights that are guaranteed by Islam. The legal ban is based on conservative social and cultural reasons according to “Majlis Ash-Shura.” They add that social and cultural norms of conservatives should not be enforced upon the society through governmental regulation but should instead be self-regulated because Saudi society is diverse. Traditional conservatives continue to use their interpretation of Islam as the basis of their position. They argue that liberals are trying to westernize Islamic traditions and that current traditional values are protecting women’s dignity. Women’s dignity, according to conservatives, is her dependency on men and only protected when she stays at home, provides for her husband and raises her children. This view, however, has been debated as the divorce rate in Saudi society is about 50%, and the number of unmarried women is very high, suggesting that the current traditional dependency trend would only work against women as the need for economical and social independency is increasing. To protect women’s dignity is to promote their independence and to lift the ban on women drivers.

The ban on women drivers led to the development of personal drivers hiring practices in Saudi society. A large number of Saudi families and women tend to hire a personal driver to ease their transportation needs. While Saudi Islamic law does not ban this practice, about 23% of the population is made up of migrant workers living in Saudi Arabia. Migrants come for a variety of labor jobs from construction to personal drivers. The average migrant personal driver salary ranges from $300-$600 a month, including room and board, and is mostly transferred to the migrant’s home country. Liberals argue that the increasing number of migrants is hurting the country’s economy, as most of the money is being spent elsewhere. The practice itself is against one of the most highly held Islamic principles in the society, “Khalwa”, which segregation laws are based upon. The “Khalwa” principle declares that it is forbidden for a man and a women who are not related to be alone together. Several conservatives would rather that women drive than to be alone with a strange driver, however, the majority would support the current flawed system as the best available alternative. They believe that the current system’s positive attributes outweigh the potential negative consequences of allowing women to drive. They stress that allowing women to drive would only increase the number of social crimes, and crimes of a more serious nature, like rape and kidnapping. Illegitimate relationships between the genders is considered to be a social crime punishable by law. While the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vices’ main job is to enforce the social code, a notable percentage of the population participates in illegitimate relationship. The current system, which is based on the “prevention” principle, is not preventing Saudi society from engaging in these practices. Liberals argue that these practices should be regulated through personal self-discipline, which could be stressed and taught in the Saudi educational system instead of governmental regulations that only enforce a strict interpretation of Islamic social behavior which several liberals do not agree with.

In conclusion, Saudi Arabian society should be aware that its social and cultural values reflect the teachings of Islam. Saudi Arabia is the only country with Islam as its constitution and is the home of the religion. As the country moves toward development and with the increasing population, the society is bound to diversify. The society should understand and respect its diversity and should stress the principle of self-regulation. Liberals believe that “prevention-based” regulations, including the ban on women drivers, should be lifted because it is against the country’s Islamic constitution and women’s rights. They stress that the society should focus on promoting a positive image of Islam by enhancing freedom rights granted by the religion and focusing on developing their country socially and economically. Ideological enforcements and “prevention” regulations have no basis in Islamic teaching and only deprive women of their basic rights.

If you are on Facebook, please join this cause: Yes 2 Women Driving In Saudi Arabia!