Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Driven: Samia El-Moslimany

On October 26, 2013, Samia El-Moslimany wound up in a police station in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, detained for doing something that she has been doing for some 30 years – driving.  In the 21st Century, women are still not legally allowed to drive in this conservative patriarchal country.  While Saudi Arabia is governed by Islamic/Sharia law, there is nothing in Islam that would prohibit women from driving.  This law is based entirely on culture, customs, and tribal mentality.  

Samia El-Moslimany

The push by women for the right to drive in Saudi Arabia has been making headlines around the world for some time now.   The movement has gained momentum and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down.  October 26 was chosen as the day when women across the country would get behind the wheels of their vehicles and drive – not in an organized caravan as was done in Riyadh in 1990 and wreaking havoc on the lives of the brave women who dared to drive.  Organizing any type of demonstration or movement is strictly forbidden here and violators face harsh punishments. 

This year, dozens of Saudi women have posted videos online of themselves driving.  Samia and more than a dozen other unfortunate female drivers were detained across the country on October 26.  After signing a pledge vowing that they would not drive again in Saudi Arabia until the law changes, most of the detained women were released within just a few short hours to their mahrams, the legal male guardian every Saudi woman has for her entire life.  Overall, Samia was happy with the way she was treated by the police.  

Samia El-Moslimany, photographer

Samia El-Moslimany is a professional photographer and activist who divides her time between homes in Jeddah and the Seattle area.  She first moved to KSA as a new bride of twenty.  That was more than thirty years ago.  Samia has been an active supporter of womens’ rights and is a founder of the Wanisa Sisterhood, which was started to give first wives dignity and assist them to become independent.  Her Twitter account describes her as a "Moderately-Radical-Feminist- Muslim-Saudi-American Photographer Jihading for Peace."  She always ends her emails with "Peace, Love, and Justice - Samia."

Samia is also very active in Islamic causes and will be a speaker at the 2013 Muslim Public Affairs Council convention on December 14 in Long Beach, CA., honored as one of the five finalists in the MPAC’s nationwide search for “innovative American Muslims who are tackling some of the biggest challenges facing the community.”  CLICK HERE to get your tickets to attend the convention and hear Samia speak.

She is truly a force to be reckoned with.

Samia El-Moslimany and me at a charity event in Jeddah, November 2013.

CLICK HERE  to watch a Seattle Times video interview with Samia El-Moslimany (NOV 2013)

CLICK HERE  to read a Seattle Times article on Samia El-Moslimany, "Burien woman driven to fight for Saudi women's rights." (NOV 2013)

CLICK HERE  for the Highline Times article "Samia El-Moslimany of Burien breaks with Muslim stereotypes."  (JAN 2013)

CLICK HERE  for a Saudi Gazette article about photographer Samia El-Moslimany "Being a female photographer in KSA."  (APR 2008)


  1. Hi,
    I lived & worked in Jeddah for almost 9 years (left in Nov 1986). I wish you all the luck in the world in all you are trying to do.

  2. She is Saudi and she doesn't cover her neck in KSA?? Interesting :) Are in Jeddah any Saudis who don't cover their hair?

    1. Hi Lovin - Well, I do know some Saudi women who live here in Jeddah who do not even cover their hair in public. When I first moved here in 2007, most Saudi women at that time wore niqab. Now more and more Saudi women are not. Personally I hate having a scarf wrapped around my neck. I think the way Samia wears her scarf is much nicer than the way most Saudi women do.

    2. I heard somewhere that all Saudi women must cover their hair in KSA so You surprised me positively :) I don't know what about Americam newspapers but Polish writes sometimes that ALL women there must wear niqabs and unfortunately many people believe them :(

      I think it must be very uncomfortable to have something wrapped around the neck when it's scorching hot. I can't stand having my hair loose even here during the summer and I cannot imagine it in Saudi Arabia ;/

      Btw. Sorry for my English, I'm not a native speaker ;)