Due to popular demand, I’ve translated the article I mentioned in The turning point post:
The difficult question of women driving was sparked by Afaf who felt oppressed and humiliated, after her driver left her alone and distraught in her car amid a busy street in the city of Riyadh. “Insulted in my country? .. Why should I have to stand helpless in a car I own, and paid for from my salary, while I have an international and well-deserved driving license from a neighboring country? Why can’t I start my car, on my own?”
Afaf’s Asian driver left her in the middle of the road on her way to work in the morning; simply because she criticized him. He turned off the car and threw her keys at her, and then stopped a taxi and got in, without heeding her appeals, or her pleas!
Riyadh newspaper carried Afaf’s question and presented it to specialists in human rights, sociology, Sharia law, and to traffic specialists as well. Each gave their views on how to begin the implementation of lifting the ban, even if only as an experiment. Sheikh Ahmed ibn Baaz’s opinion on this matter is that this is not a call for women to drive a car, those who do not want to drive have a right to refuse, but it is a call to give them dignity and the human rights and legitimacy given to them by Islam. Here are the details:
A Human Right
In the beginning, a researcher of Islamic affairs, and a member of the Human Rights Association, “Suhaila Zein al-Abidine” says that Islam does not forbid women their rights, and driving is a right. The Kingdom has already signed the international convention of non-discrimination against women, including the right of movement and transportation.
She said “There is no legitimate Islamic text that prohibits women from driving a car, we are a country that follows the teachings of Islam and knows very well that the basic principle of Islam is tolerance and permission, unless an issue is specifically deemed prohibited”, al-Abidine expressed astonishment at those frightened of allowing women to drive, citing that they agreed to women working as teachers in remote locations, or servants behind closed doors, wondering “Why do they insist on our women remaining submissive and at the mercy of drivers, some of whom have a criminal history in their home country, or a psychiatric disorder, or moral and ideological issues “? .. She Cited an incident that took place when a previous driver abandoned her and her sister one evening in an area remote from where they live. He wanted to punish them just because their transportation needs conflicted with his plans!
She added that relying on drivers has moral, safety and economic risks that are much bigger than those posed if women were allowed to drive, so it is an issue of necessity, not a luxury, “especially in times of crisis,” citing an incident that the girl, Malak al Mutairi, a fifteen year old, who drove a GMC and saved her father, brother and eight families trapped by the floods of Jeddah, and so thank God for her ability to drive a car. No one punished Malak or admonished her for driving a car. On the contrary, she was honored by her school, as she was honored by the press, and celebrated by the officials.
A religious right
Many Sharia experts and shiekhs have declared their support for lifting the ban on women driving, especially after growing concerns regarding drivers and the consequences and problems of recruiting a man for each household. Sheikh Abdullah al Mutlaq, a professor of Comparative Jurisprudence and a former judge of the Court of Hail, made his view explicit on this subject in Okaz newspaper on June 4, 2009. He emphasized that there is no legitimate justification that prevents women from driving. He states that he is in the process of writing a study on the how-tos of lifting the ban in order to prevent the corruption caused by the recruitment of foreigners as drivers in Saudi society. Shiekh al Mutlaq calls for allowing women to drive soon, especially since women in the suburbs and villages have been driving for decades. No problems at all have been registered against these women of the villages who are driving. Actually they are appreciated by all for their courage and respect for the traffic system and laws. They’ve also shown that they abide by the laws much better than men. Al Mutlaq asserts that there are women who own cars in their own name. As foreign drivers have been noted to cause a lot of problems, women driving could prevent these problems, especially since there is no prohibition or legitimate religious reason that prevents women from driving. Customs and traditions in our society should not prevent us at all. He also points out the need to launch an awareness campaign for young people to respect women who drive and as such to acclimatize everyone until it becomes a normal sight.
The question is why is it illegal for women to drive if they have an international driving license?
The word of law is what is left since Islam does not prohibit women from driving. We took our question to the Legal Counsel, Bandar bin Ibrahim Al Muhrij and he replied saying that article thirty-two of the traffic laws states that “any person is prohibited from driving a vehicle before obtaining a driver’s license as is required in accordance with the provisions of this law”, and based on this text, the word “person” contained therein is not limited to the male without the female, indicating that the fact that driving licenses are issued exclusively to males is not supported by any document from the traffic system and its laws.
Sheikh Al Mutlaq: women driving to prevent the evils of recruiting drivers
A realistic look
As well as the publication of Sheikh Ahmed bin Baaz’s explicit opinion in Al Watan newspaper on January 15, 2010 in which he considered women driving an issue of rights and not an issue of priorities. Bin Baz also notes that preventing them from driving was thought to be virtuous in the past, however these considerations do not exist now nor can they be discussed or reconsidered. He added that the fear that women will be abused is not sufficient justification to prevent them from driving. Abuse is primarily a problem of security and education, and not a woman’s responsibility. Bin Baaz stressed that those who have millions and live in palaces with servants, entourages and numerous drivers may not be concerned with this issue. This issue is the main concern of women whose dignity suffers on the sidewalks bargaining with taxi drivers in order to get to school or work, or to a hospital for treatment or any type of need. Driving in this case is not a luxury as these women save every riyal to provide salaries for drivers, and have to build externally attached housing for drivers. And then these women have to go through an ordeal in order to obtain a visa for a driver to enter the country. In these cases lifting the ban is not a luxury.
How do we begin?
As a matter of following up on this issue Riyadh newspaper has gathered several proposals by specialists involved in setting the first practical step in allowing women to drive in the event it happens. One of which was what was presented by a sociology professor at the University of Imam Muhammad bin Saud, the Chairman of Saudi Society for Sociology and Social Work, Prof. Abdul Razak bin Hamoud Al-Zahrani. Prof. Al Zahrani expressed his deep conviction that the issue of women driving is a social issue that concerns each woman and each family in the community. And accordingly, he proposed in a previous study and proposes again here that a referendum in all parts of the Kingdom be held. The samples taken should be representative of all society. As such the views of the community about this issue then becomes a collective societal decision, whether society positively or negatively views the lifting of the ban. Thus any decision made would be appropriate and compatible with our community. Hence society would be the reference on this issue of a vital, delicate and controversial nature and which has been discussed frequently in the last two decades.
A tight plan
The district court judge in Riyadh, Sheikh Dr. Isa bin Abdullah Al Ghaith believes that women driving cars is not Islamically prohibited in and of itself but due to that it leads to other evils. He proposes that the ban not be directly and entirely lifted, at the same time he does not stubbornly close the door so that communication breaks down.
Prof. Al Ghaith proposes a practical and phased testing that is authorized and supervised by the government in which women would be allowed to drive cars within a coherent plan. This testing should be planned at a specifically selected time of day and for a set city that is chosen carefully. This experiment would then be observed closely by a range of sharia and legal experts, psychologists, social workers and security officials and others to control and adjust it quickly and flexibly. In the months following the experiment, these experts should prepare reports and submit their recommendations in this regard. In this way – according to prof. Al Ghaith we will be able to achieve the interests of our society, avoid the evils and close the door of excuses. We shall be able to implement future laws regarding women driving on the basis of Islamic provisions, rules and purposes of legitimacy and leadership. In Prof Al Ghaith’s opinion there is now a “women driving phobia” which motivation is understood, however what is not understood is the justification behind the lack of dialogue and lack of practical experimentation on which to persuade advocates and opponents. Through the specialists recommendations common interests that we currently lack could be achieved and the current evils eliminated. In that case, we must abide by that commitment and affirm it, regardless of whether we decide to allow or ban driving. This approach will provide the reasoning needed by all and a general conviction will be gained by the community before the decision-maker. And thus decision makers will have followed the collective societal wishes in approving or banning women driving.
Recruit maids as drivers!
In another proposal by an education specialist who thinks that it might be better to allow foreign female domestic help to drive cars as a first step. In the specialist’s view this would significantly reduce the number of drivers recruited. Another option is that we allow the licensing of transportation companies who in their turn would recruit foreign women. At the same time there could be an intense awareness campaign directed to all segments of society about the acceptance of seeing a women behind the steering wheel.
Phases accompanied by security.
For his part, Nasser Al Oud, a professor of clinical social work at the department of sociology and social work at Imam University is of the opinion that the issue of women driving is a cultural issue (as a large number of intellectuals and scientists agree). Hence legislating allowing women to drive must be done at the appropriate time. Those charged with the implementation of new laws must work on gradually introducing it. It is to be expected that the lift of the ban will be accompanied by a number of social obstacles, such as direct criticism of those who are driving and trying to influence male guardians through the use of social pressure (the family, community leaders ..). It should also be taken into account to first only allow driving in large and civilized cities and in neighborhoods and populated areas. At the same time security should be intensified by the authorities. At the beginning women drivers should be accompanied by their male guardians until the taboo starts to diminish. In the meantime, the male guardian would be there to provide security and prevent outsiders from asking the woman questions.
Awatif Al Otaibi is a female employee who has an international driving license and has been driving abroad for the past 15 years. Al Otaibi points out that in other Arab countries there are no licensing laws that discriminate on the basis of gender, age, dress, or guardian’s consent, or the locations that driving will take place. She feels that stressing the adoption of such obstacles when a woman attempts to apply for a license only takes us away from the essence of the issue. Al Otaibi does not believe in the classification and the creation of a special law for women but rather that we should be more concerned about driving practices in general, so as to prevent complicating any further our current and pressing social need to lift the ban. From here Awatif affirms that change starts with one step, but we need to start from where others have ended, the experience of women driving and laws of neighboring Islamic countries have been shown to be a successful experiment that was initially fraught with obstacles and challenges. In these countries law were developed regardless of gender. Laws that govern all are what we need to get accustomed to, as we get back to the basics at this stage. National leaders that are educated and familiar with the global standards for women driving are capable of producing a sound vision and implementation that ensures that the respect and rights of women are taken very seriously, Otherwise any further delays and obstructions of this right will only lead to the further weakening of its social and intellectual status.
Strictness and awareness together
For his part, Prof. Abdullah al Kuaid, a researcher and writer with experience in traffic affairs, asserts the need to start allowing women to drive at this point, stressing that there is nothing to fear and that he understands that some might be wary of the possibility of women drivers being harassed, however, harassers, as in all communities, are deterred by the threat of strict and swift punishment. Prof. Al Kuaid points out that the repetition of raising the issue of women driving cars in our country does not lead to it losing its urgency or momentum as long as women are deprived of this right. He also addresses those who allege that currently there are more pressing issues and priorities; unfortunately, those that echoe this sentiment are not aware of the losses incurred by the nation through denying women the right to drive a car. From an economic point of view he notes the magnitude of the amount of money that is sent each year abroad by drivers besides the cost of bringing these people in, in addition to the public services that these workers expend and could have instead been provided to citizens. We should also consider the unpublicized social and moral problems which are caused by the employment of an unrelated man midst a family that does not share his culture, beliefs, customs or traditions. And to add insult to injury, many of these drivers are of poor skills and qualifications and are slow in the adoption of our traffic laws. Finally the threat that such large numbers of drivers are on the roads especially considering that each family employs at least one.