In Islam there are five pillars that are the foundation of what it is to be Muslim; the belief that there is only one God and that Mohammed was one of his prophets, praying five times a day, the annual giving of 2.5% of monetary wealth to the poor, fasting the month of Ramadan and performing Hajj at least once in a lifetime for those who can afford it.
So if you’re a decent person who does these five things, no more and no less that would make you a good Muslim. That was the case for 1400 years and then Saudis came along and unofficially added a sixth pillar; the oppression of women. It has gotten so bad that in all seriousness people are asking on Islamic forums if niqab is an Islamic pillar! Ever since the early 1980s, Saudi sheikhs have been preoccupied with how to keep a rein on the womenfolk. The two major sheikhs of the 80s are Bin Othaimeen and Bin Baz and since they passed away, it seems that their standing legacy are their oppressive fatwas on women such as why it is Islamically prohibited for women to drive cars, how a woman should wear her abaya, that pants are prohibited for women, and my favorite that marriage should take precedence over education. In the nineties the “oppress all women” cause lost some of it wind to the “kill all infidels” cause.
In the last decade however the government put its foot down and stifled the violent jihad calls against the rest of the world and so our sheikhs are back to hassling women. They even use jihad vocabulary in their anti-women cause like “jihad against the westernization movement”. Since the unofficial addition of this sixth pillar, there is no surprise that sheikh Al Bararak sees fit that unrelated men and women mingling together should be murdered in the name of Islam. What’s more worrying is what the Saudi novelist Samar al Moqren pointed out, that 26 other major sheikhs felt that it was their duty to support Al Barack’s fatwa by signing a petition while not a single sheikh publicly went against it. This tells us that things might seem to be going in the right direction superficially but underlying all this recent progress are large groups of fundamentalists waiting for the chance to pull us back into the religiously fueled dark ages. The only thing between us and them is the current political environment.
Last week’s outcry about sheikh Yousef al Ahmad’s suggestion that the Makkah mosque be demolished and rebuilt in such a way that ensures complete segregation is only the tip of the iceberg. If you saw the whole show, it was a group of fundamentalists sitting in a tent and plotting against women. The whole show was on how terrible it is that there are women and men working together in hospitals. Sheikh Yousef al Ahmad claimed that he had had a research project that required him to survey a hospital and that in his frequent visits he saw outrageous things happening between unrelated men and women. He said that it is common knowledge that female secretaries are only hired for “play”. The sheikh gave as an example of the evils of not segregating the sexes the current state in the USA, with emphasis on the Clinton/Lewinsky affair! He also claimed that in Japan there are many hospitals that are for women only, so that both staff and patients are all women. He was outraged that those Japanese “rock worshippers” are more protective of their women than us honorable Saudi Muslims. After he finished talking, another fundamentalist claimed that he visited a place in the United States where Christians finally came to their senses and were practicing complete gender segregation.
Like I said before this sheikh’s suggestion is not an isolated incident but is actually representative of a large sector of Saudi thinkers, policy makers and average people who are having a lot of trouble shaking off the 1980s repressive trends. From the twittering of approval for a prominent Saudi woman who met a European diplomatic envoy in complete head to toe covering to the calls for punishing a Saudi woman who had her photo taken in front of the PVPV booth at the Riyadh book fair with her face only partially covered.
Those who go against these fundamentalists are quickly rejected. Sheikh Ahmed bin Baz who we would have heard a lot more from but has instead been marginalized due to his push away from extremism. Only under King Abdullah has he been able to get the word out that Islam has nothing to do with the oppression of women. Shiekh Salman al Ouda is another example of a sheikh who has also been marginalized for not sticking to the anti women Saudi path.
The introduction of this sixth pillar is based on the principle of prevention of sin. Ask a fundamentalist why can’t women drive? Or why so much emphasis on gender segregation? And their reply bubbles down to prevention of sin. In the name of preventing sin, a woman has only three places she belongs in, her parent’s house, her husband’s and her grave. Other than that she might be too much of a temptation for good Muslims to maintain their religion.