The Saudi sixth Pillar of Islam

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.


Filed under Culture, Fatwas, Gender Apartheid

36 responses to “The Saudi sixth Pillar of Islam

  1. Salam SaudiWoman
    We Muslims have different views regarding some Islamic issues ( not the basics of course) and these views must be tolerated, and as long as they are not imposed on us, then it is fine..
    I don’t think sheikhs have a say in what laws should be implemented in the country because if they did, bond markets ( which is riba) wouldn’t be allowed here, and they would not allow the Saudi government to be an ally with the ones killing Muslims in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan. Actually , some sheikhs have been imprisoned for simply stating their views that go against the government’s It’s easy to point the finger at sheikhs since they cannot do anything to anyone. Their oppressive fatwa as you stated are their views based on their understanding of hadiths and Quranic verses. And they shouldn’t be imposed on anyone here but who really sets the laws here?
    As for oppression of women in Arabia, oppression of women is everywhere. In Arabia women must cover their faces at certain places whether they believe in covering the face or not, and in France and Turkey, Muslim women cannot wear their hijaab. All these are acts of oppression. But it’s for women to speak out and fight against acts of abuse and oppression.

    • Laura Maniscalco

      I am italian : it ‘s true that in some parts of the world women are oppressed, but what I read in this and other blogs is incredible.

  2. nadiaelawady

    Very good post. This reminds me of the time when my father – who was working in Saudi Arabia – did an open-heart operation in a Saudi hospital and my sister and I traveled from Egypt to be with him. The hospital had separate waiting rooms for women. This might be convenient for some women who would like to kick of their shoes and take off their niqab while waiting for their loved ones to finish whatever it is they are doing. But the problem for me was that they were completely shut off from the rest of the world and there was no way for me to see the doctors and nurses come and go and thus learn the status of my father. This was very frustrating, especially that it really is inappropriate in Saudi Arabia for women to be in the same room as men. Since this was my father, I could care less about the rules and placed myself in the men’s waiting room to be able to see the doctor when he came out of surgery. Truth be told, the men in the waiting room were very kind to me and I was not reprimanded. One of the men with a very long beard even made a point to come and check on my father several times in the hospital when he learned my sister and I had no one else with us to help us out (meaning no men). He told us if there was anything he or his family could do, even send us their driver, he’d be more than happy. This was a complete stranger. But a very nice one.

    I’m not sure why I’m rambling like this or what my point is. Perhaps it is that the rules in Saudi Arabia can be very harsh. Even so, there re many Saudis, like you and the kind man in the hospital, who have open minds. I think Saudi Arabia is witnessing change. And I’m hoping it’s for the better.

    Unfortunately, this issue of segregating men and women is not only happening in Saudi Arabia. I wrote two posts on this myself; both in a less serious, more sarcastic tone than yours. So I hope you don’t mind.

    Muslim Women Man-Eaters:


    Wanted: Gorgeous Lebanese Man for Scientific Research and the Head of a Certain Saudi Scholar

    Again, great post!

  3. christine hey

    it is up to women to help themselves fight oppression, in any country, however in some countries the situation is such that to attempt to fight such oppression puts them in iminent danger from the so called `superior` sex, while there are still many issues to be overcome in the west at least women can have their say without such a great fear of reprisal…its about time some counties joined the 21st century,but sadly the menfolk of such countries are so ignorant and insecure this will never happen, instead thet will continue their relentless descent back to the middle ages!!

  4. Salam my friend, Saudi Woman….
    I really did’nt know about the sixth pillar of Islam in Saudi until I read your post. Oppresion of women? A women prohibited to drive a car, only may go in certain place? It’s shocked me.
    If the reason is preventing a sin, I think it’s illogical. There are many ways to prevent a sin without reduce woman activity, for instance, accompanied by muhrim to go anywhere.
    In my country, Indonesia, a woman can go everywhere, can do everything. They may drive a car or motorcycle. They may work everything. And you know, they most are muslim. And they commit their activities with islamic clothes like order of Quran.
    But, notwithstanding, situation in Saudi is different from Indonesia. It’s about culture. And it’s depend on the women too. If they all against it, maybe will be a change.

    • kamal

      You are on footsteps of saudi ….Fanatics starts with small things like dress code, rozas and then slowly they tights the knot. people are slowly brainwashed in name of ISLAM. In starting it looks spritual and so called cultured but later when it shows its ugly face no body can stop it.
      Iran, Afghanistaan were very modern 30-40 years ago, now see where they stand.

  5. me

    Well, aren’t men listening to their mom?
    So moms, show your power

  6. Very well put! It is especially important, imho, to emphasize for those unfamiliar with Saudi history, that the “highly conservative turn” took place in the late 70’s and early 80’s and in conjunction with other Middle East and world events. Your decade by decade characterization is very helpful to trace the evolution within but not yet out of this turn is very helpful.

  7. Njabo

    I really appreciate your blog Eman. Your posts and the comments from other readers, give me, a German, the great chance to get a small but authentic glimpse at your world. Thank you so much for that.
    Im my country the biggest women´s movement for equal rights and equal treatment started in the 1960-70ies, but unfortunately we still not reached at least the latter goal. In response to the comments on your post, I must say that sexual equality can only be reached together with the men. Otherwise – as in some parts is true for Germany – men feel very soon be left behind trying to identify which role they have/want to play in a world of equality and women feel overchallenged by pleasing everybody (job, partner, children). In older posts, you wrote from women accepting or even supporting women oppression. On the other hand, there will be many men, wanting the same rights and chances they have also for women.
    With other worlds, erasing women oppression can only be reached through the emancipation and support of both sexes.

    • Njabo,
      thank you for your kind words. I would love if you could suggest German bloggers who write in English.

      • Thomas

        I am also German and fully agree to what has been said by Njabo. Very important is that men realise that women oppression is their own oppression. The struggle last more than 200 years in Europe, so keep on going, there is a long way ahead.

      • Njabo

        Dear Eman,

        I could not find blogs from Germans written in English right away. But I found a website with links to expats from all over the world about their live in Germany:

        But I will glady provide any information about Germany myself. Just let me know, what you would like to know.

  8. Steph

    I am a recent female convert to Islam and if I had only listened to the cultural attitudes and biases before accepting the faith I would have run a mile or died rather than convert. Islam has been polluted and twisted by insecure, pathologically paranoid and jealous people for centuries. There is nothing is Islam that demands complete segregation, in fact Hijab is designed to facilitate interaction without promoting zina! Hopefully, people will wake up and remember that we are all humans with feelings regardless of gender, color or nationality and complete apartheid is damaging and promotes misunderstanding, mental health disorders and mistrust.

  9. Eman,

    Not knowing what interesting and pertinent topic you are going to write about next is one of the many reasons I frequent your blog!


  10. Salaams Dear:

    Very sad …

    The opposite are the Turks who prohibit the Muslim women from wearing hijab in public schools and facilities.

    I, too, would be interested in German bloggers who write in English, especially Turkish Muslims living in Germany. I shall stay tuned here, Insha Allah, to see who surfaces.

    JAK for a nice post 🙂

  11. Njabo

    I am suprised but also pleased that you are interested in life and living in Germany. Unfortunately, I could only find english written blogs from expats living in Germany:

    But I am happy to answer any question you might have.

  12. nodders

    Visiting Mexico I was told that there were carriages in the underground for women only. This was for women’s own protection, because Mexican men were known to harass women on busy underground carriages by touching them inappropriately.

    I can see the logic, but not the conclusion. It is Mexican men’s attitude to women (lots of machismo in Mexico) that causes the issue, not the presence of women. Segregation for women’s own protection is a contradiction in terms. What needs to change is men’s attitude towards women (they could learn some respect, for instance) rather than segregating the sexes.

    Please don’t take away our freedom as an excuse to our safety. If women are unsafe in the presence of men, it is men who should be put away!!!

  13. ADNISA

    There are multiple views on hijab and women have been practicing the different views for a long time in Saudi Arabia. Some cover their face, some cover their hair, while some leave the heads open. My mother covers her hair and she was never forced to cover the face by anyone. There is nothing wrong in saying that women should work in women only offices. When scholars say women men and women should not work together, they do not mean men should work and women should stay home and have kids. They mean there should be separete environements for each of the sexes to work independently.

    Prophet said ask your wife, sister, daughter or mother to communicate through a barrier when they communicate with a strange man. Exemtions can be made in certain cases like when you need to see a doctor or when there is no choice but to see a male. It is surprising when someone says empowerment or success of a women is only possible through intermixing.

  14. lark

    This puts Saudi Arabian business at a big disadvantage, to have to provide duplicate facilities and absorb the costs associated with separation of the sexes.

  15. Bdwi

    Good day Eman

    You just punch the bees nest

    Allah with you, whabies will tear you on the web

    Good luck

    Bdwy Aramco

  16. alone

    As it seems to be mostly men who want to prevent sin, maybe the men should all be locked up and only allowed to go out when they can be trusted. Why it always the women who need to be covered up?
    Also, if we want to be following examples, I believe the Prophet (pbuh) died penniless and gave all his worldly goods away. Why don’t the men who are so clued up on women’s responsibilties follow those examples?

  17. Pingback: Velati paradossi « Tutto in 30 secondi

  18. It is interesting reading your blog because it brings forth the problems associated with gender issues in the Kingdom. I am very glad to find out that there are women waking up to demand for their rights there.

    As a Muslim living in a traditionally Muslim part of Nigeria, I have always contemplated at how women are segregated against in the name of Islam from achieving full participation in the development of the society. Of course our Muslim sisters here are free to drive, vote and be voted for, and to pursue any career they desire. However, on personal matters these sisters suffer from the same restrictions as their counterparts throughout the Muslim world. In some areas, these restrictions are useful but in some, like in the choice of marriage and pursuit of higher education, they are inhibitory to progress.

    I have published a number of articles regarding women rights in Islam as they relate to Northern Nigeria and especially after the attempt to introduce sharia (including hizbah, our own version of PVPV). I am uploading these articles, which were warmly received in Nigeria, on my blog for reference by interested readers. Islam has freed women but some jurists have enslaved them.

    We look forward to a day they will be liberated not in the Western sense but in the Islamic from rules that emanates more from male chauvinism than from Islam.

    • I am not sure why, but when I click on Dr Tilde’s linked name it takes me to my own blogger dashboard, rather than Discourse with Dr. Tilde.

      Please let me know if it is my Blog jinn, or another’s.

      • PS that is what happens if I am signed in to Blogger. If not, it goes to the general Blogger sign in. Needless to say it should be going to Dr Tilde’s blog. Perhaps the website information was incorrectly entered on his comment.

      • Usman

        You are right. I faced the same problem. There is something wrong with the link.

  19. Umm Abdur Razaaq

    Dr Tilde can you e-mail me a link to some of your articles? I live in the West Indies, caribbean and I think I enjoy much more freedome that my sisters who live in Muslim countries. The greatest fitnah that I have to deal with is living amongst the kuffar. I have been to Saudi Arabia And sadly I realise that unless you live In Makkah or Madinah the interaction with the kuffar is great there also.I sometimes wonder why some of the ulema make such a fuss about making hijra to Muslim countries….

  20. Hello readers of this blog, especially Chara and Umm Abdurrazaq. My blog address is http// I have just uploaded articles on the rights of Muslim women, and the one time hijab controversy in Kano. I am currently in Berlin and using the opportunity of fast connectivity to upload possibly all the articles that I wrote in the past ten years about issues in the Nigerian society, numbering to about 294 full newspaper page.

    The rights of our women is a series of six articles, as the issue of Almajiri (al-Muhajiri), the life and problems of millions of children who have dedicated their childhood to memorization of the Quran in our madrasas and writing it offhead in every bit without any mistake, something common in the Muslim World before but now peculiar to Nigeria. Many of us passed through such schools. The life of these boys is now under threat given the complications associated with modernity and urbanization as well as the globalization of Child’s Rights under the UN. Some Nigerians have been calling for abolishing the system but I came out to vehemently defend its continuity with some moderations to meet the needs of the present world and mitigate the suffering of these children, which is mainly food and shelter, in their pursuit of excellence in preserving the Quran.

    Our Muslim women here enjoy quite a great freedom and some of them are well educated. I continue to wonder what the Saudi authorities are worried about as our sisters have been saying. In 2004 when my first daughter, Zainab, was going to the University, I gave her a car, having taught her how to drive earlier at the age of 16. She used to drive herself to the University in far away Maiduguri, 500km away. She never had an accident. She never picked any boy on campus but led a dignified life. I taught Zainab many things including managerial skills, computers, marketing, and more importantly how to live an independent life with an independent mind. She married Saad during her final semester in November 2008. Today she is a mother of to a girl, Zakiyya, and I am damn sure that Zakiyya will lead a more progressive life than her mother.
    Yet, Zainab has not started working, two years after her graduation because, justifiably, her husband is posted to Kano from Abuja immediately after the marriage and it is not wise for her to leave him alone so early in their marriage life and pick up a job in Abuja. She is waiting to find one in Kano or pick one in Abuja whenever the husband is transferred there. Meanwhile her driving skill is an asset. The husband does not need a driver nor does he need to go shopping for foodstuff or bother about taking zakiyya to clinic and so on.
    Once more my blog is


    • Thank you. I will read it with pleasure.

      When you sign in to comment here, in the 3rd blank you must be putting instead of your blog site address. If you put in we will be able to click your name and go directly to your blog, instead of to the Blogger site, which gives us our own blogs if we are already signed in for the day.

      As an example, if you click my name you will go directly to my blog, Chez Chiara, at which is what is typed into the 3rd blank when I signed in to comment here.

      Because it is your blog when you click your name here it takes you to your own blog even though you typed in

      I hope you will make it easier for us to visit your blog, and that you will click my name and visit mine! There are nice photos of Nigeria on some of the celebration posts! 🙂

  21. Pingback: The French burqa ban « Saudiwoman’s Weblog

  22. Pingback: Saudi disillusionment with the religious establishment « Mohammed Abbasi

  23. Pingback: Shiekh Al Ahmed issues a fatwa « Saudiwoman’s Weblog

  24. JeanClaude Nassief

    Most of what is said here is twisted. The problem with people born into Islam is that they have inherited the faith and have no other standpoint to judge Islam with except by looking to see how non-Muslims view them and become defensive and apologetic. Go back to Islam and Sunnah and you will see how off the mark you are.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s