Category Archives: Gender Apartheid

posting from Rome

I am currently on a family vacation in Italy but I had to post what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent my husband. Apparently they have a new service where they send the male guardian a text every time a “dependent” leaves the country. They don’t state which country the dependent left for but simply state that they did leave. My husband tells me he got the same text when I left for Germany. I am an adult woman that has been earning my own income for over a decade now but according to the Saudi government, I am a dependent till the day I die because of my gender.
Otherwise, I am having loads of fun. yesterday I met one of my readers, Carmen. we had espresso near the Piazza Navona and then she showed me her beautiful shop, Via Dei Banchi Vecchi. It’s a Rome showroom for her family’s handmade ceramics factory in the south of Italy. and she was nice enough to present me with a beautiful handmade ceramic sculpture. thank you Carmen. It was fabulous meeting you!

Update

Check the next post for clarification on the wife-tracker.

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Filed under Eman, Gender Apartheid, Popular

The French burqa ban

Covering the face has been a highly emotional and politicized issue in the Muslim community for the past two decades. I have written about it before and called it the sixth pillar of Islam. It has become a false banner for Islamic piety. Islam is now reduced to a dress code. It does not matter if you lie, steal or slander your friends and neighbors, if you cover your face you are perceived by society as an untouchable religious God fearing person.

When I read that the ban has gone through the French parliament with an overwhelming majority, I was unexpectedly ecstatic about it. I don’t live in France and I don’t even to plan to visit anytime soon and yet it made me happy that women there don’t have a choice. Yes this is one area where I’m anti-choice. Covering the face is the very essence of objectifying women. With her face covered, a woman is reduced to an object that needs to be protected by a male guardian. For every woman who truly chooses of her own freewill to cover her face, there are hundreds if not thousands forced and pressured to by the religious establishment, family and society. Who would you sacrifice, that one woman who can manage to find God in something else or those hundreds, so that one can liberally  choose?

The number of  times I have heard Saudi women here, who are conditioned to believe that covering is an unquestionable issue, sigh as they watch uncovered women on TV and say لهم الدنبا ولنا الأخرة (they get the world and we get the afterlife). These are the women “choosing” to cover, brainwashed into living to die. I wish I had the power to take the choice away from them.

What are women covering from? They believe that the sight of their face will cause men to commit sin. Fitna they call it. And yet the places where most women cover their faces, like in Saudi’s central region, you can’t take a step outside your house without being harassed, it doesn’t matter if you’re 18 or 80. It’s much more dangerous to walk the streets of Riyadh as a woman than it is in New York. Hence what the face cover is protecting us from has proven to be the complete opposite upon implementation.

It doesn’t stop at face covering. The subtle difference between putting the abaya tent style over your head or leaving it like a cloak on your shoulders decides if you’re “asking for it”. In both cases the face is covered but in the first the shape of the shoulders isn’t defined and so it’s a more religious and respectable style. Covering the face escalates into such silly issues like the seductive powers of a woman’s toes.  Isn’t it about time that men take responsibility for their actions instead of using the centuries old argument “she seduced me into it by not dressing properly”?!

How many public Islamist women figures (do they even exist?) do you know advocate face covering? The majority out there calling for it are men; Muslim men who brazenly stand there in Western clothes and with clean shaven faces and say it’s their religious belief that women should cover. Walk down Oxford Street London in July and see how many abaya swathed women with their niqabs are accompanied by their shorts wearing clean shaven male guardians. I want to take these men and shake some sense into them. I want them to consider the humanity we all share regardless of the genitalia we’re born with or the amount of testosterone in our bodies. Can they stand having their faces covered? “No but women are used to it”, they always answer when I ask them. “It’s their cross to bear for being so womanly and feminine.”

Well-meaning liberals and Human rights activists are trying to stop the French ban. They say it’s Islamaphobic and driven by the right-wing in a thinly veiled racist campaign. To them I say the old Arabic proverb خذ الحكمة من أفوه المجانين (take wisdom from the mouths of fools). If the Islam they are afraid of measures my piety by how much I hide my identity, then I share their phobia.

If there’s one book that I wish I could put into the hands of every Muslim woman who says that God wants her to cover her face and hand over her affairs to a man it’s this one:

It’s written by a Jordanian, Abdulrahman Omar Al Khateeb. He accompanied his sister and her kids to Makkah and the muuttawa there yelled at her “cover your face you hurma“! He had been thinking about the issue before due to how the face cover had been used against Islam in Western media but that incident was what got him working. He went back to Jordan and meticulously researched every argument that the muttawa used and showed it for what it is; political and fundamentalist propaganda.

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Filed under Gender Apartheid, Popular, Regional and International

Heila Al Qusayer

The fight against terrorism in Saudi Arabia is taken very seriously and hundreds of terrorists have been caught. Last March 113 members of sleeper cells were arrested. The Saudi media at the time did not focus much on who these people were, until June 3rd when the head of Al Qaeda in Yemen, Saeed Al Shihri threatened to assassinate members of the royal family and government officials if Heila Al Qusayer is not freed. Heila is a 36 year old Saudi woman from a respectable and upper middle class family from the Qaseem region. In March she was apprehended by the Saudi secret services at the home of another terrorist. However the government has a policy of respecting the privacy of women terrorists so not much was known about her before the Qaeda demands. But when Al Shihri showed how desperate Al Qaeda is for her release, people became curious.

Heila grew up in Qasseem and obtained a BA degree in geography. During her time in college something drew her into extremism and she eventually ended up married to an influential extremist who also was much older than her. Her first husband, Abdulkareem Al Humaid, is a former ARAMCO employee. He quit his job and lived a life of  complete extremist Puritanism, no electricity, cars or any other modern invention. It’s rumoured that he didn’t even use paper money. Due to his preaching of Islamic fundamentalism he was arrested and imprisoned to this day. From prison, he divorced Heila and advised a former student of his, Mohammed Al Wakael to marry her. They married and during her pregnancy with her now 5 year old daughter, Al Wakael was shot down by the Saudi Special Forces. Since his death Heila’s activities intensified. She would go around proselytizing Al Qaeda’s version of Islam. She managed to collect substantial sums of money under the pretense of building mosques and helping orphans. She is documented to have transferred 650,000 dollars to Al Qaeda. She uses women to recruit men to the cause. The terrorist’s home that she was found in was actually a moderate Muslim who was changed by Heila after she became close to his wife. Sixty Qaeda members took orders from her and she arranged safe houses for hiding.

The use of women to recruit men has become a noticeable trend. Three factors are creating this phenomenon; the enormous percentage of unemployed women who are a product of our borderline extremist education system, their access to the internet and the fact that 83% of all Saudis are under the age of 39. Although they might not be out fighting and bombing, they are doing something just as sinister by spreading the ideology online and recruiting the men in their families. Before Heila, this was going on relatively undetected and even those that are caught are treated as victims rather than as perpetrators. A point made by Ms. Hessa Al Sheikh in her widely read article. She is unimpressed by how these terrorist women are portrayed in the media.  As an example she gives Sheikh Al Swailim’s interview regarding Heila. Sheikh Al Swailim is on the counseling committee. He meets with caught terrorists and tries to convince them that their ideology is wrong. When he was asked about Heila he referred to her as “sister Heila, a very simple woman who was stressed and revengeful after the killing of her second husband”. Sheikh Al Swailim went on to say that he found her quite “rational” in her argument and that the “poor woman” is “uneducated” and here Ms. Hessa Al Sheikh points out how could she be uneducated when she has a BA? Sheikh Al Swailim claims that Heila only after a 90 minute conversation became remorseful and Ms. Hessa Al Sheikh remarks that’s not counseling, that’s magic! And then she moves on to Prof. Al Saeedi, who was on the same show that sheikh Al Swailim was on, he is of the view that Heila is not important but only an “exploited” woman who the media is using to draw our attention away from Gaza and the flotilla. Another guest on that show, Sheikh Al Maliki, had the audacity to claim that some of these terrorists are actually agents from the West and that they are working under the umbrella of foreign countries and embassies to defeat our country.

Fortunately some good did come out of the capture of Heila Al Qusayer. She provided the government sensitive information about Al Qaeda and just by being, she shows us how big a threat women of her mindset are. Now the Ministry of Islamic Affairs is looking into regulating those that call themselves dayia (Islamic missionary), a title that Heila used to get access to social circles.

On a lighter note, one of the articles I read on Heila’s capture had a commenter asking how was she identified and that he hoped that they did not resort to uncovering her face. As if that was all that mattered, that a Muslim woman’s face remains covered!

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Filed under Gender Apartheid, Informative

Unemployment and those crazy numbers.

I’ve written about unemployment before here and here. The picture is just getting blearier. Saudi men are having trouble finding jobs with an unemployment rate of 10.5% and more than 449,000 open applications for government jobs in 2009. Compare that to 2008 in which the rate was 10% and the files 416,000 . As Abdulaziz Al Owashiq observed this is at a time when the economy is rising and yet the employment rate is going in the opposite direction. Another interesting observation of his is that the majority of those unemployed are those that should be the easiest to employ; 43% of the unemployed are between the ages of 20-24, 44% have at least a BA and 80% are single!

If that’s how bad it is for men can you imagine how tough it is for women? Now the numbers on women are so bad that the government won’t even acknowledge them.

Dr. Mona AlMunajjed in cooperation with Booz & Co did an extensive study on Saudi women unemployment rates and the reasons behind it. The report is in English and worth a read.  An Arabic summary of this was published in local newspapers. The article included the findings that 1000 women PhD holders are unemployed, and it was this that was put as a header and that seemingly offended the government the most. Two weeks later the Ministry of Labour’s spokesperson came out denying that there were any jobless PhD holders and demanding an apology which Booz & Co generously provided. Dr. Adel Al Salah conducted his own investigation and unsurprisingly found that Booz & Co and Dr. AlMunnajjed had nothing to apologize for and that their study was legitimate. But nothing gets the Saudis all prickly like the news that citizens might actually be unhappy, especially women. We’re all queens and sheltered jewels.

Watani is a news organization which for the most part disseminates information to cell phone subscribers within the Kingdom and has only recently started a website. This organization is ultra-conservative and sporadically sends interesting insider information that is rarely published in regular Saudi media. Recently they have sent some of their own crazy numbers. On Tuesday 1st of June they sent a cell phone text reporting that the Ministry of Civil Service received no less than 11 thousand applications with fake male names or just initials that turned out to be sent by Saudi women applying for jobs offered to men only.

When it comes to the reasons behind all these miserable numbers, multifaceted is an understatement. The private sector is not interested in Saudis and it’s hard to blame them. As a business owner, would you rather have imported cheap labor who will literally live for your business in a little room you provide and work day and night, or a Saudi who will demand at least double the pay and half the hours? And then of course the culture does little to help the situation. Hard work is not regarded highly by Saudi society. Young Saudis aspire and look up to heirs who wake up at noon with jobs that consist of spending a couple of hours in a luxurious wood-paneled office signing forms. There’s not much respect for police officers, firemen, nurses or even small business owners. Above all many Saudis suffer from entitlement syndrome; the countless number of times I’ve heard “I’m a Saudi from so and so tribe, I can’t just take any job.” And when it comes to Saudi women, it gets even funnier. Because many will only accept on two conditions, they can only work until noon and they have to be paid as though they have a full-time job. Moreover the environment has to be gender-segregated. So if you are private sector you have to rent two locations or two sets of offices, one for men and one for women, that is if you want to employ women. The only exception is hospitals, clinics and extremely rare and untouchable companies in the major cities.

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Filed under Culture, Gender Apartheid, Informative, unemployment

No way out

An 18 year old Saudi girl on May 24th shot herself with her 50ish husband’s rifle only a week after the nuptials. She left a note asking her family to forgive her and to pray for her. She also requested that her mother be the one to prepare her body for burial. According to the family, she had agreed to the marriage but had shown signs of depression the weeks leading up to the wedding and the first few days after marriage.

I thought about not writing about her but then I remembered what one social worker told AlRiyadh Newspaper that she knows of 3,000 child-bride marriages to much older men just in the past year. If an 18 year old would rather die, can you imagine how those 11 and 13 year olds feel?

I can pretty much guess the tactics that the family used to get acquiescence. I’ve seen it happen time and time again. One girl I know when she refused a suitor that her family liked, they ground her while her mother nagged her about it and her teen brother refused to eat or drink until she agreed to marry the suitor. This was a girl fresh out of high school.  Although the groom was in his twenties, the girl was obviously not ready. While they were dressing her for the wedding, she told everyone that she will be single within a week. Surely enough a week later she came home and locked herself in her room until her husband divorced her. Unfortunately she had gotten pregnant and their child was raised by parents that should never have been.

Depression and suicide are a sad reality no matter where you live and whatever your background. However they should not be caused by being deprived of choice. Pressuring young women to get married might be a lesser evil than child marriages but it is an evil nevertheless.

Sources:

Alriyadh newspaper

Okaz Newspaper

Qathaya Al Mujtima Newspaper

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Filed under Child marriages, Culture, Gender Apartheid

What’s front page news in Saudi Arabia?

It never fails to amaze me how in a country where women are only seen covered head to toe in black and get educated and work in mostly gender segregated institutes, and yet men are completely obsessed with them. The latest is a fatwa that originated in Egypt and was recently renewed by Shiekh Al Obiekan in a TV interview. He was asked if it was alright to breastfeed a grown man in order to be able to raise the segregation rule between a man and a woman and he replied with a yes! This was given major coverage in both AlWatan Newspaper and AlRiyadh Newspaper. But before I go into the details of the fatwa, some background information:

Breastfeeding is encouraged in Islam up to the age of two, after which the child has to be weaned. If a woman breastfeeds a child that is not her own, that child becomes her son by breastmilk and she and her daughters do not have to cover from him when he becomes an adult. However she has to breastfeed him before he turns two and it has to be five separate fulfilling sessions of breastfeeding. This is popular in Saudi Arabia especially among sisters because then they won’t have to worry about segregating their kids later. The cousins would be considered as “breastmilk siblings”.

It all began in May 2007 when an Egyptian Sheikh called Mohammed Atiya came out with a fatwa advising women to breastfeed their male coworkers if their job entails spending time alone together. Shiekh Atiya was quickly fired from his post at the Azhar University and the whole thing was swept under the rug. Until this week when Shiekh Al Obiekan, a royal judicial consultant at the Saudi Ministry of Justice renewed it all by replying to a question on a TV interview. He stated that in cases where a household needs an unrelated man like a driver to repeatedly visit the house, it is allowed for the woman of the household to breastfeed the stranger so he becomes a relative! The shiekh’s only condition is that the man does not drink directly from the woman’s breast but that the milk be pumped and then offered to the man in a glass. But this condition was revoked by another sheikh, Abi Ishaq Al Huwaini, who insists that the breastmilk must be sucked by the man directly from the breast!

The whole issue just shows how clueless men are. All this back and forth between sheikhs and not one bothers to ask a woman if it is logical, let alone possible to breastfeed a grown man five fulfilling breastmilk meals. As I’m writing this, I’m  cringing at just the thought of it. I’m a huge advocate of breastfeeding and I’ve exclusively breastfed my three kids for at least six months each. Plus I’ve also done the “breastmilk sibling” thing for two nephews and a niece. Breastfeeding a baby is hard work and it takes a toll to be able to produce enough for a one year old, I can’t even imagine how much a thirty year old would need. Women do not produce breastmilk on demand, you have to have had a baby recently and breastfeed that baby daily or otherwise the milk will dry up within a few days. Also breastmilk is not that appetizing, it has the look and taste of skim milk, so not that many men would be able to stomach five meals of it. Moreover the thought of a huge hairy face at a woman’s breast does not evoke motherly or even brotherly feelings. It could go from the grotesque to the erotic but definitely not maternal!

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Filed under Fatwas, Gender Apartheid, Popular

Much ado about women

Sheikh Al Najaimi who announced his support for the Al Barak fatwa that anyone who calls for gender desegregation should be killed was caught last month attending a women’s day conference in Kuwait. The conference’s attendees were mostly women and there was no segregation at all. He sat for hours with women and even had a meal with them. When he got back to Saudi Arabia, he told everyone that the majority of women were menopausal and as such it is Islamically allowed for him to socialize with them. Of course, this is not true. In the Quran, the verse is very clear that it is the woman’s decision whether or not to announce that she is post-menopausal and just being menopausal is not enough, she has to have no interest in men too. However, Al Najaimi took it upon himself to make this milestone decision on behalf of all the women attending the conference. Moreover he proclaimed that those who weren’t post menopause confessed to him that they were committing a sin by not covering!

A woman who shiekh Al Najaimi insisted is post menapausal even when she denied it. He said to her face "you are post menopausal whether you admit it or not!".

And then the Deputy Minister of Girl’s Education Ms. Nora Al Faiz, made it a point to appear in photos taken at official meetings in full face cover to even more discredit the photo of her face that was highly publicized when she was first appointed. I’ve met a few teachers since then and they keep telling me that they or other colleagues are uncomfortable with such a liberal woman!

At the same time, King Abdullah had a photograph of him and Princess Mozah, the ruler of Qatar’s wife, on the first page of most major newspapers in Saudi. And then another photo of the king and Prince Sultan with a group of Saudi women, many with their faces uncovered surfaced everywhere. And this one had the names of those women published alongside it as if to show that tribal Saudi women from old families have no issue with having their pictures in newspapers.

It is rumored here and here that recently a Saudi woman declared on a forum that she will stand in the middle of a major highway in Riyadh and burn her face cover and hijab, she was apprehended within a few hours of posting. She goes by the name of Wedad Khalid and lives in a posh area of Riyadh. On her post (I haven’t seen it personally) it is reported that she was going to do it on June 12th 2010 and she invited people to video tape it. She also stated that a couple of years in prison are worth standing up to the hypocrisy of Saudi society. It was reported that within a couple of hours she was reported, tracked down and arrested.

It’s a crazy time to be a Saudi woman. You’re pulled in every direction and a simple and personal decision like covering or uncovering your face decides your spirituality and political stance  and affects everything from family to career.

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Filed under Culture, Fatwas, Gender Apartheid

The man of the hour

Great controversy is brewing in Saudi Arabia and it all starts and ends with Sheikh Ahmed Al Ghamdi. Al Ghamdi is a 47 year old PhD holder in administration and strategical planning and also has spent 15 years studying Islam.

The whole issue began when Okaz Newspaper published a lengthy article last December written by Sheikh al Ghamdi in which he proclaimed that there is no such thing as gender segregation in Islam. He stated that what we are at today is based on extremism and cultural considerations. Moreover he points out that the very thing that we have been prohibiting is practiced in most Saudi households with the presence of maids. Anyhow this is not the first time that a Saudi sheikh has written about the illogicality of gender segregation. Sheikh Ahmed Bin Baz wrote about it and so did the judge Eissa al Ghaith. Although both got an earful, their articles were eventually forgotten. The difference with Sheikh al Ghamdi is that he is head of the Makkah PVPV commission. And as everybody knows, maintaining gender segregation is one of the highest callings of the PVPV. So for Sheikh al Ghamdi to come out and say that this form of segregation is Islamically baseless, it becomes an issue of conflict of interests. And then he tops his gender segregation article with another article on not banning shops from business during prayer time. Going around shopping areas to insure that they close during prayer is another main component of a PVPV member’s job description. As one journalist points out, Shiekh al Ghamdi may be free to write what he thinks but as an employee of the PVPV, he shouldn’t be publishing things that go against their policies and practices.

For the PVPV and the whole ultra conservative majority, to have one of their own, someone who they had given a high position in their hierarchy go against their beliefs is a slap in the face. Attacks on Shiekh al Ghamdi’s character, credentials and articles were on every one of their TV channels and papers. Some claimed that he was paid to write what he wrote. And then a group of influential muttawas got together and decided to invite Sheikh al Ghamdi to a televised debate. He came onto to the show and it struck me as more of a trap. Insults were thrown at him right and left. The opposing debaters instead of discussing al Ghamdi’s points kept calling him a mere accountant who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Another claimed that al Ghamdi was blasphemous towards the Prophet (PBUH). The call-ins were a confirmation of my belief that the whole show was a set up. Again a bunch of sheikhs called in and insulted al Ghamdi and then HRH prince Khalid bin Talal called demanding that al Ghamdi be fired from his PVPV post and called him an embarrassment to Saudi Arabia. This lead to a flurry of news organizations reporting that a PVPV sheikh was fired for not believing in gender segregation. The next day it was learned that Al Ghamdi was still at his PVPV post.

The following week sheikh al Ghamdi was again invited to the show to debate the issue. The second show was an improvement on the first. The debaters were given three uninterrupted minutes to state their case and everyone tried to avoid personal insults. The call-ins too were more balanced with some calling in in support of al Ghamdi. On both shows I was impressed by how confident and articulate al Ghamdi was. In comparison, the other two shiekhs seemed baffled and unprepared.

However the outcries against him haven’t subsided and his job at the PVPV is still up in the air. The afternoon of April 25th, a statement was released to the newspapers that a routine shuffle has resulted in the demotion of sheikh al Ghamdi, and then a couple of hours later all newspapers were requested not to publish the statement. And up to the writing of this post no news of whether or not Sheikh al Ghamdi will be allowed to keep his job has come out.

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Filed under Culture, Fatwas, Gender Apartheid, Women driving

Why do we stay the way we are?

How we have come to be the society we are today is one thing and why change is slow in coming is another. Outsiders looking in think to themselves why do Saudi women put up with all this oppression. The guardianship system, the ban on driving and all our other societal peculiarities draw looks of pity, shock and for some a fixation. Why don’t we all just go out into the streets without abayas? Why don’t we just get behind a wheel and drive? Why don’t we run away? The short answer is we don’t want to. But that isn’t helpful. To bring it closer to non-Muslims and especially Christians, I would ask them to look into their own backyard at the polygamous offshoots of the Latter Day Saints, whether it’s a compound or a small town on the borders of Utah. Why don’t the women there run away, stand up for their rights or at the very least speak up? The vast majority of them believe in their lifestyle even though the country’s legal system does not support it and would back a woman who wants to get away. It isn’t much of a stretch from those dresses and bonnets to abayas, especially when considering that Saudi women don’t do much manual work and only wear the abaya in the presence of unrelated men.  I personally think that being a “sister wife” in a plural marriage is a lot worse than how polygamy is practiced in Saudi because here wives are separate and no pretensions of love or saintliness are expected.

Mormon women in the USA do not stand up to their oppressors because they belong. They are part of a community that loves and cherishes them. If they were to leave they would have to face the harsh responsibilities and realities of life alone and detached. It is not cowardice. It’s about finding your place in the world and contributing by fixing it from within.

So before you judge us, relate to us. This is what we are born into and we would feel lost without our community’s approval and backing. And just like every individual in this world, Saudi women are just trying to find their way.

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Filed under Culture, Gender Apartheid, Informative

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.

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Filed under Culture, Fatwas, Gender Apartheid