Oh my, the Saudi government is going to allow women to stay alone in a hotel room. What next, letting her drive?

The problem is not women and Islam (Muslim women outside of Saudi arabia drive all the time). The problem is not even that of women in Arab culture (most Arab states allow women to drive).

The real problem is that, in order to stay in power, the Saudi government is allowing the most rigid fundamentalist version of Islam to be imposed on all their people, including tribes who follow less rigid forms of Islam, tribes who follow the Shia version of Islam, and the 25% of their population who are foreigners, whose countries practice less rigid forms of Islam, or are Christian.

The irony is that the ones who are hurt the most by this law is not the highly educated feminists, who probably have a full time Filipino driver, but the middle class Saudi man, who cannot afford a lot of servants.

He may have to leave the office or miss a day’s work to take his wife or child to the doctor or perform other errands. He might prefer to have his wife drive the kids to school or to go to the bank for him, but the law doesn’t allow this, so he ends up doing a lot of this.

Another problem, of course, is that if women in the head to toe Saudi female garment that leave only a small hole for vision: their vision will be severely restricted, leading to more car accidents.

I’m old enough to remember when Nuns decided driving didn’t break their vows of poverty and the DMV instructed them to pin back their veils after several accidents. Similarly safety will insist on a simple veil for drivers. not one with a tiny slit for vision.
But of course the real threat is symbolic: Let women drive, and they will be independent of their men. And the movies of immoral Western women doesn’t help.
Radical western feminism may not fit the Islamic cultures of the middle East (heck, it doesn’t even “fit” the average working class lady in the US).

Yet a feminism of female independence that sees educated women as the one best to care for her family, and as a helpmate of her husband is compatible with Islam.

Most of the laws insisting on the full veiling women come from pre Islamic customs, and were mainly applied to upper class women, not those of villages or shepherds who were workmates of their husbands and families.

In contrast, the use of a simple veil on the head, to protect the hair from dirt, insects, heat, and cold, is not an imposition but still can be a symbol of religious committment, as it is in some Christian sects.
Yet thanks to millions of dollars from Saudi charities, these more radical forms of Islam are being spread all over Asia, setting back the clock for human rights, and going against the spirit of the prophet, whose laws actually improved the rights of women in countries that chose to follow Islam.

True Islam is not the backward Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, who bomb schools, shut down hair salons, and stop women from running businesses. Nor is it Saudi women who have to veil themselves and kept from mixing with men except for close relatives.

There are enough examples of strong educated women who remain devout Muslims to make a lie of those who insist Islam is not compatible with human dignity for women.
Ironically, Mohammed himself would be in trouble under the Taliban and under some of the Saudi laws.

After all, Mohammed’s first wife was a wealthy business woman, and later he took his wives with his army as nurses, and one even saved his life during a battle. It wasn’t until he settled down that his wives, like other upper class wives, wore full veils.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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