Let Saudi women be their own guardians
Saudi society has recently witnessed a move towards enlightenment. It may not mean much to the outside world but for us Saudis it is a significant bold leap.
This positive direction was manifested in two recent incidents.
The first was the announcement by a member of the kingdom’s Council of Senior Religious Scholars, Sheikh Abdullah al- Manie.
“A woman is her own guardian in everything in her life. Women have the same rights as men, with the exception of marriage without a guardian’s consent — and even that is disputed,” he said.
Manie, who is close to the decision-making powers in the religious establishment, stressed the right of women to make their own financial transactions without the interference of male guardians.
Women are as competent as men in everything, so there should be no need for women to have male guardians.
The second positive move was the announcement of a professor at the Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University and Islamic scholar, Mohamed Ahmed Saleh. He stressed that according to Islamic law, women have the right to drive.
It is unreasonable to ban women from driving, argued Saleh, as they would be forced to either ride with male drivers or not go out.
With regards to sports, Saleh noted that Islam did not prevent women from exercising as long as they do not wear indecent clothes.
Women during the days of Prophet Mohammad used to ride horses or camels — on their own, without male guardians — so why ban women from driving or playing sports today? Such things are part of women’s basic rights and should not be a gift from anyone.
Saleh went further, saying that women have the right to issue fatwas — religious edicts — although some who agree have tried to restrict it to only religious matters related to women.
Islamic history is full of examples where women were giving fatwas, starting from Prophet Mohammad’s wife, Aisha.
There are a number of Arab countries that have had women in judicial roles and they have proven successful.
The religious views of Islamic scholars such as Manie and Saleh refute the fatwas of conservative hardliners who seek to confine the freedom of women.
The rhetoric of the hardliners is no longer in tune with our age. In fact, early on, Islam had given a woman the right to be her own guardian. Unlike today, she did not need permission from anyone to travel.
The recent enlightened announcements by Manie and Saleh, however, need to be adopted and reflected legally.
The vague laws that restrict the rights of women must be changed into something that clearly states equality between women and men in both rights and responsibilities.
We must get out of the dark tunnels of the pre-Islamic era of ignorance and into the light so that normal family life may resume. Sunlight is more powerful than cemented ignorance.