The decision that the Saudi sports authority has taken to allow women and families to enter football stadiums is one of the most important bold and commended steps the Saudi government has taken recently.
Before this decision there was another drastic changed that echoed loudly and there’s no exaggeration in that. I meant the ruling to allow women to drive.
As was expected, and this is not unusual, there are those who are resisting these changes on the pretext of religion, socio-cultural excuses or both. But the strength of rejection today is not as it was in yesterday’s Saudi Arabia ... We are really changing ... This is evidence to a healthy prospect because those who don’t change become doomed to annihilation and stagnation.
There is a common collective and individual psychological procedure. The norm lies in rejecting the new and generating doubts about it no matter how useful and beneficial the change may be. The new is resisted even if it has nothing to do with a forbidden acknowledged and testified religious law. Yet, religious jurisprudence is applied simply as a cover for the social psychological denial.
This behavior has been apparent in more than one country and in more than one religion or religious sect. The ancient Iraqi social researchers mentioned what they have called Shiite clerics’ resistance to opening formal educational schools.
When the printing press was founded as the most important invention to spread knowledge in the Middle Ages, the scientists of Asitane (Istanbul nowadays) Astana, capital of the Ottoman Empire, and the ‘Sheikhs of Islam in it’ stood against the printing press. So, in 1728 Ottoman scholars issued a fatwa forbidding the printing of all religious books and limiting permissibility – how generous of them – to print non-religious books only.
As for the resistance on formal female education, you can go on and on about this. This resistance is not only in Najd, but also in Hejaz. Yet, it’s not just in Najd and Hejaz, but also in the Gulf such as Kuwait and Sharjah. The again, it’s not only in the Arab world but in many Muslim countries, as per the thorough explanation of Saudi researcher Abdullah al-Washmi in his book “Fitnat Alkawl Bitaaleem Al Banat” (The Fitna in educating girls).
Speaking of this, I recall the Saudi scene of when some religious Sheikhs resisted modernization manifestations, even the simple ones. A time where it was forbidden for a man to wear a watch on his wrist. Others include:
- Holding theatrical plays
- Training soldiers on foreign systems
- Men were forbidden to clap because it resembled them to women
- Women were forbidden to have a side parting that allowed their hair to wrap around one side of their neck
These are not assumptions, but they’ve been stipulated in a book written by the late Sheikh Hamoud al-Touegri, who died in 1993.
Rejecting the new is usual behavior, however it is decreasing and disappearing with time and the disappearance of any concern over it, unless there are people who seek to create a fake case. But not to those who seek from rejecting the new to create a mobilization issue.
Welcome to the New World, Saudi women.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Saudi journalist Mashari Althaydi presents Al Arabiya News Channel’s “views on the news” daily show “Maraya.” He has previously held the position of a managing senior editor for Saudi Arabia & Gulf region at pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. Althaydi has published several papers on political Islam and social history of Saudi Arabia. He appears as a guest on several radio and television programs to discuss the ideologies of extremist groups and terrorists. He tweets under @MAlthaydy.