On women leading the way for social change

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

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The celebration of women in Saudi Arabia in the streets and squares was not because they could finally drive a vehicle, but because the status of women in society had been reestablished and they achieved a victory for their rights and choices. I am aware that the percentage of women driving a car will be low during the next few years but the important thing is granting her the right and putting her on an equal footing to men in terms of rights and duties.

The decision is important for everyone in Saudi Arabia because it echoes the courage of the leader and the politician and his strong decision-making. This reminds us of historical incidents where if it hadn’t been for the political courage of the leader, society would have paid a huge price. An example of this is King Faisal’s decision to allow women to go to school in 1955.

Precaution and asceticism is not a Fiqh order but a personal choice that the jurist can adopt in his behavior but he has no right to impose this psychological restraint to be part of the tools of jurisprudential deductive reasoning

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

A wave of opposition to the project rose, and many of those who opposed this decision came to Riyadh to see the King. King Faisal sent a firm message to the crowd through his assistants: “Leave Riyadh before sundown.” They all did, obeying the ruler.

A change in Saudi society

Throughout history, the intellectual wasn’t able to bring about change just like the preacher couldn’t resist change. If it weren’t for the political patronage and official encouragement, major reforms and projects wouldn’t have taken place and succeeded. The strong authority and the brave ruler can persuade people and convince them of the interests they’re not aware of.

OPINION: Saudi women will now drive and lead in larger arenas

Despite its many experiences, the Saudi society is still young, but it is open to change and development since it has not been subject to a modeled intellectual style as was the case in postcolonial societies or those that lived under totalitarian, Baathist and communist ideologies. It is a society that longs for civilization, and it has had a historically positive contact with the West since the first journey, which landed in the country drilling for oil led by Khamis Bin Rimthan.

The decision to grant women the choice to drive displays the catastrophic flaw in the formal and popular jurisprudential structure. The list of the forbidden had expanded, and what’s detestable overwhelmed all modern achievements. Fiqh’s task thus becomes tantamount to turning its back on reality and its transformations although it should be a tool to address Fiqh-related matters that are not clear and should not be a mere tool to ban everything that’s new and unfamiliar.

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It happened with the clock, the telegraph, the radio, the television, the camera, the car and the coffee. Some of these prohibitions were not limited to the Arabian Peninsula but extended to North Africa. El Hajoui Thaalbi al-Fassi referred to the coffee fatwa in his book ‘The Semitic Thinking In The history of Islamic Fiqh.’

Eliminating extremists

Furthermore, precaution and asceticism is not a Fiqh order but a personal choice that the jurist can adopt in his behavior but he has no right to impose this psychological restraint to be part of the tools of jurisprudential deductive reasoning. If we look into the fatwa books, most of the forbidden come from the misconceptions of the jurist on what’s known as Fiqh al-Nawazil (Fiqh of Contemporary Issues). As such, the ruler has room in this Fiqh overlap just like in the details of “the opinion of the ruler concludes the controversy.”

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There are several historical incidents which one can be familiar with if they read about the development of the third Saudi state, such as when King Abdulaziz decided to eliminate the extremists in the Battle of Sabilla on March 30th, 1929, or when King Faisal decided to open the way for women to go to school like men in the mid-fifties, and when King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman decided to strengthen equality between men and women by granting them the possibility to drive if they want to.

This third path deserves to be promoted to make women’s presence in the public sphere more powerful and give them the confidence needed to contribute to the renaissance of their country, just like they contributed to society and the state institutions by passing their experience and efforts since the beginning of time. It is women’s right to be a pioneer in this field without any disputes since they are eligible citizens. This reminds me of how Shafi’i scholar Ibn Daqiq al-eid mocked his opponents when they ignorantly contested his opinion and said:

“They say this is not permitted in our customs,
Who are you to even have customs?”

This article is also available in Arabic.


Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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