On men’s guardianship of women

Mohammed Al Shaikh

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In his recent interview to Bloomberg News, Prince Mohammed bin Salman said: “The rules of guardianship were held in 1979, and we’re talking to most of the Council of Senior Scholars to see what’s Islamic and what’s non-Islamic in that area and I believe there’s opportunity in that area.”

This great pioneer and reformer is a man of action. I have no doubt that women will be freed of some illegitimate restrictions in the coming months. He said: “To see what’s Islamic and what’s non Islamic in that area,” which means that there are some social restrictions in these matters that have nothing to do with Islam and with what is allowed and what is forbidden in Islam. Hence, he is implying that some inherited customs and traditions which are not of divine origin have crept into these laws and should be removed.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) honored women and called for honoring them. He even consulted them while taking decisions and took their opinions, as when he consulted his wife Umm Salama while forging the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah

Mohammed Al Shaikh

Some people might believe that many of these matters are related to religion while in fact they have become pictured as sacred over time without any evidence in the Qur’an or Sunnah. At best, some of these provisions are controversial even among jurists, and do not have unanimous consent. Thus, some extreme fatwas have been issued to put their verdicts on par with unanimous consent, although it is the complete opposite.

There is no need to say that general consent of man’s guardianship of woman relates only to matters of marriage. Everything else is a subject of controversy among jurists. This is what Sheikh Abdullah al-Manea – and many others – said in a statement to Okaz newspaper. Sheikh al-Manea is one of the most senior members of the Senior Scholars Council.

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He is known for his tolerance and for not setting restrictions in social matters, especially in matters to which there is no text as a reference. He is also one of the jurists who does not issue prohibitions on matters which sources are customs, conventions and traditions and not religion.

Honoring women

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) honored women and called for honoring them. He even consulted them while taking decisions and took their opinions, as when he consulted his wife Umm Salama while forging the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah.

Many things have changed today, and women are now part of various administrative, economic and political affairs. Thus, it became a necessity to change such important matters according to changes in society.

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For example, there are some women whose families depend on their incomes, and which did not happen in the past. Consecutively out of fairness and justice, she should have the rights which suit these new circumstances. One of the important rules of jurisprudence on which the Shariah is based is that the provisions revolve around their causes — their existence or absence. If the cause has changed then it becomes necessary to change the provisions accordingly. This is what we hope our jurists would take into consideration when revising these rules and regulations, which Prince Mohammed promised would be reviewed by the Council of Senior Scholars.

We should highlight the point that women, especially when it comes to their rights, have been the primary victims of extremism that characterized the last three or four decades of the Sahwa’s influence. The period started in 1979, as His Highness has stated.

Therefore, one of the top priorities today is to reconsider these laws. What is Islamic and has complete consensus should be respected, while all that is based on inherited customs and traditions or matters of debate among the jurists should be looked into while taking into consideration the society’s highest interests as these are what determine accepting them or rejecting them.

This article is also available in Arabic.


Mohammed Al Shaikh is a Saudi writer with al-Jazirah newspaper. He tweets @alshaikhmhmd.

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