1. "I'm going to buy my dream car, a convertible Mustang, and it's going to be black and yellow!"- Sahar Nassif
Saudi Arabia is known as a country full of wealth with many famous tourist attractions, such as the Burj Khalifa,1 where guest workers can find work and where the kingdom through its rulers leaves a highly regarded presentative impression. But the image of the oppressed woman who strives for equality and who longs for justice for women can also be recognized. Saudi Arabia is a country where the value of women and their equal rights is still far underdeveloped.2 But this image may change.
Until a few months ago, many Saudi families had to hire employees for driving their daughters. Men were the only ones who were able to earn a driving license and women who took the risk to drive in public in Saudi Arabia were imprisoned or arrested. This law will vary now. According to the Saudi Arabian King Salman Al Saud, women in Saudi Arabia should have the same right as men to drive a car. The driving ban for women in Saudi Arabia will be lifted in the future until July 24, 2018. Prince Khaled bin Salman also mentioned that women should have the possibility of getting a driving license without the permission of men. This turning point in Saudi Arabia helps to loosen the gender separation rules that are determined by the laws and Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia. For many people this step is a hope aspect concerning the future regulations for Saudi women. Women think that after the driving ban has been lifted, further regulations will follow, which will lead to new steps for the equality of women in Saudi Arabia.
But there are also some opponents who see the new law changes critically. "As far as I remember, Sharia scholars have said it was haram (forbidden) for women to drive. How come it has suddenly become halal (permissible)?"3 one critic tweeted. Most of the opponents think that the Saudi Arabian family image is overthrown with this law change. In the same way, the complete values and behavioural patterns given by the society would be altered by this revolution and violate the Sharia law, which is valid in the country.4
But this new law leads to the question, why women in Saudi Arabia do not have the same equal rights as men and which rules and obligations they have to follow. Also questionable is why it is so strange for some people living in Saud Arabia to accept the fact that a woman is treated same as men. All this refers to the status of women that is defined differently and shared into three different views that society mixes to produce the picture of a woman, who does not have any free mind of her own and is pressed in a system that outlaws equal rights.5
2. The status of women in Islam
2.1 Religious status
In today's society “there is a large gap between what Islam stands for and what the social reality is in terms of the status of women, thus further compounding the misperceptions and negative stereotypes”6. According to the religious status of women and the Quran, women and men are equal in front of Allah. In some points women are in a higher position like in a hadith it says: “paradise lays under the feet of your Mother”7, so paradise, the highest part to reach at the end of a Muslim' life, is subordinated to the position of women. The woman appears in the Quran in three main aspects: “First: As a biological and social being. Second: as a believer. Third: as a character in the biblical salvation narrative”8.These three aspects are not only addressed to women but also to men because men should serve as believers and as social and biological beings but also as protectors for their families, mothers, wives and daughters: “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women [,..]”9. Islam does not prefer men in any Verse of the noble Quran. Men and women have to fulfil the same obligations, such as respect for their honour, which means to lower one's gaze before the other sex and maintaining virginity until the marriage:
Tell the believing men to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts, etc.). That is purer for them. Verily, Allah is All-Aware of what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts, etc.) [...] and let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And all of you beg Allah to forgive you all, O believers, that you may be successful.10
On the one side as the Verse of the Quran says, the woman should protect herself from the looks of unfamiliar men who could be attracted by her private parts. On the other side men have the duty to lower their gaze, to respect the value of the woman and to keep her honor, so there is an equality between the obligations of women and men.
In addition, Islam sets equal rights for women in the area of education. The pursuit of knowledge is a duty for every Muslim, man and woman. Women also have the extra task of educating themselves in the areas of culture, business and science. Khadija, the wife of the Prophet deals as an example of this equal education, since she is known as a very successful business woman. In addition, the equality of women in political positions is also fixed in the Muslim history. It is not uncertain that women serve as judges or politicians. Already in the time of the Prophet Muhammad, women were used as judges and promisors of political support. As an example deals the pledge of Aqabah, in which two women served as pledgers of allegiance for accepting Islam, political support and military protection.11 Another important role in women and politics in Islam played Um-Muqtadir-Billah as one of the most important politically committed Muslim women in history. She directed state affairs because her son, the Abbasid caliph Al-Muqtadir-Billah was incapable in doing his duty.12
The way Islam deals with women is based on the statements made by the Quran, which serves as the main source and condition for a Muslim life. But the dealing with women in Islam is often misunderstood because of the completely different traditional ways of dealing with Muslim women.13
2.2 Traditional status
The traditional dealing with women refers to the Ideal of women that society created and does not relate to the rules that Islam determined with the statements written in the Quran. In Saudi Arabia for example you can find:
[...] [the] image of the ‘Ideal' Muslim woman; a woman who stays at home to take care of the children, cook and care for her husband, her place is within the family. When at home she educates the next generation and is the maintainer of tradition.
This is the gender ideology promoted in the education and the opportunities for work provided for Saudi females.14
In many other countries, especially countries like Afghanistan or Iran, where about 99% of the population is practicing the religion Islam, the status of women is all based on tradition.15 You can mostly find a similar picture of the Ideal women there like the Ideal that is spread in Saudi Arabia. These societies see women only as mothers that have to raise their children and have to stay at home for being good wives. If a woman speaks against this ideal role, in which she is pressed, she faces penalties because this ideal is seen in such societies as the only correct way of living. And women who are against it are regarded as badly educated and automatically receive a worse reputation that makes them unattractive to everyone around them. Another term to describe the Ideal Muslim woman is a woman that stays virgin until getting married into a good marriage that promises her good living conditions. Following this Ideal, Muslim parents often lock their daughters in to prevent them from violating this Ideal by meeting men or developing interest in relationships or sexual acts.16
Other values like education, carrier or political engagement do not appear in the traditional picture of women at all because they violate the given Ideal. For example, in Afghanistan or Pakistan, there is the problem that women must be trained by a woman in schools, but as long as no woman has the right to receive an acceptable education, this problem remains in a vicious circle. The traditional behaviour towards women often reduces freedom and equality more than Islam does. But religion is often taken as an excuse for this behaviour. The religious duties are so strongly exacerbated by the tradition, so that values such as freedom and equality have no place in the traditional image of women anymore which pulls down the social status of women.17
2.3 Social status
The social status is defined as the status in which a person gets plugged by society. The social status of women in Islam is a combination of religious and traditional status but it is significant that the traditional dealings outweigh the religious regulations. Thinking of a Muslim women you can clearly see that many people have the picture of a woman who is reduced by her religion and oppressed by her man whom he must obey:
I often ask American Christian women this question: “What do you think when you see a woman dressed in head covering at a grocery store?” The response is often unanimous, "I think of the Muslim woman being oppressed ... closed to the Gospel ... hates Christians ..." One person was honest enough to say, "I think maybe she is hiding a bomb under her garments."18
This image of women, which has been strongly prevalent in society, has arisen not only because of the traditional status but also under the influence of the media, which represents the woman as oppressed sex even if she has more duties and rights than she savours:
[...] the Muslim woman was given a role, duties, and rights that most women do not enjoy today, even in the west. Yet, the religion which revolutionized the status of women is being portrayed as repressive to women. As mentioned earlier, this myth is perpetuated by the media; in addition, in the case of the Taliban and other examples [.].19
Through the influence of the media this image of the woman grows and leaves the impression that Muslim women have no rights and freedoms, although these are dictated by their religion. This false image of Muslim women is reinforced by making allegations that many Muslim women wear their headscarf from compulsion and not from free will so that religion is seen as restriction of their freedom of choice.20 This affects not only the people who already have a negative impression of Muslim women and the religion Islam, but also Muslim women, who are no longer comfortable in their position through the media and incorrect allegations:
When I'm walking down the street, the first thing you see is my headscarf and the negative images that come with it. You ignore and overlook me, and you might think I don't mind, but I'm tired of strangers seeing me as different. I want to belong. [.] In moments of doubt, I can be influenced by the media and advertising. Sometimes I entertain the idea of conforming, but I remember my principles and those thoughts quickly disappear.21
In addition, the image of Muslim women, but also of Muslims, is drawn to the negative side by the influence of Islamophobic studies and rumours. When scientific studies reveal that Muslim citizens are often involved in acts of violence or violent crime, most people use this information as a general picture of Muslims. Moreover, terrorism, which many people mistakenly perceive as part of Islam, puts Muslims and Islam in negative light, which also worsens the image of the Muslim woman:
1 Frank Gardner, “Saudi Arabia driving ban on women to be lifted”, bbc.co.uk (2017), http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-41408195, accessed 15/10/17.
2 Cf. Safaa Fouad Rajkhan, “Women in Saudi Arabia Status, Rights, and Limitations”, de.scribd (2014), https://de.scribd.com/document/263682947/Rajkhan-Capstone-Saudi-arabia, accessed 27/10/17.
3 Ibid., Frank Gardener, “Saudi Arabia driving ban on women to be lifted”, bbc.co.uk (2017), accessed 28/10/17.
4 Cf. Ben Hubbard, “Saudi Arabia Agrees to Let Women Drive”, nytimes.com (2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/26/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-women-drive.html, accessed 28/10/17.
5 Cf. Saneya Saleh, “WOMEN IN ISLAM: THEIR STATUS IN RELIGIOUS AND TRADITIONAL CULTURE”, in: International Journal of Sociology of the Family, Volume 2, Issue 1 (Egypt: International Journals, 1972).
6 Rahat Raja, “Western Women and Islam: Embracing and Negotiating Muslim Identity”, in : Policy Perspectives, Volume 11, Issue 1 (London: Pluto Journals, 2014).
7 Anonymous, “Hadith - Jannah (Heaven) lies under the feet of your Mother”, hadithgarden.com (2013), http://www.hadithgarden.com/2013/03/hadith-jannah-heaven-lies-under-feet-of.html, accessed 28/10/17.
8 Hamdun Dagher, The Position of Women in Islam (Villach: Light of Life, 1995), chapter one.
9 Abdullah Yusuf Ali, “Verse (4:34)- English Translation”, quran.com (2009), http://corpus.quran.com/translation.jsp?chapter=4&verse=34, accessed 15/10/17.
10 Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali, Muhammad Muhsin Khan, “Surah An-Nur (The Light)”, noblequran.com, http://noblequran.com/translation/surah24.html, accessed 15/10/17 .
11 Cf. Angela Guzman, “The Role of Women in Islam”, beliefnet.com, http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/islam/the-role-of-women-in-islam.aspx, accessed 01/10/17.
12 Cf. A'lam an-Nisa, 'Umar Kahhala, “Muslim Women in History - Umm Al-Muqtadir-Billah”, Islamway.net (2014), http://en.islamway.net/article/20945/muslim-women-in-history-umm-al-muqtadir- billah, accessed 01/10/17.
13 Cf. Editorial, “Understanding the role of Muslim women”, khilafah.com ( 2007), http://www.khilafah.com/understanding-the-role-of-muslim-women/, accessed 28/10/17.
14 Cf. Reema Alsweel, “Education and the Role of Women in Saudi Arabia”, gmu.edu, http://mason.gmu.edu/~ralsweel/portfolio/artifacts/Microsoft%20Word%20-%20Final%202.pdf, accessed 28/10/17.
15 Cf. Stephen Ross, “The Harvest Fields • Statistics 2017”, wholesomewords.org (2017), https://www.wholesomewords.org/missions/greatc.html#muslims, accessed 28/10/17.
16 Cf. Anette Kiefer, “ Die Rolle der Frau im Islam“, planet-wissen.de (2017), http://www.planet-wissen.de/kultur/religion/islam/pwiedierollederfrauimislam100.html, accessed 15/10/17.
17 Cf. Ibid.
18 Guest Post, “What Does A Muslim Woman Think Of You?”, namb.net (2016), https://www.namb.net/flourish-blog/what-does-a-muslim-woman-think-of-you, accessed 29/10/17.
19 Mitra Abdur Rashid, „STATUS OF WOMEN IN ISLAM”, irfi.org, http://www.irfi.org/articles/articles_901_950/status_of_women_in_islam.htm, accessed 29/10/17.
20 Cf. Sahar Amer, What Is Veiling? (North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2014).
21 Anonymous, “What I'm really thinking: the Muslim women”, theguardian.com (2011), https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/nov/04/what-really-thinking-muslim-woman, accessed 29/10/17.