The battle, as reported by Arab News, has already moved to the Internet with the moderates asking that the fatwa issued by the Supreme Ulema Council (a group of religious scholars) in 1990 that “women driving cars is sinful in Islam” be reviewed. Many of the moderates say that Islam is suitable for all times and that Islamic fiqh can be changed according to circumstances. Their argument is that the issue of a woman driving on her own is itself not a sin, since there is nothing in the Qur’an or the Hadith (the Prophet’s sayings) that says so. They also argue that times have changed and that women are now working, contributing food on the table as well as to the development of society. Currently due to a large part of society’s opposition to the idea — backed by the 1990 fatwa — the only option for women is to rely on drivers — either family members or someone employed to drive them. Many argue that that itself is not permissible. According to a Hadith, a woman who is alone with a male who is not a family member is joined by the devil. In that case can we allow foreign drivers to drive our daughters, wives and mothers?
The conservatives, on the other hand, say that allowing women to drive will open doors to corruption. It will also endanger women themselves as many reckless and sick-minded men will harass them when they drive alone — not to mention of taking advantage of them should the vehicle have a flat tire and the driver need help. They argue that women who are alone in their cars with their drivers are already being harassed in the streets by men and they wonder what chaos would follow if the women drove themselves. On that basis, they say, the fatwa was issued to protect women themselves from the dangers they would face in the streets if they were allowed to drive alone.
Many conservatives have also said that since the fatwa has already been issued, it is not suitable for anyone to raise the topic, whether Shoura Council member or not. Just yesterday, Sheikh Saleh Al-Fawzan, a member of the Supreme Ulema Council, wrote a letter to a Saudi newspaper condemning what Dr. Al-Zulfa had written in Al-Watan newspaper. He accused Dr. Al-Zulfa of “straying from the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah” (the Prophet’s traditions).
Topics concerning women always cause a storm in Saudi Arabia whenever they are discussed. There has always been a tug of war between conservatives and the moderates. Conservatives claim they want to protect women and their honor while moderates say that conservatives are preventing women from making progress and moving forward.
Not long ago, for example, when the government stated that in three years all women would be issued identity cards with photographs, the announcement created an outcry on Internet discussion sites. Conservatives said that for no reason should a woman have her face uncovered, even if uncovering so was for her own protection and for purposes of identification.
The article praises the man who is courageous enough to bring up the issues and who has faced constant harassment and threats since--Dr. Muhammad Al-Zulfa. I have nothing but admiration for him.
At the rate things are going in Islam, soon thinking will be considered sinful for women. Most of the men there apparently abandoned such a practice long ago, so it is not an issue for them.