Saudi Arabia is no place for women and girls, just a place for money to flourish issue regarding women is bound to cause an uproar in Saudi society, especially among men. Society seems to be divided both intellectually and religiously when it comes to women’s issues such as working, driving or appearing on TV. However, in the midst of all the controversy such issues cause, the most important voice and opinion — that of women — is seldom heard. Al-Madina daily investigates whether women are silently waiting for an opportunity to voice their concerns or if they are silently moving forward.

Abdulmohsen Hilal, Saudi scholar and author, said Saudi society is not used to hearing women’s voices and opinions, which is why men tend to treat women’s issues very sensitively and may even consider them to be taboo.

“Such an outlook has nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with tradition and culture. That is why Saudis, as a society, will forever face any rising issue with intellectual controversy that is reflected in our discourse, news and social norms from both educated intellectual scholars and uneducated individuals,” he said.

“Religiously speaking, Islam is the one religion which has put men and women on equal footing. The question is: Why don’t we let women deal with their own affairs? Why don’t we hear what they have to say? Things were different in past Islamic civilizations, but today, we let tradition override religion. An example of this is the fact that we have limited women to certain occupations such as education and healthcare when in fact there should be no differentiation between men and women in this matter as long as women are covered and dressed modestly,” he added.

Journalist Ali Al-Rubaie said the issue must be viewed from a historical context as some scholars interpreted certain religious texts in a degrading way to women and there are two main opinions regarding the matter. Some view that these interpretations were a result of social traditions and culture, i.e., the marginalization and trivialization of women and their issues is highly influenced by Saudi culture.

“Others hold the view that religion must be followed as clearly as it is laid out by the scripture. The problem here is that the microphone and pen is only given to one sex and not both. We must revise our interpretations of the religious scriptures and apply them to our modern age and time with an unbiased and nonsexist perspective,” said Al-Rubaie.

“Moreover, men seem to be too nosy regarding women’s matters. Leave it to the women to discuss and deal with their own issues and concerns. This hollow commotion is an indicator that society does not occupy itself with important and urgent issues. Instead, it finds room for debate in trivial matters. In reality, women could care less about all the opinions and criticisms about their right to work and drive. They are progressing in life with their education and careers,” he added.

Women’s role in the workforce is taking precedence on the national level. Al-Rubaie believes Saudi society should pay more attention to Islam’s spiritual and humanitarian side, which he believes supports and empowers women.

“We are no longer standing in front of what is halal and what is haram in terms of women and what they should do. In fact, if we were to bring religion into things we ought to consider the spiritual and humanitarian side to Islam that is very supportive and empowering to women. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, had personally bestowed upon women their importance but as an Arab society, we have held on to our view of women as the weaker sex,” he concluded.

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