Although all the precautions included in the decision to appoint 30 women at the Shoura council were clear about the full segregation between the council’s men and women, in entrances, exits, offices and other facilities, and despite the fact that the Shoura council is just a consultative committee that shares unbinding suggestions to the government, and is not obliged to follow a public policy that will not be interpreted as having any authority over Muslims, which some see as illegal for women to exercise this type of authority…Despite all of this, we found people who oppose this decision. A group of 40 men gathered during a demonstration, recorded a video of themselves and posted it on Youtube, and had a spokesman to represent them. It is good that they did so to avoid any misinterpreting to what they had gathered for; trying to pretend another heroic reason behind their action.
Some of the public on twitter defended this opposition for two reasons: the first is that they are expressing their democratic right to free expression, and the second is that they have a divine obligation to do so, as per the religious teaching.
Those who defend it in the name of democracy and the right to free expression, shouldn’t let go of the other pillars of democracy, whether it be within a liberal or Islamic context. Democracy calls for protecting pluralism, which is denied by the opponents and their supporters. It protects the right to personal development, to men and women alike without differentiation, respects human rights, for both genders. Democracy has a specific mechanism to hold the officials accountable for the weaknesses of education, health, transportation, etc…. It does not take in consideration such religious groups but calls for mechanisms in the parliament, the media and the civil society organizations that guarantee the rights of the minorities before the rights of the majority.
Those who demonstrated unfortunately oppose the appointment of women at the Shoura council, and those who encourage them do not believe in what I said. As for those who see that they have a religious divine obligation, and that they are obliged to enforce the good deeds and forbid the bad behavior, which is a flawless religious slogan, those should remember that in 1960s a bigger number held demonstrations against girls’ education, and one of the leaders of that movement was quoted as saying: “you Muslims, beware of school girls as they are not what they look like, and if you allow them to be open then you will regret it”. When the mediators tried to interfere, they were told that it isn’t religiously accepted to discuss any matter that is forbidden by religious teachings!!
In these days, they said that the woman’s voice is pudendum, and her name is pudendum. However, other scholars supported girls’ education. One of the most prominent among them was Ibn Maneh, may he rest in peace, who said: “He who opposes girls’ education is more ignorant than an ignorant!” The grandsons of those who opposed girls’ educations are the same ones who are encouraging their girls to study, and if they find for their girls a school or a university seat, or didn’t find them a job after their graduation, they went to protest and complain. Although history proved the old stance to be wrong, the opponents do not see that this opposition is an old “trend” against the progress of the woman, as per the rules of education, modernity and development.
It is common that people get divided on every new event. But to use democracy slogans to violate women’s rights is a lack of understanding. Using religion to incite the society against appointing women in the Shoura council, and describing this initiative as a call to the immorality of the society, are “serious accusations” and not just a point of view!
This article was first published in al-Hayat on Jan. 19, 2013.
(Dr. Badria al-Bishr is a multi-award-winning Saudi columnist and novelist. A PhD graduate from the American University of Beirut, and an alumnus of the U.S. State Department International Visitor program. Her columns put emphasis on women and social issues in Saudi Arabia. She currently lectures at King Saud University's Department of Social Studies.)