It irritates some people to see foreign media tackling Saudi social issues. They believe that foreign media only aims to humiliate us, as it falls within the western conspiracy against Arabs and Muslims.
This is what I personally heard when the American CNN channel talked about a 90-year-old Saudi man’s marriage to a 15-year-old girl, despite the fact that such incidents are recurrent in our society and that local media always writes about it. Opinion writers criticize it, the Human Rights Commission is against it, and most of the Shura Council call to enact a method that would ban it, but the ongoing debate refuses to put an end to it.
As soon as it is circulated in Foreign Media, it becomes a scandal, and we start to search for the reasons that prompted them to publish such a story; does it aim to distort our image in the West? Does an accomplice help them with their plot?
This is how talking about a social issue becomes a scandal. When the media tackles the story of the 90 year-old man who married a minor girl, it is a scandal; when the media talks about electronic tracking system that alerts men, by text message, that their wives are leaving the country, it is a scandal; when the media talks about women not being able to drive a car, it is a scandal – no... no... Sorry I forgot these are private matters– and they are interfering in our own internal affairs.
They are regarded as a western point of view that dictates women’s rights in their own viewpoint. Ironically, when the Western media comments on a local political matter, it’s considered to be important media coverage, not exposure; everyone agrees that it’s just news coverage!
It is a scandal when a nosy foreign journalist discovers the story of the 90-year-old man and writes about it, but it is not a shame if a university professor who does not personally accept that his 9-year-old girl gets married, say on the local media: “This is acceptable because the Prophet (peace be upon him) married Aisha when she was at a young age, and the prohibition of young marriage is like prohibiting what God has permitted”.
Modern regimes have put restrictions on matters that are allowed by the Sharia, or issues that were not subject to an explicit prohibition, such as “slavery” that today is a despised crime, preventing citizens from marrying a foreign woman except with official authorization, and such as travel restrictions and other civil legislation adopted by the regime’s interest and the modern progress. Nevertheless, the protection of children from getting involved in the social sexual games is not acceptable, because Islam did not prohibit it!
Today, when foreign agencies contact us, if such news were circulated, and ask for our comment, I personally cannot tell them to mind their own business. I would rather take the initiative to defend Islam and correct these beliefs, telling them that they are just Arab customs and traditions that were brought to Islam, stressing these customs have misinterpreted Islam -- unlike the belief of extremists who insists everything happening to women in our country comes within Islamic law. We look as if we are a religion that suppresses women, restricts their activities, detains them at home, and makes underage marriages a constant Islamic stipulation.
In fact, if these people express themselves, they would allow the enslavement of human beings and the imprisonment of infidel women claiming that this is Islam. History’s events state that the emancipation proclamation everywhere in the world, including our country, was confronted with wars and marches that stood against emancipating the slaves, saying it comes within the religion; it was regarded as a prohibition for what God has allowed. Today, no one dares to say this, because people became accustomed to it and believe now that it is unfair. Nevertheless, underage marriage will always have some people who will defend it, and whoever will dare to prohibit it, will be working against Islam. This slogan alone can keep you silent so you won’t be regarded as a person against Islam. Honestly, such people are the ones who expose us!
This article was first published in Al Hayat on Feb. 9, 2013.
Dr. Badreya al-Bishr is a multi-award winning Saudi columnist and novelist. She is a PhD graduate from the American University of Beirut and an aluminus 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, Department of Social Studies.