Beliefnet News

Saudi Arabia has long been the only country in the world that legally bars women from driving.

But now, that’s about to change.

On September 26th, Saudi King Salman ended an internationally-criticized conservative tradition when he issued a decree allowing women to obtain drivers licenses in his country.

The birthplace of Islam and home to its holiest sites, Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, ruled by a king whose decrees must comply with Islamic Sharia law. The Quran—Islam’s sacred text—is the country’s constitution and the beating heart of its government, cultural norms, and social policies.

The interpretation of the Quran lies at the heart of the enormous gender divide in the country. Many laws which bar women from certain activities are meant to avoid free mixing between men and women in order to maintain modesty and minimize what is considered inappropriate or obscene contact.

Arguments from Islamic clerics and government officials against female driving privileges have, over the years, ranged from the idea that men would not know how to handle seeing women in cars next to them in traffic, to fears of rising promiscuity and the collapse of the Saudi family structure, to the idea that the female brain is “smaller” than that of a man.

For these reasons, women in Saudi Arabia do not enjoy many of the same legal and social freedoms as men. Many spend a large portion of their salaries on the country’s large number of foreign chauffeurs, or are forced to ask male relatives to drive them to work. Otherwise, they’re stranded.

But the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, casually known as “MBS,” has brought a wave of change rippling through the country, thanks to his efforts to revitalize its economy through a program called Vision 2030. This program’s goal is to bring Saudi society more in line with the rest of the modern world.

“We are trying to increase women’s participation in the workforce,” bin Salman told the press. “In order to change women’s participation in the workforce, we need them to be able to drive to work.”

This change has come with a host of others. In recent years, women in Saudi Arabia have been allowed to run for positions on the kingdom’s municipal councils, and have, for the first time, been allowed to enter a sports stadium.

But the path to the independent travel hasn’t been easy for the women of Saudi Arabia. Since 1990, women have protested the driving ban, driving around the Saudi capital, Riyadh or posting photos of themselves driving on social media. These activists have been met with lost jobs, travel restrictions, and jail time.

The lifting of the ban, which will be carried out by June 24th, 2018, has caused a wave of international support to pour in over social media channels, congratulating Saudi women on their newfound freedom and encouraging them to keep pushing for further reform.

The US state department called the move “a great step in the right direction.” The White House, too, signaled its support, releasing a statement saying that “We will continue to support Saudi Arabia in its to efforts to strengthen Saudi society and the economy through reforms like this and the implementation of Saudi Vision 2030.”

The licensing of Saudi women isn’t without its opponents, and tensions are rising amongst influential conservative clerics in the country. There has been pushback on social media, with one critic accusing the Saudi government of “bending the verses of Sharia.” Another wrote that “As far as I remember, Sharia scholars have said it was haram for women to drive. How come it has suddenly become halal?”

Amongst fears of inappropriate male and female interaction, cultural pushback stands only to increase as the date of the actual legislation nears.

But with this change has also come louder calls for further positive reform. Saudi women still can’t get a passport, open a bank account, get a loan, divorce, or marry without the approval of a male guardian. They also cannot socialize outside of their immediate families or receive equal inheritance. All of these customs and laws are now in the crosshairs of Saudi activists.

The ability to legally drive may just put Saudi Arabia’s women on the road to equality as the country strives to change some of its most engrained customs. This may represent a baby step in terms of equality, but it is a step in the right direction.

“It is amazing,” one Saudi university professor—a woman who participated in the first protest against the ban in 1990—told the New York Times. “Since that day, Saudi women have been asking for the right to drive, and finally it arrived. We have been waiting for a very long time.”

That time has finally come.

egypt-story-647_041017010225Three Muslim female police officers are being praised as heroes after attempting to save the lives of Coptic Christians that were being targeted in two attacks that took place in Egypt on Sunday.

The suicide bombings were claimed by ISIS, who has been ramping up attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt in recent months.

General Nagwa El-Hagger, Sergeant Asmaa Hussein and Sergeant Omneya Roshdy all stood up and gave their lives to protect the lives of those in their community, despite their differences in religion. The Christian community was celebrating Palm Sunday, a holiday that recognizes Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem one week before his resurrection.

St. George’s Church in Tanta, Egypt was the site of the first attack. A suicide bomber detonated himself at the altar of the church, which resulted in 27 deaths and 78 injuries. Of these deaths were Sergeants Hussein and Roshdy. Hussien was at the main gate checking women who were entering the church. She was so close to the suicide bomber that her body was near unrecognizable. Roshdy was securing the cathedral as part of her job securing churches, so she was further away from the attack.

The second attack, just hours after, was at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria. At least 17 people were killed with 48 others injured. A man attempted to get into the church from an unchecked side gate, however he was asked by security forces to get into an X-ray device. Instead, the man walked to the main gate and set the bomb off. El-Hagger, a brigadier general for the Egyptian police force, was conducting inspections for people entering the church. When the bomb detonated, she rushed to the aid of her male co-workers after noticing they were having issues detaining a suspect.

It is reported that this may be the country’s first instance of Muslim female police officers being killed while on duty. Each one of the women had promising and exciting futures ahead and despite this, continued to stay on duty and serve others.

Hussein, for example, left behind two daughters, Sandi and Rodina, who is a newborn. Roshdy was due to get married in a month. She was excited, and minutes before her death texted friends about getting together before the wedding.

“[Roshdy] was one of the most dedicated women who served in the police,” her friend Safaa Ibrahim told Egypt Independent. “She loved her work and her country very much, and she insisted to continue working, even a few weeks before her wedding…She did not ask for a vacation.”

El-Hagger was no stranger to violence. In a tragic terrorist attack in 2014 in Marsa Matrouh, she lost one of her two sons who was also an officer. El-Hagger’s husband, Ezzat Abdel Qader, is the assistant of Al-Behaira security director.

Her husband said during her funeral: “We don’t have anything left but to pray for her, we wish that God will give us the strength and patience to bear her death.”

Islam Fathi, El-Haggar’s nephew, told Dream TV host Wael Ibrashy that he was proud of his aunt, who was always “known for her kindness.” He said that even though El-Haggar was Muslim, she would pray at the church alongside her Coptic Christian neighbors.

“I say to our Coptic Christian brothers and sisters: Do not be sad,” Fathi told the TV host. “Muslims and Christians are one. It’s not about Muslim attacking Christians. No. My aunt was a Muslim. She was a believer…She was protecting Christians who were also praying in the Church.”

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is now making extra efforts to protect Christians, who make up 10 percent of Egypt’s population. A three-month state of emergency for the country has been declares and more troops are helping police secure public spaces.

We all hope that if we are in trouble someone will hear our cries and jump in.

One woman was heard one night after her Bible group met.

Imagine walking home after a little fellowship and studying the Bible. Your heart feels content. Your soul feels nourished. But one woman experienced a panic as she narrowly escaped being kidnapped.

According to Fox News, a 21-year-old woman was leaving the Bible study on the east side of Cleveland when she was attacked by a couple of men wearing ski masks, black coats and blue jeans as she tried to get into her vehicle.

The two males tried forcing her into the backseat.

“Get in the car,” they demanded.

She was able to pull away and run back to the house where the Bible study was. But one man grabbed the hood of her coat and pulled her back towards him.

He then dragged her from the driveway and across the street. The victim kicked and screamed to alert neighbors as she scraped the pavement. This is when her Bible study friends came outside to her rescue. The men were scared off and ran through backyards to escape, leaving only footprints in the snow.

Customers from a local tavern heard the noise and came out to assist the woman’s friends.

“It could have happened to anybody and it’s unfortunate that it happened to somebody I know, and somebody who was just coming here to go to a Bible study at the church,” Sam Hartman told Fox.

The neighborhood is shaken from the event.

“It’s a nice area, but it’s frightening to have things happen like that — the Shaker Square bank hold up two weeks ago; they are kind of black marks on what should be a nice neighborhood,” said another neighbor.

Investigators hope to find evidence of who the two perpetrators were by obtaining surveillance video.

What if people didn’t step in? The news could have been bleaker.

You know the Golden Rule or law of reciprocity? It is the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated. This rule is also associated with what Jesus taught us in Matthew 7:12:  “Do to others what you want them to do to you. This is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets.”

This is something to recognize when we see someone in need.



Author and former Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali spoke at the National Press Club on April 7th and said there needs to be five amendments to Islam. She said “individuals” within Islam today are coming forth and admitting that Muhammad provides ‘too much inspiration to too many bad people.’  Listen to her recommendations.