At Last, Women Can Drive in Saudi Arabia
So has moderate Islam prevailed? Not really.
As of Sunday, women can finally get into the driver’s seat of automobiles in Saudi Arabia, as the most visible aspect of the much-heralded reforms initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) finally took effect. So now moderate Islam has prevailed in the Kingdom of the Two Holy Places, once the international center and symbol of strict adherence to Sharia, and a bright future is ahead, right? No.
“We are simply reverting to what we followed – a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions,” MBS explained last October, but since then there have been numerous indications that either he wasn’t being honest, or doesn’t have as much control over the country as Western analysts think he has.
Saudi women may be able to drive, but they still can’t leave home and get behind the wheel without permission from a male guardian. This is Islamic law, based on a statement attributed to Muhammad, and so even MBS doesn’t have the power or will to challenge it: “The husband may forbid his wife to leave the home…because of the hadith related by Bayhaqi that the Prophet…said, ‘It is not permissible for a woman who believes in Allah and the Last Day to allow someone into her husband’s house if he is opposed, or to go out of it if he is averse” (Reliance of the Traveller m10.4).
Saudi women are also still subject to being beaten for their perceived disobedience, with no recourse, as per the supreme authority in Islam, the Qur’an itself: “Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because Allah has guarded them. As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them.” (Qur’an 4:34) Muhammad’s child bride, Aisha, says in a hadith that Muhammad “struck me on the chest which caused me pain, and then said: ‘Did you think that Allah and His Apostle would deal unjustly with you?’” (Sahih Muslim 2127)
Saudi women can be divorced at a word. They receive a smaller share of the inheritance (cf. Qur’an 4:11). Their testimony is worth half that of a man (cf. Qur’an 2:282). They must cover their heads when they do venture out or be subject to arrest. All that is based on Islamic law. And it all remains in force in Saudi Arabia.
What’s more, even as they are being praised around the world for “modernizing” and finally allowing women to drive, Saudi authorities have arrested at least eleven women’s rights activists since mid-May. And in late April, according to AFP, “Saudi sports authorities shut down a female fitness centre in Riyadh” because of “a contentious promotional video that appeared to show a woman in figure-hugging workout attire.” Saudi sports authority top dog Turki al-Sheikh, who is one of MBS’s advisers, declared: “We are not going to tolerate this,” and ordered that the fitness centre’s license be revoked. Saud al-Qahtani, a Saudi government media adviser, explained that the Saudis were pursuing “moderation without moral breakdown.”
MBS has shown himself to be less than honest. In an April interview, he made numerous false statements, including: “Islam is a religion of peace. This is the translation of Islam.”
No, the translation of “Islam” is “submission.” He added: “For 1,400 years, Muslims have been trying to spread the word of God. In the Middle East, in North Africa, in Europe, they weren’t allowed to spread the word. That’s why they fought to spread the word.”
This is a novel excuse for the jihad conquests, but clearly Mohammed bin Salman is working from the stipulation in Islamic law that Muslims should live peacefully with non-Muslims unless the non-Muslims put any obstacles in the way of the spread of Islam. In that event, the Muslims have the responsibility to wage jihad in order to clear away the obstacles.
His claim, however, is utter nonsense. In my forthcoming book The History of Jihad From Muhammad to ISIS, which you can preorder here, I trace the history of jihad worldwide from its beginnings to the present day — this is the only book to have done this. I show that in the places MBS mentions — the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe, as well as in India and elsewhere — the jihad was an unprovoked attack on non-Muslims who had not placed any obstacles in the spread of Islam, or had anything to do with it at all.
MBS also said: “But you also see that, in a lot of countries in Asia—Indonesia, Malaysia, India—Muslims were free to spread the word. They were told, ‘Go ahead, say whatever you want to say, the people have free will to believe whatever they want to believe in.’ Islam, in this context, was not about conquering, it was about peacefully spreading the word.”
This is outrageously false particularly regarding India. As I show in The History of Jihad From Muhammad to ISIS, the jihad in India was especially bloody, because the Hindus were not “People of the Book,” and hence had only the choice to convert or die, while the “People of the Book” were given the third choice of living in submission to Islamic law. The Hindus were granted honorary “People of the Book” status rather early on, simply because there were too many of them to kill, but the jihadis nonetheless treated them and their houses of worship with stunning and sustained brutality.
Mohammed bin Salman was apparently counting on people in the U.S. not knowing that history. But his false statements, and the continuing human rights catastrophe that is his Kingdom, belie his much-touted intentions to pursue reform.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His new book is The History of Jihad From Muhammad to ISIS. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.