IN his first interview with a women’s magazine, Al-Baha Governor Prince Mohammed ibn Saud spoke at length to Hia, a sister publication of Arab News, about his father the late King Saud (1902 — 1969). King Saud was the Kingdom’s second monarch and succeeded his father, King Abdul Aziz, at the age of 51 in 1953. Though admiring his father’s wisdom as a ruler, his bravery as a commander in the battles he fought in, his kindness to his subjects, his sense of justice and special love for children, the most striking of Prince Mohammed’s revelations concerned King Saud’s bold stance on the empowerment of women through education. Hia also spoke to the daughters of the late king.
Answering a question about King Saud’s contributions to women’s education in the Kingdom, Prince Mohammed said that King Saud had set in motion the process of educating Saudi women by founding the Kingdom’s first schools for girls. The first school was the “Princesses’ Institute” which was open to both princesses and commoners. The second was opened in Jeddah and both were bold moves at a time when society regarded women’s education with suspicion and scorn. Girls’ schools were later opened in other areas as well. “I remember a girls’ school being opened in Buraidah in spite of opposition from local people. Now, however, things have changed and people are demanding more and more schools,” the prince observed with satisfaction. “I will tell you a secret about my father that is not known to many. He sent a number of girls who had completed their secondary education to university in Lebanon. He felt impelled to do this because of his conviction that women should be educated,” the prince said.
King Saud was also concerned about giving women their rights at a time when women faced more problems than they do at present. He used to take immediate action when any woman complained about her husband.
Knowing that it was the king’s habit to visit his mother after the maghreb (sunset) prayer, a number of women from various parts of the Kingdom waited there to present their difficulties to him. He usually solved their problems in addition to helping them financially, the prince remembered. The king also set up a special court for his mother to receive the women who could not meet him in the evening audience.
“My father listened to the complaints brought to him by any subject, with no distinction between men and women. He would never send a man or woman away without solving his or her problems,” the prince pointed out.
On a question about King Saud’s position concerning women’s rights, the prince said, “My father maintained that women should enjoy their rights in full and also discharge their obligations in line with Shariah Law. He never tolerated an injustice to woman, even from her father, husband or brother.”
Replying to a question on King Saud’s love for children, the prince said, “I am not exaggerating when I say the late king had the most tender heart toward children — not only his own but any child. If he found a child crying, he might cry with him. He used to say that children are God’s beloved.” When any of his subjects came to visit him with a problem and was carrying a child, the king would kiss the child, even if he or she were wearing dirty clothes. He would wipe the dust off the child’s face with his own hands, the prince noted nostalgically.
Princess Seetah bint Saud, the late king’s daughter said that she admired her father’s simplicity and kindness, particularly to the weak. His love and allegiance to his father was so deep that he risked his own life by standing between the assassins’ and King Abdul Aziz who was attacked from behind with knives while performing Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage.
Replying to a question about King Saud’s attempts to educate Saudi women, the princess said, “King Saud was confident in the capabilities of women in the building of the Kingdom. His order to facilitate female education by opening schools for girls illustrates his care for them.”
Princess Latifah bint Saud, a graduate in sociology from King Saud University, said she was very impressed by King Saud’s sense of fairness. “My father did not allow our teachers at the Princesses’ Institute to discriminate between princesses and other students. He used to consider all the girls in the country his daughters.”
Princess Fahdah bint Saud said “My father insisted on our getting modern education and brought in teachers from different parts of the Arab world. He started women’s education in Najd. He planted the seeds of the love of learning in our hearts.
He wanted women to work. He permitted his daughters Princess Norah, Princess Mudhi and Princess Hessah to work in the Mabarrat Al-Karimat, a charitable organization. They were the first women in the royal family to take up any job. While Norah was the president, Mudhi was the vice president and Hessah the director of the organization who looked after the day-to-day affairs of the organization. My father used to say that every citizen was his son,” the princess recalled.
Speaking on King Saud’s view of the role of women in society, Princess Fahdah said a significant step taken by the king to get women their rights was establishing the General Presidency for Women’s Education. The entry of four women-students to the university in those days was an unheard of event, the princess noted. Though the king loved his daughters very much, it did not make him unfair to others. “Our father used to tell the school teachers to punish us before punishing others,” the princess said. As a step to encourage others to educate their girls, King Saud began educating his own daughters, she said.
Speaking of King Saud, his daughter, Princess Dr. Jauhara bint Saud who is assistant professor at the Social Sciences Department of King Saud University, said “My father was so profoundly respectful of his late father King Abdul Aziz, that when my father received a telephone call from his father, he would remain standing until the conversation ended.” Dr. Jauhara also noted that it was her father who planted the love of knowledge in her sisters and her. “It was his unique futuristic vision that made him emphasize women’s education. He believed that education was the source of all arts and sciences,” the princess said.
Another of King Saud’s daughters, Princess Naifah, a member of the Al-Faisaliah Society headed by Fahdah bint Saud, said that her father had the conviction that women were the foundation upon which society stood and therefore they should be empowered. They should also be offered every opportunity to improve themselves and their family’s life, Princess Naifah said. His determination to educate women was unshakable because he believed that knowledge should be society’s goal. He realized that society could achieve progress only by acquiring knowledge, the princess said.
Princess Dr. Bazzah bint Saud, who has a degree in psychotherapy from London University, said, “His respect was not limited to Saudi women alone but to every human being in this land.”
Princess Najla bint Saud, who is doing a doctorate in Microbiology, said, “I used to hear from many people about my father’s habit of solving people’s problems and helping them in various ways. He did it secretly at night.”
Attempting to draw on her childhood memories, Princess Rima bint Saud, who is currently the media supervisor of an ongoing exhibition on King Saud, said “I was very young in those days. I heard from others that King Saud was extremely kind and sympathetic to the weak. He was a humane king in every sense. I am not saying this as his daughter but this is what every one testifies to.” She added, “My father was keen on being fair to women and freeing them from exploitation. He paved the way for women’s education and his daughter, Princess Hessah, was the first Saudi woman to become principal of a school.”