Women Not Prohibited From Driving in Islam, Says Al-Qarni

Somayya Jabarti & Maha Akeel
Publication Date: 
Sun, 2004-01-11 03:00

JEDDAH, 11 January 2004 — Sheikh Ayed Al-Qarni, a prominent Saudi Islamic scholar, has said that Islam does not prohibit women from driving but that the matter must be seriously discussed. He said he preferred a woman driving her car herself rather than being driven by a stranger without a legal escort.

“There is no definite text (either in the Qur’an or Sunnah) that bans women driving,” said the scholar, who is known for his moderate Islamic views, in an interview with Al-Hayat newspaper. He called for a debate on the issue by prominent scholars.

Al-Qarni’s statement was welcomed by many Saudis, including women, who expressed their hopes that women would be allowed to drive in the Kingdom in the near future.

The issue is likely to top the agenda of the next national dialogue, which will focus on women. According to Dr. Rashid Al-Rajeh, deputy chairman of the forum, 30 women will take part in the event to be held in Madinah next month. “The prohibition of women driving is not an established religious rule,” Al-Qarni said. “If a woman is given the choice between driving a car herself or being alone in a car with a stranger, then I would choose that she drive herself,” he added. The scholar, however, does not want to give the impression that he necessarily believes that women should drive. “I personally will not allow my wife or daughters or sisters to drive. But I tell my brothers to keep the matter open for debate by a responsible scientific body,” he said. “We have to address all issues, including women driving, in a wise and rational manner,” he added.

He also said that women should be given a “wider opportunity to participate fully in society, which needs to listen to what women have to say.” He called for the setting up of special courts to look into women’s grievances, such as their complaints about husbands and fathers.

Faisal Ahmad, a postgraduate student in Islamic studies at Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University in Riyadh, said scholars must take decisions on important issues with responsibility. “Permitting and prohibiting things shouldn’t be done lightly. When one permits or prohibits something in Islam, it’s applicable to all Muslims. So when driving for women is prohibited, it means that all our Muslim sisters in the world are committing a sin when they drive,” he pointed out.

“I cannot but help thinking that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) never prohibited women from riding horses or whatever in those times...so what is the difference now?”

“I can understand some of us do not want our sisters, daughters, mothers or wives to drive but it’s not due to their being unable to drive. In fact, many of them drive abroad, but here in the Kingdom, many men in the streets and in cars do not practice Islamic conduct,” he told Arab News.

In her comment, Rana Abdul Aziz, a religious education teacher in a girls’ school, stressed the need to separate tradition from religion. “What is culturally or socially rejected is different from what is religiously acceptable,” she pointed out. “I appreciate what Sheikh Al-Qarni said and his differentiating between what Islam allows and what he personally would or would not allow.” She concluded wistfully: “I wonder when, or if, others will see the light.”

Dr. Afaf Al-Bar, associate professor of Arabic at King Abdul Aziz University, agrees with Al-Qarni that Islam does not prohibit women from driving. “But the problem is that our society is not ready for women driving yet,” she said. Even though she can drive abroad, she does not think that the social environment in the Kingdom is suitable for women driving. “There are also problems such as lack of parking facilities, bad road conditions and reckless driving,” she added.

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