Women Driving In Saudi Arabia: My Personal Thoughts

The nerve!

Non-Saudi women married to Saudis who want to live in Saudi Arabia and never visited the country, may not have an inkling what it is like to not have a choice to drive. When I was in the US and still idealistic about my forthcoming life in Saudi Arabia, I used to think that I wouldn’t mind not being able to drive. Boy was I wrong! To those who are staunch defenders of the ban on women driving, try to have an objective mind and empathize with our situation a little. A woman driving in Saudi Arabia will not be the end of the world insha’Allah. Tara Umm Omar

Saudi male impostor

Not being able to drive has been a bone of contention with me ever since I arrived in Saudi Arabia three and a half years ago. It frustrates me beyond belief because I am an independent person. I don’t like to depend on others nor do I like to wait around for them when something needs to be done and it needs to be done right that moment. I’m not bold enough to dress up in my husband’s thawb and shumagh and drive like a Saudi Shewolf just for fun although the very thought has been a temptation every time this frustration rears its ugly head in my mind.

Ruwaida with her brothers

But if there was an emergency involving my family, I’d jump behind the wheel of a car and throw my fears of being apprehended by Saudi police out the window. Ruwaida Al-Habis made the right decision when she put the pedal to the metal and drove her injured father and brothers to the hospital.

And don’t think that I would be deterred by testosterone driven bullies who don’t like to see a woman driving a car in the streets of Saudi Arabia. Saudi journalist Saad Al-Salim dressed as a woman and drove in the conservative city of Riyadh to gauge what would happen. In my opinion, the hateful reactions towards him proved to me that the aggressors lacked proper Islamic manners. It is not their woman breaking the law so why aren’t they minding their own business? Why didn’t they choose the non-violent approach and report the “crime” to the police or PVPV? Such responsible MALE drivers and upstanding citizens…NOT!

This mentality has got to change. It seems that the men in the rural parts of Saudi Arabia have got it right. What have they got right? They let their women drive! Rural Women Defy Tradition By Driving On Desert Roads and Women Are Behind The Wheels In Remote Asir Areas because it is a necessity. There are women who have no muharam at all and can only depend on themselves. The men in their community know it, understand it and accept it. They are way ahead of their urban brothers in terms of intelligence and compassion. This behavior is closer to Islam in the sense that these men are treating women with the respect that they deserve.

Rob Wagner wrote an excellent article on Saudi women driving in the countryside. He quoted a Saudi economist, Abdullah Alami, “There is evidence that women who drive in remote villages have earned respect for following traffic regulations,” Alami said. “It’s natural for women in rural areas to assist in making a living in every way possible.”

So isn’t not allowing women to drive, in turn, unnatural? Saudi Arabia is the ONLY country in the world where women can’t drive. King Abdullah’ son, Prince Mit’eb, is not against women driving cars but he personally wouldn’t let the women of his family drive due to the social stigma that persists in 21st century Saudi Arabia. “‘Women driving is something which requires steps to pave the way for it. Perhaps we could first permit the recruitment of women drivers from abroad and then assess the positive and negatives,” the Prince said. “People’s current views have to change, and they have to regard women in a different light so that women don’t face further problems,’ he said”. Prince Mit’eb has suggested to Saudi Gazette that the Kingdom should Let Foreign Women Drive First.

Muhammad Areef, a journalist for Al-Madina, proposed that Women Drivers Can Solve Problems. “I would like to suggest the recruitment of women drivers from neighboring countries, especially tough women from east African countries no older than 40. With such women driving cars, our women would feel comfortable to sit in the front seat. They will not be embarrassed to wear perfume when going out on occasions. If the female driver went to buy groceries, then there will be no issue in her entering her sponsor’s house, unlike the case of a male driver. Moreover, she will live along with the family inside the family house, unlike a male driver whose whereabouts at night are often unknown. This idea has been successful in neighboring countries, especially in the UAE. It could succeed in the Kingdom if it was planned properly and presented to the wider society in a positive way.”

My perspective on Mr. Areef’s proposal is that the Saudi government should stop enabling Saudis to have apathetic attitudes and substandard work ethics by always relying on ANY imported foreign labor. In order for this dependence to be stopped, no more foreigners should be allowed in to perform menial jobs or those jobs that are looked down upon by Saudis. Instead, these jobs should be promoted to Saudis and made more appealing to them by increasing the salaries. This would encourage Saudis to be more self-proficient, self-sufficient and decrease unemployment amongst them.
Furthermore, why would the Saudi government bring in foreign women who don’t know their way around the streets of Saudi Arabia? To me, it would be a slap in the face if I can’t drive my own car but another woman can…what makes her so different than me or more competent than me? Allowing women to drive who already live in Saudi Arabia would be the easiest and less expensive solution. Above all, getting rid of foreign labor (exception would be fields of expertise where there is a shortage of Saudis) would result in money staying in circulation within Saudi Arabia, giving a boost to the economy!
But if the Saudi government is going to let women drive AT ALL in Saudi Arabia, I grudgingly admit that I’d rather be driven by a foreign female driver than a male foreign driver. Something is better than nothing and as my mother was fond of saying, “you gotta crawl before you can walk.”

Whether you are a Saudi or non-Saudi woman living in Saudi Arabia, either you walk or you are driven. And as Rima Al-Mukhtar wrote, Not All Saudi Women Seek To Drive because “driving is a hassle and inappropriate for Saudi Arabia”. I mean come on, its about having a choice. If you don’t want to drive then fine but don’t expect everyone else to feel the same way you do. I think that sometimes Saudi women can be their own enemy. Being able to drive your own car is a part of being self-sufficient. They are happy with the status quo because that’s all they have ever known. I see it this way, the ones who call for no end to the driving ban probably 1) are rich and can afford a driver 2) don’t wanna put forth the effort to drive a car or maintain it 3) don’t mind being in a haram situation with a strange man who isn’t related to them 4) have a lot of male relatives as their disposal, ready to drive them wherever they want at the drop of a hat 5) think all women are fragile, incapable of doing something as simple as driving a car because it is just a man’s thing to do and 6) spoiled and they enjoy being treated like princesses or a queen. Let’s I not generalize, all Saudi women are not like this. There are some that really want to drive in Saudi Arabia, starting with real-life princesses such as Princess Lulwa Al-Faisal and Princess Ameera At-Taweel.

John Burgess of Crossroads Arabia is an ex-American diplomat who served in Saudi Arabia. He raises some good discussion points regarding the whole ‘I wanna be treated like a princess/queen’ attitude that pervaded the above mentioned Arab News article by Rima Al-Mukhtar: “Arab News runs a piece noting that not all Saudi women want to drive. Most of the issues raised—difficulty in finding parking spaces, bad driving, bad roads, etc.—strike me as trivial at best. ‘Feeling like a princess’ does not represent much of an argument for depriving other women the right to get themselves from place to place, either. If Saudi women are to get themselves out from under the burden of male guardianship, then they’re going to have to step up and accept the unpleasant aspects of equality along with the good. One argument makes some sense: Saudi men harass women in public and would be likely to harass women drivers. The solution to that, though, is not to forbid women’s driving, it is to educate (or punish, if necessary) the harassers until they change their behavior. Perhaps bumper stickers saying, ‘I’m your mother — I’m your sister’ would help get the message across.”

You would think Saudi men would already have respect for any woman driving a car regardless if she is related to him or not. Isn’t this what the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) encouraged men to do by instructing them that Allah enjoins upon them to treat women well?

Did the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) ever discourage women to ride donkeys, camels or horses? Absolutely not! Then why are women forbidden from driving cars in Saudi Arabia?

I have always felt the Saudi law forbidding women to drive is against Islam. It is purely cultural and without merit, I don’t care what kind of excuse is given to justify it. One of the excuses is that it is to protect women. In my case, I feel more protected not walking in the streets alone or in a car alone with a non-mahram stranger but behind the wheel of a car.

Sheikh Abdulatif Al al-Sheikh admits the driving ban enforced upon women is not part of the Shari’ah. Even though religious police have no authority to arrest women seen driving, they have been instructed not to do so.

Shaykh Al-Albani

From Shaykh Nasirud-deen Al-Albaani, rahimahullah (translated by Adnan bin Salam)…


Questioner: Is it permissible for a woman to drive a car?


Answer: If it is permissible for her to ride upon a (female) donkey then it is permissible for her to drive a car.


Questioner: But there is a difference between a donkey and a car.


Shaykh Al-Albaanee: Which is more concealing – riding upon a donkey or in a car? I would suggest (riding in) a car. 


Shaykh Muqbil Al-Waadi’ee (rahimahullah) issued a similar ruling…


Question: What is the ruling on a woman driving a car, and what is your view in making it similar to a woman riding a beast (i.e. Horse)?

Answer:  … if the woman is righteous and is safe from fitnah and she needs something in the market then this is no problem (driving) and I do not see any prevention in this. For the car is a machine made of iron and we do not make this haraam upon her.

So there you have it! My understanding of the above two fatawa is that its not haram for a woman to drive a car but some men don’t want their women to drive for personal reasons. That is fine with me but nobody has a right to prohibit me from driving if I have a valid driver’s license, the capability to drive and my husband’s permission to go outside of my house and drive my/our car. And my husband wouldn’t mind me driving around doing errands to take some of the strain off of him. I would find it hard to believe that it wouldn’t be a relief for other men either. Newsflash! Saudi Ban On Driving A Burden On Men, Too

Susie Of Arabia

Susie of Arabia Thinks Its Time For Women To Drive. She related her own frustration not being able to drive while undertaking a grocery shopping trip with a very sick husband. Because of his heart condition, he’s not allowed to drive so the two cars sitting out in their driveway are unused since they have no full-time driver, they waited in the heat a total of 35 minutes for non-existent taxis and the MEN driving their cars didn’t even bother to give them a lift to the grocery store. I wish that the MEN who banned driving for women and those who support it had been there to witness Susie and her husband’s suffering that day. Islam is supposed to be easy for the people. Yet there is an unislamic no-women-allowed-to-drive law making it harder on the people.

In another blog post titled, Saudi Woman Breaks Law To Save Husband, Susie “has also written about how it’s a daily occurrence to see young boys who aren’t even tall enough to see over the steering wheel or reach the brake pedal driving cars here, and no one seems to have a problem with it. It’s also no problem for men with babies sitting in their laps and small children jumping around in the moving car – nobody is buckled in. Yet, ask Saudi men why women shouldn’t drive here, and most of them will inevitably say its for the woman’s safety. Safety? What a crock! Then why does Saudi Arabia have the highest traffic accident death toll in the world? Could it be because only MEN drive here? Safety my A**!”

Using safety as an excuse to keep women from driving is one of many. Throughout this debate, there have been excuses on top of excuses from the anti-driving camp. Excuses instead of solutions. The Saudi government and the people of Saudi Arabia will never know how it will be like for women to drive unless they try it. Just speculating about what will happen is not enough. Each situation should be dealt with as it comes. For example… 1) Problem: men disrespecting women. Solution: remind men of treating women well according to Islam and for repeat offenders, punish with a fine or jail time for that behavior. 2) Problem: traffic and limited parking. Solution: build more car parks, garages, roads, tunnels, underpasses. And don’t tell me Saudi Arabia doesn’t have the funding or the man power. 3) Problem: bad roads. Solution: fix bad roads or….learn how to drive on bad roads. But why are bad roads being driven on anyway, shouldn’t they be closed to all traffic? 4) Problem: car breaks down or women have problems on the road. Solution: employ women police officers and traffic officers, have women police stations for them. They have women only malls, women only sections in banks and a women only building for female customs officers at the King Fahd Causeway don’t they? More women will be employed! 5) Problem: husband makes you do everything because you can drive. Solution: Don’t do anything you don’t want to do (within reason)! The husband is the ameer of the household, if he shirks his duties then he should be called on that. Anyway, for something that a woman can do that a man doesn’t have to do, it is not a shame for a woman to be self-sufficient. The Prophet’s wives and the wives of his companions were self-sufficient. 6) Problem: one Saudi woman spoke of the men of the family forbidding their women to drive and eventually employing female drivers. Solution: that’s their problem. What does it have to do with the women whose male relatives would allow them to drive their own car? Let’s please think with common sense!

Prince Talal and Capt. Hanada

I tell ya, one person who does have sense is Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal. He made history and set a precedent for advancing the status of Saudi women by hiring Capt. Hanada Hindi, the first Saudi female pilot, to fly his fleet of planes at Kingdom Holding Company. Masha’Allah this is an accomplishment! Now if only Capt. Hindi could drive herself to her job.

Another accomplishment of Prince Al-Waleed for advancing the status of women in Saudi Arabia is letting them drive cars on his private property as claimed by Forbes journalist, Kerry A. Dolan.

On 10 March 2011, Prince Al-Waleed was quoted as wanting answers as to why Saudi Arabia hasn’t sent 750,000 foreign male drivers back to their countries and let women drive their own cars. He thinks that hiring drivers is a burden on households. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There was a time when I was debating whether I wanted to work at an international school that my son would attend. Bringing in a foreign driver was out of the question because it costs 15,000 riyals (4,000usd) plus food, lodging and medical bills. So then we had to turn to local drivers with their own car and own iqamahs. The hassle of finding a dependable driver drove me crazy!

Princess Lulwa Al-Faisal

If Princess Lulwa Al-Faisal was queen for the day, we women in Saudi Arabia would be driving by now and there would be no need for me to write this article. I’m just sayin!

Let’s Imagine If Women Could Drive in Saudi Arabia, what would it be like? Arab news reporter, Somayya Jabarti, takes us from fiction to fact with a baffling scenario: It’s the end of the week and a Saudi woman who is a lawyer has lots of errands to run on her to-do list. She starts with the police station to bail out a female client who was jailed for running a red right but cannot do so because her client needs a male guardian to come and collect her. Dismayed, she drives to the court house to complain to a qadi and petition for the release of her female client but after bribing the guards for entry and covering her face, the qadi sends her away because no women are allowed. Angry but undeterred, she drives over to the passport office but is promptly refused a new passport regardless of having the required documents because this is her guardian’s responsibility. She’s told the same thing by a bank official when she tries to open a bank account for her minor daughter even though she is a long term customer and has proof of employment. Infuriated to the point that her blood pressure is boiling, she decides to drive to a beach resort to calm her nerves where she is told the ever present rule for women: no guardian, no can do. The author concludes that,

All of the above is FACT. The only fiction is driving.
What illusive independence!
Adults are we?
Driving: What is our God-given right and due?
Mothers. Wives. Daughters. Sisters. Doctors. Educators. Writers. Researchers. Scientists. Journalists. Marketers. Bankers. Nurses. Financial analysts. Therapists. Architects. Lawyers. Pilots. Students. Designers. Mathematicians. Entrepreneurs. Businesswomen.
What were their words? “Doesn’t matter”.
Says man.

Photo Credit Eric Lafforgue


Not God.

The satirical story of Moudhi challenges the status quo. She went out on the streets of Riyadh driving a car, riding a bike and finally on the back of a donkey. Throughout her humorous exchanges with baffled Saudi police officers, she poked holes in all of their reasons as to why women shouldn’t be allowed to drive. In the end, Moudhi defiantly declared that she’s “going to get on my donkey every day, and demand the authorities provide donkey parking at the shops, as this is my right for as long as I’m not allowed to drive a car.”

Hopefully Moudhi won’t have to keep riding that donkey for long.

Using a loophole in Saudi Arabia’s
ban on women driving cars, a Saudi
woman drives a dune buggie
(aka an ATV or quad bike) in the Thumamah

desert of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Speaking of riding something, my husband took us out to the Thumamah desert late March of this year (2011). And you can’t guess what we saw! Fully veiled girls riding ATV’s (or quad bikes). I mean there were some older and BIG older girls and it seemed as if there were a lot of them. I’m sure everybody was looking but nobody was saying anything to them. Because of this, I persuaded my husband to let our 6 year old son ride on a kiddie ATV for the first time ever. He wouldn’t let me ride one but that was ok because I was excited to watch my son having a good time. Then when my husband was jumping someone’s car, I jumped on the kiddie ATV and drove off. I didn’t care who was looking at me because I was having too much fun. And my husband couldn’t say anything to me because I was gonnnnnnnnnne hahahaha. Seriously, from this experience, I’d confidently say that change is in the air. Women, including me, were driving ATV’s in an open, busy portion of the desert without disturbance from the hai’a or molestation from other men. Saudi Women Override Driving Ban On Quad Bikes

Which leads me to Eman Al-Nafjan (aka Saudi Woman’s Weblog), who thinks the 14 April 2010 article by the conservative Al-Riyadh newspaper signifies A Turning Point soon. She graciously translated the Al-Riyadh article into English for her readers on her blog, Women Driving Cars, How Do We Start Its Implementation?

It is a remarkable article and indicates that more people are having the courage to speak up about the ban on women driving. And a year after that article, we find women riding ATVs in the desert unabashedly! I wish that those in authority would realize that the day they allow women to drive, the whole world will celebrate and elevate Saudi Arabia a bit further up on the human rights record.

I wrote the above conclusion one year ago. As of May 2011, there is a new campaign on Facebook calling for all Saudi women to hit the streets and drive their cars on 17 June 2011. Manal Al-Sharif is one of the five creators of this group. She can be seen driving her car in Saudi Arabia in this YouTube video. According to Eman Al-Nafjan, she has been arrested. There is another heroine by the name of Najla Al-Hariri who has been driving around Jeddah for a week, unaccosted by Saudi men and without reprimand from Saudi police. Najla and Manal are no longer being controlled by fear in this country and are each starting this movement with a raindrop. As of 22 May 2011, there have been no reports of Najla’s arrest. “The mother of five has the support of her husband and says her daughters and their friends are very proud of her. She knows, however, that she could be stopped at any moment by the police. ‘In this society I am a little bit brave. I am not scared,’ she says.” (BBC)

On the 17 June 2011, we will see who else amongst the women of Saudi Arabia will refused to be scared, adding to Najla’s raindrop and stirring up a storm. Or maybe that single raindrop will dry up in this restrictive desert country.

It is 20 June 2011 as I write a new conclusion. There has been documentation of some women driving on the 17th of June whilst the police turned the other cheek and ighals stayed on top of shumaghs. Scattered raindrops but a campaign that was driven to success nevertheless. Saudi women, I salute you! You are paving the roadways for not only your fellow countrywomen but all women who want to feel the vibration of a steering wheel between their hands, hear the sound of an engine as a key is turned in the ignition and feel their foot on the gas pedal. The question is not IF that will happen but WHEN it will happen.

29 October 2013 update: This h.i.l.a.r.i.o.u.s. video, No Woman, No Drive by Alaa Wardi is a MUST WATCH!

6 November 2013 update: A Saudi man teaching his elderly mother how to drive.

MORE READING:

Ahmed Al-Omran

A Historical Moment: The Saudi Women Challenging A Government By Driving
By Ahmed Al-Omran
NPR
19 June 2011

As we’ve reported over the past few weeks, women have been mounting pressure on the Saudi government to allow them to drive since Manal al-Sharif was arrested last month. Al-Sharif, who has been compared by some activists to Rosa Parks, has inspired more women to defy the ban on driving. June 17 was chosen as a day when women all over Saudi Arabia were encouraged to start driving. More than 50 women drove their cars, starting at the wee hours of the morning. As the day went by, more photos and videos of the female driving kept popping up on social media sites. One of the themes that emerged throughout the day was that many women were accompanied by men — fathers, husbands, brothers and sons…read more.

Tariq Alhomayed

Saudi Arabia: Don’t Politicize The Issue Of Women Driving
By Tariq Alhomayed
Asharq Alawsat
26 May 2011

…the key issue here is that women driving in Saudi Arabia is inevitable, so why turn this into a prize-fight? It would be useful to immediately announce the formation of a committee to study this issue, taking a number of suggestions into account, including: allowing the introduction of female drivers in order to reassure society, as well as allowing Saudi Arabian women, of a certain age, to drive in certain cities as part of a pilot scheme. Later the age limit can be reduced, and the experiment extended to other Saudi cities. This is in order to observe the logistical conditions, from the Traffic Department and other issues, as well as ensuring decency with regards to appearances. Before all of this, there must be a strict and firm law in place to ensure that women drivers are not subject to any forms of sexual harassment or insult.

Thus I would say that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with women driving, and this is something that can be implemented calmly. However what is most important is that this issue must not be politicized, because that is in no one’s interest. Read the article in its entirety here.

Sabria S. Jawhar

Saudi Women’s Driving Ban Rises To Become A Major Issue
By Sabria S. Jawhar
23 May 2011

There was a time when I firmly believed the endless debate about Saudi women banned from driving cars was trivial. It distracted Saudis from the real problems of the denial of women’s rights: employment, education, guardianship abuses, inheritance, and fair and equitable treatment in the Saudi judicial system.

The arrest and imprisonment of Manal Al-Sherif, 32, after driving a car in Khobar, has changed all that. The driving ban is no longer a distraction to Saudi women’s quest for their rights, but could very well be the centerpiece of our struggle to obtain rights long denied us…read more.


Top Five Fallacies About Women Driving In Saudi

By Murtadha Almtawaah
20 May 2011

Here are the common five fallacies about not allowing Saudi women driving with my respond to each one of them:

1. Women driving will increase the traffic: Many saudi fear that streets and highways would be extremely crowded when women are allowed to drive and this isn’t true. In fact, allowing women to drive will decrease the traffic.

2. Women driving will increase the pollution: You may wonder since when Saudi began to care about environment and pollution! Ironically, Saudi began to think about being environmental only in the issue of women driving.

3. Flirting and sexual harassment: Saudi who have been outside of KSA respect fully the law of the country. I rarely heard a Saudi harassing an American woman or a Kuwait woman just because he sees her driving.

4. Women driving will increase the rate of accidents: I don’t understand how people sometimes make a conclusion on argument without having a sound and rational premiss like saying that “women are very emanational and not physically strong to drive therefore, allowing them to drive would lead to more accidents”. Sounds stupid, right?

5. Women driving is prohibited in Islam: It is either Saudi think they are the only one in the world who follow Islam and consider all other Islamic countries as sinners for allowing women to drive, or we have really stupid religious group who invent Fatwa as they wish and like.

Tara Umm Omar: This is only a synopsis of Murtadha’s article and I chose short excerpts of the five fallacies he listed. If you would like to read his article in its entirety, please visit his blog, Saudi Alchemist.

Barbara Walters and King Abdullah

Interview Between King Abdullah And Barbara Walters Concerning Women Driving 

WALTERS: A flash point for Westerners is that Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world in which women are not allowed to drive. It seems to be symbolic of women’s lack of independence. Would you support allowing a woman to drive?

KING ABDULLAH: I believe strongly in the rights of women … my mother is a woman, my sister is a woman, my daughter is a woman, my wife is a woman. I believe the day will come when women drive. In fact, if you look at the areas in Saudi Arabia, the deserts and in the rural areas, you will find that women do drive. The issue will require patience. In time, I believe it will be possible.

WALTERS: You cannot just make a decree that women drive? You’re the king!

KING ABDULLAH: I value and take care of my people as I would my eye.

WALTERS: Is that an answer?

KING ABDULLAH: Yes. I respect my people. It is impossible that I would do anything that is not acceptable to my people.

Back seat driver

Shaykh Ahmad bin Baz On His Father’s Fatwa Banning Women To Drive

“My father’s fatwa came under certain circumstances a lot of people may not know about,”

Sheikh Ahmad told Al-Arabiya. “At the time, in 1990 to 1991, the region was witnessing some of the most significant events since the two World Wars, with Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait and the arrival of the US army and the joint forces, and fear of an unknown future pervading the region, as well as the beginning of satellite television.”

According to Sheikh Ahmad, these and other factors came into play when a “group of women in Riyadh got into their cars and drove and announced the breaking of restrictions imposed on them regarding driving cars.”
The event caused, the Sheikh said, a “shock by any standards.”

“That form of behavior in addressing issues and expressing opinions is not the done thing, especially by women, and goes against social customs. I’d add that the political atmosphere was charged at the time and fear was in the air, and as some would remember gas masks were being distributed.”

“But more importantly than that,” Sheikh Ahmad continued, “there was the fear of internal division in facing the external enemy that was at our gates, and after what might be called the demonstration by the women came, by a day or two, the gathering of thousands of whom are known as ‘mutaawa’a’ at the front of the Dar Al-Iftaa’ while a group of scholars, my father among them, was inside.”

It was in that context, Sheikh Ahmad said, that his father’s fatwa declaring the driving of cars by women as haraam was issued. “So one can’t remove fatwas from the contexts and circumstances under which they were issued,” he said.

We The Women Drive

Proud and youthful 24 year old Saudi woman Areej started We The Women, a website campaign that fights for the female right to drive. Areej’s inspiration came from “seeing how her retired father spent so much time chauffeuring the women in her family.” The campaign, which also has an active Facebook account, is famous for their bumper stickers, which proudly caption slogans such as “It is my natural right to move freely and flexibly in my environment,” “Driving shouldn’t even be an issue”and “I don’t like the backseat!” (Peace And Conflict Monitor)

It sure isn’t hmph!

Saudi Women Petitioning Government For Driving Rights

Saudi Women Group founders:
Fawzeyah Al-Oyouni (human rights activist & wife of poet Ali Domaini)
Wajeha Al-Huwaidar (poet & human rights activist)
Haifa Osrah (social worker)

“We demand that the right of women to drive is given back to us,” says the petition. “It’s a right that was enjoyed by our mothers and grandmothers in complete freedom to (utilize) the means of transportation in those times.”

Here’s what some of you may say: “It’s not going to work”, “There are many important steps to be taken before we are given the right”, “There are more social issues to worry about”, etc.

If it weren’t for the 47 women who drove 17 years ago, it would probably still be a taboo subject. Now we can talk about the steps to be taken and the awareness we need to raise forever, but signing this petition will take you seconds, and it will demonstrate OUR awareness of this need.

It’s not only a religious right, it’s a social one too! and in fact, it’s a symbol… a symbol of mobility and personal freedom.

We need more numbers guys! Men can sign too! This is what you have to do: Send an email to
yes2womendriving at hotmail.com and state:

1. Your Name
2. Occupation
3. City you live in
4. Nationality

NON-SAUDIS can petition too!!! It would help…

Dr. Batarfi

Dr. Khaled Batarfi: Women Driving In Saudi Arabia? Why Not?

Readers who do not know Saudi Arabia well couldn’t understand or appreciate the reasoning against women driving. Saudis and residents who are familiar with the issue cite logistical and practical problems and concerns. No one claims the ban is Islamic. In Prophet’s (peace be upon him) time, women rode their horses and camels. In other Islamic countries, women didn’t have to compromise their modest dress code to drive. And they drive as well as men, if not better and safer.

Many readers fear that men, especially the young, will harass or chase female drivers. This is blaming the victim. If men are the guilty party, then let’s ban them.

Some suspect that if we allow women driving, it will make it much easier for dating. They say it is bad as it is. Girls pretending to be out for school and social events go for dates! Give them cars and see what happens!

I say if they decide to date they will find a way. If you don’t trust your kids, boys or girls, don’t give them cars. But if you brought them up well, trust them. Besides, why do we assume girls would be less observant and conservative than boys? If both are as much suspect, then nobody should be allowed to drive. What difference does it make who sits on the driving seat?

Other arguments focus on practicalities, like traffic jams, accidents, car breakdowns, driving in remote areas, etc.

I say, we should plan and prepare. We could go gradually, allowing women over thirty to drive first, and then schedule other age groups. If they get in trouble they could use their cell phones. Mobile car service operators would help in case of breakdowns. We must take extra security measures and harsher punishment for harassers, like publishing offenders’ names and photos in the papers. They did that in Dubai and it worked.

We have to start by educating the public with media campaigns and encourage preachers, teachers and parents to contribute and participate. Solutions are there if we just look for them. As the Americans say, if there is a will, there is a way. (Read more)

Princess Al-Taweel

Princess Amira Al-Taweel (wife of Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal) says she’s ready to drive

“Certainly I’m ready to drive a car,” said al-Taweel, whose husband is a nephew of Saudi King Abdallah and is ranked as the world’s 13th-richest person by Forbes magazine. “I have an international driver’s license, and I drive a car in all the countries I travel to.”

Her answer came after the interviewer noted that her husband had said in a previous interview he would be the first to let his wife and daughter drive if the ban was lifted.

“I prefer driving a car with my sister or friend next to me instead of being with a driver who is not (related to me),” al-Taweel said in her interview, referring to the drivers women are forced to employ.

Saudi Princess Lobbies For Women’s Right To Drive
NPR radio interview of Princess Ameera Al-Taweel with English transcript.
14 July 2011

Women Driving Issue Needs No Fatwa: It Is A General Right

Shaykh Ahmed Bin Baz

The reasons behind stopping women from driving in Saudi Arabia no longer exists, a prominent Saudi cleric [Shaykh Ahmed Bin Baz] told Al Arabiya, bringing the issue of whether Saudi women should be allowed to drive to the surface once more. The comments were made during the TV show Wajih al-Sahafah (Face the Press), aired by Al Arabiya few days ago, and presented by prominent journalist Dawood al-Shirian.

Sheikh bin Baz added that the issue of women driving should not be viewed through a fatwa but as a general “right.” “Nowadays, stances and views have changed regarding everything and this is not an alien thing. Blocking pretexts is not necessary as not everything can lead to vices,” said Sheikh bin Baz, asking whether driving and the use of cars should also be banned if traffic accidents lead to the loss of life.

The son of the Kingdom’s former grand mufti said forbidding women from driving fearing they may be sexually harassed indicates that “we do not trust out education system, which teaches a sense of right and wrong that is derived from Islamic teaching. If we are in doubt about it, then we should re-evaluate it.”

Wajeha Al-Huwaider

Saudi Women Can Drive. Just Let Them
By Wajeha Al-Huwaider
Excerpts taken from The Washington Post
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
Sunday, August 16, 2009

Who is that woman who returns day after day to the border crossing, seeking to pass from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain, only to be turned away? She is me.

Who am I? A native of the city of Hufuf in eastern Saudi Arabia, where the world’s best dates are grown, a 47-year-old divorced mother of two teenage sons, and an employee of the vast Saudi oil company, Saudi Aramco.

I am not a dangerous person, so why do they turn me away? Because I refuse to present a document signed by my male “guardian,” giving his permission for me to travel.

The guardianship rules are only part of a bigger system of subjugating women. Even with the permission of a guardian, a woman may not drive a car (except in some isolated rural areas and within the compounds that are home to many workers from Western countries). Obviously, there is nothing in the Koran that forbids driving. No, the reason we are not allowed to drive is that the power to transport ourselves would give men much less control over us.

So, one of my other campaigns has been for the right to drive. Last year on International Women’s Day I posted a video on YouTube of myself driving a car. It was filmed by another woman sitting in the passenger’s seat. I explained that many Saudi women who have lived abroad have driver’s licenses from other countries and would be happy to volunteer to teach our sisters how to drive. (That way they would not have to be alone in a car with a male driving instructor, lest terrible things happen.) This video has received more than 181,000 hits.

Earlier this year, while visiting my two sons at boarding school in Virginia (I send them there because I do not want them to grow up to be typical Saudi men), I staged a demonstration in front of a car dealership in Woodbridge. I addressed a message to U.S. automakers: Saudi women want to buy your cars (and many can afford to). But first, you must support our fight for the right to drive.

Wajeha Al-Huwaider, a writer and an activist, is a co-founder of the Society for Defending Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia.

A Saudi woman learning how
to drive in Bahrain

Let Them Drive (brilliant rebuttal of Rima Al-Mukhtar’s article)
By Myriam Vollant
Arab News | Jeddah
24 April 2011

This is in response to Rima Al-Mukhtar’s report, “Not all Saudi women seeking to drive cars” (April 13, 2011).

The report projects the idyllic image of a society where women live happily traveling in a chauffeur-drawn car. I know many women, rich and poor, who suffer because they don’t get or can’t afford to have a driver. I agree only with the first five lines of the report — a report that does not go further than the experience of a handful of women. Here are a few points for their consideration:

1. If Saudi Arabia is not the appropriate place for driving a car, as some women interviewed by the reporter say, why are men still driving? I have driven from the border of Saudi Arabia to France with my 14-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter. In Jordan, the condition of roads and driving habits is the same as in Jeddah, and in Syria, the roads are terrible and in Turkey and Greece, they drive crazier than in Jeddah.

2. Your driver finds a parking lot after he drops you at the main entrance of a public place, but how many times we have to phone him to ask where he is? After you finish your shopping or work, you will have to wait for the driver — sometimes standing more than 10 minutes outside a mall or office.

3. “Remembering where we parked our car or parking far away from the door” disturbs some ladies. They will be even more disturbed to see some taxi drivers go past them because they don’t want you as a passenger or some men stopping their car near you and persisting in offering you a lift.

4. Some women are worried that the car is parked far away. Sometimes you will have to walk longer to get a taxi.

5. Traveling in a chauffeur-drawn car makes you feel like a princess, says one lady. What about others who can’t afford to have a driver and stand in hot sun in a street waiting for a taxi — usually dirty and reeking of cigarette smoke?

6. “I don’t have to care about the gas tank or going to the workshop or anything, I just have to make sure that he gets his salary on time and that’s it,” says a woman. A car doesn’t break every month. You have to check it the way you check your washing machine or your electronic gadgets. Women in the West change their own tires; it takes only 15 minutes.

7. One lady says driving a car in Saudi Arabia is no fun. Nowhere is it a fun. By the way, has she ever driven a car in Saudi Arabia?

8. If men drive crazy in Jeddah one reason may be it is all men. They don’t temporize their spirit of competition between them. Maybe they will change the way they drive once they see women behind the wheels.

9. Statistics by insurance companies in all countries show that fewer women are involved in accidents than men. Women drive more carefully than men too. A woman can do many things simultaneously unlike men.

10. Of course a woman with zero experience will have to learn how to drive properly, but many expatriate women and even Saudi women have got 10 to 25 years or more of experience in driving.

11. One lady is worried that “anytime you go out all the young men of Jeddah are following you everywhere.” You don’t have to get your car’s windowpanes tinted to avoid unwanted attention; wearing a niqab would be better. Don’t drive if you are afraid, and don’t take taxi, stay at home. Can you?

12. “Some religious people give a woman the nasty look when they see her faced uncovered, and I don’t think that they would accept seeing her in the driver’s seat anytime soon,” says one lady. Does she mean to say that these religious people find it preferable to allow a woman to travel with a male driver who is not related to her?

Only a minority of women may drive at first if the ban is lifted. But let this minority drive, especially divorced and separated women, widows and women with small children like myself.

Women Are Learning To Drive Near The King Fahd Airport In Dammam
Written by Muhammad Al-Dawud on 8 April 2011
Dar Al-Hayat | Dammam
Translated by Al-Mutarjim on 12 April 2011

Hundreds of cars, the majority of them four-wheel drive, on the weekend head towards the road that leads to the King Fahd International Airport west of the city of Dammam. Most of them do not intend to travel, whether inside the country or outside of it, nor do they intend to meet travelers. Most of their drivers do not go to the reception area, but instead turn off to the right a few kilometers before arriving at the airport, to a sandy area with many dunes. This sandy eastern area outside the airport has been converted into an “open square” for teaching driver’s education. Most of the students are Saudi women.

It is noteworthy that some of the girls, who go to the “Airport Dunes” weekly, have surpassed the basic driving stage, and have reached the point where they are learning advanced techniques such as drifting.
The number of those interested in driving at the dunes has greatly increased recently, especially after the return of many female students who had been sent abroad for study. The circumstances of their daily life (outside Saudi) required them to learn to drive, which has led them to want to practice here, “Fearing that we would forget what we had learned, and also in preparation for us making the attempt, in the event that we are officially allowed to drive soon,” according to ‘Abir Musa, who returned a few months ago from the United States.

‘Abir did not hesitate to insist on daily practice, convincing her husband of the need to “Drive the car any way possible.” She stressed that she had learned to drive during her academic studies in the United States, with encouragement from her husband. However, he “was reluctant to agree to my driving in the Kingdom. He only agreed on condition that I drive in areas far away from the main roads, fearing that people he knows would see me and he would feel embarrassed, in addition to his fear that I would be stopped by security officials.”

WATCH VIDEOS:

Saudi Women Want To Drive

Interview On Driving With Saudi Women Rights Activist Hala Al-Dosari

Saudi Women, Start Your Engines

Published by

Tara Umm Omar

American married to a Saudi.

11 thoughts on “Women Driving In Saudi Arabia: My Personal Thoughts”

  1. >My non-saudi mother, who lives in Saudi Arabia & married to a non-saudi, is also extremely annoyed and bothered by the law that women cannot drive. It is a very sexist ruling and of course goes against Islam since it is not haraam and in fact does more harm than good to the women.Also, maybe if women drove, all the men wouldn't drive like maniacs, ha ha!

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  2. >You know I feel your frustration!! We women all know it's utterly ridiculous, illogical, and insulting that we can't drive here. The majority of men here know it, and as you've written, even the king himself knows it. The only people who do not know it possess no ability to think critically, and then put annoying stickers on their bumpers to show off their ignorance. Under the guidance of forward thinking leaders and women who are willing to speak out, I think it's only a matter of time before Saudi modernizes, and I really hope we will all be alive to see it!! The Brits, Americans had problems with women's rights once and it took time for them to sort themselves out. Saudi will get there one day! Big thumbs up for this posting!

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  3. >I always thought the driving ban towards women was and still is politically motivated. I have never come across a constructive definition behind it anyway. The idea that women driving is unislamic is pretty laughable to say the least. Islam is not a religion of hardship, but its actions like this (driving ban on women) that ignites serious misconceptions about Islam to people of other faiths. I pray to God Almighty that sometime soon women will be allowed to drive in KSA. Really, it grieves me every time I think of Sussie of Arabia's situation.

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  4. >AlabasterMuslim- Come to think of it, it IS a sexist law! This study shows that women behave far better on the road than men…http://editorial.autos.msn.com/article.aspx?cp-documentid=788126I think I'll be amending the article to include my thoughts on that insha'Allah.Orchidthief- Thanks. You know exactly how it is not to be able to drive here. Men need to change their mentality and ease up on their control over women, some of them take it too far. Freedom of movement should be a right of all. Insha'Allah KSA will arrive at a solution in line with Islamic values/morals without encroaching upon womens' rights.Alhamask- I've tried to understand it but couldn't make sense out of it. And you're right, it does give non-Muslims an excuse to give Islam a bad name.

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  5. >I heard the other day about the subject of women driving. I got so excited, that i told all teacher friends in school that i will be the first person to go and buy the car and open a Driving School for all who want to learn. It will ease the suffering for all the women who have to wait in the heat and at night or walking to a near main street to stop a taxi whom knowone in your family knows who you riding with . A Stranger.

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  6. >A Stranger- Welcome to FHWS and thanks for commenting. Masha'Allah that would be a great idea. We need more brave women like you! May Allah keep the women who have to venture out of their homes and use taxis for necessities, safe ameen.

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  7. >I don't see the issue with women not driving. Most rich Saudi women have slaves anyway to take them places so they don't need to drive. I do see the Saudi women/Saudi Government as hypocrites in allowing their women to be in a car alone with a non-mahram man. You cannot legally bring female workers into the Kingdom as there is the issue of 1. they are breaking Islam by travling without a mahram, and 2. there's the issue of the foregin female being non-mahram to the woman's sons/husband. Also this will put the foreign woman at risk of abuse/rape from the Saudi men/Saudi boys and possible abuse from the women in Saudi which seems to be common in the Kingdom to treat servants like property and animals especially among some stuck up brats from the oil boom generation. So in order for women to have a possiblty of driving we must do the following: 1. KICK OUT the murderous Al Saud family and establish a democracy under TRUE Shariah (as Saudi's definition of Shariah is usually twisted), 2. Educate the men from their 7th century thinking, 3. Quit employing male drivers, 4. Give the women who want to learn driving lessons and 5. Don't force the women who don't want to drive.

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  8. >Thank you for visiting FHWS and commenting. Please be aware that I have no way of really knowing exactly who is reading my blog so I implore you to carefully choose your words when referring to the Al-Sauds, especially if you are using the internet anywhere in KSA. Having said that, I strongly agree that the mentality of those men who do not want women to drive should change. I think it is a control issue and over-protectiveness. Being protective of the women in your family is a good trait but can be taken to the extreme when womens' rights are encroached upon in the process. It is weird that Saudi men entrust their women to strange men, expose them to the risk of being abused by these strange men and open the way for their women to be involved in illicit relationships with these strange men but they don't want their women to drive their own cars.As time goes on, I believe that Saudi men will be forced to relent to women driving due to Saudization and economic reasons. How long will oil wealth last eh?

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  9. I am a crhistian woman from north europe. i am really shocked that you are discussing about things that in my opinion are complete self evident in 21 century. good luck to you all muslim girls and womans! 🙂

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