Islam · Women

Mothers

Mothers-blog

Sameea Jonnud, Aldershot

On Mothering Sunday children all over Britain show love for their mothers by giving cards and gifts, often of flowers and chocolates. However while the gesture is a lovely one, we don’t actually need a special day to show our love and appreciation; we should be doing this every day. After all as the person who has done so much for us our mother deserves more than just a single ‘day’.

“…His mother bears him with pain, and brings him forth with pain. And the bearing of him and his weaning takes thirty months…” Holy Qur’an 46:16 (1)

For nine months they carried us with their bodies changing as we developed, their discomfort increasing, until they gave birth through pain and danger. They overcame exhaustion as they themselves recovered to feed and care for us, watching carefully as we strengthened and grew. They taught us about God, about the world, about ourselves as they satisfied our inquisitive natures. They prayed for us with pain and love from the heart as only mothers can do.

There is great regard for mothers in the teachings of Islam as illustrated by verses in the Holy Qur’an which help us understand what they go through, as well verses advocating good treatment of parents. Also in traditions of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) where he has emphasised the importance of mothers and reminded followers of all she went through:

“A person came to the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) and complained that his mother was ill-tempered. The Holy Prophet of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) said, `She was not ill-tempered when she kept you in her womb for nine months.’ The person insisted, `Sir, I am telling you the truth that she is ill-tempered.’ The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) said, `She was not ill-tempered when she used to keep awake the whole night for your sake and fed you.’ The man replied, `I have recompensated all the favours of my mother.’ The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) then asked: `How have you recompensated her?’ He replied, `I have helped her perform Hajj by putting her on my shoulders.’ After hearing this, the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) put a question to the complainant, `Can you recompensate the painful pangs your mother bore at the time of your birth?”(2)

The pain and difficulty involved in the process of carrying a child and giving birth naturally creates an unbreakable bond of love between mothers and their children, a bond continued as they bring up their children, caring for them, teaching them right from wrong and laying the foundations for their children to become productive members of society.

As His Holiness, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih V said:

“Remember that the key for any nation to thrive and progress lies in the hands of the mothers of that nation.” (3)

What a responsibility to hold, that of nation builders, and also what a great honour!

Today and every day all children should remember their mothers with love and appreciation for everything they have done and should pray for them.

“Paradise lies under the feet of mothers”(4) the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) once said; with the prayers of our mothers, our living up to their wishes and praying for them too we can fulfil this.

 

References:
(1) https://www.alislam.org/quran/view/?page=596&region=E2
(2) https://www.alislam.org/library/misc/treatment-of-parents-islamic-teachings/
(3)  http://www.reviewofreligions.org/13025/the-equality-of-women-and-their-role-in-society/
(4) https://www.alislam.org/library/books/WisdomOfHolyProphet.pdf p14
Advertisements
Islam · Women

Balance for Better

IMG-20190307-WA0001

By Navida Sayed, Hounslow

From the boardroom to the political and social domain, women’s achievements are being celebrated across the globe today on International Women’s Day 2019; the theme ‘Balance for Better’ aims towards a more gender-balanced world. While the emphasis is on the successes and achievements of women this day is also a time for reflection on the societal hurdles and challenges to equality still faced by women today. Regardless of making huge leaps and bounds to improve the legal status of women in many parts of the world, equality is far from being a reality. International Women’s Day is marked as one day of the year, but if it became a daily way of life, where women in society would be treated equally and with respect at every level then communities would thrive. The question arises how can we achieve balance for better what does Islam say about this?

Islam has granted women a position of dignity and honour and was the first religion to formally grant women a status never known before. The moral, spiritual and economic equality of men and women as propagated by Islam is unquestionable.

Wearing the Hijab, does not restrict a Muslim woman’s role. She is encouraged to seek education and is not restricted in pursuing a professional career. If a woman pursues a career her husband has absolutely no right to demand anything from his wife’s income, property or wealth and Islam gives her the right to spend it as she wishes.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s organisation is a successful role model of a women’s only organisation; Lajna Ima’illah means “maidservants of Allah” in other words women who can serve their faith and community to the utmost. The organisation was founded by the second successor to the Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) who was thefounder of the Ahmadiyya Community, His Holiness Khalifatul Masih II (may Allah be pleased with him). He felt that the vigorous participation of Ahmadi women was as essential for the success of the Community as that of men, and started activating them for this purpose. In pursuance of this objective in 1922, he wrote a letter to some prominent ladies in the Community, detailing therein the role, which Ahmadi women should play to make Islam go further ahead. He called upon them to disseminate his views among their sisters, win their sympathies for his plans and to form an association to help the resurgence of Islam. This led to the establishment of Lajna Ima’illah. An extract from the letter says:

‘The efforts of our women along with our men are equally necessary for attaining the objects of our creation… Reflection will show that most women do not realise if there is any work to be done other than the daily chores… Apart from their own spiritual, intellectual and moral uplift, the future progress of the Jama’at (Community) is greatly dependent upon the role played by our women in this respect…. Moreover the reformation of women can be better effected by other women.” (i)

The women’s organisation today works globally alongside their male counterparts under the direct guidance of the worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad (may Allah be his Helper).

Ahmadi Muslim women around the world have their own mosque areas, offices and at Jalsa Salana (annual convention) an entire ladies arena to themselves.

The Lajna Ima’illah have office bearers and teams of women in all departments such as health & safety, security, registration, administration, press & media, audio visual, camera crew, Voice of Islam radio, hospitality, Humanity First, discipline, first aid, exhibitions and much more. All the women are volunteers and come from academic and professional backgrounds including housewives, working in unison with the men all united as one on a day to day basis.

We also have equal access to and distribution of resources between women and men and as Ahmadi Muslim women we feel empowered as we experience gender equality through equal responsibility and participation of women and men in all spheres of public and private life exactly in accordance with the teachings of Islam. As a result, in Islam men and women are valued equally bringing balance.

i. The Constitution of The Lajna Imaillah Silsila ‘Aliya Ahmadiyya pages 1-2

Islam · Women

Evolution of Feminism in Relation to Islam

Evolution of Feminism in Relation to Islam.png

Wajeeha Rana, Slough

Feminism has become a widely circulated term in today’s media; it is a word loaded with meaning, yet difficult to define due to the emergence of several different branches of its kind. However, central to this movement is its purpose to advocate “equality of the sexes and the establishment of the political, social, and economic rights of the female sex” (1). Feminism has seen its evolution from roughly the 19th century to the present day, from its first-wave to its third. The question I raise is- how many more “waves” will be needed before women can truly be reassured that they have achieved equality? This further leads me to question what “equality” truly means. It would be far too naïve to assume that equality means “sameness”, because where men and women have equally multifaceted talents, they are by no means the same in their nature or their physicality. As an Ahmadi Muslim woman, I believe that for me this is where Islam comes in, because its principles work to consolidate these differences in the most dignified manner.

The rights of women outlined more than 1,400 years ago in the Holy Qur’an seem to me far more conducive to the feminist struggle for equality, than a model that continues to evolve to unsatisfactory effect. In actuality, it is with the advent of Islam that the issue of women’s rights was first raised, at a time when women were likened to slaves and in no position to campaign for themselves. If being a feminist simply means to support other women, then there can be no greater service to womankind than what the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) carried out. He has said, “It is the duty of every Muslim man and every Muslim woman to acquire knowledge” (2), which shows that education is a fundamental right regardless of one’s gender. Regarding the economic security of women, in the Holy Qur’an it says “…Men shall have a share of that which they have earned, and women a share of that which they have earned…” (4:33) (3), and so it is very clear that women are free to regulate their own wealth and earnings. In Britain, it was not until the 19th century that women could be awarded degrees, vote equally to men or inherit property, yet all these rights and many more were part of Islam’s core teachings hundreds of years before.

With the politicising of the feminist movement, the question of women’s rights has also brought the hijab and Muslim women’s dress into this sphere. Instead of choosing to embrace immodesty to feel liberated as is often seen on social media, I make a different choice. I embrace modesty because Islam removes the pressure on women to adhere to impossible standards of outward beauty and focuses on a woman’s intellect as her biggest asset in society. In the Holy Qur’an it says: “…whoso does good works, whether male or female, and is a believer, such shall enter heaven, and shall not be wronged…” (4:125). I feel empowered knowing that my spirituality and morality being most important to me, is equally weighted to that of any man in the eyes of God.

Whether we tentatively support feminism or champion it enthusiastically, it is safe to assume that regardless of one’s gender, beliefs or other affiliations, we would all like to live in a world in which women, as integral members of our society, consider themselves to be respected. In one Friday Sermon, His Holiness Khalifatul Masih V (may Allah be his Helper) emphasised that “Muslims are those who are taking their countries to real higher levels of developments” (4) and in acknowledging women’s rights as Islam has done, a valuable contribution is made to that development. I argue that the rights of women presented in the Holy Qur’an 1,400 years ago require no amendment or evolution. This model is not regressive but rather quite the opposite; it is so far ahead of its time that our society has not yet caught up, and for those societies who claim to be based on Islamic principles and still oppress women, they must be called to urgently re-evaluate themselves.

Sources (for further information)
(1) Oxford English Dictionary, http://www.oed.com
(2) ‘Chapter 2: Women’s Issues’, in Pathway to Paradise A Guidebook to Islam
(3) The Holy Qur’an, English translation by Maulawi Sher Ali (ra)
(4) Friday Sermon, Striving for Moral Excellence: The Islamic Teachings (13th January 2017)

Education · Hijab · Islam · Women

The Educational Potential of the Hijab: A cloth which can tie us together

educational potential of hijab (1)

Yusra Dahri, London

Recently in the news, Amanda Spielman, Ofsted chief inspector, has progressed with her previous comments about the hijab. It’s true that there is no necessity in primary school for a Muslim girl to wear the hijab. I didn’t wear a headscarf in primary school, but I don’t see the harm in wearing it either.

My classmates, genuinely curious, would have asked me why I wore it, and I would have explained to them why I liked wearing it and why my mother wore it. It could open up pathways for interfaith discussion and be an interesting supplement to RE, opening up the world for everyone present which is arguably, the purpose of school. Fast forward five or six years, when the hijab has been heavily politicised, perhaps my classmates would remember our discussions over what has been filtered down to them through the media.

Now, I try imagining what it would be like to be a little Muslim girl today. If I wanted to wear my headscarf, I would be questioned. Not by my friends, but by adults. I would be asked why I got in trouble by my friends and if I told them it was because of my headscarf, they would undoubtedly think it was something bad. By the time we reached secondary school, it would be a taboo topic. Instead of building a bridge between two parts of my life, I would begin to disrespect either religion or the establishment of education. Either would detract from my quality of life and personal enrichment.

I just have to wonder if this Ofsted policy would end up doing more harm than good. What’s the point in trying to relieve a child of family pressures when it is swiftly replaced by those of society and politics? School lays more and more pressure on children, year after year. As a student myself, I would say that my religion and prayer helped me more than anything my school could provide pastorally during my GCSEs. If I wanted children to fully succeed and enjoy their education, I would at least give them the freedom to think for themselves.

Personally, I feel the education sector has more to reconsider in regards to the restrictions placed on pupils propagated by the education system itself rather than diverting attention to the religion some students happen to follow.

Islam · Women

Day of the Girl Child

Sameea Blog DayOfTheGirl

Sameea Jonnud, Aldershot

I grew up as a Muslim in Britain, was educated here and, in fact, teachers told girls at my school they should strive to be whatever they wanted in their lives, regardless of whether the profession was traditionally thought of as a ‘boy’s’ job. In history, however, it was a different story as the treatment of girls was not equal to that of boys. When we studied kings and queens the women were usually pawns in a political game; in day to day life they weren’t educated, got married and had children. It was men who were doctors, men who were engineers, men who were learned in all professions.

At the same time I grew up learning about Islam and the rights granted to women. Girls were sometimes considered a nuisance in pre-Islamic Arabia which led to many instances of baby girls being buried alive at birth. This was one of the countless atrocities stopped by the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be on him, and indeed he showed by example that girls were as valuable as boys through his love and pride for his four daughters.

Over 1500 years ago it was Islam that encouraged girls to be educated as well as boys. It was Islam that gave women the right to own property and Islam that allowed women to work in various professions.

Rufaida Al- Aslamia is known as an early Islamic medical practitioner, Zubaidah bint Ja’far was responsible for the construction of water wells on the pilgrims route to Mecca, Fatima Al Fihri founded the earliest existing university in the world in 859. Hazrat Ayesha, honourable wife of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be on him, is well known as an exceptionally learned scholar from a young age.

Screenshot_20181011-164242~2.png

Recently I attended the annual gathering of the UK Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association – Lajna Ijtema. It was full of examples of empowered girls taking part in spiritual academic research and presentations, lectures in many subjects and scientific exhibitions.

Screenshot_20181011-163754~3

We could make smoothies with the power of a bicycle, learn about and grow healing plants of many different types, experiment with an invisibility device and study archaeology. A lecture taught us about the meat industry so we could find ways to ethically feed our families. A stargazing session was also arranged. The significance of all these were that they were organised, researched and presented by women and girls, many of whom had studied in those fields. How inspirational for all the young girls attending!

On International Day of the Girl Child it is sad we need to remember to promote the human rights of girls and sad that girls may not feel empowered in themselves. This is a reality of life even in these modern times.

That’s why Islamic rights granted to women and the encouragement given to girls’ education is an inspiration even in the modern world and shows that girls can grow up to become confident, educated, productive members of society achieving their full potential in whichever field they choose.

Islam · Women

Why I Look Forward to the Ijtema Each Year!

Ijtema blog by Sarah Ward.png

Sarah Ward Khan, London                    

As I get older, as yes I must face the inevitable, Ijtema* has taken on new shades of meaning for me.  In my younger days as a Nasirat* it was all about meeting friends and not forgetting the words I had memorised for the speech competitions.  As someone who’d newly joined Lajna*, it was about transitioning from a youngster into a mature woman and listening carefully to information and evaluating its place in my own life.  As a new mother it was about finding a pattern that would fit in with me and my child’s needs.  This might mean coming late or leaving early but always trying to get the best out of each attendance. Now my children are grown and Ijtema has a new meaning. 

Of course, the highlight of any Ijtema is the address of His Holiness the Caliph, and being blessed to live in Britain where the Caliph resides and attends most national Ijtemas, I have many gems to treasure. But more recently I have attended the ijtema not as a participant or a mother but as a volunteer worker and this has by far been the most rewarding role I have held.

In my first year working with the Nasirat team I did not know my fellow team members very well.  It was daunting to work with new people in a new role and I was very much learning the ropes and watching the routines.  But one thing sticks in my memory from that first year as a volunteer: loneliness.  Sometime people cannot tell that behind the smile lies sadness but that year as I watched the other team members meet their sisters, aunties and cousins, I felt what I have felt before – an aching gap where my family should be.  Being a child of converts, or having your family live far away, it’s easy to forget amidst the hustle and bustle of life that loneliness can creep into even the happiest of places.  So that first year I was a volunteer I left with bittersweet emotions.  Happiness for an enjoyable time with friends and loneliness for a family not present.

But the next year, and every year after that has been a different story completely, I worked again with the team and we were now familiar friends who had met and communicated throughout the year.  Where before there was something missing, now lay deep friendships and sisterhood.  We met each other as old friends and laughed and joked.  I was so busy I didn’t have time to feel lonely.

The Holy Qur’an states:

And know that this community of yours is one community, and I am your Lord. So take Me as your Protector (25:53)

For me, this is the blessing of Ijtema and the abiding blessing of being an Ahmadi Muslim.  We make our own family in Lajna Ima’illah and for every lonely moment I now have a thousand bonds of friendship to bind me to my sisters in faith.  Ijtema is one point in the year but it is the culmination of work done by Lajna every month. Ijtema is not simply the competitions, bazaar and food, it is also about meeting as a community and building friendships that cross divides of language, race and age.  So, my advice would be to build your own sisterhood and Lajna family, keep in touch on a regular basis and then the Ijtema will feel like a family celebration for you too.

Ijtema is an annual spiritual and academic gathering. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association has their Ijtema coming up this year with the theme ‘The Existence of God’.

Nasirat ul Ahmadiyya is an auxiliary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community for young girls between the ages of 7 and 14. Literally, ‘Helpers of Ahmadiyyat’.

Lajna Ima’illah is the women’s auxiliary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Literally, ‘Group of the Handmaidens of Allah’.

Women

Ijtemas: a Time Honoured Tradition

Ijtema blog by Q Ward.png

Qudsia Ward, Cornwall

At this time of year in the UK, members of the Ahmadi Muslim Community are finalising plans for their annual Ijtemas*. Speeches are being practiced and timed, poems polished, handicraft models and craft work completed, other skills honed.  Travel plans are being made, checking with friends and family how to reach our destination and sleep comfortably for two or three nights away from home. These Ijtemas, or gatherings are the culmination of activities throughout the year, throughout the community.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has auxiliary organisations for young boys and girls and for adult men and women.  Each auxiliary is organised with its own administration, locally, regionally, and nationally.  Each auxiliary has its local, regional and national meetings which unite, train and educate members of the community.

The national annual Ijtema, or gathering, of the Lajna Imaillah, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association, will be taking place in September this year.

When I first took part in Ijtemas 45 years ago, I did not appreciate their value.  It was always fun to meet locally with old and new friends, to enjoy the competitions and speeches but I never realised the strength of the organisation that lay behind them. 

Wherever I have been the community has been there. All around England, France, and the Middle East, I have been able to find friends, to share good fellowship, to have fun, to keep fit and to gain understanding of what it means to be a Muslim and what Islam really teaches.  The community in Europe has grown so much and with this growth the skills, knowledge and experience of the ladies has grown too.  Long ago I happily enjoyed joining in with the extempore English speech competitions.  Not so intimidating when you know each lady and feel friendly support all around!  Now the competitive edge is greater, and the young girls so well educated and experienced I stick to enjoying listening!!  I listen with enormous pleasure to the well prepared and well-presented speeches, even with audio-visual presentations these days!  I love to hear the melodious recitation of Holy Quran and poems of the Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) who founded this wonderful community.

As the community has grown in UK the handicraft and sports department have grown too.  There is something for everyone and that’s what binds us together.

Think of the skills and experiences that ladies gain in preparing for the competitions; first locally, then regionally, then nationally.  The life skills and knowledge gained is what makes the ladies of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community stand out as strong, active citizens wherever they live in the world.  Being trained and then training our children to understand and take part in the organisation unites us and makes us strong.  It protects and guides us.  Seeing, and being part of the ijtemas sets an important example for younger women and girls.  Knowing there is always a place and a role for you when ever you are ready is so important and is one of the reasons our young people are ready to take part in the active service of others within and outside the community.

The greatest blessing of the community is that it is led by the Khalifa, the community’s worldwide spiritual head. Ahmadi Muslims worldwide are united, taught, advised and loved by our Khalifa.  He oversees the community’s organisation and it is this leadership and organisation that makeIjtems it strong. His prayers and guidance lead us all towards success.

The message of the community is one of peace.  Our Khalifa is constantly reminding us to remember our obligations to our Creator, Allah and to His creation.  This message is reinforced and repeated throughout the world through the organisation of the community, and lastly, through its Ijtemas.

 

Ijtema is an annual spiritual and academic gathering. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association has their Ijtema coming up this year with the theme ‘The Existence of God’.

Politics · Women

Lessons Worth Learning

IMG-20180812-WA0011

Sarah Ward Khan, London

I love studying history. I have always been enthralled by the lives of those who paved a way forward before me and steered society towards its current point. Growing up in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s was also a heady time: we felt history unfolding before us and we were part of it. And the history I saw around me as a young child was an intoxicating, positive movement: it was change for the better. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of apartheid, the end of the Cold War – the future at that time looked bright. Social movements were making life better for the oppressed and the downtrodden, righting the wrongs of the past and moving forward with hope.

So, it is with a heavy heart that I ponder over the world today, Society is still changing, technology and communication are changing the way we interact and forging new norms. But is it, I wonder, a better society we are building? Where are the values of freedom, tolerance, equality which were upheld in those heady days? Where is the sense of social justice and liberation?

The burqa debate and the comments of Boris Johnson only seem to highlight the difference between my childhood and now. Instead of moving towards a better life, we seem to be regressing to the dark days of nationalism, popularism and self-interest. As I look to the future I don’t see better things ahead, I see division and separation: them and us mentality and fear of others.

And who will lead the charge against this decline? Who are the leaders in society who will uphold those virtues and values that made the world a better place for all? I would hope that people in public life might feel the weight of their role and understand this facet of their influence. This is especially true of politicians. Politicians are there to serve – the needs of everyone and not just themselves. They are there to stand up for the poor, the weak and the oppressed. Their goal should be to uphold an inclusive and peaceful society and if it isn’t that goal – then what are they aiming for?

Which is why Boris Johnson’s words matter. They weren’t off the cuff, they were planned and printed in a national newspaper. They very deliberately targeted a small minority of women using mocking and ridiculing language. Commentators and Twitter trolls have leapt on the band wagon telling women to get over it, have a laugh and to get a sense of humour. Are these the values we want to build our society upon? That we are free to offend and insult and if your feelings are hurt you should grow up? What kind of a society would that create?

It’s certainly not the society I create in my classroom as a teacher and I would have failed to qualify for the profession if I had taught children in my care this principle. I teach them that words matter, that we laugh with and never at others. We share a joke – we don’t target one person or one group. This is part of the British Values of tolerance and respect which every teacher in the UK is obliged to promote. Why is Mr Johnson exempt from these values his government created and enforces? Why does is he not held to the standards he expects us all to teach? This is hypocrisy of the clearest kind.

In my personal life I go further than these broad notions, I try to uphold a very specific standard. In the 10 Conditions of Bai’at, a pledge of allegiance taken by all members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which set out standards of faith and conduct. The fourth condition is: That under the impulse of any passion, he/she shall cause no harm whatsoever to the creatures of God in general and Muslims in particular, neither by his/her tongue, hands, nor by any other means.

What an inspiring principle and aim this is in my life! I may well fall short of this but the renewed pledge taken at Jalsa Salana UK annually reminds and refocuses our minds on this. What a beautiful, peaceful, equal society this principle could create if we all stuck to it. We would not hurt anyone by any means – including the words we say. What unity there would be. Nobody would fear, like the Muslim women so openly targeted in the national press all week, that they would be coerced and bullied into conforming to the beliefs of others at the cost of their own choice. Mutual respect and care would mean that we would prevent ourselves from offending others and unity would be the result. Not uniformity and force and coercion, as many in the burqa debate wish to impose by removing women’s right to choose their own clothes, but fellowship built on peace and respect.

So, faced with these two versions of society – one in which we can say what we feel and ignore the impact on the sentiments of others, or one in which we try not to hurt any member of the community, I know where I would rather live. I, and so many other women are speaking up now because we know that this is a moment in history where the society in which we live is about to make that choice. Either we agree that insult is acceptable in public servants or we defend the value of respect and unity. History will show which side of the battle succeeds.

Hijab · Women

Muslim Women

IMG-20180812-WA0007.jpg

Yusra Dahri, London

This is not just a cloth
Nor the hatred that you’ve made,
But a symbol of faith and trust.
A decision that will not fade.

Yet all cloths are woven from thread.
And this thread has been constantly weaving.
From our mothers to our grandmothers,
From ancient scriptures to a world never sleeping.

We are not hidden but carrying a trove of history.
Our minds are bejeweled with meaning.
So let us teach you how we live.
We are not asleep, but dreaming

Features · Women

Celebrating the Right to Drive – a Novel or Forgotten Right?

 Ayesha's Blog

Ayesha Malik, Surrey

On June 24th this year, women in Saudi Arabia took to the steering wheel for the first time, after being banned from driving for decades. The reforms introduced by Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman are considered to be sweeping, granting Saudi women the right to drive without a legal guardian. The measures allowing driving licenses to be issued to women were announced in September 2017, with driving schools never having opened their doors to Saudi women before this.

Ironically, a month before the ban was due to be formally lifted, prominent female campaigners including Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan and Aisha Al-Mana were detained by Saudi authorities who declined to reveal the reason for their detention. However, Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at Human Rights Watch said that, “The message is clear that anyone expressing scepticism about the crown prince’s rights agenda faces time in jail.” These women were part of dozens of women activists who had been campaigning for years for the driving ban to be lifted and were part of the Women2Drive Movement. When the pronouncement to lift the ban was made in autumn last year, the authorities were quick to contact these women urging them not to comment on the decision in the media.

The Saudi Government’s contradictory two-pronged approach has become a hallmark of the Kingdom’s repressive regime against women. That this should be the case in a country where Islam dawned is deeply disconcerting. Early Islamic history records women partaking in battle and aiding the wounded soldiers in combat. At a time when horseback and camels were the only means of transport, having women on the battlefield was concomitant to women riding horses or camels. In the 21st century, this right would translate into the right to drive motor vehicles.

For those celebrating the right of Saudi women to drive as something worth hailing as part of a liberal rights movement are in need of a history lesson. All too often history is forgotten for the pursuit of partisan agendas and geo-political haggling. Saudi women have too often become the scapegoat of this phenomenon. In fact, horse riding is a Sunnah (practice) of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon Him) and there are Ahadith (traditions) in which he urged his followers to learn to ride a horse, shoot a bow and swim.

Thus, June 24th simply “gave back” Saudi women a right they had earned 1400 years ago. The image of the Saudi Muslim woman has become the archetype of oppression and subjugation. The construction of this image has been the product of the Saudi Government’s adherence to a puritanical version of Islam, which is completely antithetical to the original teachings of the faith. This image is also cemented by the mainstream media, which has effectively hijacked the notion of what ought to be considered liberty for women worldwide – with little deference to cultural or personal preference. A far more informed and balanced discourse is required in order to cut through the glaze of both these competing views such that the nuance of socio-religious stories is preserved.