Women driving is not in conflict with religion: Saudi scholars


“In principle women driving is permitted in Islam,” said Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Al-Obaikan, a member of the Kingdom’s Council of Senior Islamic Scholars.

The ban, he said, has to do with the social complications rather than the act itself. As an example, the sheikh referred to a fatwa from former Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Bin-Baz that said it is permitted for women in rural areas to drive cars, but that they should be forbidden from driving in the cities where, as Al-Obaikan said, “youths (even) harass women accompanied by parents and drivers.

He said if certain issues are resolved, such as the problem of men’s behavior and traffic safety, then he sees no religiously motivated conflict with women driving.

Sheikh Mehsin Al-Awaji, another prominent religious scholar in the Kingdom, agreed. “No religious scholar is going to tell you differently,” he said. “But (the issue of) women driving comes as a ‘package’ and we need to fix the ‘package’ before making the decision (to allow women to drive).”

Expanding on the idea that allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia comes with a “package” of issues, Al-Awaji said there needs to be Saudi women working as police officers, mechanics and other positions. The sheikh diminished the significance of women driving, saying that myriad social reforms have higher priority, even in the realm of empowering women or encouraging public participation in important social challenges.

Fawzeyah Al-Oyouni, a woman’s rights and human rights activist, said that most people agree that Islam doesn’t forbid women from driving. The problem, she says, is that the government isn’t moving fast enough to implement the necessary actions to open the way for a smooth transition toward allowing women to drive.

The Saudi government has pointed out that there is no law that states women cannot drive. “The Interior Ministry’s stand is clear on this,” said ministry spokesman Gen. Mansour Al-Turki.

But in reality women are occasionally arrested when found driving. Arab News reported several instances in recent years of situations where women have been stopped by authorities and detained for the infraction of driving a vehicle.

In a previous statement, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah said that Saudi women would be permitted to drive someday.

Arab News asked 125 men what they thought of the issue. Ten men categorically opposed the idea; 36 men were fully in support of an unqualified lift on the social ban; and the rest would be OK with women driving with a few ground rules.

Most of the men who expressed reservations to an unqualified lift on the social ban — 80 of them — said they were concerned about safety due to the hazardous conditions on Saudi roads and lack of sufficient enforcement of traffic laws. Sixteen men expressed religious reservations; 21 men expressed financial reasons while eight expressed social concerns.

Four hundred Saudi and non-Saudi women were asked by Arab News about the subject. Out of this survey, Arab News found that 282 of these women would drive cars on their own, without a male guardian. Forty-four women said they would continue to use drivers. Thirty women said they would only drive with their male guardian in the car. Thirty-two women said they would drive with a relative in the vehicle. A dozen women said they opposed the idea of women driving.

Out of these women, 122 said they wouldn’t drive on Saudi roads due to safety concerns while 296 said they would have to see better enforcement of rules before they would feel safe driving. Seventy-two women said they’d rise to the challenge of driving in Saudi Arabia’s traffic.


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