The Magazine

Blogging Saudi Arabia

Undermining the Wahhabis, one post at a time.

Jan 30, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 19 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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Farooha's blog entry for October 13 includes her English translation of an essay entitled "Imagine Being A Woman," written and posted in Arabic by a Saudi female writer, Badria Al-Bisher. The article is a manifesto for a Saudi women's protest movement. "Imagine being a woman," writes Al-Bisher, "and this guardian of yours is your 15 year old son." Sure enough, under the strictures of Saudi Wahhabism, a woman cannot make any decisions on her own, and must defer to a teenage son if she has no older male relative. She must get permission from him to obtain an education or work.

The text continues, "Imagine being a woman and needing to take constant taxi rides just to run your everyday errands [because women are not allowed to drive]. Imagine having to be patient with a driver who does not understand you and having to bear with the cultural differences, just to get where you want. Imagine having to wait for your kid brother everyday, just so he can take you to work [because women are not allowed to go out without a male escort]. Imagine hiring countless drivers who learn how to drive using the car you own, who practice at your expense, and whom you coach for months and months until you exhaustedly sigh 'what kinda life is this???' All this because you are a woman, and thus are not permitted to drive."

The same article condemns Saudi-Wahhabi incitement to rape non-Wahhabi women: "Imagine that women in the 21st century follow fatwas of scholars who at one point start to discuss the viability of capturing the enemy's women, and then having sexual relations with them. Some even go on to discuss the capturing of this enemy's women at time of peace, as well; and all the while, you do not even know who the enemy in question is."

Blogging has also become a major phenomenon in theocratic Iran. But in Saudi Arabia, the sudden explosion of blogging coincides with evidence of a very real move toward openness in religious thinking, guided by the new king, the octogenarian Abdullah. At a global Islamic summit at the end of 2005, Abdullah proclaimed the need for "moderation that embodies the Islamic concept of tolerance," adding, "I look forward to Muslim inventors and industrialists, to an advanced Muslim technology, and Muslim youth who work for their life just as they work for the Hereafter, without excess or negligence, without any kind of extremism."

That vision sharply conflicts with the obsessions of al Qaeda and Hamas, which exalt death over life. The same summit meeting heard a message from Jordan's King Abdullah II calling for an end to takfir, the practice of a Muslim's accusing another Muslim of unbelief on the basis of his opinions alone. Forbidden by the prophet, takfir has become common since the rise of Wahhabism. Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, founder of the sect, declared all Shias and Sufis--for that matter, all who would not profess his interpretation of the faith--unbelievers. All who have been thus excommunicated are subject to murder and despoilment. Takfir underpins the pernicious ideology holding that only radical Muslims are real Muslims, and binds young terrorists together by conferring on them the spurious status of an elite in what is actually a criminal conspiracy. The Jordanian king's denunciation of takfir recognizes Shias as Muslims, specifically negating the religious argument of the Sunni terrorists in Iraq--not to mention the Wahhabi Sunnis in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan--who describe Shias as heretics.

Residents of the Saudi kingdom confirm to American friends that a new atmosphere has become perceptible since Abdullah took the throne. Fatima al-Hejazi, a young Saudi researcher, notes that at a National Dialogue Forum in the city of Abha in December 2005, a representative of the grossly oppressed Shia minority in Saudi Arabia called for equal religious rights. Al-Hejazi suggests this action was inspired by the anti-takfir declaration from Jordan.

In another important development, four Saudi women have been elevated to the board of directors of the chamber of commerce of Jeddah, the country's commercial capital. Elsewhere such an act might seem trivial; in Saudi Arabia it is revolutionary--and especially significant because it involves the business class, the probable leaders of a Saudi transition to normality.