Earlier this week, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, issued a royal decree allowing Saudi women to contribute to the state’s decision-making process via the Shura Council. This was followed by the announcement that 30 women, for the first time, had been appointed as members of the Shura Council.
Friday 11th January 2013 will go down as a historical day in the life of Saudi women in particular, and in Saudi politics, culture and society in general.
To those who do not know, any movement affecting the issue of Saudi women is considered extremely sensitive to the Saudi monarch, due to numerous cultural and political considerations. In Saudi society, there are certain figures seeking to ignite problems regarding the issue of women, based on mistaken perceptions of the historical nature and role of women in Arab and Muslim society.
The language of Friday’s royal decree was strong, accurate and clear; accurate in terms of fully taking into account religious and social mores in monitoring this empowerment of women, particularly as the decree was keen to confirm it was based on Islamic Sharia law and that it complied ardently with general culture regarding the issue of women. This was only natural and to be expected from a leader that knows the nature and culture of those he rules, and deals with them with all respect, appreciation and faith, however at the same time avoids anything that is not based on approved Islamic doctrine or the correct reading of history.
On the occasion of this historic date, it struck me that included among the 30 women appointed to the Shura Council is the prestigious researcher Dr. Dalal bint Mekhled al-Harbi, the author of the book “The Values of Women in the Arabian Peninsula”, whose work extensively examines the social, academic and political roles of women in Najd and the wider Arabian Peninsula. The most prominent example of these roles was that of Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman, the sister of the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz. She was highly active in her social and political efforts, and King Abdulaziz often consulted her in matters of public affairs and took on her advice. Perhaps this was the inspiration behind King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz launching the largest female university in Saudi Arabia under her name (Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University).
The truth is that there is a clear element of fabrication when it comes to the problems of women, not only in Saudi society but in many Arab and Islamic countries. This has a complex interpretive and historical context, but this is not the time or the place to talk about that.
If any rational person looked at the historical reality and doctrinal opinion in the books that have chronicled our civilization, they would see the major roles of women starting from Aisha, who is known not only from the Koran and the hadith but also due to her political activity and participation in the Muslim conquests, to other women throughout the ages, specifically in the Arabian Peninsula. It is suffice here to recall the role of Ghaliyya al-Wahhabiyya, a woman from the heart of the Arabian Peninsula, who resisted 18th century foreign invasion with great bravery and is a well-known figure in Saudi history. We can also not forget the role of Modi, the wife of the first imam of the Saudi state, Mohammed Bin Saud, who played an influential part in the story of his historic alliance with Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdul-Wahhab.
The inclusion of women in the Saudi Shura Council, in partnership with men, engraves King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz’s name into the stone of Saudi history in an influential and eloquent manner, and it will never be forgotten.