I recall my mother learning to drive in the seventies and the life altering change it gave her as a single mother raising two young children in America. Suddenly, things didn’t seem so far away and it became an enjoyable activity. As a result, similar to most American youth, I could not wait to drive on my own. I started at a young age and now often pride myself in my ability to drive in New Jersey without a GPS, which in New Jersey is not an easy task. I must admit, however, that now as an adult, there are days when I’m stuck in traffic that I long for someone else to drive. Yet, even if I did have a constant chauffeur available to me, in no way would I wish to lose my right to drive.
As a Muslim who believes in the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, I was raised as an Ahmadi Muslim to know that driving, just like many other freedoms, is a right granted to women within Islam. It is unfortunate that the women of Saudi Arabia must battle for a privilege allowed to women worldwide. While Saudi women’s uprising for their right to drive maybe clumped with the Arab spring and the need for separation of mosque and state, the driving ban also stems from a paternalistic society that, in an effort to care for its women, has only inhibited their rights. Since this is occurring in Saudi Arabia, a nation that prides itself on being the quintessential Muslim country, many people assume this ban has something to do with Islam, when in actuality it is quite the contrary.
Islam was the first religion to grant rights to women and promote empowerment of women. Some of these rights include spiritual equality, education, and full rights over wealth, property and inheritance. If those enforcing the ban were to reflect upon Islamic history during the time of Prophet Muhammad, they would see that women rode their own camels and horses. Even during the battle of Jamal after the Prophet Muhammad’s demise, his wife Ayesha was the most prominent example of a woman riding her own camel. Since the driving ban clearly is not within the moderate teachings of Islam, it becomes more about the paternalistic society that is promoted in Saudi Arabia. In an effort to uphold the true teachings of Islam, they have only created the opposite effect. The world is now questioning Islam’s relationship with women driving, when the sad truth is that some Muslim countries do not practice the accurate teachings of the Holy Quran and hold misconceptions about the role of women in society.
The fear that society will suddenly disintegrate as a result of women driving is clearly not a concern of the majority of other Muslim countries, thus Saudi Arabia needs to re-evaluate this paternalistic driving ban. A correct understanding of a woman’s role in society in accordance with Islam should be implemented, since such bans only distract a society from its full potential to function. While the concept of protecting women may be chivalrous, it should not interfere with a woman’s right to drive. And while some of us long to be chauffeured, the women of Saudi Arabia no longer desire this comfort.
Let the option to drive or not to drive be a choice that no government can deny.
Nusrat Qadir is a spokeswoman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, USA.