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  • » 05/07/2007, 00.00


    “A good wife must live in fear”

    Women are forbidden to drive, to show their head and to speak in public, and to shake a man’s hand. On television, preachers incite husbands to beat their wives “for their own good”. Saudi journalists describe the countless prohibitions facing Muslim women in their country and appeal for a distinction between religious truths and social customs.

    Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Without permission, women cannot even drive a car or change the colour of their clothes, and television preachers warn that women who shake a man’s hand are committing “adultery of the hand”. Citing such examples, Saudi journalists have criticized the social mentality that rules the relationship between wife and husband.

    In the Saudi daily Al-Watan, Fatima Al-Faqih described the many bans imposed on Saudi women: “[They] are forbidden to drive, forbidden to travel without permission [of their husband or father or whoever has authority over them] , forbidden to stay alone at a hotel without permission, forbidden to name their own children without [a man's] consent... forbidden to leave their homes or to take a job without permission... forbidden to change the color of their abayas [traditional, long tunic], forbidden to go to school or to the university without permission.”

    In some Saudi cities, a woman cannot even “show her face”, she cannot get married without permission nor can she “remain married if one of her male relatives decides that her husband's lineage is inferior to hers... nor can she sue for divorce without apologizing and paying a fine.” Without permission, she “cannot keep her children after the divorce... hold a senior position in the private or public sectors... annoy her husband, and finally, a woman's voice is considered [a form of] defilement, and she is forbidden to speak in public.”

    Many men, writes Hasna Al-Quna’ir on the Al-Riyadh daily, justify the inferiority of women by resorting to a “distorted reading of the sayings of the Prophet”, a tactic often used by television preachers. For example, there is a verse that says: “A tribe that nominates a woman [as leader] will not succeed”. The journalist explained that on the strength of this saying, an expert said on television that wives should not be asked for their views as they were completely emotional. Another television expert, to “defend the virtue of women”, “incites fathers, brothers and husbands”, telling them that “a girl who is not beaten from an early age grows up to be a rebellious woman, difficult to control” and that “a woman who leaves her home without a veil is like a woman who goes out naked”. The same preacher warned Muslim women that not covering their heads was “the main reason that women are seduced and fall [into sin].” Another preacher said the woman “who shakes the hand of a man that is not her husband is guilty of... 'adultery of the hand'”. The journalist said that the sayings of the Prophet needed to be considered in the “historical circumstances and particular context” in which they were pronounced and that “religious duties” had to be distinguished from norms of social conduct that were controversial and not subject to dogmas of faith, “like the custom of covering the face”.

    Due to this culture, writes Maha Al-Hujailan on the Al-Watan, “women live in constant fear… that the husband may take another wife.” “Only women living in this fear properly fulfill the role of the wife, while a woman who feels assured that her husband will not take another wife comes to disdain her husband and her family life...This culture causes a women to feel mentally and psychologically inferior, like a quarrelsome child who must be constantly supervised, intimidated and punished into performing her duties.”

    The journalist said that women who felt this way may even believe that “a good man who respects them is nothing but a weak and unstable man... In their opinion, an ideal man is a violent one who humiliates his wife.”

    Hasna Al-Quna’ir added: “The woman is the victim of this insular culture, and her only salvation would be a reorganization of the cultural structure of [our] entire society."

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