There’s no question that many Saudi women want to work. According to this Arab News article, though, it may not be worth their while.
Some Saudi women’s status as income earners is being exploited by husbands, fathers, and tribes, sometimes even their employers the report says. Some are even forbidden to marry because their fathers want their daughters’ incomes. I don’t think for a minute that this is typical behavior of Saudi males, but that it happens is a fact that needs to be addressed. No government regulation will fix the problem, though. That will take a shift in the way men think about women. It’s yet another facet in the puzzle that is modernization in Saudi Arabia.
Relatives gobble up women teachers’ salary
OMAIMA AL-FARDAN | ARAB NEWS
JEDDAH: As soon as the academic year begins, Saudi women teachers start budgeting their monthly SR7,000 salary.
It is almost always the case that their hard-earned cash will line the pockets of everyone else, but they will not get a halala.
These regular payments can continue throughout their professional lives and as long as the Education Ministry employs them, they have to pay up or face the consequences.
A woman teacher’s salary is used to pay for things that do not fall into the category of daily necessities, including the payment of “protection money” to her father or husband. It is the price they pay for the right to exist and live a normal life.
Um Ghassan, a schoolteacher and mother of five, is suffering from this very problem. Her husband is using various methods to exploit her financially.
It seems that the Saudi media is the party that watches over the guardians. Here, Arab News reports on the case of a young man arrested by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. When his parents sought to find him, they ended up being arrested for allegedly beating Commission members. Sadly for the Haya, this case took place in Jeddah, the center of Saudi media publishing, so it will be easy enough (relatively speaking) for the media to stay on top of the story.
JEDDAH: Members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Haia) in Jeddah’s Al-Rawabi district have been accused of beating a youth and then filing a false police case against his parents that led to them being detained in prison for several days.
The commission members are accused of attacking 21-year-old university student Rami Al-Hakami two weeks ago.
“I was on my way to pick my sisters up from school when a commission car stopped next to my car. One of the men hit me from behind and then four commission members dragged me to their car. A man beat me up inside the car until I passed out,” said Al-Hakami.
“The commission member then took my cell phone and my belongings and forced me to sign a paper; I had no idea what was written on it. It was at that time that my dad called me to ask why I was taking so long coming home. The commission member answered the phone and told my dad that I had been arrested because I was harassing school girls,” he added. Al-Hakami, who was left with marks on his body following the beating, collected his sisters after being released and returned home. Hearing what happened, his parents went to the commission office to demand answers. However, commission members refused to answer and so the father went to the police.
Saudi Gazette/Okaz run a piece in which the columnist notes how very differently Western and Gulf Arab societies approach the issues of house work and domestic employment. He is stunned to discover that even wealthy people in the West do menial things in their own homes. He suggests that Saudis and other Gulf Arabs might learn a thing or two, and even more importantly, so would their children.
VIEW FROM THE ARABIC PRESS
DURING the Second Gulf War I met a German journalist and we subsequently became great friends. Once while on a visit to Germany he invited me to dinner at his home, and it was only when I arrived that I discovered that he, in fact, came from a wealthy family. His house wasn’t so much a house as a small palace located on the outskirts of Frankfurt where his father worked in a senior position at one of the city’s major banks.
What caught my eye though was not the splendor of the mansion itself or its many rooms which housed my friend, his parents and two brothers, it was something more important than all that. It was the fact that this magnificent mansion was served by only a single lady. Just imagine! A seven-room mansion, owned by a man of wealth living with his wife and children, with only one servant! The “servant”, I should clarify, was in the European understanding of the concept, in that she was responsible for handling the mail and handling telephone calls and invitations. She did not iron, nor wash, nor clean!
To be fair, the cleaning was done by a woman who came three times a week, but the ironing, tidying of rooms and making meals, even the washing up, was done by everyone in the family themselves. The wife would cook, the children iron their own clothes, and everyone would pitch in to lay the table and wash the dishes, the father included.
In recent comments, there’s been a bit of a discussion about separation of church and state in the US and how it affects schools. The piece below, again from Volokh Conspiracy tells the interesting tale of a recent US district court opinion. A school district—apparently without intention—created a ‘public forum’ within its classrooms by permitting teachers to post signs and the like expressing (if not out-and-out promoting) religious and philosophical views. Having done so, it could not (as it did) prohibit the expression of some views while permitting the expression of other views:
Generally a public school has broad authority over what teachers say in class. When they’re teaching, or counseling students, they are seen as speaking on behalf of the school, and the school has broad power to control its own speech. And schoolteachers generally have no constitutional right to put up materials of their own on the walls, since those are the school’s walls, for the school to dispose of as the administration pleases.
But Johnson v. Poway Unified School Dist., decided yesterday by the federal district court for the Southern District of California, is a rare exception: The judge concluded that the school district had created a designated public forum for teacher speech, by allowing teachers to put up pretty much any posters they please in their classrooms, including:
The comments to the post at Volokh are generally interesting as well. Some are from the archly anti-religious; others from those more neutral on the subject. One link from a comment goes to an interview with Christopher Hitchens I think worth reading in full. In it, he discusses how the US is unique in having a constitution that draws a clear line forbidding the establishment of a state religion.
Here’s another interesting post from Volokh Conspiracy about the intersection of US law and Islamic contracts. The case involves a dowry contract in the state of Washington. The US court decided that they would treat this contract (which typically does not exist in the US) as it would any other contract. It does not ignore the Islamic nature of the contract so much as say that it’s immaterial to the issue of contracts. I agree with Dr. Volokh that this is the way it should be handled…
Islamic Agreements in Civil Courts
Obaidi v. Qayoum (Wash. Ct. App. Feb. 23, 2010)“> is a good example of what has long struck me as the right way of dealing with this problem: If possible, treat the agreements as normal agreements, without regard to their Islamic character, and then enforce them — or not — as normal agreements. Here’s an excerpt from the decision:
A mahr is a prenuptial agreement based on Islamic law that provides an immediate and long-term dowry to the wife. Husna Obaidi and Khalid Qayoum, both children of Afghan immigrants, signed a mahr agreement written in Farsi during an engagement ceremony known as a Nikkah ceremony. Mr. Qayoum, who does not speak, read, or write Farsi, did not know about the mahr until 15 minutes before he signed it. An uncle explained the mahr to Mr. Qayoum after he had signed it. After a 13-month marriage, Ms. Obaidi filed a petition for dissolution of the marriage. Ms. Obaidi asserts that the mahr requires Mr. Qayoum to pay her $20,000 upon divorce….
[W]e can resolve this case by using these neutral principles of law, not Islamic beliefs or policies….
Mr. Qayoum asserts the mahr agreement was invalid under contract law. We agree. … For a valid contract to exist, there must be mutual assent, offer, acceptance, and consideration. Here, there was no meeting of the minds on the essential terms of the agreement. There were only two terms in the written mahr:
Short term marriage portion: One hundred Canadian Dollars
Long term marriage portion: 20,000.00 Dollars
There was no term promising to pay and no term explaining why or when the $20,000 would be paid.
A valid contract requires a meeting of the minds on the essential terms. Mr. Qayoum was not told that he would be required to participate in a ceremony that would include the signing of a mahr until 15 minutes before he signed the mahr. Here, Mr. Qayoum was unaware of the terms of the agreement until they were explained to him by an uncle after the mahr had been signed….
Makes sense to me.
UPDATE: I expanded the block quote a bit, to mention the terms of the mahr and the court’s discussion of the absence of a term promising to pay.
International media are reporting that a Saudi national, Al Khelaiw Ali Abdullah, is to stand trial in Jakarta for allegedly funding terrorist activities in Indonesia. Two of those actions, the bombings of the J.W. Marriot and the Ritz-Carlton hotels, were completed. Others, including the attempted assassination of the Indonesia President, were thwarted.
JAKARTA (AP): Prosecutors told a court Wednesday that a retired Saudi Arabian school teacher who ran an Internet cafe in Indonesia helped finance militants responsible for suicide bombings at two Jakarta hotels that killed seven and wounded more than 50.
Al Khelaiw Ali Abdullah, 55, denied any involvement in the July 17, 2009, attacks on the downtown J.W. Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels.
“I’m not a terrorist. I’ll fight it,” Abdullah told reporters as he arrived at the South Jakarta District Court ahead of his trial by a panel of three judges.
Abdullah is charged with helping support terrorists by giving or lending money to perpetrators of a terrorist act. He faces a maximum 15 years in prison if convicted. The trial will resume next week.
Saudi Gazette/Okaz run their own report (with wire service input):
In it, Abdullah denies any wrongdoing.
Back in April and May of last year, volcanic activity in the region surrounding Al-Ais led to the evacuation of numerous Saudi villages. Now, reports Arab News, the Ministry of Finance is paying each individual evacuated the sum of SR 15,000 (US $4,000) in compensation. Actually, I think it’s a relief payment as the volcano is not the result of governmental action. The wheels turn slowly in Saudi Arabia, except on the highways…
SR15,000 for volcano evacuees
MUHAMMAD AL-SULAMI | ARAB NEWS
JEDDAH: The branches of the Finance Ministry in Madinah and Yanbu on Wednesday began paying three-month housing allowance of SR15,000 per person to the residents of Al-Ais and the surrounding villages and hamlets in Harat Al-Shaqah, Madinah province, who were displaced by earthquakes in April.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah ordered compensation be paid to the residents who had to leave their homes and instructed that they be provided with all their needs and requirements.
The payment, at the tune of SR5,000 per month, covered three months and were given to each individual.
According to Sheikh Abdul-Rahman al-Barrack, if you let your daughter go to KAUST or work in a mixed-sex office, you’re a pimp (of a sort). This is the sheikh who, in 2008, called for two Saudi reporters to be executed for apostasy when they suggested that there were various forms of Islam alive and well in the Kingdom. The sheikh’s comments, reported by Reuters, were carried on Al-Arabiya TV’s broadcasts and website. [Thanks to Svend for the pointer.]
RIYADH (Reuters) – A prominent Saudi cleric has issued an edict calling for opponents of the kingdom’s strict segregation of men and women to be put to death if they refuse to abandon their ideas.
Shaikh Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak said in a fatwa the mixing of genders at the workplace or in education “as advocated by modernisers” is prohibited because it allows “sight of what is forbidden, and forbidden talk between men and women”.
“All of this leads to whatever ensues,” he said in the text of the fatwa published on his website (albarrak.islamlight.net).
“Whoever allows this mixing … allows forbidden things, and whoever allows them is an infidel and this means defection from Islam … Either he retracts or he must be killed … because he disavows and does not observe the Sharia,” Barrak said.
“Anyone who accepts that his daughter, sister or wife works with men or attend mixed-gender schooling cares little about his honour and this is a type of pimping,” Barrak said.
Saudi Gazette carries an article—two, actually—that appear to be trying to put the sheikh’s comments into some sort of context less incendiary than the obvious:
JEDDAH – “Extreme fatwas have come to the fore once again, but this time they’ve been met with condemnation in religious and cultural circles”.
So began a report in Al-Watan Arabic daily on Wednesday following the publication of a fatwa the previous day by Sheikh Abdulrahman Bin Nasser Al-Barrak on his official website deeming lawful the killing of anyone permitting “ikhtilat” – mixing of the sexes – in the workplace or in a place of education.
Al-Watan said that “observers were surprised to see the fatwa issued in his name, in which he says: ‘anyone permitting ikhtilat – or ikhtilat that leads to forbidden things – is permitting these forbidden things, and anyone who permits them is a kafir (unbeliever), making him an apostate, and he should be ‘tried’ and if he doesn’t retract his words then it is a duty to kill him”.
Sheikh Abdullah Al-Turaiqi, a professor at the Higher Institute of the Judiciary, however, told Al-Watan that the fatwa represented an “extremist view” and was an “error”, given that Sheikh Al-Barrak is “well-regarded” in Shariah circles.
According to Sheikh Al-Turaiqi, “differences of opinion between academics over the meaning of ‘ikhtilat’, some of them extremist and others tolerant, is only natural”.
To my eye, this seems to be an attempt to shield the sheikh from his own words. It is clear that Sheikh al-Barrak has had an illustrious career and is respected by religious scholars. It also seems clear to me that Sheikh al-Barrak is losing his grip. He is elderly and retired from his position as a professor at Imam Mohammed bin Saud university, a faculty not noted for its love of liberality. The article does make clear, however, that al-Barrak was speaking on his own, outside the official route the Ulema prefer for issuing fatawa. Thus, it should be ignored.
So, his peers are not going to cut him off at the knees. Instead, they’re just going to push him into the closet and hope everyone forgets his indiscretions.
Unlike Sheikh Sa’ad Al-Shethri, sacked from his position on the Board of Senior Ulema for a similar fatwa, al-Barrak has no official position from which he can be removed. At most, his government pension could be pulled, but that’d be deemed unduly harsh.
Saudi Gazette also runs a brief piece that provides a fuller expression of the sheikh’s thinking:
Al-Barrak’s fatwa also said…
“Ikhtilat (mixing of the sexes) in places of work or education – which is what the modernists want – is haram, because it involves looking incorrectly at a member of the opposite sex which is haram, adorning and displaying one’s beauty, which is haram, women uncovering the face which is haram, being with unrelated members of the opposite sex in seclusion which is haram, and talk of a haram nature between men and women, all of which is a channel leading to other things.”
“The modernists who want this sort of ikhtilat are disposed to the kaafir lifestyle of the West, have Westernized mindsets, and want to Westernize the Ummah. They want people to be led by desires.”
The paper adds a short listing of recent fatawa calling for the death of particular sinners:
The Washington Post runs an article today reporting on a study out of the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs which finds that the US government does not sufficiently address global religious issues. This is an idea that several commenters have made to me, in comments as well as e-mail. I’ll let you read the article—and perhaps some of the approaching-200 comments:
American foreign policy is handicapped by a narrow, ill-informed and “uncompromising Western secularism” that feeds religious extremism, threatens traditional cultures and fails to encourage religious groups that promote peace and human rights, according to a two-year study by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
The council’s 32-member task force, which included former government officials and scholars representing all major faiths, delivered its report to the White House on Tuesday. The report warns of a serious “capabilities gap” and recommends that President Obama make religion “an integral part of our foreign policy.”
Thomas Wright, the council’s executive director of studies, said task force members met Tuesday with Joshua DuBois, head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and State Department officials. “They were very receptive, and they said that there is a lot of overlap between the task force’s report and the work they have been doing on this same issue,” Wright said.
The US government, more than any other national government I can think of, is singularly unsuited to using religion or even addressing religion as a matter of policy. This is because the US specifically separate church and state and prohibits the government from addressing religious issues in any but tangential form. The government cannot show any support for any particular religion—or religion as a whole. Nor can it disfavor any religion or religion as a whole. This leaves it speechless when it comes to matters of religion.
What the government can address is actions that result from religious behavior. It can, for instance, forbid polygamy (within the US) because of the negative social factors it believe result from it. It can prohibit and punish physical attacks against members of a religion, but it cannot forbid verbal attacks against a religion, any religion.
In foreign affairs, the US government cannot condemn a religion or the followers of a religion; it can, and does, condemn actions taken by certain members of a religion. It can, and does, condemn the rhetorical use of ‘religion’ to justify terrorism. It can, and also does, applaud actions taken by members of religions that promote moderation and human rights, including those members’ speech. It can also point to examples of different manifestations of a religion that may differ from country to country or group to group. An example of this might be an exhibit showing the variety of architecture used in American mosques.
What it cannot do is to demand or even instruct followers of a religion on what their religion ‘truly means’. The US government simply has no constitutional role in defining a religion’s meaning.
Today’s conflicts that revolve around religion, I believe, are all based in differing meanings of what a particular religion means, what it requires of its followers. This is something that the US government should avoid, firstly because, as a secular government, it has no standing to make remarks and secondly because its pronouncements would be greeted with disdain anyway.
It’s not just Europe that has trouble reconciling religious commandments about proper dress and the public sector’s desire for non-sectarianism. The US and its courts and laws are dealing with the issue as well.
From The Volokh Conspiracy, we have a report on legislation moving through the state legislature in Oregon. Oregon has a law which prevents the wearing of religiously identified clothing by public school teachers. That law is in the process of being repealed:
[UPDATE: I originally erroneously reported that the Legislature had repealed the statute; it turns out that the repeal seems about to happen: Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) reports that, “According to the Oregonian, yesterday by a vote of 21–9 Oregon’s state Senate approved House Bill 3686 repealing an 87-year old ban on teachers wearing religious dress in the classroom.... The state House of Representatives has already passed the bill, but it now goes back to the House because of two changes in wording made by the Senate.”]
The statute, the former Ore. Rev. Stat. § 342.650, provided
No teacher in any public school shall wear any religious dress while engaged in the performance of duties as a teacher.
Though it facially discriminates against religious practices, it was nonetheless upheld against a Free Exercise Clause challenge, in Cooper v. Eugene School Dist. No. 4J (1986). I think it should have been struck down, and I’m glad it has been repealed. [UPDATE: Because some comments seem to miss this, I thought I’d stress it again: The law is presumptively unconstitutional because it discriminates against religious practices on the basis of their religiosity. If the law were religion-neutral, such as a uniform dress code for all teachers without regard to religion, then it would be judged under Title VII’s “reasonable accommodation” standard, which gives employers — private or governmental — considerable though not unlimited flexibility to impose such restrictions, including on religious objectors.]
The common argument in favor of such a law is that it is necessary to prevent students from assuming that the school endorses religion (which might even give rise to an Establishment Clause, under modern Establishment Clause caselaw). But the law is not necessary to prevent such perceived endorsement, and should thus fail the strict scrutiny that should be applied to deliberate discrimination against religious practice.
The law is only necessary to prevent endorsement to the extent that the wearing of religious garb by a teacher will be seen by reasonable students as an endorsement of religion by the government. But a child who is old enough to realize that, say, a nun’s habit means that she’s a Catholic — or a teacher’s turban means that he’s a Sikh — will generally be old enough to recognize that people of many different religions may work at the same institution, and that the school’s willingness to hire a Catholic or a Sikh doesn’t mean that the school endorses Catholicism or Sikhism.
A report that 30 Saudi women were working as maids in Qatar has set off a firestorm in Saudi Arabia. Saudi women are, apparently, just too good to do that kind of work for non-Saudis! It’s just too shameful, don’t you see…
Saudi Gazette/Okaz have a couple of pieces on the issue. In the first, the writer notes how working as a housemaid is, of course, honorable work, but not honorable enough for Saudi women. It brings shame on the country. And well it might. If the best jobs open to Saudi women are as domestic workers, then that indeed says something shameful about Saudi Arabia, not the women taking the jobs nor the jobs themselves.
Rather than issuing a new law forbidding Saudi women to work as maids abroad—the writer’s preference—perhaps the country could actually open up job opportunities and enforce existing laws that permit women to work in Saudi jobs.
Saudi housemaids abroad
THE report in Al-Riyadh newspaper’s economy supplement on Jan. 20 that some 30 Saudi women are working as housemaids in Qatar is news that cannot be left to pass without comment.
There is no shame in honorable work, but for Saudi women to be working abroad and as “housemaids” for relatively large wages is unacceptable and brings shame on all of us.
It is also a noticeable development in women’s issues with implications that require pause for thought.
To begin with, there are fundamental flaws in what’s accessible to women in the labor market which have not been dealt with for a long time, this being an example of one of them, and things will only get worse if we bear in mind that the total female contribution to the workforce is no more than 11.5 percent, the lowest in the world, and perhaps even more tragically the unemployment rate in female university graduates is 76 percent, seven times greater than that of males!
Whatever the justification, we must not accept the idea that our women work as housemaids in other countries for a host of national considerations.
Saudi Gazette runs a report on the issue. It notes that there is no Saudi law prohibiting Saudi women from working abroad. Nor is there a law that prohibits them from working as housemaids (though there are special restrictions on working conditions). It quotes a recruiter in Doha saying that Saudi women bring a level of ‘safety’ about them that is seen as lacking in more distant recruits, notably the absence of ‘witchcraft’ and ‘black magic’.
I doubt that there are many Saudi girls growing up with the dream of becoming maids in a foreign country. Economic contingency, the lack of available jobs in Saudi Arabia, the lack of sufficient education to take what jobs are available all add up to good reasons to take jobs that pay a salary, no matter who is paying it and no matter that the work is less than glamorous.
JEDDAH – Al-Riyadh Arabic newspaper reported on Jan. 20 that the Ministry of Labor had denied any knowledge of 30 Saudi women working as housemaids in Qatar following widespread reports in the press and on the Internet.
The newspaper quoted a “ministry source” as saying that Saudi women in Gulf countries required no licensing from the ministry to work.
“We do not stop any Saudi citizen working in neighboring countries, and regarding these reports we have no knowledge of them and the Ministry of Labor has never issued any decision permitting Saudi women to work as maids in people’s homes,” the source said.
Weekend sources silent
According to Al-Riyadh, the reports that circulated over the two days prior to its article were “not confirmed by any official source”, and its own attempts to contact officials at the ministries of Labor and Social Affairs in Qatar were frustrated “because it was the weekend”.
The reports, Al-Riyadh said, concerned Saudi women working in Doha for approximately $400 per month, “slightly more than the wages of Asian house workers”, and that the women were aged between 20 and 45 years.
Al-Riyadh said the reports quoted a Qatari recruiting agency as saying that 30 unqualified Saudi women had passed a series of interviews and “intense training”, and that a further “100 women” were awaiting interview.
The agency source added that “fear of Asian workers practicing magic might increase the demand for employees from the Gulf”.
To add a little fillip of absurdity to the story, Arab News reported yesterday that it’s not even clear that any Saudi women are actually working as maids in Qatar. So, is this just a bit of mischievous nose-tweaking by Qatari media?
Interesting piece in Arab News on the line where Saudi media and reporters meet with Saudi courts. According to current law—albeit ambiguously—the media cannot report on active cases, or possibly even settled cases. This runs rather in the face of calls for transparency of government operations.
One cleric believes that media might play an undue role in influencing judges’ opinions. To me, that’s a problem with judges, not with the media. Judges, under the Saudi system, are supposed to rely on the law, not public opinion to reach their decisions. If they are swayed by what other people think, that may be human, but it’s not ‘justice’ under the law.
Giving courts immunity from scrutiny or criticism does nothing to enhance the respect people give to the law or to the courts and judges. Given the strange judgments issuing from some Saudi judges, public scrutiny and criticism are exactly what is called for.
The media do have responsibilities as well, of course. They should not be reporting rumor; they should not be injecting personal opinion into reporting on cases. Opining in editorial columns, though, is a different matter. If something is going awry, then the media do have responsibilities to make that known. They have to be reporting on facts, however, not preferences.
Sheikh Al-Hussain’s worry that Western media reporting on Saudi court cases defames the country is utterly immaterial. It should make no difference to how the courts operate other than to alert them that their behavior is in the public eye. The solution to ‘defamation’ is clear explanation of how they came to decisions—transparency—not hiding behind a veil of immunity.
Experts divided over media coverage of court cases
FATIMA SIDIYA | ARAB NEWS
JEDDAH: Should court cases that are active be reported in the media or not? This is a question that Saudi media law is unclear on, say lawyers.
Opinions on the issue are divided with some saying media reports of active cases can influence public opinion to the detriment of the case. On the other hand, others feel press reporting actually leads to positive outcomes to cases.
Discussing the issue at a recent judicial seminar in Riyadh, Sheikh Saleh Al-Hussain, head of the General Presidency for the Two Holy Mosques, criticized media coverage of active cases, adding that it is vital that the Kingdom’s judiciary is respected. “Any attack on the judiciary is an attack on the reputation of the country,” he said after explaining that some active court cases have been reported in the West to defame the Kingdom.
“No one should criticize judicial rulings, or report cases that are still being considered by the judiciary,” he said.
According to the Kingdom’s publication law (Article 73), “It is not legal to publish investigations or court hearings related to personal issues or other (issues) unless an authorization is taken from the concerned authorities.” Lawyers say the wording in this piece of legislation is ambiguous and open to interpretation.