In many conservative Muslim states, men do not talk to women other than their relatives. They may not even shake hands with them. Foreign male diplomats are taught to wait to see if a woman extends her hand for a shake before extending their own. Female diplomats are taught to not even bother if the interlocutor is male.

Saudi Gazette translates a piece from the Arabic daily Al-Riyadh in which the writer — a Saudi woman — points out to the patent unfairness and illegality of the way government officials (and others) refuse to deal directly with women, insisting that only males enter their offices (or office buildings). Some refuse to speak with women even on the phone. Or how some doctors will speak only to males in discussing medical concerns of patients… even if the woman is the patient.

It’s truly a backward approach to life and one the Saudis are going to have to come to terms with if they’re not going to continue leaving themselves open to complaints and criticisms like those made by the Swedish Foreign Minister.

‘Sorry, I don’t talk to women’
Dr. Hatoon Ajwad Al-Fassi | Al-Riyadh

I added the word “sorry” to the title of this article even though government officials do not normally bother to use this word. I have previously written regarding how women are not allowed to enter government buildings and are forced to stand outside on the street. I now intend to discuss how government officials treat women once they manage to enter government offices.

I know of a woman who went to a hospital with her husband. The hospital’s management subsequently asked her to leave because women are not allowed to stay the night with their husbands. Only male family members can do so. This woman asked the consultant to keep her posted on her husband’s health. He, however, refused to speak to her in person or over the phone, and said he would only talk with male family members. He insisted on dealing with her like this even though what he was doing was against the rights of patients.

Another example is that of a mother who called her son’s school to ask how well he was doing. The teacher refused to talk to her and said he would only to talk to the child’s father. What if this woman were widowed or divorced?


March:20:2015 - 09:48 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

Addressing the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Saudi government says it sees no reason to abolish the death penalty. The government claims that death sentences are reserved for only the most severe crimes and sentences must go through three levels of court approval before they’re implemented.

In reporting on the Saudi Press Agency story on the issue, Saudi Gazette makes no specific mention of Quranically-mandated death sentences. Nor does it address those “crimes” which most modern nations no longer acknowledge, such as “black magic” or apostasy.

Saudi Arabia rebuffs calls to abolish the death penalty
Saudi Gazette report

GENEVA – Saudi Arabia reiterated on Wednesday its commitment to hold fast to the Shariah principles in all walks of life especially in applying the law for death penalty, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Rebuffing calls for lifting the death penalty, Bandar Al-Aiban, president of the Human Rights Commission, said the Kingdom cannot forget the rights of the victims encroached by criminals while listening to calls for abrogation of capital punishment.

Al-Aiban made the remarks while addressing the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“The Kingdom is keen to protect the rights of both the offenders and the victims. This is the underlying spirit while carrying out the penalty for criminals convicted of murder,” he said, while drawing attention to the fact that there are several other countries that apply the death penalty.

For its part, Arab News reports similarly, pointing out that Saudi law is a sovereign right accorded to all nations:

Shariah rule ‘sovereign Saudi right’


March:05:2015 - 07:48 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

The Washington Post runs an article from the Associated Press, under a somewhat exaggerated headline, noting that the King Abdullah International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue in Vienna is coming in for criticism.

The critics want the Center to condemn Saudi human rights abuses which include capital punishment, flogging, and jailing Saudi critics. Supporters say that Austria, Spain, the Vatican and others were well aware of the status of human and religious rights in Saudi Arabia before they signed on to support the Center. What’s more, human rights aren’t exactly the issue the Center was formed to address. It was set up to provide a venue where people of different religions could meet and discuss issues of religion as well as to create value by demonstrating that they could do that without calling each other pagans and apostates.

Saudi effort to promote open society abroad in tatters

VIENNA — Austria was enthusiastic when Saudi Arabia said it was ready to bankroll a center for religious and cultural understanding in Vienna — but two years after its launch, the desert kingdom’s foray into promoting a more open society abroad while continuing to repress rights at home is in tatters.

Its vice president, a former Austrian justice minister, has quit over comments interpreted as downplaying Saudi beheadings. And the center’s silence over the flogging of a Saudi blogger for criticizing Islam has drawn weekly street protests and condemnation from Austria’s chancellor — who said the nation “will not tolerate” the center’s refusal to repudiate Saudi human rights violations.

“I believe that the center needs to be done away with,” said demonstrator Norbert Brandl outside the turn of the century downtown palace housing KAICIID — the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue. “Either that or it has to speak up against these unbelievable incidents.”


February:28:2015 - 06:44 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

The religious establishment in Saudi Arabia is very averse to foreign holidays, particularly those that might carry any religious significance. As a result, they rail against “imported” and “un-Islamic” celebrations ranging from Valentine’s Day to Halloween and Christmas, and even birthday celebrations. These foreign influences, they believe, introduce shirk or some sort of polytheism into an Islamically pure society.

Saudi merchants, however, aren’t quite so convinced (nor are large segments of the general population). Saudi Gazette reports on how merchants work to avoid the bans on selling holiday-related goods.

‘Forbidden occasions’ a chance to boost sales
Saudi Gazette report

JEDDAH — Most retail stores, including gold shops, are waiting for what they call “forbidden occasions”, or celebrations that cannot be observed in the Kingdom.

These events start with the recent Valentine’s Day this month and end with Mother’s Day at the end of March and are often seen as crucial to helping markets recover from the annual quiet period of sales that starts after the end of Haj.

Some businessmen doubt sales will increase because the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice bans such celebrations and tour the markets to ensure that they are not selling related merchandise, but others see a significant increase in sales that could reach up to 100 percent compared to the previous four months, Al-Madina reported.

Saif Ali, manager of a gold shop in Jeddah, said the forbidden occasions starts on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, and most businessmen see them as an opportunity to increase sales by up to twice as normal.


February:17:2015 - 09:11 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Faisal Abbas, Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, has a good editorial today. In it, he writes about the appearance of a Saudi “historian” on Rotana Khalijjiya TV, in which he stated that Saudi Arabia shouldn’t let women drive because it exposes them to rape. It won’t do to emulate other countries because they don’t care if their women get raped. The female presenter met this assertion with the laughter it deserved.

Laughter and mockery are good, Abbas says, but not enough. There needs to be strong push-back, on the air and in other media to counter absurd assertions, as there was following that of a Saudi cleric who said that driving would damage women’s ovaries. I agree, but I also think the mockery should continue. Saudi Arabia has a long history of using mockery as a weapon and it is an effective one. When people beclown themselves, they should be laughed at.

It’s noteworthy that Abbas specifically abjures calling for government action to quiet fools. There is not need to take legal action when social action can achieve the same end.

What is the relation between Saudi women driving and rape?!
Faisal J. Abbas

Media outlets should always remember that they have a responsibility towards informing the public and as such, must always strive to adhere to the highest possible standards of professionalism and journalistic ethics.

Many might find it strange that one has to repeat what is – without doubt – the very soul and essential cornerstone of our profession.

However, when reputable Arab television channels are being used as a platform for a clown of the caliber of Saudi historian Saleh al-Sadoon, one wonders whether our job is inform, stimulate minds and raise questions or simply serve as meaningless, yet somewhat entertaining, optical chewing gum for the masses.


February:12:2015 - 10:05 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

The Washington Post runs an analysis of human rights issues in Saudi Arabia. The piece notes that the Kingdom receives low marks on whatever metric is being used to measure liberty interests, including women’s rights, free speech, and religious freedom. The quandary is that most Saudis are not calling for changes in the way things work and, what’s more, it has been the government at the forefront of change and liberalization.

The US government, the article notes, is not eager to get involved in pushing for reform when there’s no popular support for reform. It would rather leave it to the Saudi government to implement changes at a pace acceptable to Saudi society.

The article also points to the question marks hanging over the changes in government following the ascension of King Salman, not noted as a reformer himself.

The facts — and a few myths — about Saudi Arabia and human rights
Adam Taylor

For almost 70 years, Saudi Arabia has been a vital U.S. ally in the Middle East. The relationship, which famously opened in a meeting on the Suez Canal between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the first Saudi king, Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, is based around shared concerns about regional security and crude oil supplies. It has proved remarkably durable, despite a rapidly changing world.

Over the past few months, however, something seems to have shifted. Americans and other Westerners seem to have grown more and more skeptical about the true nature of their ally. In particular, an unusual set of circumstances — including the fearsome rise of the Islamic State, the death of Saudi King Abdullah and renewed concerns about Saudi links to the 9/11 attacks — has led to a significant public debate about Saudi Arabia’s true values.

One particular source of concern has been the state of human rights in the country, highlighted by a spate of public executions and the high profile punishment of liberal blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam” last year.


February:11:2015 - 08:40 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette translates an op-ed from the Arabic daily Al-Riyadh calling for a new look at the issue of guardianship. The author points out that even a 40- or 50-year-old female government minister might be required to seek the permission from her son before attending an international conference within her professional competence.

The writer is willing to go halfway in making changes, though. She suggests that it still might be proper for “young women” or women traveling for pleasure to obtain permission to travel. Even that, alas, is not enough for some of those commenting on the piece.

How can a young boy be the guardian of a female government minister?
Haya Al-Manee | Al-Riyadh

If a Saudi woman in her 40s or 50s wants to travel abroad to deliver a paper at a scientific conference on nanotechnology or new methods in laser treatment, she would only be able to travel with her guardian’s permission. If she was widowed or divorced, then her guardian might even be her son, who himself may be a schoolboy who is financially supported by his mother.

Another Saudi woman in a similar situation might be going abroad to attend a conference on how to raise children. She would also be required to get permission from her young son to travel.

The entire “guardian permission thing” would make sense if the woman was very young and was planning to go abroad on holiday. However, the restrictions in the above two scenarios are simply unfair. It is paradoxical that we boast of the extraordinary talent and vast knowledge of Saudi women but at the same time curtail their freedoms. We impose restrictions in accordance with changes in our outlook and attitude, and not on the basis of the efficiency and performance of Saudi women. As a result, our women are denied many rights.


February:06:2015 - 08:14 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

There are those within conservative Islam who argue that women have no place when it comes to discussing or analyzing Islam; that’s men’s work. They may have custom on their side, but they don’t have history.

Saudi Gazette translates an article from the Arabic daily Al-Hayat in which the writer points out the actual historic role women have played in the intellectual sphere of Islam.

Ibn Hajr, a man tutored by women
Zainab Ghasib | Al-Hayat

While the rights of women are being violated and so-called scholars who pretend they are learned continue to belittle and distort the image of women, Islam has painted a colorful image of women since the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and up until the last days of the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258).

Women began to be viewed with disrespect during the Ottoman times in which most rulers enjoyed numerous slave girls and mistresses. Nevertheless, even in that era there were many well-educated female scholars. During the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750) there lived a woman called Sakina Al-Hussain (may Allah be pleased with her). She held classes regularly at her home that were attended by poets, intellectuals and thinkers—people who wanted to learn from her. She judged poets and critiqued poems. More importantly, no thinker or scholar opposed her even though there were many great scholars around at that time.

There was another great woman named Wallada Al-Mostakfi who lived during the last days of the Umayyad Caliphs. She had also opened her home to scholars, thinkers and intellectuals who attended her sessions and learned from her.


January:24:2015 - 07:51 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that young Saudi women are not content to lead the kind of lives their mothers led. As a result, many are choosing to remain single into their 20s and 30s instead of being married and becoming mothers themselves in their teens. Not everyone is pleased.

Growing number of Saudi single women challenge tradition

JEDDAH — Amna Fatani knows she wants a brilliant career and a life different from that of Saudi women of her mother’s generation who married early, usually to a husband not of their own choosing.

The 27-year-old, studying for her master’s degree at Georgetown University in Washington and hoping to someday realize her ambitions, is part of a growing number of Saudi women choosing to remain single through their 20s and into their 30s as they pursue other ambitions.

The trend has ruffled conservatives who see it as an affront to the very foundations of the Kingdom, where rigid tribal codes have long dictated the terms of marriage.

“My friends and I have reached a point (where) we’re very specific about what we want,” she said. “I need someone who trusts that if I need to do something, I can make the decision to ask for help or choose to do it alone.”

Saudi women stand at the center of a societal pivot between the Kingdom’s push for greater women’s education and rights to work, and laws that give men final say over their lives.


January:22:2015 - 11:34 | Comments Off | Permalink

While all the major Islamic organizations condemned the attack on Charlie-Hebdo magazine, they seem to all be also condemning the magazine and its penchant to insult things many hold dear. Arab News reports on the backlash to the magazine’s most recent cover.

They’re missing the point.

Free speech is free: that is, it is not limited by government; it is not properly the target of vigilantes, no matter how righteous they think themselves. Further, there is no right to being free from insult, abuse, or hurt feelings.

Assume there is such a right. Who, then, draws the lines?

I am sure that Jews and Christians who are abused by sermons in mosques might take exception to the freedom given those imams. Are the imams to be shut down and jailed? In some countries, they would indeed face punishment at the hands of government, but those countries do not adhere to principles of free speech. Citing laws — bad laws — against “hate speech” or “blasphemy,” some countries do punish speech that hurts feelings. What they mean by “free speech” is “positive speech about things we all agree with.” That might work in a homogenous society where everyone thinks the same, or in bee hives and ant nests, but it’s both impossible and impractical to try and impose such a regime on human beings.

Muslim world questions logic behind Charlie antics

RIYADH/CAIRO: Iyad Madani, secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, has denounced the publication of sacrilegious cartoons by French magazine Charlie Hebdo Wednesday, calling the move “insolence, ignorance and foolishness.”

He said: “Freedom of speech must not become a hate-speech and it must not offend others. No sane person, regardless of doctrine, religion or faith, accepts his beliefs being ridiculed.”

Prominent Saudi scholar Sheikh Ahmed Al-Ghamdi said that publication of the latest image was a mistake. “It’s not a good way to make the people understand us. Jesus or Moses, all messengers (of God) we should respect,” and should not be made fun of in pictures or words, Ghamdi said. “I believe it will make more problems.”

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestinian lands, Mohammed Hussein, said such cartoons “fuel feelings of hatred and resentment among people” and publishing them “shows contempt” for Muslim feelings.

See also:

French magazine’s fresh anti-Islam insults flayed

Let me be clear. I’m not picking on Muslims here. Even France, even after the slaughter at Charlie-Hebdo, doesn’t get what free speech means.

France arrests 54 for defending terror; announces crackdown


January:15:2015 - 08:51 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Following a snowstorm in northern Saudi Arabia, Saudis started posting pictures on the Internet. Among the pictures were those of snowmen and snowwomen they’d built. This led to a fatwa from a Saudi cleric who cautioned against the creation of images of living beings, something forbidden in Islam according to various hadith.

Well, that created its own storm, one where users of Twitter and other social media inquired whether snowmen were a pressing issue within Islam, whether clerics didn’t have more important work to do.

The sheikh backed off a bit, acknowledging that it might be okay for kids to play in the snow and, anyway, the snow will melt.

Scholar sparks controversy with edict on snowmen
Saudi Gazette report

DAMMAM — A controversial sheikh has issued an edict stating that building snowmen with clear facial features is a depiction of Allah’s creations and is forbidden in Islam, Al-Hayat reported.

With the Huda snowstorm hitting north of the Kingdom, many Saudis made the most of the rare weather and posted various videos and photos.

They include a video featuring a man giving directions to another to Berlin as if it was only an hour away.

The phenomenon also brought out the artistic skills of Saudis as many posted Photoshopped pictures of themselves among polar bears and penguins to give the illusion that Saudi Arabia was completely coated with snow.


January:15:2015 - 08:40 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Writing in Arab News Saad Dosari finds himself in general agreement with the sentiments addressed by Abdulrahman Al-Rashed. Muslims need to take a serious look at how they’ve permitted terrorism in the name of Islam to grab hold and threaten individuals and groups around the world.

When words turn into bullets
Saad Dosari

What is more evil? To commit a crime or to back it through reasoning and justifications. I would argue that the crime itself is completed once the criminal act is over, you kill someone, he is dead, you blow up a checkpoint, the damage is done, it could lead to ramifications, but the act itself is already part of history. But when you reason and theorize any crime, you are actually preparing for a next wave of violence. You are keeping the evil concept of the crime alive, breeding more brutality and barbarity.

Last week, history repeated itself, another attack, new blood spilled, more lives lost in the name of Islam. Gunmen with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine in the heart of Paris, blindly wounding and killing whomever happened to be on their way.

After all these years of terrorism in the name of religion, it is pointless to defend Islam from the massacres committed under its banners…

…For us Muslims everywhere in the world, we need to stop and revisit our culture and traditions, to go back to the pristine teachings of Islam. This religion has been sent to the world with nothing but mercy, why some of us are depriving it of its holiest message?


January:12:2015 - 10:37 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink
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