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Give it a brake

It may be non-Islamic for women to drive cars, but there’s nothing un-Islamic about it

india Updated: Jun 30, 2011 23:17 IST

The last time we heard, the Koran doesn’t prohibit women from driving a car. In fact, it doesn’t say a word about women driving cars at all. So before we proceed any further, let it be known that there is nothing ‘un-Islamic’ about women behind steering wheels. ‘Non-Islamic’ yes, but ‘un-Islamic’ nope. So unless the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is suggesting that countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Malaysia are being ‘un-Islamic’, we should realise that when five women were held in police custody for driving cars in Jeddah, they were seen as breaking ‘traditional’ Saudi laws, not Islamic ones.

For some time now, Saudi women have been growing restless about this mindless restriction. From early June, there have been women who, in an act of practical defiance rather than as an act of overt political protest, have clicked their seat belts on and turned the ignition key. They fully well know that it’s only the prohibition that makes the act seem like a radical act whereas all they want to do is drive and pick up their kid from school, go to a salon, meet a friend without having to depend on a male driver. For, remember, Saudi Arabia is not only a misogynist society but also a ‘classist’ one without any public transport system.

There was some hope when under the relatively more moderate disposition of King Abdullah, the few women who were breaking the ‘driving’ law earlier last month were being challaned for breaking ‘traffic’ rules. In the ensuing backlash, and most probably under pressure from ‘traditionalists’ that include women, the Saudi regime has started a ‘crackdown’ — well, at least against five rebels — on burqas behind wheels. While many Indian women drivers are wondering how wonderful it would be to be driven, rather than to drive, through office hour traffic in Mumbai, Kolkata or Delhi, may we remind you the joys of being free to drive. For those five Saudi women, let’s honk to lend them our support.