Punishing a woman for a crime that is not a crime ?
Just as when int’l media outlet’s attention waned on the social issue of women drivers, Shaima, the woman whose lashing sentence was allegedly ‘pardoned by king’ is going to be lashed any way. A sentence handed by those who perceive her action as a social crime. The women driving campaign released a statement concerning the sentence, I am going to quote some sentences from the statement and include my understanding, concomitantly.
Why will she be given the sentence when the king pardoned? The statement says
“King Abdullah's royal decree asked the court to reconsider the sentence. The Interior Ministry refuses to issue a written order to suspend the sentence and only conveyed it orally to Shaima's father. If there is no a written legal document that supersedes this verdict then it will set an example and open the door for many other harsh sentences to take place.” If this is correct, the royal decree was asked to reconsider the sentence not pardon, and without a legal document how come we all thought the sentence will be overturned?
The verdict states “Based on the police report and what the defendant has committed, we consider her acts in shariah law haram "forbidden" as stated in Qura'an: "O you who believe obey Allah, his messenger (Mohammad) and those of you (Muslims) who are in authority" (4:50) She has disobeyed authorities as the Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, who is in charge of the nation's safety, has issued a banning on women driving based on a fatwa (religious edict) issued by the Ulama to prevent vices. Thus we sentenced her with 10 lashes and made her strongly pledge not to drive again."
Talk about selective evidence! The verdict chooses a Quraan verse randomly and applies to the case in order to justify. As far as I understand, driving a car does not constitute a disobedience to authority, especially when state law does not explicitly say it’s not. When it comes to obedience, for any nation’s progress and safety – it’s imperative to follow the rules but only till the governance body is just, not indifferent to injustice, oppression and ignorant. The sentence itself violates Saudi Basic Law of Governance that clearly states that it’s illegal to punish anyone unless they ‘violate a civil law or Shariah principle’.
Even the ban on driving is lawfully questionable since we are all consciously aware and the statement adds this as well “The former Shoura Council president Sheikh Mohammad Bin Jubair said that the driving ban fatwa was not issued from the Ulama council but from one single sheikh and it was merely a reaction to the women drivers in Riyadh in 1990. He added that "getting in a car with a foreign driver is more dangerous that a woman driving her own car.
We have to emphasize that the Interior Ministry is an executive body that is not eligible of setting and making new laws but only to reinforce existing ones. Thus, the Ministry's statement of banning women from driving which was issued in 1990 can not be considered legally a law nor it sets a precedent, it is merely a statement triggered by a certain incident. Also, the country's Basic Law of Governance was that issued by a royal decree in 1992 it supersedes the Ministry's statement. It states clearly in Article 8 that the "Governance in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia shall be based on justice, shura (consultation) and equality in accordance with the Islamic Shari'ah." Need I say more?
Lashing is not unusual in Saudi Arabia, recently a father was sentenced to 2080 lashes and 13yr jail term for violating his daughter. However, I can’t seem to comprehend how is it possible to give a sentence based on the principles of Shariah to a crime that is not a crime according to Shariah (Islamic principles)? It’s not even possible to try her in civil law since it’s not even a crime according to the traffic law in Saudi as the statement says “Until this very day there is not a single legal article that prohibits women from driving. For example, article 33 of the traffic system states that "any person is prohibited from driving car unless a driving license is obtained in accordance of the system, " based on this we believe that the word "person" includes both males and females. In fact, in July 2008 the general manager of the traffic department Major Fahad Saud Al Bisher said to Al Watan newspaper that the newly implied traffic system "doesn't include any article that prohibits women from driving."
These women are attempting to drive in order to make women driving an acceptable norm in society; they are, in fact, helping the government in building up public support to lift the ban. And instead, women are jailed, fined, intimidated and possibly now even lashed.
Recently a news piece reported that Women at Prince Noura Univeristy, the largest women’s university the world, will drive trains for the first time. These trains are designed to transport students within university campus. It appears like women here will pretty much be driving every transportation vehicle except for cars or bikes. (Personally, I would like to ride a bike rather than car)
My heart goes out to Shaima as she will possibly appeal the case. I can empathies with her situation – nobody wants to go to courts and fight with authority, nobody wants to attract attention of the world to local issues. It’s a delicate balance between a responsibility of a citizen and the battle to attain rights of a citizen. Women are half of society, and they raise the other half – how is it we think she’s one half of society only? Women are society. We’re the today, we are the tomorrow – how long will women wait for state to give them the right they already have as Muslim women and should have as citizens?