Princess Basma Bint Saud Bin Abdulaziz is the youngest daughter of King Saud and a granddaughter of King Abdulaziz. Recently she spoke of reforms she would like to take place in her country, Saudi Arabia.
Ms. Basma is schooled in Beirut at a French Christian missionary school where she was taught by Christian nuns. In Britain she attended a Hertfordshire girls’ school and a College in London, before spending two years studying in Switzerland. Now, she is a successful businesswoman. Based upon her high level of education she has decided to suggest changes in her native country which ‘lacked, and urgently needed, fundamental civil laws which governed our society‘.
Should there be a complete ban on women driving?
In her critique she has raised several valid points such as the fact that Saudi government does not allow women to drive at all. This in fact places women in such a situation that a non-mehram (a person she is obligated to observe purdah from) driver is in the same car with her, taking her everywhere. However, the Princess fails to notice this but correctly identifies that this law ‘turns them (women) unnecessarily into a burden on their men and on society.‘
This law was drafted by Saudi scholars (ulema) for which they got little support from the rest of the mainstream scholars of Islam who hold a less stringent view that allows women to drive but also places certain restrictions on them that protect them and also the society when they travel both inside and outside of city. However the Princess completely disregards these safety measures and comes up with a rather vague ‘I am definitely for women driving‘. Her ‘fears’ about women driving because of which she, for the time being, does not wish for the ban upon women drivers to lift betrays her dishonesty as she later writes :’Otherwise we might as well hand out a licence to the extremists to abuse us further. If as drivers we get harassed, they will say to the Islamic world “see what happens when women drive, they get harassed they get beaten” and they will call for even more stringent laws to control women.‘ Therefore suddenly from being sympathetic towards women she betrays her disenchantment with both the minority Saudi ruling on women driving and the majority ruling as well, by implying that ‘they’ will use the hypothesized violence against women for their advantage. Who are ‘they’ may one ask her? The obvious answer are those people who either call for proper implementation of Islamic Shariah or those who like to abuse female drivers. The Princess might not feel a distinction between them but the reality could not be different. Any fair person after reading the ruling by Mufti Ebrahim Desai, that is the opinion shared by majority of the scholars, will not come to the same conclusion as hers that the scholars wish to ‘control women’.
How to protect the woman before she is abused?
The basic premise of women rights championed by liberals and feminists unfortunately assumes that men will always behave in the best manner to women in the society. The Islamic view on women rights is a much broader and practical aspect as it not only incorporates absolute safety of women but also makes sure the society is protected from immodesty caused by non-hijab women. Even for non-hijab women the Islamic law determines a method for protection. But does the Princess’ solution work? For example what will the Princess’ hypothesized solution do when a woman, lets say in UK, gives a ride to a hitchhiker and a few minutes later he forces her to pull over and rapes her? The British law (which we assume she is comfortable with) can catch the criminal, but do they do anything effective to prevent it? In Saudi Arabia the rape cases are the least among countries where such incidents are recorded. In that department the law works. The less stringent and more correct ruling would work equally well. The question mark remains on the Princess’ hypothesis.
An ordinary man is still a threat to a woman
The Princess’ complete disregard for women’s safety is further shown as she demonstrates lack of logic and historical knowledge when she says ‘At the time of the Prophet (PBUH), women used to have a man to accompany them but in those days Arabia was a desert literally full of pirates‘. There is absolutely no narration from the Prophet (PBUH) or a ruling from later generations that states when the desert is rid of pirates women can travel alone. The ruling by Mufti Ebrahim Desai, majority view, is taken from evidences of all generations of Islam from the Prophet (PBUH) till now regarding travelling of women. Never in Islamic history any Scholar allowed such safeguards for women to be removed. Again, the Princess has assumed that women are not in any danger from men who are not pirates in deserts. Does she honestly think an educated Muslim man (secular or Islamic education) cannot be misled by Shaytaan into harming a woman? Of course it is completely unlawful for him to do so but where are the laws, which she has ignored, to protect the woman before the physical abuse? Does she think a made-up beautiful non-hijab woman will drive about not getting noticed? Wouldn’t some men for whom the Qur’an says there is disease in their hearts, deem her unapproachable and think about molesting her? How do you protect such a woman before one of them decides to act on his ill-wishes? Just because she doesn’t wear hijab she should not be protected? The Princess’ hypothesis has no practical solution to minimize and eradicate this problem.
Independent refuges or her family home?
She is correct that independent refuges have to be established for abused women to have shelter from oppressors. However refuge homes bring problems of their own. Once again, how are women safe with non-mehram men? What guarantees they will not be abused by a man there seeking for a chance? What about problems associated with refuge homes such as disease, drugs and abuse, ironically, by women? While refuge homes can be a temporary solution the Islamic ruling of a woman’s family taking her in and protecting her is more practical and a better safeguard for women. It also ensures that the woman can seek separation from her abusive husband without fear and also enhance her chances of gaining employment in a safer and more trusted environment than that offered by refuge homes. If however she is, in extreme circumstances, abused in her home by her immediate family then she can seek recourse from Law Administrators. For this to happen Islam enjoins the woman’s whole family to protect her so that abuse at any level can be stopped and the threat removed. The Princess mentions that “Today in Saudi, a woman can ask for a divorce only if she files for what is called “Khali and Dhali”. This means either she pays a big sum of money running into tens of thousands of dollars or she has to get someone to witness the reason why she is filing for a divorce – an impossible condition to fulfil given that such reasons usually are the kind that remain within the four walls of a marriage.” She is correct on the latter part of her argument but incorrect on the former half – for this ‘big sum of money’ is the Mehr (Dowry) that is paid by the bridegroom as a security to her at the time of marriage. What she is implying is bribery but in reality mehr is a great safeguard for women. This prevents men from irrationally in ending relationships while it also allows room for reconciliation.
Immediately after making this mistake the Princess goes on and states “Another way to keep a woman in the marital home against her will is the automatic granting of custody of any children over the age of six to the father in any divorce settlements.”. Assuming the Saudi scholars did pass this ruling (no evidences provided by her) then how does this keep her in her marital home against her will? Is she postulating that women should get custody every time? Is this not an attempt to incite man-vs-woman? In any case she has failed to provide the alternative which we will be glad to provide here. A thorough reading of the divorce laws will also disprove her incorrect interpretation of the Qur’an as she believes a ‘woman is given full rights to divorce simply in the case of ‘irreconcilable differences.‘
Can anyone criticize rulings given by Islamic Scholars?
In her very first ‘reform’ the Princess accuses the ulema of giving rulings as though from their back pockets (‘personal beliefs and upbringing ‘). This brings us to a fundamental question that puts her entire theory of reform in doubt: What qualification does she has to pass rulings of Islam and that too accompanied by criticism of qualified scholars?
The Princess’ education we discussed in our opening paragraphs, it would be wise to scroll up and read it again. Where does it mention that she is a trained and qualified Islamic scholar? The Independent states ‘ She has studied Islam in depth, becoming a scholar of the faith’s great texts to give her the authority to challenge the teachings of Saudi imams. Armed with the evidence of scripture, she has rebuked the authorities in writing on issues from driving to the doctrinal basis for the requirement that women cover up in public.‘ Where did she study Islam in depth?There is absolutely no evidence for this unless one calls self-study a reason to be ‘qualified’. Her view that it is an option for women to cover up in public allows us to give our hypothesis that she has had no formal institutionalized Islamic education at all and that she is simply a secular extremist championing the values of the un-islamic Western civilization. This is because absolutely no authentic scholar has ever declared hijab to be an option. It is and will always be both an obligation towards Allah and a requirement by society upon women.
She gives further proof of being a non-scholar when she states ‘We are overlooking essential rights of a human being – the right to mix between the sexes, to talk and study freely‘. In Islam the sexes are not free to mix or study. Even talking requires restrictions. These are basic Islamic rulings that even laymen know. The Princess is basically promoting values that have caused the decline of the Western society…and she is supposedly an Islamic scholar.
In her haste to promote them she has deemed them ‘essential‘ rights of human beings which are in reality food, clothing and shelter. She further states :’The mutawa are everywhere, trying to lead society to a very virtuous life that doesn’t exist. Everthing is now behind closed doors.‘ There are two branches of implementation of Islamic Law which we shall describe briefly. First one is on a personal level and second is on the level of government. While one can completely disregard Islam from their lives but the implementation and enforcement of law by government ensures others are not affected by it. It also ensures more and more people observe the religious obligations. In short if you are filthy you keep your filth to yourself. Even if a society is extremely pious there will remain deviants. The fact that such deviancy is hidden is in itself a great achievement for the Saudi government. Yet more needs to be done to help bring the people ‘behind the closed doors’ towards Islam. Lifting all restrictions from society, as suggested by the Princess, is not the way to go about it. There is no society that does not need Islam.
To further show how she advocates distorting Islam to please the west, we provide proof from her own writing: ‘We have got human rights but they are paralysed. They are completely abstract, for the media and the western world.”. Therefore they have to be distorted so that they no longer remain abstract for the west and their media. The way of Islamic scholars is to bridge this gap by reaching out to the west, not by distorting Islam to suit their whims and desires.
Her incorrect understanding of derivation of rulings is further cemented when she criticizes the scholars of basing their decisions upon personal beliefs. A review of our previous article will make it abundantly clear to the reader how Islam has reached us and why scholars should be respected and why their rulings are law. It is also important to notice that in Saudi Arabia a scholar’s rulings are checked and approved by a board of scholars before they can be passed. In many cases this board issues the rulings. Secondly, a scholar’s verdict is based upon the Qur’an, Ahadith (sayings and verdicts of the Prophet (PBUH), and previous similar verdicts passed upon by the first three generations of Islam that are accepted as absolute authority. Any new problems are solved by Qiyas (analogy) and Ijtihad (derivation from original sources). There is no question of whims and desires either as entire scholar body of Saudi Arabia is composed of scholars who are followers of Sheikh ibn-abdul wahhab. Furthermore the board does not allow just any scholar to give a fatwa (verdict). A case in example is Sheikh Salih Al-Munajjid whose verdict website ‘Islamqa’ is banned in Saudi Arabia since he was not approved by the board.
A written constitution
As described in previous para if the scholars are giving a unanimous ruling why the need for a separate written constitution? In any case what will she include in the written constitution? This is her answer: ‘I am not calling for a western system but an adaptation of that system to suit our needs and culture. Thus our constitution should be inspired by the philosophy of the Koran with principles that are set in stone and not open to the whims of individual judges as is the case now.‘ Thus she is calling for Islamic law (which she has ignorantly attributed to being derived from just the Qur’an) that is distorted to suit western values.
This is the main aim of the secular extremists who realize that the only way for them to enjoy their western values and freedoms in an Islamic society is to distort the version of Islam to suit their whims. Yet ironically she accuses the scholars of basing decisions on their whims.
Another alternative to a written constitution is to adopt one of the four schools of thought: Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki or Hanbali. They have 1400 years worth of research done by scholars behind them in formulating an entire lexicography of Islamic Law. But unfortunately Saudi scholars believe rulings have to be taken from any of them so they may not reach a proper consensus. However this alternative constitution will work perfectly in other countries where one school of thought is adopted in its entirety (and not in pieces). This information was also missed by the Princess.
Some criticism missing?
It seems strange that someone who wishes so strongly that her country be reformed, forgets to include reforms in the ruling system for her country. This is a further betrayal of her dishonesty as there is not one word in her criticism for her father or other Kings of Saudi Arabia. Who chose the King? Doesn’t Islamic Shariah demand a voting within the ruling party to choose the next ruler? Why do they oppress any demonstration against the government? Why do they receive heavy wazifas (fixed salary) and where are the tax returns? Why do they indulge in interest abroad while declaring it unlawful in Saudi Arabia? This is all conveniently brushed under the carpet by the Princess when she claims ‘tier of governors, administrators and plutocrats who run the country day to day.‘ are to blame for the corruption.
Overhaul in education or eradication of actual Islamic education?
The Princess gives further proof that her intentions are to nullify Islamic values and replace them with western un-islamic ones when she exposes her ignorance of Islam (despite the Independent’s claims of her being a ‘scholar’) in her paragraph regarding overhaul of education system. The Saudi education system places a lot of importance on formal Islamic education. The Princess’ criticism of the education system is basically her disenchantment from Islamic values surfacing with every word. She claims children are taught that ‘women are inferior to men.‘ One of the most brilliant and intelligent refutation of such misunderstanding of Islam can be found here. Then she states that ‘Girls are also strictly forbidden from taking part in any physical education.‘. Didn’t the Saudi female team just made it into the Olympics? Surely they did some P.E somewhere for them to even qualify for the Olympics?In any case the ruling is same as majority opinion on women going out: wear the hijab, no tight clothes or perfume, confine your activities to a place where absolutely no men are allowed, travel within shariah bounds. To cap up her ignorance she repeats for the second time in a desperate attempt to prove the Islamic legitimacy of her ‘scholarship’ ,’This is a result of a complete misinterpretation of the Koran‘. May she produce evidence of what the Qur’an actually says on the matter of women being ‘inferior’ and also while she is at it could she perhaps derive a ruling from the Qur’an regarding permissiveness of women in P.E? This is again a clear proof she is nothing but a layman misusing the sacred name of the Qur’an.
The Princess then upgrades her disillusionment of Islam to pure deviancy. She states ‘Instead of wasting our youths’ intellect on memorising quotations whose origins is uncertain (such as those found in hadith, Fiqh and tafssir) we need to encourage them to think freely, innovate and use their initiative for the betterment of our society‘. Those who deny the authenticity of hadith are declared out of Islam by consensus of the ummah. This is because the hadith and Qur’an reached us (you and I) via the same medium: narrators. It is absurd to think that one would accept their narrations in terms of Qur’an but not in terms of hadith. The weak, sound and authentic ahadith are all sorted. We know exactly where the forgeries took place. There is no reason to believe the authentic ahadith we have today are unauthentic. It is like saying the water after it has been purified from sand and tested to be 100% pure is still impure because it was once impure.
Fiqh is derived from Qur’an, Ahadith, Actions of first three generations among other things which have not been correctly understood by the Princess. As proof of this she herself quotes: ‘ I would like to see religious teaching limited to the Koran and the Sunna (the way the prophet lived), where the true ethics of Islam lie. The rest is blind rote learning of the most dangerous kind‘. Notice how she now includes the Sunna here while a paragraph later she disregards it. Whims and desires taking over perhaps? Secondly what she calls ‘blind rote’‘ is actually not so different from secular education. I take admission in an Engineering Undergrad program. Should I first ask all the teachers to submit their proofs for all they are going to teach this semester so that I can approve the course content and then give them permission to teach me? One first has to learn the basics before they can delve into the fancy world of ‘research and analysis’ and as a matter of fact many aspects of Islamic education such as Theology, Exegesis, Jurisprudence are extremely vast and very difficult to understand without a proper teacher. So is as a matter of fact Engineering and Medicine. Do we accuse them of blind rote?She states ‘Early Islam was a time of great creativity. Scholars excelled in sciences and literature‘. This is correct but the scholars of Islam excelled only because of their strict adherence to Islamic Laws, something ironically, she is opposing under the guise of ‘innovation and contribution to surroundings ‘. Anyone can take a book of Islamic history and verify this themselves.
Then she misinterprets the ruling of scholars regarding higher education. The ruling is that higher secular education is only useful as far as higher income is concerned; it does not make you a better person. Those who study secular philosophy, sociology are not any different. If however islamic theology and sociology are studied then that will aid you in this life (materially and spiritually) and next life as well. Those who have keen interest in secular topics of education can pursue them in higher education without recourse. If they add the aim that upon graduation they shall earn a righteous living and help fellow human beings then that is another source of reward. Saudi universities are not downgraded by Islamic Education they are downgraded because the level of secular education is not high. If you do not have our engineers, doctors, businessmen and politicians not having a deep understanding of Islam how do you expect them to fulfill their duties as Muslims to themselves, their families, their countries and their societies? In any case higher secular education should not come at the expense of Islamic education. That point sadly is missed completely by the Princess.
Should an engineer perform a surgery?
Unfortunately throughout her article the Princess has shown ignorance of basic Islamic education. The article could have been a stepping stone for actual benefit of the country and the Ummah but it turned out to be the same attempts of distortion of Islam by secular extremists. It is classic brainwashing by the western secular education system that changes the frame of reference of those who have secular qualification but not even basic knowledge of Islam.
As proof we present another article written many months back by an undergrad student at a Pakistani university called LUMS. Notice the similar message given by this article and the Princess’ article of ‘reforming Islam to suit modern world’. Two people worlds apart yet united in secular extremist ideologies. In conclusion we would like to reiterate what we stated in Answering Secularism I, that any reform in the Islamic Law, if necessary, will be taken up by qualified scholars of Islam with sanad. Other people are considered unqualified and uneducated to give an opinion or criticize scholars when they have no formal qualification in Islamic Law. We have universities handing out PhDs in Islamic Law but none matter if they are not scholars with a sanad. It is like an engineering university unrecognized by Education Commission of that country, that churns out hundreds of graduates per year yet they are not recognized as engineers.
If laymen wish to give their opinions they should do so with due respect to the scholars of Islam through which our religion reached us. However, Princess Basma Bint Saud’s case is more of an engineer going to a doctor and asking him if he can perform the surgery instead. The incredulous doctor replies ‘how will you do that if you are not a doctor’, to which the engineer replies ‘I am a qualified engineer. It has taught me everything I need to know about the world’. You can guess what may have happened next.
Our sincere advice to the Princess and other people who are left-inclined is to use the pain in your heart that you feel for other people suffering, and motivate yourself to study Islam properly in an institution under a teacher. Islam was, is and will always remain the only correct way to solve the world’s problems. Your left-inclination is akin to siding with a drug-abusers’ druggist friends rather than the Rehab. Please stop misguiding people in the name of Islam and promoting your western values.
We wish and hope Princess Basma bint Saud will take our advice and she and her supporters will ponder over and learn from our criticism in sha Allah.