March 22, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 9843

Kuwaiti Journalist Decries Restrictions On Women Joining Military, Says Kuwait Is A Civil State Whose Constitution Guarantees Complete Gender Equality

March 22, 2022
Kuwait | Special Dispatch No. 9843

On October 12, 2021, Kuwaiti former defense minister and deputy prime minister Hamad Jaber Al-'Ali Al-Sabah,[1] announced that, for the first time, women would be allowed to join the Kuwaiti military in certain roles.[2] However, three months later, on January 16, 2022, following pressure from Islamist MPs[3] and from clerics, the minister ordered to postpone the army's first training course for women until the Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs, and its Fatwa Service, look into "the religious rulings, laws and conditions that must be  considered and followed" in this matter.  The decision to postpone the course was made after several prominent clerics met with the minister with the aim of dissuading him from his decision, and impressed upon him that the issue must be brought before Kuwait's jurisprudential authorities.[4] The minister himself noted in the meeting that the shari'a is the primary source of legislation in the country.[5]

On January 25, 2022, the Defense Ministry published six conditions that must be met according to the ruling of the Endowments Ministry's Fatwa Service. The fatwa (religious ruling) itself was not published, but the ministry explained the six conditions: a woman can only join the military with the consent of her husband or guardian; all servicewomen will be required to wear a hijab; they will serve only in medical and nursing positions or in technical and support roles;  they will not take part in field exercises and will not be permitted to carry a gun, and they will be recruited based on available positions.[6]

The Defense Ministry's statement explaining the conditions for women's enlistment in the military (Source:, January 25, 2022).

The affair evoked reactions and criticism from Kuwaiti social media users, women's rights organizations and  media figures. For example, the head of the Women's Cultural and Social Society, Lulwa Al-Mulla, said that, although Kuwait "is an Islamic country,  we nevertheless demand to refrain from subordinating its laws to religious rulings." She added that the society will file a legal complaint demanding to strike down the restrictions on women's enlistment because they are unconstitutional and discriminatory.[7] 

Senior journalist Iqbal Al-Ahmad, the former editor of Kuwait's official news agency and currently a columnist for the daily Al-Qabas, likewise criticized the restrictions. In two of her columns, she condemned the defense minister for consulting with  clerics  on a matter of civil equality, which is purportedly guaranteed by the Kuwaiti constitution. She added that the restrictions are disgraceful and should never have been imposed, because they prove that the democracy and gender equality enshrined in the constitution are a mere pretense, and also because they encourage women to be hypocritical and pretend to be religious just in order to attain certain jobs.

"Criticism" blindly takes aim at "the decision to enlist Kuwaiti women in the military" (Source: Al-Jarida, Kuwait, October 14, 2021)

The following are translated excerpts from Al-Ahmad's articles:

Clerics Must Not Intervene In Issues Of Gender Equality, Which Are Anchored In The Constitution

In her January 18, 2022 column, Iqbal Al-Ahmad criticized the minister's decision to postpone the first training course for women recruits, noting that women fulfill combat roles in modern armies and that there were also heroic women warriors in early Islam. She added that there was no need to consult with clerics on matters of women's military service, since Kuwait is a civil state whose constitution guarantees complete gender equality.  She wrote: "Nusaybah bint Ka'ab participated in the Battle of Uhud, [8] and in the thick of the fighting, when the Prophet himself was attacked, she was one of those who defended him, alongside her husband and her son. After she was stabbed 13 times, the Prophet called on her to be one of his companions in Paradise. Islamic history never barred women from fighting and defending the homeland and the faith. Women have also participated in fighting ISIS and other [extremist organizations], and we never heard anyone, not [even] a bearded Kuwaiti [ceric], condemning or banning this. On the contrary, people praised and glorified those they saw as promoting the victory of the faith. Nor did the Kuwaiti resistance exclude women from confronting the invading and occupying Iraqi forces [in 1990], and the martyrs of Kuwait, who suffered torture and abuse, included women martyrs. Oh you [self-appointed] Kuwaiti experts on religion, exegesis and prohibitions, take a look at the pictures of those martyred Kuwaiti women, whose faces were completely disfigured before they were buried just for not hesitating to defend their homeland. They loved it and sacrificed for it more than many of you, who [instead] left the homeland on the pretext of defending your honor.

"So much for the religious aspect you use as an excuse. But more pertinent to our topic today is the constitution, which regulates every aspect of our lives. Honorable deputy prime minister and defense minister Sheikh Hamad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, since [Kuwait] is a civil state, you must not…  consult the clerics or  ask them to approve a decision that you made and were determined to publish, defend and promote… because this will unleash a pandemonium from which you will be hard put to extricate yourself… 

 "Another aspect that is very important, and perhaps even most important, is that Kuwait is a civil state that believes in equality, based on Articles 7 and 175 of the constitution, two major articles that promote and guarantee the values of equality and non-discrimination. Equality must not be a mere slogan. It must [include] equality of opportunities and rights, and enable women to be part of society alongside men, with the same rights and freedom to choose whatever suits them and conforms to their principles. Military service is a matter of choice, not coercion. If [the clerics] do not want their women to join [the military], that is their right, but they must not control the will of many other Kuwaiti women in [other] families, who want and even yearn to join the military.

"Allowing Kuwaiti women to join the military is in line with the global and constitutional principle that rejects gender discrimination, because all human beings are equal in dignity and in rights and duties, and are equal before the law…

"Minister Sheikh Hamad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, just as you met with the clerics to consult them on this issue and this decision, I hope – again based on [the principle of] equality – that you will also meet with constitutional experts [and seek their] approval of your decision, so as to complete the picture from both the religious and the constitutional perspectives. It makes no sense for you to forget, or pretend to forget, our immense and glorious constitution and ignore it, while looking for external excuses for weighty decisions [on an issue] that has become important and necessary."[9]

The Conditions For Enlistment Of Women Are Disgraceful, Prove That Equality And Democracy In Kuwait Are Illusory; Why Do I Need To Wear A Hijab To Merit The Honor Of Serving My Country?

On January 26, after the Defense Ministry published the conditions specified in the Endowment Ministry's fatwa on women's enlistment, Iqbal Al-Ahmad tweeted: "Had [women's enlistment] remained forbidden, it would have been a thousand times better than these disgraceful conditions that present the Kuwaiti woman – whom the honorable [defense] minister takes pride in on every occasion – as untrustworthy and as lacking any ability or talent."[10] 

Al-Ahmad's tweet

In her column from January 29, Al-Ahmad added that this affair proves there is no real equality and  democracy in Kuwait, and that the conditions imposed on the enlistment of women reflect the clerics' hypocrisy. She wrote: "Is [Kuwait] really a democratic country whose constitution guarantees equality in rights and duties to all members of society? It appears that our laws on freedom, or some of them, are only there so we can brag about them to others, but are far removed from reality in terms of our individual freedoms in various areas of our lives.  When I, a Kuwaiti woman, am forbidden to serve in the military and actualize my love for my homeland, my concern for its fate and my patriotic desire to defend it to the best of my ability, just because I do not cover my hair with a hijab, that is not democracy. When, in order to appease some cleric, I am banned from realizing this national right [unless I don a hijab], even though I do not wear one in my daily life among my family, friends, loved ones and community, that is very far from democracy...

"When a supermarket manager does not allow any woman employee to serve as a cashier unless she wears a hijab – even if she is Asian and he knows very well that she is not a Muslim, or if she [is Muslim but] chooses not to wear it for some reason – that is hypocrisy towards the religion. There are also some banks that require women to wear a hijab in order to be hired or appointed to senior positions, when they know very well that these women wear it… just because they need the job or the promotion, not out of complete religious conviction…

"And now we have hypocrisy towards the homeland. I am not [deemed] worthy of the honor of taking part in the defense of my homeland… if my hair is uncovered. But, from a religious point of view, am I allowed to be a hypocrite and, upon arrival at the defense ministry gates, pick up the hijab from the car seat beside me and place it on my head, just in order to be given the honor of serving my country? Does that make sense?!

"Does it make any sense to include the hijab among the conditions for allowing a Kuwaiti woman to serve in the army? Not to mention the other miserable conditions, such as the prohibition on carrying a gun and on [participating] in military training, and the [need] for the guardian's consent…  

"What is going on in our [country]? Why do we ask for a fatwa on routine civil matters in which other [countries] have already made progress? They did not consult extremist elements that will not be satisfied until the woman goes back to the kitchen to cook and do laundry. I'd like these honorable clerics to issue a fatwa against… practicing religious hypocrisy for any reason whatsoever.

I believe that mixing fatwas into the civil affairs of the state is an unfortunate mistake whose consequences are unknown. MPs and young people who support women's [rights], on whom we pinned our hopes in vain, are partly responsible for this affair because they [justified] turning to other means [i.e., to fatwas] in hopes that they will help grant women the right [to serve in the army], but unfortunately, the results were disappointing and frustrating.

"I hope that legal and constitutional elements mobilize to fix this state of affairs and  restore this right to all Kuwaiti women, whether they wear a hijab or not. We are all [daughters] of this homeland and the right to defend it must not be limited to one group and denied to another for reasons of outward [appearance]...

"If [women's enlistment] had been forbidden altogether, it would have been better than allowing it in this manner that disgraces the Kuwaiti women, whom you, honorable [defense] minister, take pride in on every occasion."[11]


[1] Al-Sabah resigned from the government on February 16, 2022. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 17, 2022.

[2], October 12, 2021.

[3] The Salafi Ummah party attacked the minister's decision, stressing that "there are religious and social dangers that prevent bringing women into the armed forces." The party's secretary-general, Muhammad Hayef Al-Mutairi, said that "bringing women into the army is foreign to Kuwait's Islamic character and to the customs and tradition of the Kuwaiti people," and called on his fellow MPs to oppose the minister's move. Al-Arab (London), January 17, 2022. Other Islamist Kuwaiti MPs submitted questions to the minister and brought a vote of non-confidence  against him, which did not pass.  See Al-Qabas (Kuwait), November 1, 2021; Al-Arab (London), January 17, 2022;, January 18, 2022. Replying to the questions on January 17, 2022, the minister defended his decision, noting that 34 Islamic countries permit women to join the military, including "our big sister Saudi Arabia," and asked: "Can all these countries be violating the shari'a?" Al-Rai (Kuwait), January 18, 2022.

[4], January 16, 2022. 

[5], January 25, 2022.

[6] Al-Qabas (Kuwait), January 25, 2022.

[7], February 17, 2022.

[8] Nusaybah bint Ka'ab was a companion of the Prophet Muhammad who fought alongside him in several battles, including the battle of Uhud between the Qurayshis and the Muslims, which took place near Medina in 625.

[9] Al-Qabas (Kuwait), January 18, 2022.

[10], January 26, 2022.

[11] Al-Qabas (Kuwait), January 29, 2022.

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