May 21, 2004 Special Dispatch No. 720

Recent Articles by Saudi Liberal Writer Raid Qusti on the Need to Reevaluate Saudi Education and Religious Restrictions on Saudi Women

May 21, 2004
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 720

In a series of recent articles in the Saudi English-Language Daily Arab News, liberal Saudi journalist Raid Qusti [1] wrote about the need to reevaluate the Saudi education system which he blames for producing terrorists in Saudi Arabia, and achieving religious reform regarding the rights of Saudi women. The following are excerptsfrom the articles:

Article 1: 'How Long Before the First Step?'

The following are excerpts from an article titled "How Long Before the First Step," from May 5, 2004:

"Terrorist incidents in Saudi Arabia are more or less becoming everyday news. Every time I hope and pray that it ends, it only seems to get worse…

"On Saturday, five Westerners were killed in Yanbu in cold blood, and eyewitnesses say the body of one of them was dragged in the street by a jeep the terrorists were driving. Suicide bombings, GMC trucks packed with explosives, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades; to me it sounds more like the streets of Kabul or Fallujah, not Riyadh, Jeddah, or Yanbu. Each time I recall the terrorist incidents over the past year I remember what a Saudi official told a group of guests in a foreign embassy gathering: 'This is just a black cloud that will pass in time,' he said. That was a year ago, even before the Nov. 8 Muhaya compound bombings and the mess we are seeing today.

"I wish I could see that same person again today to ask him what the weather forecast was for next year. More black clouds and showers of truck bombs and rocket propelled grenades? One explanation to why all of this is happening was brought up by the editor in chief of Al-Riyadh newspaper, Turki Al-Sudairi, on a program about determining the roots of the terrorist acts. He said that the people carrying out these attacks shared the ideology of the Juhaiman movement that seized the Grand Mosque in the '70s. They had an ideology of accusing others of being infidels and giving themselves a free hand to kill them, be it Westerners - who, according to them, ought to be kicked out of the Arabian Peninsula - or the Muslim believer who does not follow their path. They disappeared in the '80s and '90s from the public eye and have again emerged with their destructive ideology. The question Al-Sudairi forgot to bring up was: What are we Saudis going to do about it?

"If we as a nation decline to look at the root causes, as we have for the past two decades, it will only be a matter of time before another group of people with the same ideology spring up. Have we helped create these monsters? Our education system, which does not stress tolerance of other faiths - let alone tolerance of followers of other Islamic schools of thoughts - is one thing that needs to be re-evaluated from top to bottom.

"Saudi culture itself and the fact that the majority of us do not accept other lifestyles and impose our own on other people is another. And the fact that from fourth to 12th grade we do not teach our children that there are other civilizations in the world and that we are part of the global community and only stress the Islamic empires over and over is also worth re-evaluating. And last, but certainly not least, the religious climate in the country must change, a matter which was stated by our own minister of Islamic affairs but remained a mere statement without implementation.

"The journey of a thousand miles starts with a step. Are we going to wait another 30 years to see the consequences of waiting?" [2]

Article 2: Tradition vs. Religion

In an article from May 12, 2004 titled "Tradition vs. Religion," Qusti addressed the issue of women's rights in the kingdom:

"I would like to thank Dr. Laila Al-Ahdab from the bottom of my heart. I am grateful for her article which appeared in [the Saudi daily] Al-Watan, 'Which Is Right to Follow: Tradition or Religion?' It was an eye-opener for every Saudi — male or female — who wants to know the truth about how the current situation in the Kingdom regarding women has everything to do with our customs and traditions but very little with our religion.

"In the article, Dr. Laila gave examples from Al-Bukhari and Muslim (the two most reliable sources of Hadith) of how there was no segregation between men and women in public life in early Islamic history and how women were a key factor in social development in almost every aspect of life. This is certainly not the case in our traditional society today. On the contrary, there are continuous calls from ultraconservative Saudis for Muslim women to take no part in public life and stay at home. The writer gave examples of various Hadiths narrated by Al-Bukhari and Muslim, of how early Muslim women attended sermons in mosques (not allowed in most cases here), advised rulers (doesn't happen here), sold goods in the market (forbidden here since the powers say it would amount to sinful mixing), nursed and cared for the wounded and sick (largely unacceptable here because it involves mixing, which is said to be sinful), and other examples.

"Other Hadiths in Al-Bukhari narrate how some female companions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) asked him to allow them to fight in battle and permission was granted. One Hadith even mentioned how several men and women publicly discussed a topic — proof that mixing was a fact but that modesty and respect prevailed in early Islamic society. The writer also mentioned how, in various Hadiths, the Prophet's companions greeted women in public, during visits and at weddings and other public ceremonies. A valid point which Dr. Laila brought up was that many of the traditions which we cling to — and even force on others — are alien to our religion in the light of Islamic history. In fact, some of these traditions are now backfiring. Terrorists are taking advantage of them for their own perverted reasons.

"What I am specifically talking about is the abaya and covering a woman's face in public. This is the norm in Saudi Arabia. The terrorists in Riyadh, however, managed to flee all the way to Jeddah because they were wearing abayas and covering their faces. They were assumed to be women and, as women, were virtually unapproachable. One newspaper even published a photo of several abayas in the villa raided in Jeddah where the terrorists were hiding. When a female journalist asked Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal what the government could do to stop terrorists from using abayas, the minister said the question should be directed to the Ministry of the Interior…

"Recently, Sheikh Saleh Al-Hussein told Arab News' sister publication, [the London daily] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, that women visiting the Kingdom are not required to wear the abaya. He said the proof was that millions of Muslim women come for Haj, all wearing their traditional clothes. I wish the sheikh would emphasize that Muslim women are not required to cover their faces; during Haj and Umrah it is stated in the Hadith that it is a violation to do so but some of the men and women who work in the Grand Mosque in Makkah need to be reminded of this. And though it is well-known that women should not cover their faces during Haj or Umrah — a fact that our religious scholars cannot dispute — some people in the Grand Mosque harass women whose faces are uncovered. An American Muslim told me of her experience when she visited the Grand Mosque for the first time. She said that as she stood in front of the Kaaba, she was gripped by the spirituality of the moment. As she stood there, a bearded man began yelling at her, 'Cover your face!' Then he hit her on the back with his stick. How sad indeed that such people are allowed to call themselves Muslims. What is equally sad is that most of them are ignorant of the truth and tolerance of Islam." [3]


[1] For more on Raid Qusti, see MEMRI The Writings of Liberal Saudi Journalist Raid Qusti, February 20, 2004, 'The Writings of Liberal Saudi Journalist Raid Qusti.'

[2] Arab News (Saudi Arabia), May 5, 2004.

[3] Arab News (Saudi Arabia), May 12, 2004.

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