June 30, 2014 Special Dispatch No. 5784

Saudi Columnist: Only In Saudi Arabia Does A Woman Give Birth To Her Own Guardian

June 30, 2014
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 5784

In an article in the official Saudi daily Al-Jazirah, titled "Only In The [Saudi] Kingdom: A Woman Gives Birth To Her Own Guardian," Saudi writer Lubna Al-Khamis termed as "benighted" the Saudi law that requires every Saudi woman to have a male relative as her mahram, or guardian. She described the humiliation a woman feels when forced to seek permission to carry out any of a wide range of activities from her guardian – who in many cases is her own son. Saudi law, she said, contradicts the rights Allah granted to both men and women.

The following are excerpts from the article:[1]

"This is not some journalistic fraud or propaganda [trick] that baits readers into reading this article, only to discover that the contents are totally different from the title. I promise you that everything you will read in this article is cold, hard fact...

"Image a woman who carries a baby in her womb for nine months, suffers exhausting labor pains, and then nourishes [her baby] with her tears and milk, caring for him through the nights as her best years go by. She teaches him to read and write and plants noble humane values in him, often spending her own savings just to make him smile... And when that [baby] reaches the age of 18, he suddenly becomes her guardian.

"This happens to every woman who suffers the fate of being widowed. Then the 'guardianship' passes from her husband to her brother, and later to her son when he reaches the age of 18. When that happens, a woman is forbidden to leave the kingdom without [her son's] permission or to renew basic state documents, like a passport. Additionally, if her father is deceased, she cannot remarry without [her son's] blessing. She also cannot be employed in many fields without presenting a signed letter of approval from her son.

"An acquaintance of mine told me about a woman whose husband died and left her with five daughters, one of whom was born in the U.S. Their guardianship passed to one of [the girls'] uncles, who was religious to the point of extremism. He forbade them to leave [Saudi Arabia] for many years, and did not allow them to work in fields that he saw as socially unacceptable, such as in banks or hospitals. [The daughter who was born in the U.S.] was compelled to take her U.S. passport to the U.S. embassy [in Saudi Arabia] and complain about her situation, despite the objections of her mother, who feared the uncle's [wrath]. At the embassy they promised to protect her... She [eventually] managed to fulfil her dream of studying medicine in the U.S., while her 'Saudi' sisters remained with their uncle [and his] temper for many years, with the blessings of Saudi law...

"Imagine a society that praises religion day and night, and presumes to observe [its principles] and to be kind, yet treats half [of society] – women – like minors or legally unfit citizens. They cannot make fateful and fundamental decisions [about their life] on their own, but instead require the approval of someone whom Allah blessed with maleness... Therefore, [authorities] invented a new mechanism called a mahram [guardian], because they cannot accept that Allah made [women] fully competent by giving them the same virtues and the same limitations [as men], and setting the same penalties for men and women, penalties that do not apply to minors or to the mentally challenged or mentally ill...

"It seems that the history of educated Muslim women who served as aides, advisors, traders, farmers, and warriors during the time of the Prophet [Muhammad] is flawed in the eyes of [Saudi authorities]. Otherwise, they would not force [women] to operate under a guardian regardless of their age, level of education, and social status. This, while men are treated as fully mentally and religiously competent – they can study, work, travel, drive, and apply for personal documents when they reach the appropriate age...

"The personal status law in the kingdom suffers gaps in its humanity, and its treatment of women is benighted... This is not surprising in light of the worrying absence of women from the country's judicial and legislative circles, [where they could have] defended their existence and spoken out against every article [in the law] that ignores their value and existence.

"Tell me, you men who deal with legislation and the courts: Which religious law requires a woman, even one who is 70 years old, to ask for permission from her guardian to apply for or renew her passport? What kind of law forces her to be reduced to the 'property' of someone that she [herself] brought into the world? What kind of laws are these that claim to defend her by forcing her to live her entire life under the guardianship of one of the men around her?

"Reexamine these laws and act justly and properly towards women, since one of the standards [determining whether] human society is developed and civil is the measure of justice and honesty it shows to its other half [i.e. to women]."


[1] Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), March 3, 2014.

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