October 16, 2013 Special Dispatch No. 5481

Saudi Women's Rights Activist: The Arab Spring Is An Opportunity To Free Women Of The Hijab

October 16, 2013
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 5481

In an August 4, 2013 article in the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm, Saudi women's rights activist Nadine Al-Bedair, who is currently living in Dubai, argued that the custom obliging women to cover themselves with a hijab and with robes while praying had no Koranic basis. Al-Bedair called for shattering all social conventions and axioms that fetter Muslim women, as she put it, and for taking advantage the revolutions sweeping the Arab world to secure their liberation.

Two days before her article was published, Al-Bedair sparked the discussion by tweeting: "Why must I cover myself with a hijab while praying?"

The following are excerpts from her article:[1]

Al-Bedair on her Twitter account: "Question: why must I cover myself with a hijab while praying? I wish [I could get] a convincing answer" (, August 2, 2013.)

I Have Not Encountered Any Explicit Koranic Verse Compelling Me To Don The Hijab

"Lower [your] gaze, I'll pray to [Allah] my own way. Move away and allow me [to do so] without intermediary devices... Forget your boastful [grandstanding] against my body, don't butt in and don't disturb my moments of spirituality with your customary shallowness. Shred every covering and stop selling prayer robes. I hereby announce that I will not request permission to pray and I will certainly not get down on my knees [and beg] you to approve the attire that suits me.

"It's all illogical. Who corrupted our intelligence and prevented us from asking questions…

What [will happen] if I do not cover myself with a hijab during prayer [and do] without the prayer robe, [or] if I do not hide myself behind a cloth sheet while praying? I raised this question on Twitter. The takfiriyyoun[2] who opposed this as arrogance [on my part] do not interest me. [On the contrary,] what drew my attention was the ability [displayed] by many people to shatter everyday conventions that are so [deeply] engrained that they have became untouchable and unquestionable axioms. At first, the majority responded: Your question astounds us. Then they began to ponder [the question]. For hours and days I received diverse responses and unpersuasive answers attempting to prove that covering one's hair during prayer is obligatory; simultaneously, [I also received] other responses from women who do not wear a hijab during prayer, and, [in fact,] are not convinced they must wear it at all.

Nadine Al-Bedair

"[Oh for] the shattering of conventions. Imagine the cultural [freedom] we can attain once we shatter everyday conventions. [Some] argue that these are superficialities, and that ruminating over them is pointless. In my opinion, it is [precisely] these things that seem too shallow to ponder that have brought us to this level of conceptual and sectarian madness and to this crazy [degree] of backwardness…

"Examining the Arab street during the 1960s, we would not have encountered a single woman wearing a hijab. Were [the women back then] apostates destined for hell, doomed to be hung by their hair on Judgment Day and [condemned] to suffer horrible torments!?

"Why should I cover myself with a hijab while praying? I have not encountered any explicit Koranic verse compelling me do so while praying or even while not praying... If the hijab is intended to prevent seduction, as people claim, who [exactly] am I seducing while praying alone?"

When Will Women Rebel Against All The Nonsense That Society Uses To Fetter Them?

"Questioning axioms is not prohibited. Everything in the universe began with a question, and this era gives us a historic opportunity to present all the questions and search for answers.

"Of course, some men may not be [capable] of absorbing my questions, given their insensitivity to the issue – because, as men, they are socially exempt from the rope that binds me. However, after the revolutions [in the Arab world], it would be a crime to leave questions pertaining to women deep inside. Was the revolution intended to save only men? When will women revolt and declare [their] rebellion against all the nonsense, [and this includes] even the most simple, everyday customs which society has used to chain them for the [sole] purpose of preventing their [social] participation?

"The shattering of prevailing conventions and [the norms] we consider axiomatic, [as well as] the liberation of women and a commitment to [attaining] a high level of justice and equality for them, are the principal factors [that will ultimately] put an end to political tyranny and ideological degeneration. How can [a society where] women are suppressed, where they cannot savor the taste of happiness and are denied justice, produce a decent ruler [?]

"Why should I cover myself with a hijab? Why should I conceal my body before the one who made and created me?

"These questions confound me and remind me that, after every article or free debate, upon returning to my country I will have to take out the suffocating black robe and wind it around me. This [robe is] my permit to embark from the plane and [step on] the soil of my homeland."





[1] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), August 4, 2013. For excerpts from a 2012 interview with Bedair, see MEMRI-TV Clip No. 3272, "Saudi Journalist and TV Host Nadin Al-Badir Calls the Saudi Religious Police the "Enemy of Society" and Says: Most of Them Are Ex-Cons Who are 'Violently Extreme'', January 10, 2012.

[2] Takfiriyyoun – those who practice takfir, i.e., accuse fellow Muslims of apostasy," namely extremist Islamists.

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