April 1, 2007 Special Dispatch No. 1513

What is the Punishment for a Woman Who Drives a Car

April 1, 2007
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 1513

In a March 6, 2007 article in the Saudi daily Okaz, Najib 'Issam Yamani argued that there is no shari'a basis for the country's ban on women driving cars.

The following are excerpts:[1]

"Nothing in Religious Law Prohibits Women From Driving"

"Okaz wrote about a young woman who was arrested when driving a car with her friends on the beachfront. The question is: What kind of crime will this young woman be charged with? Is it a crime that is written in traffic laws, like running a red light, speeding, illegal parking, doing loops, or other violations for which the punishment is imprisonment, having your driver's license revoked, or, as in the Abu Kab case, even death? Will she be charged with a specific crime that is written in the law and for which a shari'a verdict will be issued? It should be noted that the young woman was driving accompanied by women like herself, and thus cannot be charged with illegal mingling [with men]. In consequence, there is no known punishment for this.

"Likewise, the woman's legal guardian, who received a summons, cannot be punished, as Allah said: "Each man will reap the fruits of his own deeds, and no one will bear another's burdens [Koran 6:164]"…

"This young woman committed no crime punishable by law. She was on an excursion, driving in a car on the beachfront with her friends. Now, driving a car on the beachfront is in the category of innocent recreational activities that are not punishable by law, like driving an ATV, a motorcycle, or various kinds of boats by the seaside. It is also like a woman's driving a car in cities and villages.

"Nothing in religious law prohibits women from driving a car, and this is not something that is forbidden by religion. If it were, we would not see all those women with head-coverings, and veiled women, driving their cars everywhere – thus, there is no punishment for this in the shari'a."

"Laws Regarding the Permitted and the Forbidden Are Not Established on the Basis of Supposition"

"Al-Mawardi said in Al-Ahkam Al-Sultaniyya that Allah has warned us [not to violate] that which is forbidden by shari'a [by imposing the penalty] of either a discretionary punishment or an explicit punishment set out in the Koran or in the Sunna… What this young woman did is not something forbidden by shari'a such that it is punishable by either of these punishments. Allah said: "He has made plain to you what He has forbidden you… [Koran 6:119]" [which in this writer's view means that anything not explicitly forbidden is permitted].

"Nowhere is there anything forbidding a woman from driving a car. Whoever says otherwise must provide proof, as we follow the principle that all true human interests and everything beneficial to humans is essentially permitted.

"This is especially true of the laws regarding [women] being accompanied [by their male relatives], which permit [a woman to be unaccompanied] for anything beneficial unless there is proof to the contrary. If something is not proven to be forbidden, no one can rule it forbidden under the pretext that it leads to something else that is forbidden. Whoever forbids something that is [only] suspect, and rules that it is forbidden, and judges people on this basis has added something to the religion, and this is forbidden by Allah. He has [also] contradicted [what] the Prophet [said], and has supplemented God's [laws] with things from his own head concerning shari'a. The laws regarding the permitted and forbidden are not established on the basis of supposition…"

"Islam… Does Not Give Room For Capricious People to State Opinions About Religion that Are Not Based on Knowledge"

"Islamic shari'a sets out the general principles, basic precepts, and broad lines under which are arranged all of the new problems and questions that arise with changing times, habits, and customs…

"Islam, as a comprehensive [system], does not give room for capricious people to state opinions about religion that are not based on knowledge. Any opinion or independent reasoning that is not backed up by proof is rejected.

"There is nothing in shari'a that prevents a woman from driving a car. No one has the right to intimidate this young woman and to summon her guardian and punish him – especially when we know for certain that a woman's driving a car is among those practices that are essentially permitted.

"In the Prophet's time, women rode camels and horses. Drawing an analogy from that, women are allowed to drive cars, since cars are the device used in our time. Ibn Taymiyya said: 'Human behaviors, in speech and in deed, are of two kinds: ritual acts that are necessary for religion, and practices that are necessary for this world. As for the ritual acts, they are only established by revealed law [i.e. those not established by revealed law are forbidden]; but as for the [worldly] practices, they are essentially permitted, and only that which Allah has [expressly] forbidden is forbidden…"

We Should Not "Occupy Ourselves With Such Matters When We Have More Important Things to Deal With"

"The ruler [i.e. the king] has [expressed] his opinion on women driving cars. He approached it as a social issue, in which the state's role is to be the guarantor of an appropriate [cultural] climate… following the model of the Prophet, who said: 'You know best concerning the affairs of your life in this world.'

"This saying emanated from [the Prophet's] human nature, in things that have nothing to do with licitness or illicitness, but rather with personal evaluation and experience in the affairs of this world. The Prophet used to instruct his companions in the difference between the things he did as a matter of habit and natural disposition, and the things he did in order to legislate and set out the law [i.e., actions that are considered sunna and thus a basis for Islamic law].

"We should not constrain that which religion has opened wide for us. Nor should we occupy ourselves with such matters when we have more important things to deal with."



[1] Okaz (Saudi Arabia), March 6, 2007.

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