Today we consider the women of Saudi Arabia who are subject to stringent laws concerning guardianship, which is part of the Muslim world. This summer, a Saudi activist, Wajeha Al-Huweidar, sought to change the existing laws which require a woman to have a man's permission for everything that she does, in addition to traveling with a male escort when leaving the country. In response, a counter-proposal has been launched in the name of Princess Jawaher bint Jalawi. (There are scores of princes and princesses attached to the House of Saud who are wealthy beyond all our imagination.)
This campaign has been called "My Guardian Knows What's Best For Me," and is specifically opposed to calls by those with liberal views to improve the status of women in Saudi Arabia. Some suspect that this has really been started by men, but the point is clear: no reform of existing laws stands a chance of success within the Wahhabi regime in Saudi Arabia.
"[This campaign's] slogan gives the man greater tyranny and greater control, and greater humiliation and greater disregard [for the woman], and expresses a view [of women] as inferior... because of customs from the Jahiliya [i.e. the pre-Islamic period] which some consider to be 'religion.' How can the term ['guardian'] be given to a cheating husband, a drug dealer, a misyar husband or a 'summer husband [these terms are explained in footnotes].
"[The campaign's slogan] is illegitimate and illogical – it is a catastrophe, and the greatest catastrophe is that women themselves fall victim to this idea, and justify the myth of [their own inferiority] and become enthusiastic about it. Even if [the term] 'guardian' in this slogan refers to the ruler, Allah did not create woman so that man should speak in her name...
"Men no longer customarily bury their daughters [alive] as they did during the Jahiliya [the time before Islam]. But some among us have buried women's emotional and psychological needs... [as well as] affection and attention [to them]. The ill treatment of women is [not limited] to any one trend or party. It exists in all streams – Islamic, liberal, and secular. How women are treated is the result of upbringing in the home and of the culture of an entire society, a combination of customs handed down [from generation to generation].
The debate is frenzied and complicated, with many insisting that Islam isn't the problem, but irresponsible men are; some say that this is a plot from Western enemies who want to weaken the country through its women -- implying that patriotism would lead women to love their guardians; others say that it's too big a change and smaller steps would have a better chance -- which would leave the system basically intact.
As I read A God Who Hates (Wafi Sultan) it becomes clearer that Islam cannot see women as anything other than chattel and property of the men in their lives, unequal in dignity to men and tainted from birth by being sources of sin and unable to rise beyond it.
[Her grandmother instilled in her] the Muslim belief that “She is defective! She is grateful to her husband for covering up one tenth of this defect of hers and is waiting for the grave to hide the other nine tenths” (p. 117).
“The most terrifying thing about a Muslim woman’s birthmark is that part which comes from the Prophet’s stories about his wives that create a trap every Muslim woman falls into: no man in my life can be better than his Prophet and I cannot be less obedient to him than his Prophet’s wives were to their husband. Men have internalized the Prophet, and women have internalized his wives” (p. 119).
I want to discuss the moral importance and what [Muhammad's marriage to Aisha] has done, and is still doing, to destroy the moral and mental fiber of Muslim men and women. A fifty-year old man marries a six-year-old girl and consummates their marriage when she turns nine. This is a crime, pure and simple. It may not have been one at the time it happened, but the time has come for it to be considered as such. The ugliness of this crime does not lie only in the event itself, but in the religious and legal legitimization it has been accorded. It is the moral examples the individual Muslim extracts from this incident which invest it with its importance and gravity, not its time or place.
Islamic culture attaches no value to childhood. A child is his father’s property, who has the right to dispose of him as he would of any other property. When a mother picks up her young daughter of no more than nine years and places her in the arms of a man her grandfather’s age, her daughter’s childhood has been irreparably violated. When the mother’s action acquired religious and legal legitimacy, it became a way of life for fourteen centuries. (God hates. 120)
Islam was born in an environment that sanctioned the capture and rape of women, holding them – not the man committing the crime – responsible. Islam did not proscribe what was already permissible. On the contrary, it legalized it and enshrined it in canonical law. Man’s need to take his revenge on women because he considered them a source of disgrace was a pressing one (p. 129).
Your women are your fields: go, then, into your fields as you please (Koran 2:223). A woman therefore, is like/the land – the dirt – while the man is the farmer who plows that land and casts his seed into it. The dirt cannot protest as the farmer furrows it, nor can it determine the rime or place of planting. The whole operation takes place under the man’s control and is carried out in accordiance with his wishes. Can the dirt protest? Cant the dirt decide how it is plowed and planted? For fourteen centuries Muslim women have been the dirt of Islam that Muslim men have trod on and “planted” in their role as the farmer (pp 133-4).
Can anyone explain rules about guardianship (that a Muslim woman is first subject to her father, then brothers, then husband, and later sons) apart from the example set by Muhammad -- the owner of many wives and concubine/slaves? Is this a religion likely to be reformed without renouncing the prophet? He set the example that Muslim men have followed ever since. And for women to say that guardians are necessary and good only exhibits their Stockholm Syndrome. Very, very sad.
UPDATE: Speakingof those guardians and whether or not they know best, consider this guardian who sold his ten-year-old into marriage with an, ahem, considerably older man.
Saudi columnist and former editor of the Saudi daily Shams Khalaf Al-Harbi harshly criticized the practice of underage marriage. In an article titled "Save Elementary School Girls!" in the Saudi daily 'Okaz, he wrote: "How is it possible that an elementary school girl is married to an 80-year-old man and no one lifts a finger to prevent this disaster? [And] how is it possible that, [although] this sad episode is reported on the front page [of a newspaper], the public treats it as a 'private matter'?...
"In an interview with 'Okaz, the bridegroom denied that he was 80 years old… [He also said] that according to shari'a, [such] a marriage is permissible as long as the father of the bride consents to it… and that he was originally supposed to wed the older sister... What is the meaning of all this? The older sister refuses to marry an 80-year-old man, so the father offers him the next in line…
"How can anyone accept such injustice? Where are all the heroic women [who led] the [My Guardian Knows What's Best for Me] campaign?  Let them explain the difference between fatherhood and selling vegetables [in the market].
The little girl hid in her aunt's home for over a week until she was found and handed back. For those who wonder about Saudi Arabia's signature to the "International Convention on the Rights of the Child," remember that their the Islamic version of human rights insists that shari'a always takes preference over what the rest of the world considers settled law.
UPDATE: Rachel Abrams is a little more blunt --
The marriage of a grown—not to say aged—man to a ten-year-old girl is a solution only to the case of a pedophile seeking his next victim. If that’s Islamic, call me a Crusader.