In Saudi Arabia, there is a movement to put an end to the guardianship system that controls the lives of women. Under this system, Saudi women cannot work, study,travel, or even open a bank account without the permission of their guardian–a man. Opponents of this system, like Wajeha Al-Huwaider, a Saudi women’s activist, argue that it prevents women from carrying out normal lives. Supporters, on the other hand, maintain that the guardianship system is in line with Islamic law and have even gone so far as to launch the campaign “My Guardian Knows What’s Best for Me.”
Arguing that guardianship stems from Islam strips women of the very rights that Islam itself gives them. For example, education is a right for both women and men. A hadith, saying of the Prophet Muhammad, that is often cited is “The seeking of knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim.” – [Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 74] In this hadith, no distinction is made between women and men. Also, it is well known that Ayesha, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad, played a big role in preserving many of the hadiths that directly contribute to our knowledge of him.
Another problem with the idea of guardianship is that there is nothing in Islam that says that women are subordinate to men. The verse from the Qur’an that is often cited to support the opinion of subordination is:
Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means…(Qur’an 4:34)
However, in discussions of this verse, many have highlighted that men are not superior to women, but are responsible to take care of them. In other words, it is not a right but a responsibility. Moreover, Islamic history presents many examples of women who were not subjected to subordination by men. Khadija, the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad, was a prominent businesswoman and before their marriage, he worked for her. She was held in great esteem by the Prophet Muhammad and by Muslims. Her example, and the Prophet Muhammad’s deep respect for her, is indicative of the fact that women in Islam were able to work and did not need a man’s permission. In fact in the early Muslim community as opposed to the current example of Saudia Arabia, women were very active members of their society. In Islam, women and men are equal in front of God.
Thus, when anyone argues that a guardianship system like the one in Saudi Arabia is based on Islam, they are automatically contradicted by what we know of the early Muslim community and how the Prophet Muhammad himself dealt with women. The guardianship system does not stem from Islam and makes the issue of “maintaining women” an issue of control rather than support. There is no place in Islam for this kind of repression.
What do you think of the guardianship system? Do you think the Saudi system is representative of Islam? What, if any, change is needed to that system? Please share your thoughts below.