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The time has come and millions of Muslims from around the world will
come to the Kingdom for a few days to perform Haj, the fifth pillar of
Islam. All nationalities imaginable will meet and mix in a small space for
five days or more and then disperse, each to his own destination. Different
cultures and traditions have a good opportunity to learn about each other.
The vital question, however, is how much we Saudis learn from the
cultural diversity that comes among us once each year? Dare I say that we do
not learn much? Some of us, maybe people who live in the two holy cities
come into direct contact with different cultures, however briefly.
What about the rest of us who don't live in Makkah or Madinah? We see
Muslims from Iran, where women are in the army, in high-level government
positions, where they have their own sports clubs, drive cars and even
participate in rallies. And yet they are all good Muslims, no less than we
are. From Egypt, the same: women and men learn how to mingle without
problems and they too are good Muslims. The same is true of those from
Pakistan, from Morocco, from Europe, from America and India. There are
countless examples of those Muslims of both sexes having equal opportunities
and nobody dare say their faith or belief is weaker than ours.
Why then do people here insist on seeing danger in every step to open up
a little and allow society to develop and move forward? We are adamant that
this is the land of Islam and that we are thus obliged to set examples. But
when we come face to face with other Muslims who are different from us, we
cast them aside. If Islam is the same everywhere, then its limits are the
same everywhere. Women follow the rules of Islam in Indonesia, Europe, the
US and Africa - and in some Asian countries, women have become presidents
and prime ministers.
This idea of cultural diversity emerged while I was skimming the local
press. Two columns, each about education, made me stop. One of the writers
was against giving physical education (PE) classes a slot in the daily
schedule, saying that doing so might affect the time given to other subjects
such as Arabic and religious studies. The other columnist actually said that
there was no need for PE and that it was a waste of time to discuss it or to
introduce it in schools. His reasons were that girls have delicate
constitutions and that it is better to give them sewing lessons than
endanger their delicacy with physical exercise which, he argues, is only for
boys. He goes on to say that physical education is the first step toward the
complete chaos and loss of morality that have engulfed Western countries. A
heavy statement indeed.
These thoughts rankled, especially when I read what a well-known sheikh
said to a newspaper a few days ago. It seems that the sheikh sees no Islamic
reason for women not driving. In fact, he told Arab News, "There is no
definite text (either in the Qur'an or Sunnah) that bans women driving." A
few days later he said that his statement had been taken out of context. OK
that might have happened - but what he said next is more important. He
actually said that he was against driving because it would corrupt the
morals of young people and destroy our society.
Another religious academic being interviewed on Al-Jazeerah was asked
about the new Saudi News channel and he objected to the idea of women
presenters. The interviewer commented, "But you watch Al-Jazeerah and we
have women presenters?" his response was: "That's a different case. Each
society has its own rules."
The implications are always that any change is going to destroy our
society and our morals. Did not God say in his holy book that Muslims should
go around the world and learn from other civilizations? Isn't it in the
Qur'an that God created mankind into sects and nations so that they could
know each other.
Were the early Muslims wrong when they mingled with other societies and
learned from them, and even adopted some of their traditions? Everyone seems
ready to offer a decisive answer on how society is falling apart because of
the acquisition of knowledge. If only those people would think more than
they talk, things might be different.