By Muhammad Izhar Ul Haq, previously published in the Pakistani daily The Nation
Miss Hanadi Zakariyya Al-Hindi has created history by being the first female pilot in Saudi Arabia. Prince Al-Waleed, a business tycoon, owner of The Kingdom Holding Company, has employed the pilot for next ten years through a lucrative contract. His company, The Kingdom Holding Company, is the proud owner of a full-fledged fleet of jet airplanes. Al-Waleed was genuinely concerned with the emancipation and uplift of Saudi women. He celebrated the commission of the first female pilot by publishing full-page supplements in the Kingdomâ€™s newspapers.
This all, however, did not go well will the hawks. They came down on the whole affair with heavy hands. The most thunderous was the voice of one Sheikh Yousuf Al-Ahmed, a professor of Islamic Law at Islamic University of Riyadh. The argument was that since a Muslim woman was not supposed to travel alone, unless accompanied by a mahram (male first relation) and since the pilot was a â€˜womanâ€™ without a mahram, the whole phenomenon was unlawful. He declared the entire publicity equally un-Islamic.
A place where even car driving by females is a crime, flying jets amounted, naturally, to height of audacity. It was in 1990 when late Sheikh Abdul Azeem Bin Baz, the Shariah-mentor of Saudi Royal Family, issued Islamic decree (fatwa) against car driving by females. In the same year 47 ladies demonstrated car-driving in Riyadh. They were thrown out of their jobs and were, along with their families, barred from leaving the country.
Even a perfunctory look at the social history will reveal that travelling then and now is not the same activity. In early Islamic days camel and horse were the main modes of journey. People would form caravans and would move in flocks. They were, frequently, attacked, plundered and killed. It was humanly not possible to travel for a woman on her own. But the modes as well as circumstances now are different. Imagine millions of Muslim families living in America, Canada, Europe, Australia and elsewhere. Every week thousands of married girls travel back – all alone – to see their ailing, dying fathers and mothers. The question which a common Muslim asks: Is it possible for every old man to accompany his wife to Europe, America or Australia to attend their children? Is it feasible for every husband to take leave from his employer to accompany his wife back home?
Islamâ€™s supremacy over other religions lies in its flexibility. It desires compatibility with changed circumstances and creates ease and freedom from hardship as far as possible for its followers. In no circumstances Islam imposes something on its followers which creates hurdle in normal life. It wants its followers to participate fully in economic and social activities and never to lag behind others in any walk of life. It is high time scholars of Islam from all over the Muslim world meet and ponder over the issues like travelling of women unaccompanied by first relation and many other problems which need to be resolved.
It may not be out of place to mention here that Maulana Justice Taqi Usmani has been innovative enough to come out with some sort of Islamic Banking. He has suggested way out to those who – avoiding interest – were unable to buy even a simple housing unit, the bare minimum necessity. Paradoxically the ulema of his own school of thought have condemned him for this â€œaudacious innovations.â€ It is said that when he invited them to suggest alternative, they could offer nothing except cutting a sorry figure.
Ostracization on the part of the religious scholars is proving a pitfall. The dichotomy in Muslim societies is turning sharper edged. Polarization is paving way for intolerance. Civil war in countries like Pakistan is already at the threshold. There is lack of interaction between the madrassa and non-madrassa worlds. Colossal marginalization of graduates of madrassa has pushed them to reactionary state of mind.
History testifies that Islam tolerated and imbibed all local cultures, including attire and other customs, from Atlantic to Indus and onward to Bali and Brunei but never allowed any local culture, including dress, to be declared as Islamic one. Country after country and nation after nation embraced Islam while holding back what they already had whether it was food, dress or other social traditions. Islam never went down to dictate at the micro-level. Its broad instructions in dress pertained to covering of sensitive parts of body and specification as to what was haram. Nothing else was specified. The present regimentation down to micro-level by so-called warring Islamists is not at all supported by Islam.