The History of the Driving Ban

If you haven’t heard the news already, then you’re likely living under a rock. King Salman of Saudi Arabia recently issued a decree essentially repealing the longstanding ban on women driving. Although this stunning shift in policy seems somewhat spontaneous, it has actually been years in the making.

Let’s start from beginning. Saudi Arabia, although it never officially unveiled a written ban on women driving, required women to obtain local licenses, which were typically not issued to women in the first place. This, coupled with the overwhelming opinion of Saudi scholars that driving was haram for women, effectively made Saudi Arabia the only country in the world to restrict women from getting behind the wheel. Valid arguments flew from both sides regarding this tenuous issue, activists pointing to the lack of evidence in the Quran and the defenders looking towards traditional belief systems. A landmark protest on November 6, 1990 saw 47 women arrested for driving through the streets of Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian capital. This bold statement was one of the first steps in bringing the ongoing issue into the world spotlight. After being released from custody, the women faced widespread harassment, losing their jobs and passports among other things. 18 years later, over a thousand signatures were collected on a petition in the hopes of appealing to the late King Abdullah, who, while rejecting the petition, did provide words of hope to the cause, saying “I believe the day will come when women will drive.” Over the next 9 years, activists made continued advances and encroachments on the old policy, leading us back to the start of this article. On September 26, 2017, King Salman finally permitted women the ability to obtain driver’s licenses, effectively ending the longstanding ban.

As Muslims, we are intertwined in this. It is important for us to look at these occurrences and make sense of them ourselves rather than following the general view. We must ask ourselves questions, seek the answers in hadith and the Quran, and listen to both sides. Only then will Muslims be able to avoid the illness of ignorance that has cast a shadow on so many in this day and age.