Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Poor Saudi women

Steps of the Devil: Denial of Women and Girls’ Rights to Sport in Saudi Arabia, a devastating report by Human Rights Watch details the profoundly deviant yet tenaciously held religious objections of Saudi clerics to women engaging in sports. 

Allowing Saudi girls and women to compete would invite them to engage in immodest movement, aberrant clothing, and performances in front of unrelated males that would lead to immorality and desecration of the purity of the Saudi female, influential clerics insist. 

They argue that vigorous movement is a threat to the health and honour of the "virgin girl," a profound deterrent in a shame-and-honor-centred culture that places extraordinary value on the intact hymen of an unmarried woman.
Dr. Mohammad al-Arifi, an influential cleric who preaches at Al-Bawardi Mosque in Riyadh, is on faculty at King Saud University, warned Prince Nawaf against sending Saudi women to the Olympics:
“Women practicing sports … is fundamentally allowed … but if this leads to mixing with men … or revealing private parts … or men watching her sometimes run, sometimes fall down … sometimes laugh and sometimes cry or quarrel with another female athlete … or mount a horse … or practice gymnastics … or wrestling … or other sports … while the cameras film and the [television] channels broadcast … then there can be no doubt that it is forbidden.”
The state’s gender apartheid is powerful. 

While Saudi men and boys can attend any of 153 official sports clubs, regulated by the General Presidency for Youth Welfare, as well as innumerable gyms and spas, Saudi women and girls have no place to play. 

Even in the days running up to the London 2012 Opening Ceremony, efforts by Saudis within the Kingdom to arrange sporting activities for girls and women to celebrate Ramadan were met by firm official rebukes.
When techno-billionaire Saudi Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal sponsored Saudi Arabia’s first female soccer team, the Jeddah Kings, in 2009, an intense public backlash triggered by hostile press coverage forced the Warren Buffett of the East to retreat and dismantle the team. 

Today, only Jeddah United exists, an independent and private women’s sports company with a female basketball team that functions without royal patronage or the support of the General Presidency for Youth Welfare.

The Kingdom’s imposed paralysis and concealment of women is an entirely artificial, modern Saudi construct that not only has no basis in Islam but directly contravenes its ideals. 
The thrill of physical activity, perversely forbidden by the Saudi government, was one Muslim women have long known. 

There was no immobilisation of women in the early Islamic era. 

The Prophet’s wife was famed (as recorded in the Hadith) for her playful races against her husband the Prophet—who called play and folly with one's spouse integral to a happy and fulfilled Muslim marriage.
Still, Saudi Arabia’s reversal to allow women to compete in the Olympics reveals a fundamental truth: 

the Kingdom recognizes its restrictions are increasingly difficult to defend on the world stage, or even in the Muslim world. 

It is from this moment that the marathon toward broader change can finally begin.

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