Beneath the Veil: Women’s Fate Under Sharia Law in Saudi Arabia

By: Maggie Sherin, ’14

Maggie Sherin
Maggie Sherin, `14

Women in Saudi Arabia are faced with some of the most restrictive living conditions that exist in the world today.   This research paper focuses on how the legal system supports Saudi Arabia’s patriarchal society. To support this claim, the research is based upon the content of 25 articles about Saudi Arabian court cases.  The articles each fell within one of four categories of policies that influence Saudi women’s daily lives: male guardianship, the driving ban, child marriage, and domestic violence.  The results of this research showed that women in Saudi Arabia are denied their basic human rights due to the absence of a written legal code, which allows Saudi judges to make arbitrary sentences based on their personal interpretations and beliefs rather than the rights laid out by Islam.

The fundamental message of Islam is indisputably egalitarian, as all followers of God, both men and women alike, are promised success and forgiveness with their faith. However, women in Saudi Arabia have consistently faced some of the worst living conditions for females in the world.  In the Global Gender Gap Report of 2013, conducted by the World Economic Forum, Saudi Arabia received the 127th ranking out of 136 countries for overall quality of life for women in the nation.  This is an improvement compared with its position as the 131st country out of 136 that it had held for the past two years.  Though many Saudis believe that the Quran clearly states equality for all in its purest text, Islam remains the justification for the restrictive social and legal policies and practices implemented by Saudi Arabia towards women.  This conflict over the core principles of Islam and their application to society has sparked an ongoing debate in the Middle East, represented not by a war of the sexes, but rather, “a proxy war between modernizers and conservatives over what sort of Saudi Arabia both sexes will inhabit and over the role and relevance of the omnipresent religious establishment in Saudi society” (House, 2012, 72).  

The obvious conflict over the true intentions of Islam towards women has led me to ask: Why are women denied their basic human rights in Islam, and particularly in Saudi Arabia?  After conducting significant research, I have concluded that women were initially suppressed in Saudi society because of the history of the religious clash between fundamentalists and modernizers.  This suppression has since been sustained by the non-codification of laws in Saudi Arabia, which allows the more traditional authorities to continue making arbitrary sentences based on their personal opinions.  Saudi society is inhibited by the exclusion and suppression of women in society economically, politically, socially, and educationally; and must look to the purest texts of the Quran, free from interpretations, to reevaluate the role of women in society under the Islamic faith. 

Beneath the Veil: Women’s Fate Under Sharia Law in Saudi Arabia

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