US media on the Saudi women's movement to revoke a long-standing law, banning women from driving, should be careful about conflating culture with religion.
Making a very bold statement about Islam, and its role in the Saudi fatwa -- or religious edict-- that forbids women like female automotive rights activist Manal Al-Sharif from getting behind the wheel, The Stir published an article today entitled Brave Women Take on Religion that Forbids Them to Drive Cars.
The article was among the most popular on the subject on Google News.
While the author notes in her article that it is a culturally held belief that [women] cannot get behind the wheel, this title conflates culture with religion.
It is not Islam that forbids women from driving, and many in the Muslim theological community are well aware of this. There is no evidence in the Qur'an or later Islamic holy texts to substantiate the Saudi edict.
There were no cars in the time of Mohammed, the last prophet of Islam. And there is nothing in Islamic jurisprudence to provide protocol for automotive decency.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia is the only Muslim country that forbids women from driving.
After the pro-democracy movements of the Middle East and Manal Al-Sharif herself, non-Muslims in the West have seen that democracy and women's rights can and do exist in the Middle East without Western intervention.
This is good for the Arab and Muslim world to see-- good for democratization of the Arab world at a time when the international community worries about the perpetual unrest of the Arab spring--
The West and the United States do not have a monopoly on women's rights or democracy. The response to that monopoly -- which the West re-emphasizes in comments like this headline that pose Islam against women's rights -- has traditionally been for extremists to crack down on women's rights and democracy in movements, in an effort to oppose the West and Islamophobia, as women's rights proponent Nawal El-Saadawi wrote in the preface to her classic treatise on women in the Arab world, The Hidden Face of Eve.
Women in Washington D.C. can indeed drive around the Saudi Embassy, not in their own protest, but in solidarity with a homegrown movement, but to senselessly bash Islam is to take a stand against what Manal Al-Sharaf stands for- -rights for Arab and Muslim women, won on their own terms.