Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi
Women make up half of society, and this half of our society should not be kept unemployed.
Even if they are not in need of any financial benefit, women should no longer accept to be marginalized. This is especially true for those women who have received an education and are as competent as men in certain fields.
There was a time when women were confined to working in the fields of education, health and social services. However, an increase in the number of educated women together with the limited number of jobs available to them has resulted in aggravating the unemployment problem. This has prompted the state to consider finding other areas where women can work. These areas include women’s accessory shops, especially lingerie shops, where in the past women customers found it embarrassing to shop because of the presence of foreign salesmen.
During the time of the former labor minister the late Dr. Ghazi Al-Gosaibi, the Council of Ministers took a decision to replace salesmen with saleswomen at women’s accessory shops in line with Islamic Shariah regulations. Some hardline clerics did not approve as they considered that this would corrupt women and, therefore, they demanded that the decision not be implemented. All the efforts made to explain to them the advantages of the decision were to no avail. However, extensive studies on the religious, social and economic aspects of the decision were carried out, and eventually it was implemented.
There has, however, been a new development with regard to this issue as media reports indicate that some 200 hardline religious figures recently went to meet Labor Minister Adel Fakieh to demand that he stop implementing this decision and prevent women from working as saleswomen at women’s accessory shops. Of course, the minister informed them that he was unable to do as they demanded because the decision had been taken by the Council of Ministers headed by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and that such a decision could only be nullified by a second decision by the Council of Ministers.
It was strange to learn that the sheikh who led the group and who seems to be a college professor threatened to pray against the minister so that what happened to his predecessor Dr. Ghazi Al-Gosaibi would happen to him. The sheikh claimed that he had prayed against the former minister standing in front of the door of the Holy Kaaba and that Dr. Al-Gosaibi was later diagnosed with cancer and died because of this prayer. The sheikh gave the current labor minister one month to revoke the decision to employ saleswomen at women’s accessory shops and said that if he did not do so, he would pray against him.
This issue has triggered a controversy in social and religious circles. Some people have voiced their disagreement about expressing differences of opinion in such a manner while some hardliners in religious circles have said that it was correct, acceptable and permissible in Islamic Shariah.
Those who disagree ask sarcastically: If the prayers of this sheikh, who now threatens to pray against the minister of labor, are usually answered, why does he not direct his prayers against those who occupy Palestine and drive its people out of their homeland or against those who kill Rohingya Muslims and expel them from Burma or against those who commit crimes against Muslims in the East and West of the world?
Then again, they ask: How can he be sure that his prayer led to the death of the former labor minister? Is this not a claim that he has the knowledge of the invisible, which amounts to a grave sin of making oneself a partner with God (shirk)? It is only Allah who knows the invisible.
Those who today object to women working and who consider that those who permit them to do so should die of cancer are the same men who forbade installing television dishes a decade ago but are now competing with each other to appear on — both paid and free – satellite channels. Of course, while formerly they prayed against those who permitted such dishes, they now pray for the forgiveness and mercy of the same people!
The same thing happened in the case of girls’ education more than 50 years ago. A large number of clerics forbade the opening of schools for girls. In some regions, they sent delegations to the late King Faisal asking him not to give permission for such schools in their parts of the country. But King Faisal, who was determined in his position, settled the matter by saying that the government would open schools but would not force anyone to send his daughter to them. And today everyone is praying for showering God’s mercy on King Faisal for opening schools for girls.
I am sure that those who now pray against the labor minister and once prayed against the former labor minister for allowing women to work in women’s accessory shops will pray for both ministers in the near future. Moreover, their children and grandchildren will follow suit.
— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org