To Choose or Not to Choose: That is the Question

By Lubna Hussain

I was at a dinner the other night in honour of a former regional governor. The host, one of the country’s leading intellectuals, doesn’t believe in the concept of a free meal. As we sat at the table he interrupted the customary conversation with an ominous request.

“As a Saudi Arabian woman I would like you to highlight to our friend what progress you think has been made in terms of the women of this country and what changes you would personally like to see.”

The table fell silent. There were no other Saudi women present so I gulped hard and momentarily debated whether or not to open my mouth.

“Umm,” I began trying to buy time, “there has been progress.” I noticed all the men nodding agreeably with glances of satisfaction being exchanged. “But not enough,”

“What do you mean?” asked a prominent businessman. “There has been a lot of progress made!”

“Look,” I responded realizing that the rest of my compatriots were preparing to attack, “I suppose there has been some made. But honestly, I still feel pretty disillusioned with what has not yet been done.”

“What do you want?” he asked rhetorically.

“Oh so many things!” I replied vaguely wondering whether it was a good idea to narrate my wish list or not. He stared at me in anticipation giving me the incentive to continue.

“I want more than anything else to be respected as a sane adult and be given the right to make decisions about my life that I am the only one qualified to make.”

Before he could interject, I focused my gaze on the ex governor who was seated opposite me and addressed my grievances to him.

“I find it more than demeaning to have to seek the permission of a male guardian every time I leave the country. My situation is unusual, granted, as I don’t have any legal guardian here but even my father objects to this stricture. He thinks it’s ridiculous that I can be deemed responsible enough to run a bureau for a major US network, but I have to get him to sign on a bit of paper every time I have to travel,” I complained.

“Well,” replied the businessman seizing the opportunity, “this is part of our tradition.”

“I am not against tradition,” I replied, “but I do think that if a tradition is responsible for holding back 50% of society then that so-called tradition should surely be subject to revision.”

The guest of honour listened intently.

“I understand your difficulty,” he empathized, “but don’t you feel that things are moving forward?”

“It seems the subject of women driving is making ground,” proffered our host. “I think that this issue will be resolved soon.”

“This issue has to be treated carefully,” cautioned the businessman.

“What do you mean “carefully”?” I interrupted.

“The leadership has to deal with this sensitively. There are many people against driving here and this has to be respected.”

“And what about those who want to drive?” I asked suppressing my fury and frustration. “Don’t they deserve to be respected? It’s not about driving or tradition. It’s about personal choice and the right to have that choice respected as long as it is not against Islam. We all know that it has nothing to do with religion! Muslim women have commanded armies and fought in military campaigns and if it was so alien to tradition then why would there be bedouin women, the very personification of tradition, driving across the dunes in Land Cruisers?”

“Most of the women in this country are not ready for this,” said the businessman.

“So what?” I replied. “Isn’t it about time that we let the women decide what they want? When are the men of this country going to quit telling us when we are ready?”

“I am not trying to attack you,” retorted the businessman. “This is a very sensitive issue that could create division between family members. I have several sisters some of whom don’t want to drive and others who may well want to. Don’t you see the potential problems that could arise within a single household?”

To be honest I didn’t but had already come across as an opinionated contentious pseudo-liberated threat to the equilibrium of the evening so judiciously decided not to contest his assertion.

“Might I remind you,” I said focusing on the more reasonable gentleman in front of me, “that if our friend’s concerns had been of such significance then we would not have had women’s education in this country. That was an extremely courageous step and one taken by the leadership for the benefit of society. Naturally all change is greeted by resistance, but that doesn’t mean that you can resist change.”

“You are right,” agreed the guest of honour, “and there will be change very soon.”

Personally I would never drive here, even if the ban was lifted, because I believe that there are enough maniacs on the road. However, like with everything else, what I want and do not want should not infringe upon the rights and choices of others. To drive or not to drive: that is not the question. To choose or not to choose: that is!

38 thoughts on “To Choose or Not to Choose: That is the Question

  1. this women sound really
    but I’m agenst lifting ban on women driving until they left ban on single men going to mall and city parks

  2. Lubna, your composure is impressive!
    I would have thought of everything to say Afterwards.
    I can imagine a lot of men of his sort pull out that excuse of sisters and family conflict and women wanting to deny each other freedoms.
    The assumption that there would be conflict by one sister wanting to deny another the right to drive puts the man’s motivations on the sister, that one has the right/duty to tell another adult what to do, a feeling that is less likely to be shared by a woman living under the effects of this kind of thinking.

    The man you met refuses to consider that what would probably happen, in all practicality, is that one sister might drive while the other chooses not to, catching a ride with the sister who will.

  3. wat a piece of art……bravooooo…….im sure all the ppl who needed fuel to start screaming again ,will find it …………………im sure they r ppl who r appeased by this fabulous work………………but nevertheless i think saudia arabia is a muslim coutnry and everything that happens shud happen according to islam… the laws shud be made with the help of the ulema….even if that means a mahram shud accompany a woman……… far as drivin is concerned it faces more of a social probkem then an islamic one…….the fact is that the saudi youth r a frustrated breed……….this is partly because islamic traditions such as early age marriages r being abandoned ……….if over the time this tradition is encouraged and the society is let to mature then hopefully the society would be more tolerant and ready to accept women drivin……….

  4. Iam Impressed!!!. I`ve always admired her..!!Thanks Ahmed for letting her be apart of your blog!!!..

  5. Hello Lubna,
    Nice blog, very good, just like Ahmeds work. But my question is: why do you guys blog in English? Who are you writing for? Is your audience really Saudi society, or are you writing for the rest of the world, to show that things are changing here, that civil society is evolving, that there are critical thinkers here? And if this is the case, could that be the reason that the government allows you to blog? Because they know most Saudi’s don’t speak English good enough to read this anyways? Just like they allow the English channel KSA2 to be more critical than other channels? Lubna, who is your audience?

  6. Personally I would never drive here, even if the ban was lifted, because I believe that there are enough maniacs on the road.

    >>>> I TOTALLY AGREE!! the daily 40-minutes-journey to University is sooo scary some times!!

  7. the thing is that traditions sshud be honoured if they dont contradict with Islam…. but denying the freedoms that islam has given women is just plain and simple discrimination… our society hides its discrimination under the guise of tradition… other countries(both muslim and non-muslim) too had discriminatory so called traditions; but they realised that individual freedom is more important than traditions

  8. “Tradition” is a valid reason to continue gross discrimination??? Completely ridiculous. I guess it’s good thing it’s not tradition to cut off your wifes arm.

  9. I don’t think it is all about tradition …
    Change is difficult .. stepping outside the comfort zone and everyday norms is strongly resisted regardless of the nature of change or its positive potential , so holding religion or tradition as an excuse to refrain from change is just a form of resistance to change.
    There are many strategies to promote and facilitate change, all need the support of the top authority.

  10. what i like about Saudi women is that they actually proved themselves quite amazingly in the field of business. Such norms or boundaries did not stop those ladies from reaching their goals and the more obstacles they face the more creative they get…

    You are one of the examples Lubna, regardless the piece of paper you have to sign every time you travel; yet that did not stop you from becoming who you are !!! right? You choose and you took actoin … and that is what makes you different…

    As you said… to choose or not to choose … that is the question.. and aren’t there many unanswered questions these days !!!

  11. Suprised Lubna claiming to be a Saudi Woman!! Originally by birth a Indian, married and then divorced to another Indian Saudi, she got benefitted by her marriage to the Saudi nationality. Thus she is not an orignally Saudi woman, but stands in the categories of others, i.e. Hadramis, Yemenis, Indians, Pakistanis, etc, who are rated as Second Class citizens in our society.

  12. Mansour, it’s back seat driving. The word racism is the all settled in your sick mind. People who obtain citizenship in any part of the world thru naturalization are considered as ‘Second Class Citizen”, because they are not original products, and obtain nationality by other means.. influence, marriage, etc. I think you better understand before you shoot your mouth wide.

  13. not original products now thats a good phrase to spill it out!,, i still dont get it,, what is the point of your post,, you answered one question,, my i have the answer to the second one please?

  14. Remember me, Rumi. I am no Jew, no Muslim, and no Christian. Burn me on piles of blasphemy. I am a drop of a sand drifting from Sahara to Empty Quarter. Please take me home again. I am no longer in need to be branded neither to be labeled.

    My salvation is in the poems of Rumi. My comfort is in rhythm of Nature. No more living in the city of Dogma. I am no more a dweller among the believers. Let me go home.

    Oh Northern stars; show me the road to my rightful place in the Sahara. Believers of the city of Dogma are casting me with stones and fire.

    Sahara is my resting place. Empty Quarter is just filled with emptiness and dogma.

  15. Good piece Lubna….but I was disappointed at the end, the fact that you wouldn’t drive because of the maniacs on the road if the ban is lifted is confusing, So why advocate women driving if the situation isn’t safe???…For me, I would drive just to make the road for those after me easier, also to make it clear that women can & will be able one day to live a decent & independent life… if every influential woman can take a stand to push the legal & Human rights of other helpless women, we would see much worthy Saudi men & women in this country…

  16. Does Lubna has only one agenda – one subject on women driving? She harps only on this matter and rattles in through her writings repeatedly. People are bored with her repetition and perhaps we don’t see her write-ups any more in Arab News. Come on Lubna, move to other subjects rather than harp on and only women driving.

  17. I totally agree with Ismail Al Zahrani. His statement was totally misunderstood. It’s not actually racist. I think original Saudi women should speak up for themselves. They have lived here since they were born and they know the social and cultural heritage and accordingly realize their problems and obstacles. Lubna just wouldn’t know better than them, I’m just saying that probably she’s not the perfect spokesperson in these issues.

  18. Try this word on Mr. Ismail and TST….Misogyny!!! Try engaging intellectually with the blog…rather than retreating behind racism and hatred of women….otherwise known as Misogyny!!! Clearly Ms. Hussein is spending her time far more productively then nay-sayers like you! How many obstacles have you had in your lives….how hard have you had to work for anything? The women of Saudi will have to stand up for themselves and fight for their rights to pull them away from control freaks like you two. Fortunately the Kingdom continues to move on in reform and progress…in spite of those who attacked “The TV Tower”…and their descendents of spirit. Saudi women have spoken in thought, word, and deed. You just don’t have the ears to hear.

  19. To Robyn Graves,

    I would have preferred if you paid attention to the kind of language you used. If you perceived my previous post as “racist”, then this is not my problem. What I wrote was never intended to be offensive or racist. I just spoke my mind with total respect to Ms. Hussein.

    Another thing, I really don’t stand and wait for people like you to come and tell me what kind of obstacles and harships Saudi women have to confront or deal with. You don’t tell me what kind of efforts should be done to alter our reality into a brighter one. I’m a woman and I’m Saudi and I certainly know way better than you.

  20. To Robyn Graves,

    I’m a Saudi by birth and not thru naturalization, so I know what ails my society. People who obtain Saudi nationality thru naturalizaton, as explained earlier by means of marriage or “tabiya” (by grace of some Saudi Royal family member) are not qualified to speak about my country or society, simple, because they are not born Saudis. Hence there is no question of any racism.

    What I know about Ms. Lubna is that she was a Indian national from Hyderabad India and married another naturalized Saudi, son of a physican, from whom she is now divorced. This background I am just narrating to prove my point that people thru naturalization process who enter the Saudi society late, should not comment on a particular subject repeatedly, a thing which is done by Ms. Lubna.

    Let her speak and write about development, education, banking, industries, etc, there are hundreds of subjects to write about which can benefit the people of my country. Just slogging the dead horse of women driving is worthless.

  21. It’s about personal choice and the right to have that choice respected as long as it is not against Islam.

    I’m assuming you’re at the liberal extreme of Saudi society, right? But even you don’t want a Western-style secular democracy. This is going to be a fun century.

  22. To Ismail:

    To denounce someone’s views as worthless because she was not ‘orginally’ Saudi is at worst racist and at best discrimatory. If someone is given the Saudi nationality.. by whatever means.. he or she should be given the right to speak as a citizen of the country.

    You regard Indians as ‘second class citizens’ ?

    Let me remind you Ismail that it was the people of South Asia who built this country from nothing with their hard labour. It is the people of South Asia who continue to build your roads, offices, shops and homes, pick up your garbage, fix your cars, clean your houses and raise your children and do all the hard, dirty , low paid jobs so that you don’t have to.

    In my view, they ALL deserve to be given citizenship. At the very least some respect for what they have done for you and continue to do for you and this country.

    If one woman from South Asia should have been fortunate to be granted nationality and have the opportunity to eloquently voice an opinion in the land her countrymen built.. she too deserves the utmost respect.

  23. Peter, like any other country in the world, my country has the right to decide on many issues. Did the South Asians did the job for free? They were paid. They did no charitable work by working on projects. A citizen by naturalization does not give him/her to speak on issues that relates to the life and living of original citizens. Period. If you advise that every Asian should get citizenship, then I would advise that it should begin with your own country of origin. Keep the illogical rattlings to yourself.

  24. I knew it! I knew it! Lubna Hussain was just too intelligent and articulate to be a saudi. I always had my suspicions. And now, I got some natural born, full blooded, bigoted saudi to confirm my suspicions. [Thanks Ismail Zahrani. Who says bigotry and racism doesn’t have a positive side? You my racist friend, are an asset to your kind.]

  25. A Hindi like Lubna Hidyat Hussain? Yes, you are, and so is your poor mentality and state of mind. Why don’t you take this Hindi turned naturalized Saudi thru wedding away with you? We want to get rid of the trash from our great country. You are sick minded person, who calls us racists. Had we been so, the Kingdom would have not seen the more than 1.5 millin Hindi earning their bread from here, while they would ahve been starving back in their country unemployed. And perhaps you are one of them. Who knows you may have been given the money to study abroad from one of our ouwn citizen. Think before shooting your mouth when emitting the poisionous saliva of a deadly cobra. Shame on you for calling me a racist.Thats your Indian culture.

  26. First i like to say Great Post!

    Like my favorite quote of all time says “Oh, what a tangled web we weave” Its so hard to grasp the meaning behinds Saudis mediocrity on changing for the best.

    We have not changed, we have only convinced our selves that we have actually took a step forward, when actually what has changed was mediocre.

    I can sit here and talk about womens rights, but why should i waste my breath? (figuratively speaking of course ;) )

    but, i will leave here with saying that things in this world will never just fall into our laps, if we want it, we will fight for it…. I’m glad to see this woman standing up for it, that puts a smile on my face… seeing someone take a step into betterment even if it was a little makes me think of how incredibly brave they are :) .. Like another favorite quote says ” a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

    Take single steps people, it will end up a journey of a thousand miles :)

    Broken Wing

  27. When i read your post i imagined a scene from those old english movies with royals sitting on huge dinner tables with other airheaded royals talking absolute nonsense. You shouldn’t have to explain yourself to these “men”.
    I can’t believe how i survived 18 years in Saudi.

  28. I agree with everybody that women should be able to drive in Saudi Arabia but i also think that its important that saudis don’t lose site of where they come from and their tradional dress. its important that you stick with the White Thobe because losing your way to westernized ways will make you lose your perseptive on yourself.

  29. *APPLAUSE*…
    i LOVE her!!


    women have no say what so ever on what goes around in the country!…politicians talk crap as if they UNDERSTAND what women are going through…and let me tell u this!!…IT AIN’T FUN!…saudi arabia signed the UN covenant for elimination of discrimination against women in september 2001 and we havent seen any changes …and if there were any changes ….they are un noticible !!…
    they brainwash the ppl!!…its not like saudi is the only muslim country in the world…or the only country that has “TRADITIONS” look at the gulf countries!!…we all originate from the same place…so why the discrimination ?!?!…

    i just want one political figure call me up and give me LOGICAL ANSWERS !!!

    *im so pissed right now -__-…*

  30. Ismael Al Zahrani,

    Mind not all these comments, these people do not understand your language. However, today is your lucky day… I have studied anthropology and can speak your language my Neanderthal friend.

    Thank you for all the “thick Zahrani” jokes we hear everyday, with you going around by that name, the reason painfully obvious…
    Perhaps you should ask ms. Hussain to teach you how to use spell and grammar check before you post your Neanderthal remarks… after all, neither you nor her speak English as a native language, but the difference is clear.

    Perhaps you should remember that the finest sword known to Arabs is called “Muhannad” which translates into “made in India”.
    Perhaps you should remember that up until the last century, the official currency of many parts of the Arabian Peninsula was the Indian rupee.
    Perhaps you should remember that the numerals we use in the Arabic language today are Hindi numbers.
    Perhaps you should remember that up until the early 1970’s, before we could afford hiring actual human beings from India and the rest of the world to help us build this great country, we had all the dog work done by Neanderthals from your part of Arabia. Those who, until today, are living side by side with monkeys on their own turf. If it wasn’t for us, YOU would have been starving in your cave, not knowing the meaning of employment.

    How dare equate yourself with us Saudis of superior races. Looking up might break your Neanderthal neck.
    Do not forget that you are a “07”.
    How dare you question the wisdom of your “sheiks” when they elected to give her and Mr. Hindi Saudi nationalities. الشيوخ أبخص أنت ووجهك
    Do not forget your real place in society.
    Do not forget why we conquered you 100 years ago. While your ancestors were sitting on their asses, my ancestors were on their horsebacks with their “Muhannad” swords making history.
    I dare you Ismael, to even gather the nerve to knock on the door of a pure Najdi family and ask to marry into them.
    You would never do that of course, after all you know your place in OUR pure society. Should you need a reminder, check your history.

    Now that you are put in your right place, I urge you to crawl back into whatever cave you came from and have one of those monkeys to whom you can obviously relate groom that huge chip off your shoulder.

    PS. I apologize to all human beings who read this for the disgusting taste of Ismael’s own medicine.

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