A small step for women in Saudi Arabia, one that might have something to do with Islam

It's an issue that your GetReligionistas have faced quite a bit in the past year or two, the simple question: Do the leaders of the Islamic State do what they do because of an "ideology," a "theology" or both?

The answer, of course, is "both." With its culture-shaping combination of doctrine, tradition and Sharia law, Islam is a complete package. If you look at history, it's pretty hard to find much of a case for the separation of mosque and state. How has that worked out in Turkey?

The Washington Post foreign desk has a feature today that offers news consumers another chance to see this equation at work without, in this case, some of the more hellish details of news about ISIS. In this case we are talking about women's rights in Saudi Arabia, specifically the right for women to vote and even to run for office.

Once again, a key element of the cultural equation is missing in this report -- the actual teachings of Islam. You can see this is an issue at the top of the story, with female candidates talking about recycling, day care and libraries:

These are hardly the rallying cries of revolutionaries. But, in the ultraconservative context of Saudi Arabia, such appeals are breaking new ground: They are coming from some of the more than 900 female candidates in the kingdom’s first nationwide election in which women are able to run -- and vote.
The balloting Saturday for municipal council seats across the kingdom -- from Riyadh’s chaotic sprawl to oil-rich outposts -- marks a cautious step forward in a nation where social change does not come easy. It must always pass muster through a ruling system that may be Western-allied but still answers to a religious establishment very wary of bold moves, particularly regarding the role of women.
Women still cannot drive. They must receive a male guardian’s permission to travel abroad alone, and face other daily reminders of Saudi Arabia’s strict brand of Islam and the state’s punishing stance against any open dissent.

So Saudi Arabia is an "ultra-conservative" kingdom that is based on its own "strict brand of Islam."

This raises some questions: What does this brand of Islam teach about women's rights? One would assume that this has something to do with a doctrine or passages in the Quran. Right? What are those passages and what do they actually say?

(Cue: crickets)

It also appears that Saudi Arabia has taken this body of theology and doctrine and turned them into the laws of a state. The implication, in this story, is that Saudi Arabia's interpretation of these doctrines/laws is different from that in other majority Muslim lands. Once again, we have an important -- in many cases life-and-death -- debate INSIDE Islam, yet the report offers zero content on that issue.

Might readers be granted a paragraph or two of information from the Quran and Saudi interpretations of it?

What does this issue, and women's rights in general, have to do with Islam? Alas, once the Post team has waved the magic "ultra-conservative" wand, no additional content is needed.

It does appear, however, that the men who INTERPRET Islamic law and tradition do play a role in all of this, according to the following. Allowing women to vote, in any way at all:

... is also an indirect message for Saudi’s King Salman, who inherited the reforms when he took power nearly a year ago. His late brother, King Abdullah, brought a series of small-but-significant social shifts for women, including setting the upcoming election rules in motion years ago. The 150-seat Shura Council, an appointed advisory body, now includes 30 women. He opened the country’s first mixed-gender university.
But there are lines that cannot be crossed -- and are guarded by the powerful Islamic clerics who give the House of Saud legitimacy to rule.

That's interesting. How so? How do the clerics affect daily life in Saudi Arabia? How does that work? The implication is that they could overthrow the king. One might assume that these clerics believe their power is based on the teachings of Islam?

Oh well, whatever, nevermind. After all, as the story notes, only "130,637 women, compared with 1.35 million men" are registered to vote.

Even so, some hard-liners are appalled. “Men only!” cried a conservative imam, Abdulaziz Alfawzan, in a video posted online that includes warnings that the election is another step to import Western values.

Stop and think about this for a moment. When these Saudi "hard-liners" face the people who want change, do you think that their debates have anything to do with the doctrines and laws of Islam? If so, why leave that part of the equation completely out of the news coverage?

Just asking.

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