Monday, February 16, 2015

A day in Bahrain Part 3 or: A stupid reason why women can't drive

Al Fateh Grand Mosque Bahrain Pop Culture Middle East blog

This is my last instalment in my Bahrain travel series. You can find the other instalments here and here.

I decided to end my trip to this little island kingdom by visiting Al Fateh Grand Mosque, which is part of the Ahmed Alfateh Islamic Center. The mosque is huge! It was difficult to take a photo that would capture the whole structure. According to the website, it can hold up to 7,000 worshippers.
Al Fateh Grand Mosque Bahrain Pop Culture Middle East blog

Once inside, female visitors are required to wear an abaya and a head scarf. We were then taken on a tour.

Al Fateh Grand Mosque Bahrain Pop Culture Middle East blog

Al Fateh Grand Mosque Bahrain Pop Culture Middle East blog

Al Fateh Grand Mosque Bahrain Pop Culture Middle East blog

Al Fateh Grand Mosque Bahrain Pop Culture Middle East blog
I do like the idea of the mosque as a working mosque, with tables and chair stacked in the back, water coolers and tissue boxes throughout.

Unfortunately the tour guide seemed only interested in telling us which parts of the mosque came from which country, as if showing off how rich the builders were. Oh this beam of wood was imported from the Italian forests and this marble was imported from the last known marble quarry in India blah blah blah. What about the creativity and skill that went into the construction of this structure? What about the style of architecture? I mean, I noticed the use of stained glass on the window at the top. I had no idea that mosques employed a similar "window aesthetic" to churches.

Another highly annoying thing that the tour guide did, which had nothing to do with the mosque whatsoever, was to detail his opinion on why women are not allowed to drive in Saudi. Now I don't want to hijack this post about the mosque and talk about a different topic, because it really is a beautiful building, but I have to digress and address what he said. He argued that if a Saudi female driver's car were to break down in the middle of the night and a passerby were to help her, then other drivers might think ill of this woman. He also said that in Islam, women are treated like queens, that in Saudi they don't want anyone thinking poorly of their women. WHAT? So you're going to deprive half of the population of a vital means of transportation, mobility and accessibility just because some men driving by may automatically assume that just because a woman is with a man who's not married to her they're engaged in some kind of illicit affair? And who cares what people think anyways? I mean, you prohibit women from driving because of gossip? For heaven's sake, if you're on the side of the road because your car broke down and someone sees a man using a tire jack on your car then OTHER DRIVERS WILL THINK HE'S REPLACING YOUR TIRE. The tour guide obviously subscribed to Saudi historian Dr. Saleh al-Saldoon's newsletter. Al-Saldoon appeared on the program Rotana Al Khalijia TV saying that Western women drive because they don't care about being raped. EXCUSE ME? Have you ever talked to a Western woman any woman in your life??? Wait, so do you think that the hundreds of millions of women in the world, in countries like Bahrain, who drive don't care about being raped?? And can't the men who drive Saudi women around potentially be rapists as well? The historian went on to say that Saudi women were treated like queens because their male relatives drove them around and "everybody is at their service." BRB PULLING MY EYELASHES OUT IN FRUSTRATION. The common thread here seems to be that Saudi women are like queens. I'm sorry but in my definition of a queen, their sole activity is not being driven around. If Saudi women were queens then they wouldn't be discriminated against because of their gender. If they were queens then they would have the best transportation in the world, not that of their available male relatives or that of a driver they not only have to employ but sponsor in the kingdom. I'm not saying that the Queen of England goes where she wants, when she wants, but men like the tour guide and Dr. al-Saldoon are just using this "queen excuse" to prohibit any kind of discussion or critique of this restriction. What do poor Saudi women who can't afford drivers do? What do Saudi women without any living male relatives, or male relatives in a reasonable vicinity, or unavailable male relatives do? Are these women not queens? Now I know that a lot of Saudi women are comfortable with not driving. Fine. They can continue to use drivers. But for the rest of the women in the kingdom, Saudi or not, having the option to do so will not only make them feel like queens, at least until the initial appeal wears off, but like productive members of society, being the drivers of their own futures. Saudi has come a long way in the past 100 years. Both girls and women used to have little to no education and now they make up the majority of university graduates. If Saudis were OK with putting their daughters in school, then certainly they can be OK with putting them in the driver's seat.

Thankfully the call to prayer cut our "heated" discussion short. I took this as a sign from Allah that I could ditch the guided tour and I left.

If you want to visit Al Fateh Grand Mosque, you can do so outside of prayer times every day except Friday and public holidays from 9:00 to 4:00. Just don't ask for a tour guide.


  1. I find it so difficult to imagine not being allowed to drive! I drive everywhere, often even when my husband is coming with us.I drive towing a caravan, I drive hundreds of miles in one go, I drive at night, in wind, rain and snow.

    1. And a lot of women find it difficult imagining what it's like to drive! They have their drivers and brothers to take them where they want and they are quite content doing so. There are rumours that with the new king, women over 30 will be able to drive during the work week, but I don't think that it will actually happen.