Saturday, 23 March 2013

Dr.Naseef on women in Shoura Council of Saudi Arabia

Interview with Dr. Abdullah Omar Naseef:
Women in Shoura Council of Saudi Arabia
Dr. Mozammel Haque

Women are half of the population of Saudi Arabia. Women sometimes gave advice for the country. In Islam, which is a way of life, must have some provision for seeking advice or opinion from women. I think the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to have opinions on some important matters with his wives. I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Abdullah Omar Naseef, the former Vice Chairman of the Shoura Council of Saudi Arabia.

Dr Naseef, said, “In Islam there is no difference between man and woman in matters of life. Of course women have their role to raise the family and to regenerate children for Islam; so they have very noble cause to do that. When we talked about the role of women in the political area; they can be as useful as men and the advice they had given at the time of Prophet (peace be upon him) is very well known. We have to respect their opinion. They can produce more wisdom because they have the time to think and to do it. That’s why, I think, it is very important for every country to take care of women and let them participate in the affairs of the country.”

Speaking about the women as advisers during the early period of Islam, even during the lifetime of the Prophet (peace be upon him), Dr. Naseef, former Secretary General of the Makkah-based Muslim World League, said, “It is very well known that in Hudaibiyya the Prophet (peace be upon him) asked the people to slaughter their sacrificial animals and shave off their heads. They refused and then his wife Um Salamah told him give them the example and they will immediately follow. So that was as had happened.”

“There are lots of examples; there are thousands of examples. The woman who corrected the Umar ibn Khattab on the Mimber. So he said, yes, our woman is right and Umar is wrong. Similarly there are many many examples recorded in history. Even the wife of Harun ar-Rashid during the Abbasids period,” said Dr. Naseef.

Dr. Naseef mentioned, “This situation has changed when people have stopped the contribution of women. This is by tradition but not by religion. Religion gives them, the woman, the freedom and power to speak, to take part and also to participate; but yes, some societies neglected and thrown the womanfolk away from the public arena. We have to bring them back. Islam is the reference and not tradition of the people.”

Then I mentioned about Saudi Arabia where women are not only progressing in education, achieving good grades and contributing to every field, specially in economy, business, medicine and education and the number of woman graduates are more than that of man. Appreciating their contributions to the society and the country, King Abdullah has taken the decision of inclusion of women in the Shoura Council. Dr. Abdullah Omar Naseef was the former Vice Chairman of the Shoura Council of Saudi Arabia.

I requested Dr. Naseef as a former Vice-Chairman of the Council to shed lights on this new development. .Replying to my query, Dr. Naseef said, “First of all, I want to say that the contribution of women in the field of national dialogue is very very important. During the last ten years, at the conferences and seminars, 50 per cent of the participants were women, University students, teachers and professors. It was especially very important. Their contribution was much more valuable than man’s contribution in the dialogue session. They bring new ideas and they are very much educated and they are also very much thoughtful of what is happening.”

“Since the new establishment of the Shoura Council, it was promoted that women should participate as soon as possible. When I was Vice Chairman of the Shoura Council, I said it was a matter of time when women will participate and take part in the discussions and debates of the Shoura Council. 50% of the members of the Council should be from the women. It would be very useful and it is happening now after ten years. Alhamdo lillah, thanks to Allah the Almighty, who makes this possible,” commented Dr. Naseef.

Speaking about the position of women membership of the Arab parliaments vis-a-vis that of the Saudi Shoura Council, Dr. Naseef observed, “I was seeing the Arabic newspapers called the Sharq which comes from Dammam. According to this paper, among the membership of women of all the parliaments of the world, Saudis are much more progressive. But in the Gulf countries, of course, it is number one; because there are some countries in the Gulf which don’t have member of women in the parliament or have a very negligible number. This is not for comparison but it is very encouraging for people.”

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Rise of Islamophobia and the Role of OIC

Rise of Islamophobia and the Role of OIC
Dr. Mozammel Haque

Islamophobia is a problem that manifests itself at different levels in society and to different degrees. The phrase Islamophobia was used first in the UK in 1997. In 1997, the British Runnymede Trust defined Islamophobia as the "dread or hatred of Islam and therefore, [the] fear and dislike of all Muslims," stating that it also refers to the practice of discriminating against Muslims by excluding them from the economic, social, and public life of the nation. The concept also encompasses the opinions that Islam has no values in common with other cultures, is inferior to the West and is a violent political ideology rather than a religion. (Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All, Runnymede Trust, 1997, p. 1, cited in Quraishi, Muzammil (2005). Muslims and crime: a comparative study. Aldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate. p. 60.)

Thus the phrase Islamophobia was used first in the UK in 1997; but Islamophobia was first major used in media until 2001 when Time Magazine asked whether America was Islamophobic. One can read that article. The study shows very very clearly that one can no longer deny actually the existence of the problem, which Professor John Esposito, Professor of Religion and International affairs and Islamic Studies at the Georgetown University and the founding Director of the Muslim-Christian understanding of the Georgetown University and the Director of the Muslim-Christian Relations Centre, called the social cancer in Europe, the Americans call Islamophobia.

Muslims in Europe face discrimination in several areas of life because of their religion, their ethnic origin or their gender or a combination of these grounds. Europe has an ugly history of taking out of manifesting its socio-economic problems by attack on minorities and it does seem to have no question of minorities being chosen. “Minorities choice on Continental Europe is now Islam and Muslims,” said Peter Oborne, Daily Telegraph’s chief political commentator and author of the Triumph of Political Class (2007) at a conference.

The evidence of this Muslim-bashing is threat to mosques, attacks on mosques and Muslims/Islamic institutions, petro-bombing and pig-head was stuck on the railing etc.

The Amnesty International
The Amnesty International UK in their report on “Choice and Prejudice – discrimination against Muslims in Europe” (April 2012) exposes the discrimination faced by European Muslims in several countries. The Report focuses on Belgium, France, Spain, The Netherlands and Switzerland and highlights that women and girls are denied jobs and access to regular classes in schools just for wearing traditional forms of dress. Additionally, the right to establish places of worship – a key component of the right to freedom of religion - is being curtailed in countries such as Switzerland and Spain.

The Amnesty International wrote: “European countries appear to face another crisis beyond budget deficits – the disintegration of human values. One symptom is the increasing expression of intolerance towards Muslims. [O]pinion polls in several European countries reflect fear, suspicion and negative opinions of Muslims and Islamic culture. These Islamophobic prejudices are combined with racist attitudes – directed not least against people originating from Turkey, Arab countries and South Asia. Muslims with this background are discriminated [against] in the labour market and the education system in a number of European countries.”
[Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.]

Amnesty International calls on European governments to do more to combat negative stereotypes and prejudices.

Lord Ahmed of Rotherham, while praising the work of the Amnesty International, said, “Islamophobia in Europe has become almost synonymous with racism” and went on to add that Muslims are facing similar prejudices as the Jewish communities did hundred years ago. The report is very clear on the rise of Anti-Muslim feelings in France, in relation to the Head Scarf's as well as the campaign against Halal meat, Minarets and places of Worship in Europe.

Launch a Book on Islamophobia
Cordova Foundation, UK, launched the second research of the European Muslim Research Centre entitled Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: UK Case Studies, authored by Dr. Robert Lambert and Dr. Jonathan Githens published in 2010. They have done a great job in the right time mainly in the context of Islamophobia, the rise of discrimination, the rise of Islamophobia, the rise of hate. The co-author of the Book on Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: UK Case Studies is Dr Robert Lambert, the co-Director of the European Muslim Research Centre at the University of Exeter and a part-time Lecturer at the Centre for Studies on Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews. Dr. Lombard’s twin interest on Islamophobia and community-based approach to counter-terrorism, both topics are reflected in his coming book Countering Al-Qaida in Britain: Police and Muslim Community in partnership. He said, “In many cases they (Muslim leaders) have big attacks; petro-bombing; mosque have been damaged and in other cases they had on-going vandalism.”

The month of November 2012 was declared Islamophoba Awareness Month in the UK. This Islamophobia Awareness Month was spearheaded by the Enough Coalition Against Islamophobia, The Muslim Council of Britain and ENGAGE and other partners. On this occasion, there was meetings and Exhibitions held in London.

Islamophobia Awareness Month Launched
The Islamophobia Awareness Month was launched on 2nd November 2012 at the London Muslim Centre by prominent British organisations and campaigners to deconstruct and challenge some of the stereotypes about Islam and Muslims. Leading commentators and politicians, including human rights lawyer, Imran Khan, Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, academic and Journalist Myriam-Francois-Cerrah as well as UNITE the Union's Steve Hart addressed the theme around Islamophobia.

Human Rights lawyer, Imran Khan said at the conference, “Anti-Muslim attitudes are directed against people believed to be of Muslim faith or generally against Islam as a religion, regardless of whether those affected are actually religious and which branch of Islam they belong to. In more recent years and, particularly since the events of 9/11 and 7/7, attention has very much focused on Muslims. The agenda set has been one that is distinctly anti-Muslim,” said Khan.

While quoting Anas Altikri, Chief Executive of the Cordoba Foundation, Imran Khan mentioned: “Islamophobia is a tragic reality and a test to the West’s claim to upholding the most noble of human values. Already, we have failed when allowing laws to pass prohibiting Muslim women from dressing as they wish in France and building their mosques in a particular aesthetic form similarly to other places of worship in Switzerland. It is a phenomenon that will, if allowed to spread unabated, leave none unaffected. It was true in the case of anti-Jewish and anti-Black attacks in the last century, and it will prove true if anti-Muslim sentiments are given free reign to expand today.”

“What I have noticed over the past eleven years ever since the problem of 9/11 and the war on Afghanistan has been a gross Islamophobia in the popular press,” Labour MP for Islington North, Jeremy Corbyn, told me in an interview before his speech. Similarly, another speaker, Lindsey German, Stop the War Coalition, also told me, “The war on terror which begun in 2001 really created the present mood of Islamophobia; when you bombed on a countries which are largely Muslim countries then you have to demonise the people where you are bombing and at the same time as we talk about terrorism among Muslims, we are conducting terror attacks with drone in Pakistan and Afghanistan and we are creating a situation where more and more people around the world have grievances against, grievance against the United States and other countries in the world.”

Launch of Exhibition on Islamophobia
at the British Parliament
ENGAGE launched its Exhibition on Islamophobia in the British Parliament on Monday, 12th of November, 2012. MPs and Peers from all the main political parties attended the launch event which was hosted by MPs Sir Peter Bottomley, Jack Straw and Simon Hughes.

Keynote addresses were presented by the Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan, MP, and academics from Lancaster University, Professors Tony McEnery and Paul Baker. Around 20 representatives from both Houses of Parliament attended the event representing all the main political parties, alongside representatives from the faith and voluntary sectors, charitable organisations, academia and professional associations.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie, Trustee of ENGAGE, welcoming the guests to the event, said in his introductory remarks: “Islamophobia is a problem that manifests itself at different levels in society and to different degrees but it is, in essence and experience, a malicious prejudice against the UK’s largest religious minority group. It is a prejudice which feeds on ignorance and fear to promote hatred and social divisions.”

“Islamophobia has passed a new threshold – one that brings with it new challenges – it is increasingly becoming accepted as an expression of ‘legitimate’ opinion. It is with the purpose of generating awareness about Islamophobia, and its devastating impact on the lives and security of British Muslims, that ENGAGE developed this unique exhibition. It is our hope that it will provoke discussion on the often negative portrayal of Islam and Muslims in the British media, the consequences of these negative representations and the reality of British Muslim life and achievements,” said Sir Iqbal.

The meeting was addressed by MPs Sir Peter Bottomley, Jack Straw, Simon Hughes and Sadiq Khan, all of whom praised the crucial work of ENGAGE and welcomed the exhibition and initiative on tackling Islamophobia. The Rt. Hon. Sadiq Khan, summarising the view expressed by all parliamentarians, spoke of the necessity of tackling Islamophobia in the UK.

Professors Tony McEnery and Paul Baker presented the findings of their research project on which is due to be published this year, i.e. 2013 by Cambridge University Press, 'Discourse Analysis and Media Bias: The representation of Islam in the British Press, 1998 – 2009'. The research project, which studies 200,037 newspaper articles about Muslims and Islam in all the major papers (Guardian/Observer, Independent, Times, Telegraph, Business, Star, Sun/NOTW, Mirror, Express, Mail, People), analysed 143 million words in total.

Summarising the main findings, Professor McEnery said:“The word terrorism (and related forms) is more frequent than the word Islam (and related forms). References to extreme forms of Islam or Muslims are 21 times more common than references to moderate Islam or Muslims.” Of the newspapers most likely to display this bias, McEnery said “The tabloids do this most, The Guardian does it the least.”

McEnery concluded saying, “The overall picture is that Muslims and Islam are connected to conflict, terror, extremism and even horror.“The tabloids newspapers are the most negative – focussing on Muslims like Abu Hamza.”

The Role of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)
The 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the largest Muslim organization in the world, recently held the 12th Islamic Summit of the OIC in Cairo on Wednesday, 6th of February, 2013. The question of Islamophobia was one of the items on the agenda. The Islamic leaders discussed this issue.

But before the meeting of the Islamic Summit in Cairo, the Secretary General of the OIC, Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu gave an interview with Jeddah-based English Daily, Arab News, and replying to a question on Islamophobia, he said: “The historic consensual adoption of the OIC sponsored Resolution 16/18 by the 16th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva was a milestone in bringing the international community together in combating intolerance on the basis of religion and belief. The OIC efforts with the international community in combating religious intolerance were further vindicated when Resolution 16/18 was passed by the UN General Assembly Sessions in 2011 and 2012. The OIC’s determination to build upon the consensus of the provisions of 16/18 is manifest when we took the initiative to launch the Istanbul Process in 2011. Two sessions on the implementation of the Istanbul Process have been held in Washington DC and London respectively, and we expect to hold the third session very soon. The OIC is also actively involved on working on a unified position of member states toward an effective strategy in cooperation with our partners in the international community. I also believe that bringing the issue of Islamophobia in bilateral meetings of the member states with their Western counterparts would contribute substantially to our efforts in combating Islamophobia. Let me also emphasize on the crucial and important role of the media and civil society to complement the OIC’s efforts in sensitizing the global community of Islamophobia’s serious and dangerous implications.”

King Abdullah's speech at the Islamic Summit
At the opening session of the 12th Islamic Summit in Cairo on Wednesday, the keynote speech made by King Abdullah, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, which was read out by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, at the Summit, was strong in its content. The King referred to the issue of Islamophobia and said, “The most major challenge facing our Islamic nation today is hatred of religions or religious leaders by those who have suspicious and ill goals, persons who use the freedom of expression and opinion to attack Muslims and their sanctuaries without any ethical or legal deterrent that incriminate them,” the king said.

He urged the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member-states to support the Kingdom’s proposal at the UN to make slandering Divine religions and their prophets a criminal offence. “So, we demand all member states of the OIC to support the proposal submitted by Saudi Arabia at the United Nations to issue a resolution condemning any state, group or individual who defame the divine religions or prophets and messengers including the most toughest deterrent punishments of such acts,” the King said.

Cairo Declaration
A Communique issued at the end of the two-day Summit of the 57-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) said, the leaders called for a strategy to combat Islamophobia, expressed deep concern over the growing attacks against Islam, Muslims and the Prophet (peace be upon him). They stressed that Islam is the religion of moderation, openness and rejects all forms of extremism. They stressed the necessity to draw up education curricula that gives the real picture of Islam.

Islamic Satellite Television channel
to confront Islamophobia
Recently, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation emphasized on 19th February 2013 its plan to establish an effective satellite television channel to confront Islamophobia.“We’ll hold a four-day meeting of experts at OIC headquarters here from Saturday to discuss various aspects of the project in order to present it at the next meeting of OIC information ministers,” said Essam Salim Al-Shanti, director of the media department to Arab News.

"Our objective is to have a strong and effective media that can address the needs of the Muslim world having different languages with various cultural backgrounds,” he said. The new channel will present its programs in English, Arabic French. “Its main objective is to project the true picture of Islam and confront the challenge posed by Islamophobia, especially in the West,” Al-Shanti said.

He said the channel would also work for promoting intercultural dialogue in order to bring the Eastern and Western cultures and the North and South closer. “It will help exchange of knowledge between OIC countries, highlight the issues of Muslim minorities and promote joint Islamic action,” the OIC official said.

The channel project was first proposed by a meeting of OIC information ministers in Gabon last year.

Later, a foreign ministers’ meeting in Djibouti endorsed the project. The fourth emergency Islamic summit in Makkah and the recent OIC summit in Cairo.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Empowerment of Women in Saudi Arabia

Empowerment of Women in Saudi Arabia:
Inclusion of 30 Women in Shoura Council
Dr. Mozammel Haque

Women not only constitute half of Saudi society but they are also the driving force behind the Kingdom’s future development as a 21st-century society. The royal decree issued by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah to appoint 30 highly educated Saudi women to the Shoura Council (consultative assembly) and to ensure women make up at least 20 percent of the Council in the future is a key turning point in the history of the Kingdom. The historic decision by King Abdullah to appoint women, for the first time, to the Shoura Council is a major initiative to reform the existing political system.

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques on Friday, the 11th of January 2013, named 30 women members to the 150-member Shoura Council. According to a royal decree, women will form 20 percent of Shoura Council members. Seven of the 30 appointees have worked previously with the council as consultants. King Abdullah appoints a team of 150 members from various professions for a term of four years. Incumbent President Abdullah Al-Asheikh has been reappointed.

I am going to look into this subject from three angles: Islamic perspective, educational perspective and societal perspectives. After that, I am also going to look, briefly, into the background of the Shoura Council, its activities and profile of the newly appointed women members.

Islamic perspectives
From the Islamic perspective, the inclusion of women as Shoura Council members is in accordance with Shari’ah law, which is the foundation for Saudi Arabia laid down by the late King Abdulaziz. All the activities of the Shoura Council are always carried out within the framework of Islam. Even on the inclusion of women in the Consultative Body, King Abdullah took decisions after consultations with the religious leaders.

In Islam, there is no difference between man and woman in matters of lives. But, of course, women have their role to raise the family and to regenerate children for Islam. They have very noble cause to do that. Besides that when we talk about their role in the political arena, women can be as useful as men and the advice they had given at the time of Prophet (peace be upon him) is very well known. Women, in Islam, are entitled to the same freedom of expression as men. Women participated in serious discussions with the Prophet (peace be upon him) and other Muslim leaders. Islam also granted women the right to participate in political affairs and to hold government positions.

Muslim women have been giving their opinions on various issues from the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the Ummah benefited from those opinions. Justice Muhammad Al-Eissa cited the consultation given to the Prophet by Um Salamah (may Allah be pleased with her) during the Hudaibiya peace treaty. Dr Naseef, the former Secretary General of the Muslim World League, told me, “It is very well known that in Hudaibiyya the Prophet (peace be upon him) asked the people to put on their Ihram and shave their heads. They refused and then his wife Um Salamah told him give them the example and they will immediately follow. So that was as had happened. There are lots of examples; there are thousands of examples. There was also an example of a woman who corrected the Umar ibn Khattab on the Mimber. So he said, yes, our woman is right and Umar is wrong. Similarly there are many many examples recorded in history. Even the wife of Harun ar-Rashid during the Abbasids period.”

Dr. Mona S. Al-Munajjed, a sociologist, author and adviser on social and gender issues, mentioned, "Aisha, the Prophet’s wife, participated in political events after the death of the Prophet and became a political leader. And there are several examples in Islamic history of prominent women who became political leaders such as Arwa bint Ahmad Al Sulaihiyyah, Queen of Yemen, Safwat Al-Mulk, Queen of Damascus, Safiya Khatoun, Queen of Aleppo, and Shajarat Al Durr, Queen of Egypt."

So Islamically speaking, there are lots of examples in the history when Muslim women gave their opinions and advice which were very useful to the community and the country. “The participation of women in the Shoura would give them an opportunity to present their opinions and make proposals and demands on various matters. This paves the way for their voices being heard,” the Justice Minister said, adding that society has the right to benefit from their knowledge and expertise.

Not only that, all along history, religion gives them, the women, the freedom and power to speak, take part and also to participate, but some societies neglected and thrown away the womanfolk from public arena; people have stopped the contributions of women. This is by tradition but not by religion. We have to bring them back. That is not the excuse. Islam is the reference and not tradition of the people, said Dr. Naseef.

King Abdullah took the decision after consultations with religious leaders in the Kingdom. It was stipulated that men and women will be segregated inside the council. A special area will be designated for the women, and they will enter through a separate door so that they do not to mix with their male colleagues. Sheikh Abdullah Muhammad Ibrahim Al-Asheikh, President of the Shoura Council, appointed a special committee to implement the directive of the king for the enrollment of women as members of the consultative body. Speaking about the new committee for women's affairs, Dr. Al-Asheikh said the body will make all the necessary arrangements for the women. "All arrangements to accommodate the women members will be made by the committee to receive women members at the sixth session of the council." Administrative staff to assist women members will be appointed before they arrive."The enrollment of women as members of the council will be a qualitative shift in the functioning of the council," Dr. Al-Asheikh said.

He pointed out that all the activities of the council are always carried out within the framework of Islam. "Saudi women have excelled in education, health, economic, administrative and social fields in society," Dr. Al-Asheikh said. He said the council would follow the guidelines laid down by the king to work for national unity, the nation's progress and regional security and peace. Justice Minister Muhammad Al-Eissa said the participation of women would enrich the discussions at the consultative council. “It is a supplementary addition to the Shoura with people having different experiences, expertise and backgrounds,” he said.

Educational Perspectives
From the educational perspective, it is noteworthy to mention that the woman members of the country have achieved tremendous progress in education. It is due to the policy and reform undertaken by King Abdullah. During the reign of King Abdullah, a number of important and noteworthy reform steps were taken in Saudi Arabia. In the era of King Abdullah, the largest reform of the judicial system has been carried out in terms of creating specialised courts in various fields. Also, during the reign of King Abdullah, "the Allegiance Council" has been set up. In the reign of King Abdullah, women entered in the Shoura Council for the first time in the history of the country with full membership rights.

King Abdullah started with the system of education, and soon we had universities, colleges of higher education and centers of excellence springing up across the Kingdom. He and his advisers and his government ministers invested heavily in creating and forming a consensus on key issues. Different points of view were taken into consideration, there was a healthy debate among all segments of society, and so we heard in the media the pros and cons of all that was taking place in the Kingdom.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah launched eight new educational and welfare projects worth more than SR14 billion at King Saud University (KSU), including a 7.5-billion-riyal campus for women, a SR1.8-billion medical city and a SR1.2-billion housing project. The King Abdullah Project for the Development of Public Education has allocated SR4.2 billion to improve the educational environment and SR3.58 billion for extra-curricular activities. The training and development of teachers is another thrust of the project and for this purpose SR2.94 billion has been set aside. A curriculum development program will receive SR980 million.

Samar Fatany observed, “Investing in education for women has been a priority in educational reform. Women today represent almost 60 percent of university graduates. Vocational institutes for women have been established and private colleges and universities for women have been set up in major cities in the Kingdom facilitating the integration of more qualified women into the workforce. Princess Noura University, the first women’s university in Saudi Arabia, has been expanded and modernized to accommodate 40,000 students and 12,000 employees. It has 15 colleges and a large number of departments.

Over SR200 billion has been allocated for education in this year's budget. “At the moment nearly 90 percent of the students are receiving an education in Saudi Arabia’s 25,000 public schools.” Saudi Arabia has 14.2% of women in national workforce in the educational fields.

The Ministry of Education plans to provide women 7,200 administrative jobs in Girls’ Education at the ministry headquarters and 41 education departments across the country, a ministry source said. Nearly 70 percent of administrative jobs in Girls’ Education are already held by women. The Cabinet also approved measures to increase jobs for women. In the recent Cabinet reshuffle, Norah Al-Faiz was appointed as deputy minister for Girls’ Education. She is the first woman in Saudi Arabia to hold a ministerial post.

Societal perspectives
Female council members represent not only half of society but more than that, because as mothers they influence and nurture the future generation of our country.

King Abdullah’s decree on the participation of women in the council’s decision-making process was a huge step toward female empowerment. “Since women constitute half of the Saudi population, it is unreasonable for this vital organ of the population to be denied the opportunity to participate within the limits of the Islamic Shariah in building our nation,” he concluded. Another member of the Shoura council, Sadaqa Fadil, stressed

The remarkable progress has been achieved by Saudi women. Previously women had no say in this vital council that takes important decisions affecting society. Earlier, they had a very limited role as primary schoolteachers and nurses in hospitals. Now we find them everywhere taking up different positions. We have seen Saudi women in many fields, especially in education, medicine and economics.

King Abdullah first announced that he was planning to name women to the Shoura Council in 2011. That has been achieved. We have got a woman deputy education minister. Many women now work at chambers of commerce and industry in different parts of the country. The appointment of 30 women on the Shoura is another big leap. In the reign of King Abdullah, women entered in Shoura Council for the first time in the history of Saudi Arabia with full membership rights. In the near future, they may take 50 percent of Shoura seats and take up different ministerial positions. It is hoped all Shoura members would play an active role in boosting the Kingdom’s development by taking judicious decisions. Now women can say what they want and what they do not want.

History of Shoura Council
The King made two amendments to the royal decree governing the Shoura Council. It works as the formal advisory body of Saudi Arabia. This is the august body which provides advice to the King, drafts laws and debates major issues. Reviewing the four-year period, Al-Mohanna, who has written a 2,119-page book entitled, “The Saudi Majlis Ash-Shoura: Its National and International Roles,” said the council has taken up several regional and global social, economic and political matters relevant to the Kingdom. The body acts as a consultative council and has debated several important laws and regulations and annual reports of government and nongovernmental bodies.

The following functions performed by the members of the Shoura Council. “They will work in tandem to interpret laws, as well as to examine annual reports referred to the Council by state ministries and agencies. The Shoura advises the King on policies the King submits to it, along with international treaties and economic plans. The Council is authorized to review the country’s annual budget and call in ministers for questioning and it plays an important role as a policy debate forum. It can request that government officials participate in key meetings and it can ask for access to government documents,” mentioned in Saudi Gazette."

History of women in Shoura
Women are in the Council not as a cosmetic change but to strengthen this consultative body. They will do so using their experience and the foundations of their education," commented Saudi Gazette editorially. The inclusion of highly qualified Saudi female members in the Shoura Council would enable the council to achieve greater progress. The council now comprised highly educated and specialized male and female counterparts, representing a wide spectrum of fields.

Dr. Mona S. AlMunajjed wrote in Arab News, "More than eight years ago, while he was still crown prince, King Abdullah asserted that the status of women would not be undermined or marginalized vis-à-vis their vital role in national development. He declared: “When we talk about the comprehensive development that our country is witnessing, we cannot ignore the role of Saudi women and their participation in this development. The productive role of women has been a definite result of the great investment that the country has dedicated to the field of education for all of its citizens, men and women. As a result, Saudi women have been able to earn the highest educational credentials, which have enabled them to work diligently in different fields. Saudi women have proven their ability to handle responsibilities with great success, whether through their principal duty as mothers, or as professionals. We look forward to women acquiring a major role in a way that will promote the interests of the nation on the basis of the Shariah.”

The Shoura Council has had female advisors before. Since 2006, the Council has had 12 women advisers. In 2011, the King said that women would join the Council, which comprises mostly academics, clerics, businessmen and former civil servants. But this is the first time that women have been appointed as members of the Shoura Council. The 30 women appointed are highly qualified and experienced in various fields and definitely a valuable addition to the Shoura, Maha Akeel said. “I’m confident they will contribute greatly to the discourse and issues,” she said, adding that she was looking forward to more changes in the Shoura bylaws to give it more power.

Female lawmakers in the Arab world
After the inclusion of 30 women members in the Shoura Council, Saudi Arabia has one of the highest percentage of female involvement of all Arab parliaments. Saudi Arabia takes fourth place in the Arab region in terms of women's political participation in Parliament.

Dr. Naseef said, “I was seeing the Arabic newspapers called the Sharq which comes from Dammam. According to this paper, among the membership of women of all the parliaments of the world, Saudis are much more progressive. But in the Gulf countries, of course, it is number one; because there are some countries in the Gulf which don’t have women member in the parliament or have very negligible. This is not for comparison but it is very encouraging for people.”

The figures below are taken from the UN Development Programme:
Country Total Numbers Women Percentage

Jordan:                              120      13          0.83%

United Arab Emirates:     60        7          17.50%

Bahrain:                             60        11         27.50%

Tunisia:                            112        17          13.49%

Algeria:                            136          7            4.86%

Comoros:                          33            8          3.03%

Lebanon:                       128             4          3.13%

Djibouti:                            65            9        13.85%

Sudan:                           554           87          4.58%

Saudi Arabia:              150            30         20%

Syria:                           250              38        2.40

Somalia:                       546             37         6.73%

Iraq:                              325           82        25.23%

Egypt:                           568           30          1.97%

Oman:                             84             1           1.19%

State of Palestine:        132          17           12.88%

Qatar:                              35           0              0.00% and

Kuwait:                            65          0              0.00%)

Profile of Saudi women lawgivers
All the new members of the Shoura Council, men and women, hold high professional postgraduate degrees and have a great deal of experience. The 30 chosen women are university graduates, human rights activists with advanced degrees and two princesses. 27 of the appointed women have a Ph.D. degree.

One of the women members of the Shoura Council is Dr. Khawla Al-Kuraya who is the first Saudi woman to receive the King Abdulaziz Award for Excellence, which was awarded for her contributions in the field of cancer research. She is the first person to identify a gee, FOSMI that prompts the formation of cancer cells in the human body. She is currently director of the Research Centre at King Fahd National Centre for Children's Cancer. King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh, Al-Kuraya has just been named to the Shoura Council.

Another newly appointed woman member of the Shoura Council is Thuraya Obeid, a veteran UN administrator who served notably as executive director of the UN Development Program and undersecretary general of the world body.35-years of long experience in the UN has prepared her to support communities and to work with people, especially women and youth.

Nora bint Abdullah Al-Adwan, another newly appointed Shoura member, has been a consultant to the council for the last six years and has participated in several Shoura programs both within the Kingdom and internationally. Her impressive resume also includes chairing two international symposia on women affairs in Amman and in Abu Dhabi recently. Al-Adwan is currently affiliated to the research chair, specializing on women issues at King Saud University (KSU).

Another prominent member is Dr. Hayat Sindi, the first Saudi and Muslim woman in the Middle East Gulf to obtain a PhD in biotechnology. In 2012, she was named one of Newsweek’s “150 Women Who Shake the World.”

Haya bint Abdulaziz Al-Manea is the first Saudi woman doctor in biotechnology, and one of the new members. She said all her colleagues are committed to working hard to help develop the country. Al-Manea is currently at Harvard University in the US to complete a program that she developed to sponsor innovators.

Salwa Al-Hazza is chief scientist at the research center at King Faisal Hospital, and ophthalmology consultant professor at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of King Faisal.

Issues might be raised by
Womem members of the Shoura Council
Recently, a survey was conducted which highlighted the expectation of the public from the women members of the Shoura Council and their role. They think women members will address the following issues: issue of providing housing for people of low income; social security, medical insurance, right of children to retirement pensions of their mothers, housing allowance for women, the right of women to drive, setting up hospitals in villages, establishing a family code, limiting the guardianship rule, granting citizenship to children of mothers married to non-Saudis, upgrading the school curriculum and discussing the right to membership in the Supreme Judicial Council.

The survey was conducted by in which 71 percent of respondents were women and 20 percent of men.

King Abdullah’s Reforms
King Abdullah lives up to his reputation as a bold leader. He made decisions that hold a lot of promise for generations to come: his interfaith initiative, his decision to allow women to participate in the upcoming municipal elections, his decision to focus on young Saudis, his decision to spend heavily on the education sector, his decision to institute hundreds and thousands of scholarships in some of the best institutions in the world all these decisions indicated his love for his country and his religion.