True bravery of Muslim woman: Saudi tweets picture of herself without hijab; then arrested and imprisoned

December 13, 2016 • 2:30 pm

I’ve posted a lot about how some Regressive Left venues, most prominently the PuffHo, extol hijabis for their bravery.  I think that’s largely bogus, but what is truly brave is a non-hijabi in a country where wearing the hijab is mandatory. The penalty? Prison—or worse.

Today’s Washington Post reports the arrest of a Saudi woman who tweeted a picture of herself without a hijab or an abaya (both garments required for women who go outside). This picture has been known for a while, but apparently Saudi police, always on the moral-sniffing job, finally identified the woman. The Post says this:

The Saudi woman was going out for breakfast when she decided to make a statement. Violating the country’s moral codes, she reportedly stepped out in public wearing a multi-colored dress, black jacket and ankle boots — but without wearing a hijab or abaya, a loosefitting garment.

Late last month, she tweeted a photo of her outfit, and the post circulated through Saudi Arabia, drawing death threats and demands to imprison or even execute the woman.

On Monday, police in the country’s capital of Riyadh said they had arrested the woman, following their duty to monitor “violations of general morals,” a spokesman, Fawaz al-Maiman said, AFP reported. The woman, who is in her 20s, was imprisoned after she had posted the tweet of herself standing next to a popular Riyadh cafe, he said.

He also accused her of “speaking openly about prohibited relations” with unrelated men, according to AFP.

“Riyadh police stress that the action of this woman violates the laws applied in this country,” Maiman said, urging the public to “adhere to the teachings of Islam”. Saudi women are expected to wear headscarves and loosefitting garments such as an abaya when in public.

The spokesman did not name the woman, but a number of websites identified her as Malak al-Shehri, whose tweet drew international support on Twitter and Facebook two weeks ago. Some referred to her as the “Saudi Rosa Parks,” comparing her to the American civil rights activist who was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger.

The article goes on to show tweets (in Arabic) calling for her death, but also supportive tweets from women, like this one:

If places like PuffHo really cared about women’s rights, they’d shine at least as much light on cases like this as they do on the hijabi in America who is a beauty blogger or who enters the Miss Minnesota contest. Why are we allies with such an odious, misogynistic country? You know the answer.

h/t: Russell J

54 thoughts on “True bravery of Muslim woman: Saudi tweets picture of herself without hijab; then arrested and imprisoned

  1. I wonder what the Saudis make women wear in prison…perhaps a bright orange hijab.

    What a miserable and pathetic country. I guess I’ll soon say the same about ours.

  2. An incredibly brave woman.

    In addition to beatings, she is at risk of being raped and otherwise abused in prison by guards who’ll use any justification to make it her fault and not the result of their own moral weakness.

    1. Heather, you pointed out (which post was that?) that there is not much difference between DAESH (IS) and Saudi.
      The main difference is that Saudi is an ‘ally’ of the ‘West’ and hence we do not ‘drone’ them.

      1. Yeah, the legal system of the two is almost exactly the same. Neither actually has a legal code as we understand it. Each case is up to how the individual judge interprets Sharia. A judge who goes easy is likely to get drummed out of the job, so they have an incentive to keep up the harshest interpretations too.

        Saudi is a more reliable ally inasmuch as they’re prepared to overlook the fact we’re not conservative Sunnis when it suits them, which DAESH isn’t. Does that make them better or worse? From our pov obviously better, but it’s easy to see the alternative argument.

      2. What I do not understand is how Saudi Arabia and Israel seem able to get along so well. Is it just the rule that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything? Or does Iran have something to do with it?

        1. Neither is directly fomenting violence against the other. Though I expect that, like the US, they attribute lots of other attacks and violence at least partially to SA’s promotion and export of Wahabbist thought.

        2. The US, as we know, has a strong influence on both. I think there’s some of that. SA gets a pass because they don’t do the “independent nationalism” that ticks off the US a lot.

  3. This poor Saudi woman’s situation, after an amazing act of courage, could not come at a more ironic time for me personally. In the wake of the Trump election, there’s been much talk about how leftists had long ago stopped talking to conservatives, and how that helped enable the rise of Trump. I think that’s quite true, but I realized that for myself, I never stopped talking to my conservative friends and family about issues. I never had a problem discussing things with them civilly, even if we didn’t change each other’s minds–and I enjoyed those talks. I realized that instead, I long ago stopped trying to talk to my farther left friends about issues like this. We all know why. Who wants to be called a bigot or racist for refusing to throw women and the LGBTQ community under the bus and giving priority instead to a religion’s claims? It’s ridiculous since plenty of family members would consider me a raging radical. It’s also ridiculous that I should have to feel guilty about defending my own rights.

    I decided recently that this was an issue I had to discuss openly with the people in my life who I knew would disagree. Not just in WEIT comments, where everyone agrees with me. Otherwise, what’s the point?

    So recently when a good friend applauded online for one of those now-common occurrences where schoolgirls all put on hijabs to “show support” for Muslims, I carefully asked that friend to consider that while we absolutely should tolerate hijabs, we should not glorify them. For all the reasons we’re always talking about here. Last week I sent my friend the link to Jeffrey Taylor’s article, and to Eiynah’s podcast on the topic. My friend read Taylor’s article, feels that he’s a bigot, and asked with all seriousness if I am a bigot.

    I had to tell him that we’ll have to agree to disagree, but that as acerbic as Taylor is, I agree with all Taylor’s points. And I can’t be afraid anymore to be called a bigot for defending the rights of women and the LGBTQ community. I can only hope my friend listens also to Eiynah’s podcast, since many leftists may understand if they hear a Muslim woman say the exact same things.

    I can think of nothing sadder than the fact that, in defending the rights of women and the LGBTQ community, I now have more in common with my most rightwing conservative friends and family, than with my fellow “progressives.” And that I am apparently going to be losing friends over this. But that, obviously, pales in comparison to what Malak al-Shehri is facing.

    Sorry such a long post!

    1. Wow. Thanks for sharing all that Cate. In my own family, the only far-left people I know are also very, very young. Everyone else I know would have a similar reaction (to stories like this) to yours.

      I’m a Bernie Sanders liberal and a big reason why I reject so much of this uber-left moral confusion stems from MLK’s famous quote about judging people not be the color of their skin but by the content of their character. With that quote as a guide, I find it trivially easy to separate bad ideas from skin pigmentation.

      I think the only way to cure this moral confusion on the far left is to have more folks like yourself speak up about it and challenge their assumptions and narratives when necessary. I share your frustration.

      1. Thanks Chris, and thanks also for the very useful suggestion re using MLK’s famous quote to separate bad ideas from good; I’ll try that in my discussions while I lose more friends!

    2. The left is important but there is always some in the left that are attached to virtue signalling and righteousness as domination/superiority. Women always come last in this. Like the the OT the righteous men always prevail over women portrayed as temptresses and evil doers.

      1. This defines morality so that female autonomy is defined as selfishness and wickedness in conservative circles or else in some left circles other problems must always come before this and women issues put on the back burner wherever there is perceived to be a conflict.

        I’m not talking about executive prominence, and imagined slights that regressive feminists are obsessed with, whilst simultaneously supporting conservative, orthodox Islam.

        Hence in conservative, traditionalist societies where women have low status – especially if somewhat insulated from modern world – women internalise this morality and don’t know anything else. This has an obviously much milder counterpart in the west in the expression of ideology critical of the west – which women are not allowed to criticise. this attitudes paradoxically exists alongside unreasonable demands for women that don’t affect most women but periodically demonise “white” men.

    3. No, it was a very good post, and many of us share your feelings and frustration. All I can say is that we all have to stick with what we think is right until convinced otherwise. And that’s what you’re doing. Good work!

    4. That was a very telling account. Send your friend a link to this article. Keep trying? Some do see their contradictions eventually.

    5. If you cannot disagree with someone & remain friends, they were never a true friend in the first place. Tolerating differences! Their loss.

  4. So sad that the act of wearing less or simply writing a blog as Raif has done are to be considered courageous. They are courageous acts, but vile reminders that parts of our civilization are living in a world constrained by ancient male barbarism.

  5. I look forward to pearls of wisdom from, for starters, Trump and the Pope, as both appear to have a predilection for the subordination of women.

    Will Obama remain mum on this once he leaves office?

  6. I am going to look on the bright side. This is one brave woman, and what she has done is just possibly not going to be swept under the carpet. I know this view is unpopular, but we are starting to get a new generation of the House of Saud in power, and I think there is a chance that they will eventually break the Faustian pact with the religious authorities that has kept KSA in its dreadful straitjacket for so long. I may well be wrong. What I am sure of is that if the Saudi government falls, awful as it is, what is likely to succeed it will be infinitely worse.

    1. This Faustian pact is helping the House of Saud stay in power, so I can’t really expect them to risk all this power and hundreds of billions of dollars over that one woman who is probably only supported by a small fraction of women (because openly supporting her may also lead to death threats and imprisonment) and probably even fewer men.

    2. Bad news: Saudis are going bankrupt. Unless they can rise the price of oil, they’ll be dry on cash reserves by 2018 and have to start cashing in investments or cutting the budget. And their elites have welfare like no other on Earth

      He don’t know if it comes to that, but a lot of things can come out of it. The shia minority on the Arabian Peninsula might just have a chance to throw their chains off.

      Or we might just get the Tunisian scenario(back in the day I’d say Turkish, but Turkey is reversing the progress made in the last 30 years) where they create an actual secular state. Not the likeliest thing to happen, but it’s possible.

      Oh, and it will undoubtedly be beneficial for EU. When Saudis stop paying the bills for madrassas, EU might get a chance to reintegrate it’s muslim population. If the far right don’t destroy everything first.

      1. Agreed, the era of the Oil Kings is coming to an end. When OPEC reduces production to hike the price the non OPEC countries and the shale oil countries will undercut them.

  7. We can expect free thinking Hijabis in the west to show full support for a brave sister. When’s the “no hijab” demo?

    1. My daughter, who looks a bit ‘brown’, left Belgium for exactly that reason. She was very regularly harassed for walking ‘un-hijabed’ and could not feel at home anymore.

    2. In the US, there would be grounds for filing suite against the cafes who won’t serve women. I wonder if such laws exist in France.

    3. That’s frightening. Outright discrimination seems to be limited to bistros where women are not welcomed, but clearly there is an atmosphere of oppression in the streets. Women talk of fear.

  8. Sometimes bravery is hard to distinguish from stupidity, and sometimes they’re one and the same.

    There are many cases where lawbreakers have video’d their exploits and put them on Youtube, and everyone has a good laugh at their dumbness when the Law catches up with them. It’s hard to laugh in this case, given the ludicrous nature of the ‘offence’ and the possible viciousness of the penalty.

    I wonder whether her bravery will have any effect, other than to expose the incredible stupidity of Saudi laws, which we knew anyway. I can’t help feeling such bravery deserves to be employed in an enterprise where it might be better rewarded. If the country was on the verge of (cultural) rebellion and looking for a cause celebre then this could be worth her sacrifice, but sadly I see no signs of that.

    I wish her well, but it saddens me.


    1. I disagree with you. Personally, I have always obeyed enforced dress codes. But I understand those who rebel, and I think they do well. Thinking of “My stealthy freedom” site, the honor-murdered Pakistani model and the young Iranians arrested for dancing at the “Happy” song, I think that freethinkers in Islamic theocracies have a culture similar to that of European Renaissance, striving to a union between free spirit and physical beauty.

      1. Personally, I detest dress codes of all sorts – including mandatory ‘health and safety’ clothing in situations where it’s utterly pointless. And I have been known to flout such codes any time I could get away with it. What I did not do was take photos of people ignoring the regulations and reproduce them anywhere (in fact I got quite good at ‘framing them out’).

        In Iran, given that a few decades ago it was a fairly enlightened society, such civil disobedience as was shown by Malak might be productive. Also, it’s unlikely anyone would call for her execution. Iran is a very different climate from Saudi Arabia.


  9. I commend the bravery of this young woman, but fear what will happen to her.

    Cate Plys: I applaud you for continuing the dialogue. May you not lose too many friends. I recently visited my brother in the midwest who voted for Trump and we were not able to hold a rational conversation. I was almost certain that we wouldn’t be remaining in contact. We are still talking as long as we stay off certain topics.

    Have all of you read about the 37-year old female Muslim lawyer, Ayquel Oezkan, new to the German cabinet who thinks Germany should have sharia law? In the picture I saw, she is not wearing a hijab. Here is one reference:

    1. Hi, Rowena — What’s the source for Özkan being in favor of Germany adopting sharia law? From what I’ve read, she seems to be a secularist, opposed to allowing both headscarves and crucifixes in German public schools.

      1. Very touching. Trying to get on with their lives caught in a war between a police state and an even worse theocracy.


      2. I confess I just watched the video now and I have a lot of issues with it. Its very pro Assad and it appears to be made by a fairly right wing French TV station, which spouts the kind of stuff Russia Today say about refugees – a bunch rapists etc – as russia wants to play to Nationalists and divide Europe about Nato and the effectiveness of opposition to Russian aims. Assad is in league with Iran, and does its bidding as it has its own aims to expand in the region.

        Assad and his dynasty first and foremost protect the small Alouite shia minority that govern the place and if that involves supporting cosmopolitanism, diversity with an iron fist under the velvet glove, fine. In reality, Assad always anticipated resistance and has proved at least the match of his father, who slaughtered 50,000 Sunni muslims at Homs when they resisted. Long before the Arab Spring, Assad was supporting Islamists, by training and arming them en route to Iraq or Yugoslavia or Afghanistan. He wanted to destabilise surrounding sunni states and get brownie points with Islamists, which would cause them to look favourably on his regime and who also might be useful in putting down democracy activists in future. As soon as Arab spring happened in Syria he released Islamists from prison and actually armed them so that they would destroy any capacity of democratic movements to militarily arm themselves, which it did. He has Never attacked Isis which always hangs around conveniently outside the border with Lebanon that is essential to Assad, and outside main cities that he needs to control. So thanks to Assad the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is nearly all Islamists but its in separate areas altogether from ISIS and doesnt cooperation with ISIS.

        Moreover the CIA on the border with Turkey has been stopping really heavy armaments getting to the FSA because they know it is islamist. The americans help the Kurds in Iraq, although even in Syria the Kurds fight completely separately from the FSA. The US has been expressing concern about the islamists in the FSA for some time – they let light arms through but not the heavy stuff

        Moreover as various people have mentioned and the news is abuzz the Syrians and Russians have committed terrible war crimes in Syria – far disproportionate to anyone else even ISIS. Eg
        the West would have enforced a no fly zone to stop the bombing if Trump had not been elected.

    1. Yes that’s terrible but doesnt obviate the excessive leeway that the UK political system gives to Islamists running family sharia courts in Britain, and who cry “Islamophobia” whenever the don’t get what they want

      50:50 Inclusive Democracy Southall Black Sisters

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