The Economist (23 June 2018) carries a lead article titled “The Saudi Revolution Begins”. It mentions how Prince Muhammad bin Salman is “revolutionising” Saudi Arabia by, for example, letting women take the wheel to drive. While this is being celebrated as a breakthrough in the “anti-woman” history of Saudi Arabia (as termed by the West), what should be of more surprise is that Saudi history seems to be moving back some 1500 years in what is seen as a move towards modernity.
Now more commonly known as the largest exporter of oil and for its gigantic revenues generated through the annual pilgrimage of Hajj, the land of Saudi Arabia is where the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, was born and where he lived all his life; Hejaz as it was then known. It was here that the Prophet of Islam, Hazrat Muhammadsa, wrote the first ever documented constitution known as the “Covenant of Medina”. It was here that women were recognised as living- and human-beings rather than the commodities they were treated as before the advent of Islam.
It was through the Prophet Muhammadsa that women were given a say in decisions about them going into a wedlock and also of coming out of it if the need arose; they were given rights in inheritance; they were given the loftiest status they could have imagined in the role of wives, sisters and, above all, mothers. Women in early Islam are reported to have been involved in trade and also in acquiring education. Narrations in history have it that women in early Islam were heavily involved in the public welfare and health facilities of their society.
Apart from the peaceful circles of society, women in the time of the Holy Prophetsa are known to have significantly contributed in battles also. As water bearers and nurses, Muslim women would be present in the battlefield treating the ill and wounded.
Hazrat Rufaidahra bint S‘ad was not only among the first believers in Medina but also the first known nurse from the time of the Holy Prophetsa. She is said to have attained medical skills from her father, Sa‘d al-Aslamy, who was a physician and from the Khazraj tribe of Yathrib (later Medina). Hazrat Sa‘d bin Muazra, when wounded in a battle, was sent to the tent of Rufaidahra by the Holy Prophetsa to be treated. She successfully removed the arrow from his arm, stopped the bleeding and treated him.
In times of peace, Hazrat Rufaidahra is said to have set up a nurse-training camp for Muslim women. Among many women whom she trained, Hazrat Umm-e-Ammarara is one of the most commonly known names from those at the forefront in dealing with injuries and casualties during battles.
As the Holy Prophetsa prepared to head for the Battle of Khaybar, Hazrat Rufaidahra is reported to have sought his permission to accompany the army, along with her team, to the battlefield where they could treat those in need of medical attention. She was not only granted permission but also an equal share from the booty as all other soldiers after the battle.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, in line with this tradition, encourages its women to become active members of the society and help mankind in whatever possible way they can.
Ahmadi women are seen observing purdah and yet working in the fields of teaching, nursing and other areas of medical and surgical excellence. The late Dr Nusrat Jehan, who passed away in 2016, was an excellent reminder of the women from early Islam who stayed in purdah but did not fall behind in serving mankind. In a Friday Sermon not too long ago, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih Vaa mentioned her services in the field of medicine, particularly pointing to the tremendous services she had been able to carry out without compromising her faith.
Lajna Imaillah – the ladies’ wing of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat – continues to encourage women to pursue higher education and careers in fields where they can serve humanity. And by the Grace of Allah, they have always lived up to this expectation.
That the Saudi princes are now taking action, however highly they may be spoken of by the Western media, is nothing to be classed as revolutionary. If anything, they seem to be moving (albeit slowly) back to the revolution that was brought about by the Holy Prophetsa of Islam.
In terms of human rights and religious freedom, they still have a long way to go. Ahmadis cannot perform Hajj if their passports say they are Ahmadis. Does the Western influence care the least about this? Perhaps not. And why should it? This doesn’t affect its oil trade with Saudi Arabia!