A prevalent notion among researchers working on gender politics in Saudi Arabia is that women’s engagement in the public sphere is restricted by the official interpretation of Islam, which only allows women to engage in issues presumed to be “feminine.” Based on an anthropological fieldwork exploration of al-dāʿiyāt al-muthaqqafāt (traditional female preachers belonging to the intellectual sphere in Riyadh), this article challenges this common assumption. It seeks to understand in what ways these women are a part of the public sphere and how this came about. One key factor is how the religious concept of “commanding right and forbidding wrong” has been expanded to adapt to changing circumstances, circumstances that have necessitated women’s presence in the public sphere. Examples from prominent intellectual female preachers such as Nawāl al-ʿĪd and Ruqayya al-Muḥārib demonstrate how leading dāʿiyāt in Riyadh engage in issues affecting Saudi society beyond gender-specific issues and encourage women to take a greater part in the public sphere.
Eleanor Abdella Doumato, “Education in Saudi Arabia: Gender, Jobs and the Price of Religion”, in Women and Globalization in the Arab Middle East: Gender, Economy, and Society, eds. Eleanor Abdella Doumato and Marsha Pripstein Posusney (Boulder, Colo: Lynne Rienner, 2003), 240.
Eleanor Abdella Doumato, “Education in Saudi Arabia: Gender, Jobs and the Price of Religion”, in Women and Globalization in the Arab Middle East: Gender, Economy, and Society, eds. Eleanor Abdella Doumato and Marsha Pripstein Posusney (Boulder, Colo: Lynne Rienner, 2003), 243.
Amélie Le Renard, “From Qur’anic Circles to the Internet: Gender Segregation and the Rise of Female Preachers in Saudi Arabia”, in Women, Leadership, and Mosques: Changes in Contemporary Islamic Authority, eds. Masooda Bano and Hilary Kalmbach (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 105-26.
Lacroix, Awakening Islam, 211-15. In a course seminar I attended on how to become a preacher, the audience was taught that one of the most important tasks for a preacher is to be obedient to the ruler, whereupon one of attendees exclaimed that obedience to the ruler is [the same as] obedience to God (ṭāʿat walī al-amr, ṭāʿat Allāh). Dāʿiya A, “Kayfa takūnīna dāʿiya”, seminar, Riyadh, 1 December 2015.
al-ʿĪd, Ḥuqūq al-marʾa fī ḍawʾ al-sunna al-nabawiyya,303-15. This contradicts Le Renard’s claim that women cannot become ʿālima and are never considered ʿulamāʾ or muftīs. Le Renard, “From Qur’anic Circles to the Internet”, 113. As demonstrated earlier by the example of al-Muḥārib, women can become both ʿālimāt and muftiyāt.
Nazanin Shahrokni, “The Mothers’ Paradise Women-Only Parks and the Dynamics of State Power in the Islamic Republic of Iran”, Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies10, no. 3 (2014), 87-108, doi: 10.2979/jmiddeastwomstud.10.3.87.