She made a joke about a beard and the medieval clergy went berserk; apparently they do not have a sense of humor.
Now she is in prison charged with “publicly calling for the liberation of Saudi women and the separation of religion from the government.”
Are these accusations or the minimum standards for a just modern functioning society?
Another charge was added to the list: ‘denial of holiness of clergy.’ The last charge gives an indication of the type of theocratic system we are talking about.
No matter. Now she is awaiting trial.
She is Souad Al-Shammary, a Saudi women’s rights activist, co-founder of the Saudi Liberal Network, the first female lawyer in Saudi Arabia to present a case in front of the courts, and an outspoken campaigner for women’s rights in the kingdom.
And yes, she is a harsh critique of the Saudi clergy, and with good reasons one should add. Her daughter, who is campaigning for her release told me: she “criticizes the clergy for making our (women’s) daily life so complicated in the name of Islam – no driving, no sport activities in girls school, treating you as minor even if you are in your thirties; you need a male guardianship for almost everything. So the clergy claim she insults Islam.’
In fact, she is only criticizing their reactionary interpretation.
This is Souad Al-Shammary.
Her joke, on the other hand, was about the beard.
Wahhabi clergy have a worldview that insists on separating Muslims from non-Muslims. They consider a Muslim – Sunni male – supreme. To differentiate him from non-Muslims, they call on him to grow long beard.
Souad Al-Shammary, known for her witty clarity, spotted the contradiction and called the idea ‘silly’. She tweeted that “Jews, priests, Communists and Marxists” also wear beards.
Her twitter account has more than one hundred thousand followers, most of them in Saudi Arabia. They too were smiling.
The joke was not considered a joke by the Saudi establishment. From their perspective it was a destabilizing threat.
It does not come as a surprise how deadly serious was the reaction of the clergy and Saudi authorities to her joke. One famous Sheikh insisted that she should be tried for insulting the Prophet.
But others followed suit and said it is halal (permissive from a religious point of view) to kill her. Saudi authorities joined in: they blocked her bank account, stopped her salary, prevented her from registering one of her daughters in college, and launched a smearing campaign against her on twitter and elsewhere. A campaign of harassment was orchestrated targeting her children as well. Her daughter is understandably alarmed. She knows that her mother has been already ‘judged’: “I am terrified that someone she denies his holiness will judge her in the court,” she wrote.