Saudi Arabia: To Go or Not to Go?

A friend recently asked me if I wanted to visit Saudi Arabia to speak at a girls’ school. My instant reply: Yes! But then I thought a bit more about it and now I’m not so sure.

Last May, I publicly stated that I wouldn’t visit The Maldives after they overturned a 6 decade-old moratorium on capital punishment. Under the country’s Sharia laws, the government reinstated the death penalty to apply to minors, as young as 7 years old, who break the law. I find capital punishment inhumane and I vowed not to visit The Maldives.

Photo of WomenAlthough in retrospect, my stance is completely hypocritical since a) I live in a country that enforces the death penalty, and b) have traveled to other countries that abide capital punishment, like China, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Botswana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Indonesia….the list goes on.

So why did I isolate the Maldives? Because of its adherence to Sharia law. Sharia law is a form of Islamic religious law with jurisdiction over all criminal, political, economic and personal matters, including sexual practices, hygiene, diet, prayer, and etiquette. In Western countries, Sharia law is largely considered to be incompatible with women’s rights. This is my prejudice.

Sharia law is applied in full in the countries listed below and fully or partially as displayed in this map. (Note: I didn’t know Abu Dhabi adhered to Sharia law when I visited in 2011.)

1. Mauritania

2. Sudan

Countries_with_Sharia_rule copy3. Afghanistan

4. Iran

5. Iraq

6. Brunei

7. Maldives

8. Pakistan

9. Qatar

10. Saudi Arabia

11. Yemen

12. Nigeria (parts)

13. Indonesia (Ache province)

14. United Arab Emirates (except Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah)

As I reflect on it, I think I’m being narrow-minded to discriminate against a country because of its chosen form of governance. I may dislike it – just like I abhor capital punishment – but I’m not sure this is reason enough to make a blanket statement and boycott an entire country or group of countries. And in reality many countries I’ve visited over the years are hostile to women’s rights and yet I’m not boycotting them.

So I’m starting to think I’m unfairly discriminating against countries that adhere to Sharia law like the Maldives and Saudi Arabia. As I re-think my position, I thought I’d open in up to hear your thoughts.

Comments welcome.

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This entry was posted on Friday, August 29th, 2014 and is filed under Arab Region.

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