By Dr. Samia Al-Amoudi
There is a good reason that King Abdullah is considered the ultimate feminist: he truly is. King Abdullah was able to change stereotypes of Saudi women that prevailed abroad even more than at home – stereotypes about Saudi men being harsh, cruel misogynists who take pride in oppressing and abusing women. King Abdullah was our knight in shining armor who drew up a new reality that the Saudi society was not accustomed to. He upheld the dignity of women, as it should be upheld in Islam. Aside from the political and social reforms that he had brought about and that are well-known to everyone, I shall tell you about his love for the women that are his mother, his wife, his daughters and his sisters, and how he became the father for us all, and one who took a special place in our hearts. He began mending our feelings for one another when he said unequivocally: “The Saudi woman is a citizen of the first order, with the same rights, duties and responsibilities [as those of men.]”
He bolstered his standing with naming the Kingdom’s largest women’s higher education institution after his aunt, Princess Noura Bint Abdulrahman. The new university grew to represent a turning point for every woman in Saudi Arabia. He said, “this is Noura University.” He did not say “it is a shame to say the names of your women.”
At a time when many Saudi men feel ashamed to reveal the names of their mothers, along came King Abdullah, proving to the world that he is much too intelligent to force anything upon his people just because he could. He initiated reform efforts to benefit women and showed pride in naming the university after his aunt. His move sent a clear message to Saudi men that there is nothing shameful about the names of women. At the time, I was on a business trip to the US, and I used the event to showcase the greatness of my country and the appreciation our leaders have for Saudi women.
He didn’t stop there. He sent further messages that reaffirmed new, enlightened display of the true status of women in Islam and in his mind. I, like many others, was astonished when he fell ill and issued a statement that, in and of itself, is an unequivocal expression of the respect he holds towards women. Only six words he said were enough to shine a light on that: “Rest assured, my sons and daughters.” He also did not forget to confirm that all of us – men and women – are believers and Muslims. He upheld the Islamic maxim of gender equality in humanity, with all of what it entails in equality of citizenship. He spoke to women in the same way he would to men, with utmost transparency and unrivaled honesty. He called us his “sons and daughters.”
I felt elated when I saw King Abdullah in good health receiving visitors who came to congratulate him for Eid at his residence. I felt the greatness of God as He answered our prayes.
What he said then was yet another confirmation of the status of women in Saudi Arabia and in the heart of its leader. He said: “We have not seen anything but good from women.”
Our beloved King, no book, textbook, reformer, sociologist or psychologist can make the change that you made and establish the status of women in the hearts and minds of people. You made it clear that the Kingdom’s way of not only appreciating respecting and supporting women, but also loving them and thinking well of them, is the same as that of Islam’s. This stance alone should be a reference to all our sons to show them how our leader speaks of and to women, and how he considers her a full and equal partner in the advancement of our country, because the “people” is, after all, us, men and women. We cannot help but feel proud that he speaks to us in this way, no matter what the outside world thinks of us. Anything other than that is not on his agenda, and things will only get better from now on. I have said it before, and I will say it again: women in our country are living their golden age under the rule of our father, King Abdullah. May God keep you our father, our brother, our leader and the rock that we all rely upon. Our hearts, just like our eyes, are eager for news about your wellbeing, and we all pray to God to return you to us safe and sound. We need you back, because you are our father and our entire world.