Saudi Arabia has made huge strides when it comes to promoting women's rights, but some individuals - mostly men - seem determined to stand in the way of progress. In one instance, a preacher verbally and physically harassed a female pedestrian because he disapproved of her dress code.
In a video that was widely circulated among social media users earlier this week, a Muslim preacher could be seen tossing his shoe at a woman on a Saudi street. Why? Simply because she does not wear a face veil.
The video shared online captures the man in question standing on a sidewalk and preaching about his take on women's dress code in Islam - with no audience in sight. "If a woman reveals her face and allows men to smell her perfume, she is an adulteress," he spoke at the top of his lungs.
"Such is the case of this woman," he said, pointing at a female passerby who wore the Islamic hijab and traditional abaya (full-length garment). He went on to take his shoe off and toss it towards the woman. The victim can be heard screaming in shock, after which the video cuts off.
While most Islamic schools agree that covering a woman's hair and body is considered a religious duty, covering her face is not obligatory. Women in Saudi Arabia are required to "dress modestly," as authorities enforce a strict dress code obliging them to wear abayas in public.
The incident drew quite the outrage online, prompting authorities to take action. RT reported that security personnel in the Yanbu governorate have arrested the preacher in question and launched legal proceedings against him. According to local media, sources say the preacher suffers from a "mental illness" and has been responsible for simple assaults on previous occasions.
Sexism prevails in Saudi society despite modernization efforts
While Saudi Arabia has attempted to loosen its restrictions against women, there is a long way to go for the latter to fully attain equality with their male counterparts. A patriarchal rhetoric continues to plague the Saudi society, and men continue to feel entitled to police women's bodies and judge their actions.
Opposers of Saudi Arabia's modernization plan have continuously expressed their disapproval of the kingdom's efforts, whether by merely voicing their opinions or by taking violent measures. For example, following the historic royal decree that lifted the ban on female drivers in the kingdom as of June 2018, some men who oppose the decision have threatened and harassed female drivers in the kingdom on several occasions.
As is the case with the man in the video above, Muslim preachers have played a significant role in asserting sexist views in the kingdom. In this regard, some preachers exploit their religious background to further their patriarchal and oppressive tendencies. For example, during Eid Al-Adha 2019, women in Saudi Arabia called out the widespread Eid sermons that saw sheikhs promote gender discrimination, assert outdated gender norms, and directly or indirectly incite violence against women.