Muslim female pilot creates major ”turbulence”

Published July 4th, 2005 - 12:53 GMT

Turbulence is air movement that normally cannot be seen. It may occur when the sky appears to be clear and can happen unexpectedly. It can be created by any number of different conditions, including atmospheric pressures, jet streams, mountain waves, cold or warm fronts, or thunderstorms.


A young and ambitious Saudi female pilot has stirred some major turmoil in the oil-rich kingdom…


In Muslim societies, in which cultural, ethical and religious issues are highly valued, it is vital to take into account various sensitivities when it comes to dealing with the challenges of encompassing women in predominately male roles.


At the onset of the 21st century, traditional societies have been coping with more and more new and “explosive” issues – that, in the past, seemed quite foreign and distant. Among the matters focused on is the issue of the participation of females in numerous high-profile jobs including military roles, complex civil jobs etc.


In Saudi Arabia, the first Saudi female to receive a commercial pilot’s license has stirred some heated controversy.


An associate professor of Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University in the Saudi capital of Riyadh has objected to the hiring of a Muslim woman as a pilot.


In a statement issued in response to an advertisement by Prince Alwaleed ibn Talal, chairman of Kingdom Holding Co., congratulating Capt. Hanadi Zakariya Hindi for becoming the first Saudi woman to get a commercial pilot’s license, Sheikh Yousuf Al-Ahmad said the appointment was “un-Islamic”.


It should be noted that the status of women in society is neither a new issue nor is it a fully settled one, especially in modern times. Regarding woman's right to seek employment, it should be stated that Islam regards her role in society as a mother and a wife as the most sacred one.


However, there is no decree in Islam which forbids a woman from seeking employment whenever there is a need for it, particularly in posts which suit her nature and in which society needs her most. Examples of such professions are basically nursing, teaching and medicine. Furthermore, there is no restriction on benefiting from woman's exceptional talent in any sector.


Back to Al-Ahmad, who teaches Shariah law at the university - - according to him, Hindi’s job would require her to travel without a male guardian and would therefore lead to her mixing with men.


Prince Alwaleed, who has employed Capt. Hindi to work for his company’s fleet of private jets, recently purchased advertising space paying tributes to the first Saudi woman pilot in various local newspapers. The advertisements have prompted a negative response from the circles of religious conservatives.


In his statement, Al-Ahmad said the contract given to Capt. Hindi was unlawful as women should never be allowed to work as either pilots or airhostesses. For this reason, he said, even the ads were unlawful.


Capt. Hindi, 24, obtained her commercial pilot’s license earlier this year. Her success led to a ten-year contract with the Kingdom Holding Company.


It is interesting to see how yet another Muslim society has been dealing with such thorny issues. Until recently, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) academy has been all-male for over 55 years! However, currently it is going through some major and perhaps, dramatic, changes.


Women are now allowed to enroll on its aerospace engineering and fighter pilot programs. To the astonishment of many men, some of the female recruits will soon start flying jet-engine planes.


There are 10 women in two batches in the flying wing of the academy. Many more are competing with men in the engineering and aerospace wing. Until recently, most women in Pakistan would more likely have dreamed of marrying a fighter pilot than being encouraged to become one. However, this was not true for Saba Khan, one of four female cadets to make it through the first stages of training.


"I always wanted to be a fighter pilot, and eventually with Allah's wish and the full support of my parents, I made it this far," she said.


Saba believes the first batch of women could provide much-needed inspiration and hope for many other girls, who may eventually follow suit.


As the old saying goes - The sky’s the limit…


Or is it?

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