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A liberal mother of six jailed for challenging Saudi taboos
JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — When Souad al-Shammary posted a series of tweets about the thick beards worn by Saudi clerics, she never imagined she would land in jail.
The frank comments are typical of this twice-divorced mother of six and graduate of Islamic law, who is in many ways a walking challenge to taboos in deeply conservative Saudi Arabia. Raised a devout girl in a large tribe where she tended sheep, al-Shammary is now a 42-year-old liberal feminist who roots her arguments in Islam, taking on Saudi Arabia's powerful religious establishment.
She has paid a price for her opinions. She spent three months in prison without charge for "agitating public opinion." She has been barred by the government from traveling abroad. Her co-founder of the online forum Free Saudi Liberals Network, blogger Raif Badawi, is serving a 10-year prison sentence and was publicly lashed 50 times. Her father disowned her in public.
None of it was enough to keep her quiet.
"I have rights that I don't view as against my religion," says al-Shammary. "I want to ask for these rights, and I want those who make decisions to hear me and act."
Across the Arab world, female Islamic scholars and activists have long been pushing for interpretations of Shariah law that allow women more freedom. They hold that Islam considers men and women as equals before God, but centuries of selective interpretation have twisted its spirit.
"Discrimination came from a reading of the religion, not the religion itself," says Olfa Youssef, a professor of Islamic studies in Tunisia and member of the Musawah global movement of Muslim feminists.
"Discrimination came from a reading of the religion, not the religion itself,"