When clerics, ministers and businessmen gathered at a forum in Riyadh in April to discuss women in the workplace, there were no women in sight.
Typically for Saudi Arabia, the women who took part were seated in a separate room so the men could only hear them.
Such things are part and parcel of the complex system of social control maintained by clerics of Saudi Arabia's austere version of Sunni Islamic law, often termed Wahhabism. It is a system called into question by scholar Hatoon al-Fassi.
In her study, Women In Pre-Islamic Arabia, the outspoken rights advocate argues women in the pre-Islamic period enjoyed considerable rights in the Nabataean state, an urban Arabian kingdom centred in modern Jordan, south Syria and north-west Saudi Arabia during the Roman empire.
The main schools of sharia were codified in the 9th century AD in territories where a ruling Arab elite mixed with non-Arab and non-Muslim populations in the aftermath of the Arab conquests and the rise of Islam in the 7th century AD.
The main body of the law is derived mainly from oral traditions attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, and viewed by Islamic scholars as divine in origin. Scholars in the West have seen, in effect, a mix of Arabian, Jewish and Roman origins.
"The argument about Greco-Roman law having influenced the sharia rules about women could have some basis if one thinks in terms of Middle Eastern adaptations, 'provincial versions' of Greco-Roman law," said Gerald Hawting, a historian of early Islam at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Fassi, he said, "is not likely to win many friends among the traditional ulama (scholars) by arguing that important elements of the sharia originate from human history and not from God".
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