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Book Review – Daring to Drive by Manal Al Sharif

Picture Credit : KGNU News
Picture Credit : KGNU News

The title of the book is apt in the first place. Daring to Drive by Manal AL Sharif is a gripping and riveting account of a young Saudi woman who with her sheer courage and will . She stood up like a rock in  a Kingdom of men for her right and in the end was rewarded. But not after going through epic turmoil.

It is a visceral coming of age tale. Best known for her campaign work for women’s rights, including the famous Women2Drive campaign, this is Manal Sharif’s fiercely intimate memoir in her own words about the making of an accidental activist. The activist took shape or the beginnings happened with life changing anecdotes.

Born in Mecca in 1979 , the year in which strict fundamentalism took hold in Saudi Arabia, Manal was in her childhood raised to be religiously conservative. As a young girl she would burn her brother’s boy band CD’s in the oven because music was seen as a haram: forbidden by Islamic Law.

But as she grew older and more mature in the years ahead, the differences in the way she and the men in her life were treated became too much to bear.Her personal rebellion began the day she got behind the wheel of a car: an act that ultimately led her to her arrest and imprisonment. And humiliation too.

She recalls when she was first called by the police who came to her house at around 2 am. She says : “ In the shadowy darkness, all we could see were men, crowding around my front stoop, pressing forward. They had no uniforms nothing to identify them. When my brother asked them who they were, there was silence. Finally one of them spoke. “ Is this Manal al- Sharif’s house?. My brother didn’t hesitate. “Yes”, he answered, his voice firm. “ She needs to come with us right now. They want to see her at the Dhahran police station.” My brother did not have to ask why. That previous afternoon, I had been pulled over by the traffic police for the crime of driving my brother’s car. The specific citation was driving while female. after the initial police questioning and getting back to home one thought her ordeal was over. Little did she realise that this was just the begging of a long haul ahead . A trial by fire, that would test her emotionally and battle hard to get her rights.

She recalls her interrogation by a police man in these lines: “ So you’re the infamous Manal- Al – Sharif?” he said , eyeing me from behind his desk. Aren’t you ashamed of what you did”? “ Is driving a car something shameful? “ I answered back. Little later she had had to face several abuses from the officer who termed her act against the religion and the country and law of the land. Manal’s plea went unheard and she was eventually sent off to jail. Her detention soon spread all around like wildfire thanks to internet : facebook and Twitter. The news papapers, the television followed suit. By the time she fell asleep Saudi Arabia knew that Manal Al Sharif, the woman who dared to drive car defying the traditions was in jail.

This movement was her fight for equality in an unequal society. It is also a celebration of resilience, the power of education and the strength of female solidarity in the face of hardship. She comes out as winner in the end and emerges as an inspiration for many women in her country.

Daring to Drive
Manal – Al Sharif
Simon and Shuster
Pages 285
Rs 599

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