Saudi women drive visitors around the Two Holy Mosques for the first time
In a service newly launched by the transport department for The Great Mosque of Makkah, also known as Al-Haram mosque, Saudi women were spotted, for the first time, driving around their fellow female pilgrims and visitors in electric vehicles.
This is a first-time service provided by the department, covering 120 trips per day. On-site trips by female drivers are split across three shifts, each of which for eight hours.
This marks the first time women participate in electric transport services for Makkah’s Two Holy Mosques. But over the years, they have played a central and sizeable role in The Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques, the entity tasked with the management and supervision of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet's Mosque in Makkah.
Under this presidency, the General Women’s Authority, headed by the Chief Advisor to the President for Women's Affairs, Dr. Fatima Bint Zaid Al-Rashoud, comprises a spate of committees and sub-departments that are run by women and for women at The Two Holy Mosques. They include departments for guidance and counseling, on-site, prayer organization, library and education, transport and fleet management, feedback and relationship management services.
The authority’s focal remit is on services and on-site organization, such as guidance and counseling for female pilgrims and visitors on Sharia-compliant prayer, and the prevention from violations to the mosques’ religious and logistical rules and regulations. As such, the authority is tasked with organizing female visitors’ entry to women-only areas, as well as guarding and providing fully fledged services to these areas.
Last March, the authority’s guidance and counseling department at the Al-Haram Mosque opened doors and on-site vacancies for women during the Holy Month of Ramadan. As stated by Dr. Al-Rashoud, applicants to these vacancies are required to hold the Saudi nationality, must be aged between 22 and 45 years old, and must have completed high school education. They must also comply with the compulsory veil code. Upon being accepted, applicants must then undergo a training program before they officially take on their duties at the Al-Haram Mosque.
The General Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques has invested both logistics and staffers into ensuring that female visitors are provided with the guidance, comfort and information they need for their spiritual and pilgrimage experience. One example has been the allocation of timings reserved for women to access congested areas around the Two Holy Mosques, tracks and paths that facilitate their entry to and exit from the mosques’ premises, and private prayer rooms separated from fellow male visitors.
Recently, the presidency also set up screens and signs across the premises of the Two holy Mosques to guide female visitors. Female college students working on-site are also in charge of supervising these visits, and of assisting visitors and pilgrims, particularly those with special needs. Other female staffers are also tasked with crowd monitoring, and with the submission of daily reports to improve the overall experience of visitors.
Dr. Fatima bint Zaid Al-Rashoud is among the first women to take on a leadership role at the Two Holy Mosques. She was the first Saudi woman to teach at the Al-Haram Mosque in 2002. She would teach for over a decade at the mosque, opening the gateways for other female academics.
Al-Rashoud has since climbed up the ranks, all the way to her current role as the Chief Advisor to the President for Women's Affairs – in addition to supervising the Women’s Department at the Makkah Al Mukarramah Library. A few months ago, she was selected to head the General Women’s Authority, which comprises a spate of committees and sub-departments that are run by women and for women at the Two Holy Mosques.