The Muslim Bike Conundrum


So of course, as a Western woman who regularly rides a motorbike in AFghanistan, just purchased her own in Kabul, and has started riding her mountain bike in the mountains of Panjshir – the question comes up… can muslim women ride a bike?   I am a Western woman – obviously so, tall with blond hair and an athletic stride.  Afghan men will be surprised, even shocked to see me on two wheels with or without an engine, but many will accept it as a crazy Western thing.

As a good friend in Kabul put it when I first asked the serious question of “What is the worst that could happen?”, he replied, “You have to understand, its just that it simply isn’t done.  You will blow their minds. But many will tolerate it, you are Western.”  When I asked if I was an Afghan woman would it be tolerated?  “Nope.”

That said, I still try to avoid attention.  When I ride, I wear a men’s kaffiyeh scarf around my head like a turban or a full face helmet with my hair tucked into a hoodie.  I wear baggie clothes, gloves, and a big men’s jacket.  Just because many will tolerate it doesn’t mean everyone will.   And its interesting that while a Western woman would be tolerated in many cases, an Afghan woman would not.  A woman is a woman though, right?

I have yet to see an Afghan woman drive a motorcycle or ride a bicycle herself.   The few Afghan women I’ve seen riding as a passenger  sit side saddle.  I can barely hang on behind sitting astride the bike, not sure what these Afghan women do, superglue or velcro their backsides to seat?!

So where does it say that muslim women can’t ride bikes?  and why?

I found a website that acts as an online Q & A for Muslim/Islamic questions.

One woman posts:  “Can a Muslim woman ride a bicycle?   I have read many fatwa’s on the subject.. Some say “yes” and others say “no”. The main reason for saying no is because the wind may cause her clothes to form her shape.. But if that is the case then shouldn’t it also be forbidden for women to leave the house on a windy day?  I mean my husband has taken me out to dinner and to the park on windy days.. whats the difference?   So anyhow Can a muslim woman ride a bicycle or a horse as long as she is covered and nothing is showing.. Of course I wear pants underneath my abaya.. so no worries about anything showing.”

One man replies: “Something I got from a scholar.”   [“As regards riding bikes by women we’d like to state that riding bikes, cars and other means of transportation is in itself permissible. In the pre-Islamic era Arab women used to ride camels. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “The best women who rode camels are the women of Quraysh. They are the best to show affection towards children and to care for their husbands’ wealth.”]

Another man replies:  “Even Prophet has running race with Ayesha r.a  i don’ think there is any reason to stop you from riding if you can safe your self well,  there is no verse in quran or hadith to stop you.  many of woman do ride horses and camel..and Prophet never forbad them…so according to me..there is no harm…if you keep your self well hide unger gaurments.”

Not all of the replies were positive of course, but when negative responses about fatwas and being a bad muslim woman were posted, several men hit back with postings like these two:

“what kind of fatwas were they? I mean come on, riding a bicycle has NOTHING to do with Islam and DOES NOT interfere with our religion whatsoever. Were bicycles invented when Islam started in the first place? I don’t think so.  I’m an Arab guy, was born and brought up in the Middle East, I have read the entire Qur’an six times and have never ever heard that riding bicycles is haram for girls!!! Some parents are just worried that girls might lose their virginity on whilst cycling, that’s all.”

“Of course you can!   Otherwise you can never walk even on street when there even a little hard blowing wind.  Those scholars simply keep issuing useless fatwas. Just dress modestly. Thats it.”

So its interesting that the modern discussion allows for the discourse on women riding bikes, but still no one does it.



3 thoughts on “The Muslim Bike Conundrum

  1. Hi!
    I think the only reason women in middle-eastern countries don’t ride is because it’s not in the culture, nothing against it really. I mean if you could take a taxi, why would you sweat under the sun to go somewhere? My dad used to do bicycle races in Syria 30 years ago. When he’ll drive from city to city to practice, his friends will call him crazy, and he was a man! So its really just culture. He raised me, his daughter, in a very conservative way, but I don’t think I spent a nice day in my life not riding my bike!

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