Q & A
Q. Why can’t a woman drive?
It is permitted for a woman to drive a car. There is no absolute prohibition upon her doing that. However, the jurists (fuqaha’) have delineated some provisos in view of this matter in order to emphasise that in general, women ought to remain in the house unless a need arises to leave it. For example:
1. She may drive if her husband does not (e.g. he has no license; is restricted by injury or mobility).
2. She may drive if it is an emergency, e.g. her mother or relative’s life depends on it.
3. She may drive if there is no other alternative, e.g. her house is far from the shops such that access is restricted and difficult for obtaining essential shopping items.
4. She may drive provided the correct Islamic dress code is observed, i.e. wearing the khimar (head scarf) and jilbab (drape covering the body).
Otherwise the verse in surat al-Ahzab:33 where Allah (SWT) says: (and remain in your houses and do not adorn yourselves like in the times of ignorance) is encouraged to be observed. Imam al-Qurtubi writes in his tafsir (commentary):
الثانية: معنى هذه الآية الأمر بلزوم البيت، وإن كان الخطاب لنساء النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم فقد دخل غيرهن فيه بالمعنى. هذا لو لم يرد دليل يخص جميع النساء؛ كيف والشريعة طافحة بلزوم النساء بيوتهن، والانكفاف عن الخروج منها إلا لضرورة؛ على ما تقدم في غير موضع.
“And the second [matter] is: the meaning of the command in this verse is that [women] ought to remain in their houses. Although the address is directed to the wives of the Prophet (SAW), others are included in the meaning. This despite there being no evidence to restrict it to all women in general. And why would not it be so as the Shari`ah is replete [with examples] encouraging women to remain in their houses and not to go out from them except if there is a need to do so…”
This is not in any way suggestive of theShari`ah considering women to be inferior to men. It is not the place here to give an account of the roles defined by our Law but anything from Allah (SWT) is just, fair and perfect and our uncomfortable prima facie responses ought to be suspended until a comprehensive analysis is undertaken.
And Allah alone knows best.
 See al-Jami` li-Ahkam al-Qur’an, vol.1, p.654.