I never set out to be an activist. I was a religious girl, born and raised in Mecca. I started covering myself with abayas and niqabs before it was even required, simply because I wanted to emulate and please my religious teachers. And I believed in a highly fundamentalist version of Islam. For years, I melted my brother’s pop music cassette tapes in the oven because in fundamentalist Islam such music is considered haram, forbidden.
The only somewhat rebellious thing I did at a young age was to get a job as an information security specialist. I got married at age 24, had a son, and then got divorced. But once I turned 30, I started to do daring things on my birthdays. On my 30th birthday, I went skydiving in the U.S. The next year, I bought a ticket to Puerto Rico and spent time traveling alone. And back in Saudi Arabia in 2011, when I turned 32, I decided that I would start driving.
I went to meet my brother at his house. He handed me the keys to his car, a Hyundai Azera sedan, and told me, “I will be with you until the end.” He, my sister-in-law, their baby, and my five-year-old son Aboudi got in the car. I got in as well, but unlike every other time that we had ridden together like this, I was behind the wheel. I was excited but terrified. I hoped having my family with me would offer some protection if I was harassed. As I drove, I asked my sister-in-law to take out her cell phone and make a video. I was already thinking about how I could post it on YouTube.