Clerics square off over gender mixing
Published Date: May 06, 2010
RIYADH: Conservative Muslim Saudi Arabia's battle over men and women freely
mixing rages as a powerful Islamic judge rebuked a hardline cleric over his
attacks on anti-segregationist reformers. In a column published on a website
for judges, Riyadh criminal court judge Sheikh Issa Al-Ghaith lashed out at
cleric Abdul Rahman Al-Barrak for his sweeping condemnation of anyone
advocating lifting the country's draconian Islamic laws against fraternization
between unrelated men and women.
What does it mean to issue fatwas (Islamic edicts) that are difficult to
implement and statements which make people go away?" Ghaith said. "Anyone who
disagrees is accused of hypocrisy and branded a hypocrite," he said of
conservatives' views. While Ghaith did not mention him by name, it was clear he
was speaking about Barrak, one of the country's leading conservative scholars,
who in February labelled opponents of gender segregation as infidels who should
On Monday, Ghaith expressed similar sentiments in a direct response to a letter
Barrak wrote last week that mixing constituted rebelling against god. The
letter was addressed to Ghaith, Justice Minister Mohammed al-Issa and the head
of the Mecca religious police, Sheikh Ahmed al-Ghamdi, whose open pro-mixing
stance got him fired and then mysteriously reinstated in late April. Barrak
called for the three to "Fear God! Do not be keys to evil." He said they should
resist the "so-called liberation of women," w
hich he likened to colonialism.
In other countries, he said, "This rebelling against God's rules leads to
widespread mixing between men and women, the worst of which is seen in
education and places of work. It is also manifested in the opening of cinemas,
and dancing and singing halls." The exchange reflected rising tensions between
religious conservatives, who dominate justice and education in the oil-rich
kingdom, and increasingly vocal reformers who want to end the ultra-strict laws
Under Saudi Arabia's harsh Wahhabi version of Islam, women are not allowed to
go out without guardians; unrelated men and women cannot go to restaurants
together; they are separated in offices; and women are not permitted to drive.
But the debate was ignited last year when King Abdullah inaugurated a new
international science university near the Red Sea commercial city of Jeddah
where men and women students and faculty freely work together.
The debate was spiced up on Friday when numerous newspapers published a
photograph of the king surrounded by three dozen women at a conference held
several weeks earlier. Ghaith said on Monday that Barrak was "raising discord"
and "inciting brother against brother," invoking the king in his argument. "We
are an Islamic state and Islamic law is applied to all walks of life. Our ruler
King Abdullah has done his duty well. So we are required to listen and obey,"
Ghaith said. _ AFP
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