Religious edicts spark heated debate in Saudi
      Publish Date: Wednesday,30 June, 2010, at 11:30 PM Doha Time 


      The head of Makkah's religious police, Ahmed al-Ghamdi, shocked many by 
endorsing mixing by men and women 
One cleric's endorsement of breastfeeding for grown men and another's saying 
music is not un-Islamic have sparked a controversy in Saudi Arabia over who can 
issue fatwas, or Islamic religious edicts. 

Conservative and progressive religious scholars, judges and clerics have taken 
the fight public in what some describe as outright "chaos" over the setting of 
rules that govern much of life in the kingdom. 

Much of the debate in the past week has focused on a fatwa endorsing music 
issued by Adel al-Kalbani, a Riyadh cleric famed as the first black imam at the 
Grand Mosque in Makkah. 

Kalbani, popular for his soulful baritone delivery of Qur'anic readings, said 
he found nothing in Islamic scripture that makes music haram, or forbidden. 

But, aside from some folk music, public music performance is banned in Saudi 
Arabia, and conservatives say it is haram even in the home. "There is no clear 
text or ruling in Islam that singing and music are haram," Kalbani said. Also 
in recent weeks, a much more senior cleric, Sheikh Abdul Mohsen al-Obeikan, 
raised hackles with two of his opinions, both of which could be considered 
First, he endorsed the idea that a grown man could be considered as a son of a 
woman if she breastfeeds him. 

The issue, based on an ancient story from Islamic texts and source of a furore 
last year in Egypt, is seen by some as a way of getting around the Saudi 
religious ban on mixing by unrelated men and women. It brought ridicule and 
condemnation from women activists and Saudi critics around the world. 
But Obeikan, a top adviser in the court of King Abdullah, also angered 
conservatives when he said the midday and mid-afternoon prayer sessions could 
be combined to help worshippers skirt the intense heat of summer. 

While the choice is allowed for individuals in certain circumstances, 
conservatives say such a broad ruling for everyone is wrong. 

The comments by Obeikan and Kalbani brought rebukes from top-level clerics 
seeking to get control of a debate that has erupted into freewheeling public 
discussions in the media and on the Internet. 
In his Friday sermon at Makkah's Grand Mosque, the influential Sheikh Abdul 
Rahman al-Sudais lashed out at what he labelled "fraudulent" fatwas, likening 
their originators to market vendors selling fake or spoiled goods. 

The effect, he said, goes so far as to undermine the country's security. 
Meanwhile, the country's grand mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, warned of a 
"Those who offer abnormal fatwas which have no support from the Qur'an should 
be halted," he said on Al Majd television on Sunday. "If a person comes out 
(with fatwas) and he is not qualified, we will stop him," he said, comparing 
such a person to a quack doctor allowed to treat patients. 
The government is moving to build a consistency in the Shariah law-based legal 
system, where judges are all clerics for whom fatwas play a crucial role. 

The government wants only one body, controlled by the powerful Council of High 
Ulema, to issue fatwas, which other clerics must accept. Some people want 
fatwas more attuned to modern life. 
"The people are governed by old ideas," historian and columnist Mohamed 
al-Zulfa said. 
"People are forming a new mentality. (Many) have been waiting for such fatwas 
for a long time," he said about Kalbani. "We are part of the world. We have to 
develop the legal system to meet the needs of the modern time," he added. 

Earlier this year there was an embarrassing fight over the head of Makkah's 
religious police, Ahmed al-Ghamdi, who shocked many by endorsing mixing by men 
and women. He was fired, and then reinstated, in a behind-the-scenes skirmish. 

Hamad al-Qadi, a member of the Saudi Shura Council, called the fatwa fight this 
week "chaos". "The Islamic world follows whatever comes out of our country and 
its scholars concerning Islam," he said, according to Al Hayat newspaper.  For 
his part, Kalbani said he was open to discussion on the issue. "The problem is 
that there are some who do not accept debate at all," he said. 

He clarified that he was not endorsing all music, using two often risque 
Lebanese pop singers as examples. "I am talking about decent singing, which 
contains decent words, and supports morality," he told the online newspaper "I am definitely not talking about the songs of Nancy Ajram or Haifa 
Wehbe or other indecent songs." alamHowever, "if Nancy Ajram sang a song with a 
positive message, then she would be within my fatwa."

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