Thursday 16 October 2008 (17 Shawwal 1429)

      Women's presence at Eid Al-Fitr festivities sparks heated debate
      Nuha Adlan | Arab News 
      RIYADH: Abdullah Al-Suwailim, a member of the Riyadh Municipal Council, 
resigned after what he described as violations of Islamic rules during this 
year's Eid Al-Fitr festivities in the city. 

      The festivities included myriad public, family-friendly events, including 
children's activities, plays, circuses and firework displays citywide. 
Al-Suwailim objected in the local press to the lack of segregation of single 
men from families, non-Muslims entertaining audiences and live music that was 
played in one of the theatrical productions. 

      For its part, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention 
of Vice more or less refrained from interfering, but what sparked the ire of 
conservatives was that the public events didn't have concrete barriers in place 
to separate families from single men. Instead, the seating was separated by 
about 30 meters of open space. 

      "The vice police are not authorized to cancel any activity, especially if 
it is approved by the municipality or the governor, but we intervene when a 
major rule is violated," said Ibrahim Al-Ghaith, head of the General Presidency 
of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which 
oversees all regional commission centers. "Our job was to monitor the festival 
and to make sure that families were safe. The committees preparing the 
activities sometimes cross the line, and this is when we intervene to set 
things right."

      He, however, added that isolated instances are not enough to warrant the 
cancellation of the whole festival. 

      Despite some complaints by the religious police and a fair number of 
conservative citizens who support them, government officials said that they 
have no plans to cancel future Eid festivals, a move that would run counter to 
the government's efforts to promote domestic tourism. 

      Mayor of Riyadh Prince Abdul Aziz bin Ayyaf said that the Ministry of 
Municipal and Rural Affairs would accept Al-Suwailim's resignation.

      "Meanwhile, he is obliged to be on duty and attend all council meetings 
until his resignation is approved by the minister," he said. "Women were 
included in our programs, and they will be included in future activities. We 
will not deny them the right of enjoying Eid festivities. Police and vice cops 
do participate in our activities. Their role is to monitor and make sure that 
everyone is safe, but no one is authorized to cancel a program." 

      The prince pointed out that the festival included many women-only 
activities, and the entire Eid program had the full backing of Riyadh Gov. 
Prince Salman, who is also in charge of the city's Supreme Commission for 

      Islamic scholars argue that, unlike Ramadan, which is a month of 
introspection, worship and religious obligation, the whole point of Eid is to 
be able to relax afterward with the family. 

      "Nothing in the content of (Riyadh's) Eid program is against Islamic 
teachings," said Ibrahim Al-Khudairi, a judge in the Court of Appeals. "If we 
canceled the Eid activities, we would push people outside the country. Families 
should enjoy their time and go out with the feeling that it is a special 
occasion. Eid means joy and no one has any right to steal the joy from the 

      Arab News contacted Al-Suwailim to get his point of view on the record, 
but he said he was busy. He did not answer the phone in further attempts to 
contact him

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