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
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