Tags: Saudi | clerics | gender | mixing

Saudi Clerics Feud Over Gender Mixing

Tuesday, 04 May 2010 09:32 PM

RIYADH - Conservative Muslim Saudi Arabia's battle over men and women freely mixing mounted on Tuesday 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 fraternisation 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 be killed.

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," which 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 controlling women.

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.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

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RIYADH - Conservative Muslim Saudi Arabia's battle over men and women freely mixing mounted on Tuesday as a powerful Islamic judge rebuked a hardline cleric over his attacks on anti-segregationist reformers.
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2010-32-04
 
 

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