Saudi cleric caused a stir and received death threats after posting comments about women’s veils on Twitter.
Muslim scholar Ahmad Aziz Al Ghamdi was recently asked by a woman if she had to wear the traditional face veil when sharing a picture of herself on social media. Being the former head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice and coming from a conservative background, it was expected that Al Ghamdi would uphold the ultraconservative view that women must be completely covered in public at all times as is the custom for women in Saudi Arabia. However, his Twitter response created a flurry of controversy.
Al Ghamdi told the woman that he did not think that the full face veil, known as the niqab in Saudi Arabia, was required. His comments were immediately followed by strong reactions ranging from a show of support to angry death threats.
When the controversy erupted, many people asked him if this applied to his own wife. In response, he appeared with his wife on Badria, a popular talk show seen across Saudi Arabia. Not only did she appear on the show without the face veil (although still fully covered from head to toe otherwise) but, she was also wearing make up and sported painted nails. This is also strictly prohibited by Saudi Arabia’s ultraconservative branch of the Muslim religion known as Wahabbism, which controls the nation and forces extremely restrictive laws upon women in Saudi Arabia who are required to have a male guardian and are forbidden to drive. Saudi Arabia also strictly enforces Sharia law and performs execution by beheading. Strict gender segregation is also strictly enforced in Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to attend the same schools as men and are required to have separate hospitals, restaurants, and other facilities.
Conservatives were outraged by the appearance on Badria, but Al Ghamdi is receiving support from those who have been favoring comparatively more liberal rules like those of other Muslim nations, which are still restrictive of women but not quite to the extent that it is in Saudi Arabia.
The top Muslim clerics in Saudi Arabia responded with a stern reprimand for Al Ghamdi. Sheikh Abdul Al Aziz Al Shaikh, the grand mufti in Saudi Arabia, is calling for him to repent, and has held his position that, regardless of what Al Ghamdi says, women must wear the niqab in public at all times.
Saudi’s restrictive laws against women has recently gained international attention after two women were arrested for driving in Saudi Arabia. Officials chose to extend their detention time to send a strong message to other women who would think of violating the ban against female drivers. Many Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia fear that respected figures, such as Al Ghamdi, who do not follow the traditional conservative ways of the nation will only serve to spark further rebellion in Saudi Arabia.
In retaliation for telling women not to cover their faces, Al Ghamdi has received several death threats, and a number of people in Saudi Arabia are bringing a lawsuit against Al Ghamdi to keep him from speaking on religious matters again. Additionally, they want to bar him from making any more media appearances, saying that he is threatening the social stability in Saudi Arabia and encouraging women to break Sharia law.
[Image: New Humanist]