First Published: 2010-04-26

 
Unclear fate of Saudi religious cop shows tensions
 

Liberal Saudi Sheikh insists Islamic law does not ban gender mixing or private prayers.

 

Middle East Online

Ghamdi: 'There is nothing in Islamic law about mixing'

RIYADH - The fate of a senior member of Saudi Arabia's religious police who outraged conservatives by backing gender mixing and private prayers was unclear Sunday after an order sacking him was apparently rescinded.

Confusion over the status of Sheikh Ahmed al-Ghamdi, the general manager of the religious police's Mecca branch, seemed to expose high-level tensions between conservatives and rising progressives pressing for the lifting of many of the rules which dominate Saudi life.

Hours after the Commssion for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice posted an announcement Sunday from its president, Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Humain, saying that Ghamdi had been replaced, the statement was removed from its website and the state news agency SPA declared the news "cancelled."

Saudi journalists said they were told simply not to report the original announcement, but were not clear whether Ghamdi would hold onto his position.

"Please cancel it and not use it," SPA said about the original statement announcing Ghamdi's replacement, along with three other senior members of the religious police, also known as muttawa.

For weeks rumours have spread of Ghamdi's possible removal from his position in Islam's holiest city, after he gave interviews saying there was nothing wrong under Islamic dogma with mixing of unrelated men and women, and that Muslims were not absolutely bound to take their prayers with groups in mosques.

On Wednesday he made multiple denials after a news report said he had been fired by Humain for making statements advocating free mixing of unrelated men and women.

Humain did not give any reason for Sunday's announcement of his replacement.

But it came after Ghamdi was reportedly dressed down on Thursday by the country's highest cleric.

Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh told Ghamdi he was getting involved in matters of law that were outside his authority, the Al-Madinah newspaper reported on Friday.

Ghamdi has argued that Islamic scripture does not support the strict segregation enforced by Saudi Arabia's ultra-strict Wahhabi school.

"There is nothing in Islamic law about mixing," he said in interviews with Saudi newspapers.

Behind Ghamdi's case is an increasingly public battle over loosening the ultra-conservative rules governing the kingdom, including tight restrictions on women in public life and the world's only ban on women driving.

Saudi progressives, including much of the mainstream media, have been increasingly vocal and direct in criticising the religious police, and have made Ghamdi a public figure in reporting his bold statements.

In December Ghamid endorsed a new research university near Jeddah, where an international group of men and women scientists freely mix in their work.

The idea of the new university's free environment seemed to place him on the side of Saudi King Abdullah, for whom the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology is named.

Just two months earlier Abdullah had sacked cleric Sa'ad al-Shethry from the powerful Council of Senior Ulema after he criticised mixing of the sexes at the new institute.

Since then, conservatives have continued to blast Ghamdi's views.

 

UN chief 'deeply alarmed' by Eastern Ghouta violence

US declares readiness to talk Mideast peace

IS kills 25 Iraqi militiamen near Kirkuk

Sudan frees dozens of activists detained after protests

Saudi Arabia to host first Arab Fashion Week

Blockaded Gaza Strip forced to pump sewage into sea

African migrants start hunger strike over Israel expulsion

Three militiamen killed in Libya car bomb attack

Russia denies Ďgroundlessí accusations of role in Ghouta killings

Turkey says whoever helps YPG is 'legitimate target'

Morocco dismantles IS-linked terrorist cell

Turkey urged to end gas standoff with Cyprus

PKK attack near Iraq kills 2 Turkish soldiers

Netanyahu confidant to testify against him

Iran emergency teams recover bodies from plane crash site

Ten dead in more Syrian regime strikes on East Ghouta

Bahrain activist sentenced to 5 years for Yemen tweets

Lebanese president makes landmark visit to Iraq

Bloodbath in Syria's eastern Ghouta

Abbas calls for peace conference in rare UN speech

Egyptian court adds leading government critic on terror list

Yemen government offensive threatens heritage site

Turkey considering chemical castration for child abusers

45 civilians killed in air strikes on rebel enclave

Cairo sheds Ottoman-era street names amid Egypt-Turkey crisis

New woes for Israeli PM in fresh graft cases

Maghreb countries wary about jihadists relocating from Iraq, Syria

Erdogan says Turkey will besiege Afrin "swiftly"

Turkey releases leading pro-Kurdish politician

5 Iranian police killed in Sufi protests

Iran finds wreckage of crashed plane on top of mountain

Israelís gas contract with Egypt: deal or no deal?

Somalia appoints new police, intelligence chiefs

Iran plane crash rescue search halted for second night

France reaffirms commitment to Iran nuclear deal

Turkey warns Syria against protecting Kurds

Abbas warms up to Moscow amid cold US-Palestinian ties

Israel strikes 'historic' gas contract with Egypt

Are Iranian satellite channels aiding regime change?

Israel pounds Gaza with air strikes after rocket attack

Iraq orders deportation of French jihadist

Pro-Assad militias to enter Syria's Afrin

Two hardline Syria rebels announce merger

Three Egyptian soldiers killed in Sinai

Israeli, US officials meet over gas row with Lebanon