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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Saudi Vice member supports co-ed college; may lose job

In an interview with the Saudi Okaz news agency last week, the head of the Mecca division of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice spoke out on the topic of "ikhtilat," the mixing of the sexes, at a new Saudi science university called KAUST:

“The term ‘ikhtilat’ in this usage is a recent adoption that was unknown to the early people of knowledge,” Sheikh Ahmed Al-Ghamdi said in a lengthy interview with Okaz.

“Mixing was part of normal life for the Ummah and its societies.”

“The word in its contemporary meaning has entered customary jurisprudential terminology from outside,” Al-Ghamdi said.

“Those who prohibit the mixing of the genders actually live it in their real lives, which is an objectionable contradiction, as every fair-minded Muslim should follow Shariah judgments without excess or negligence,” Al-Ghamdi said.

“In many Muslim houses – even those of Muslims who say mixing is haram – you can find female servants working around unrelated males,” he said.

Sheikh Al-Ghamdi proceeded by citing numerous Ahadeeth – sayings of the Prophet – to support his position.

“Those who prohibit ikhtilat cling to weak Ahadeeth, while the correct Ahadeeth prove that mixing is permissible, contrary to what they claim,” Al-Ghamdi said.
On Kaust, Sheikh Al-Ghamdi described the university as an “extraordinary move and huge accomplishment to be added to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s record and the history of the Islamic Ummah”.

“It is a great step which the Ummah can look up to in recapturing its role in civilization and its scientific honor,” Al-Ghamdi said.

“It wouldn’t be too much to say that the scientific theories influencing nations have forgotten the creative role of the Islamic world for hundreds of years, leaving the Islamic world dependent on others, introverted, eaten away by difference and sectarian and ethnic disputes and self-interest, making in some parts the religion of Allah a pasture for discord, contention, and enmity in the course of turning in on itself and taking up fanaticism for unsubstantiated views to the point where differences have become part of a sorry program,” Al-Ghamdi said.

Sheikh Al-Ghamdi said the “blessed university” would help realize the “great hopes and ambitions of Muslims”.

“The university represents a natural extension of our Islamic civilization which led for a long time all the theoretical and corporeal sciences,” he added.
This breath of fresh air was met with great support by many Saudis and other Arabs:
Al-Arabiya noted that commentators responding to Al-Ghamdi’s views cited his words as “surprising” and “bringing light to the tunnel that has been darkness for years”, while some disapproval was “inevitably evident given that the sheikh was addressing subjects which until recently were taboo and which many were very hesitant to address”.

The network judged the overall response to be in support of Al-Ghamdi, saying he “showed the necessary daring” to broach the subject, “despite the fact that he is from the Hai’a, the body responsible for maintaining ikhtilat, and only until recently it no one would have been expected to discuss such sensitive and thorny topics the way Al-Ghamdi did”.

Some commentators were left somewhat confused by Sheikh Al-Ghamdi’s observations. “Why is it that the Hai’a is saying things that if they were put into effect would mean that its existence as a religious body would no longer be needed?” wondered Yahya Al-Maliki.
That is in fact the 64,000 riyal question, and it appears that Al-Ghamdi may have lost his job:
Sheikh Ahmad Al-Ghamdi, head of the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (the Hai’a) in Makkah, was rumored to have been dismissed Tuesday following his controversial interview, published by Saudi Gazette last Friday, in which he spoke frankly on the thorny topic of “ikhtilat” – the mixing of the sexes. The confusion was exacerbated when Abdulrahman Al-Juhani, head of the Hai’a in Taif, appeared in Al-Ghamdi’s office, apparently ready to take up the duties of his new promotion as head of the Commission in Makkah.