Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 September 2019

Saudi preacher says ‘phobia of women’ must end

The former Imam of Makkah said practices have become more conservative over time and must be scaled back

Muslims pray at the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. Reuters
Muslims pray at the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. Reuters

The former Imam of Makkah Great Mosque has called for a change in attitude towards sex segregation in Saudi Arabia during a televised broadcast, saying it has now become a “phobia or fear of women”.

Adel Al Kalbani formerly held one of the most senior religious positions in the country but was also known for hard-line statements and espousing a strict interpretation of Islam. He is now among a group of reformed imams looking to promote a more moderate school of Islamic thought in Saudi Arabia. During a broadcast on Saudi television, he said that Saudi society has a heightened sensitivity when it came to separating women from men.

He said that modern interpretations of segregation were more conservative than those during the times of the Prophet. Mr Al Kalbani added that in the early days of Islam, men and women prayed in the same room. In most mosques today, women have a separate prayer space.

“Unfortunately, today, we have such a high amount of paranoia. Even in a mosque, the place of worship, we segregate them, we do not see them, they do not see us, they only hear us through microphones,” he said in comments critical of the heightened religious sensitivity.

He added that nowhere in the Sunna, or the way of the Prophet Mohammed, did he say there should be a barrier between men and women praying in a mosque – countering decades of Islamic thought that believed it to be necessary.

In Saudi Arabia, the separation of sexes crosses almost all aspects of public life, not just places of worship.

For years, women have been required to use male chaperones outside the home, wear niqabs or full-face veils in public and until last year were not allowed to drive.

Mr Al Kalbani said that Saudi society is changing, for the better in his opinion, to be more inclusive of Saudi women in society.

He also said that a taboo about calling women by their first name was unfounded. In parts of Saudi Arabia, as in a number of Arab states, there is a belief among some people that females’ names should only be known to their relatives.

“Our women and daughters are not better than Aisha bint Abu Bakr, or Hafsa bint Omar or Zaineb bint Jahsh,” he said referring to the wives of the Prophet Mohammed. “All the Muslim women’s names are known and their fathers’ names are known and they made great contributions to their names, and it was no dishonour that people knew their names.”

He said that modern Saudi society still struggles with a “fear and phobia” of women.

Updated: May 29, 2019 02:39 PM

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