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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Saudi cleric advocates appointing female Islamic scholars

Sheikh Abduallah Al Mutlaq says women will be able to "seek advice in a comfortable manner"

Women walk past a poster of Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud during Janadriyah Cultural Festival on the outskirts of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia February 12, 2018. Faisal Al Nasser / Reuters
Women walk past a poster of Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud during Janadriyah Cultural Festival on the outskirts of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia February 12, 2018. Faisal Al Nasser / Reuters

A top Saudi cleric has called for females to be allowed to become Islamic scholars as the Kingdom embraces major social reforms for women's freedom, a move pushed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Sheikh Abduallah Al Mutlaq, a member of Saudi’s Arabia’s Council of Senior Scholars, said that women should be able to become female Islamic scholars within the council.

“I urge the Grand Mufti to let our sisters who graduated from the University of Imam Mohammed bin Saudi Islamic University and others that specialise in Islamic law to perform fatwa,” the Sheikh said during his television programme.

Muftis have the authority to offer legal opinions – known as fatwas – interpreting Islamic law to those who seek advice. Their interpretations of Islamic law form the basis of Saudi Arabia’s legal system.

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“Women often hesitate to go to male clerics, and as men we have other issues to address than those related to female matters," he said, adding that he asks the Grand Mufti to allow women to join the committee.

"Women will be able to seek advice in a more comfortable, free and private manner," the sheikh said.

While it may not necessarily signal a change in law, the statement is the first of its kind from a senior religious figure.

In Februrary, the Sheikh also said that Muslim women should not be forced to wear the abaya but should should dress modestly.

"More than 90 per cent of pious Muslim women in the Muslim world do not wear abayas," Sheikh Mutlaq said, adding that "we should not force people to wear abayas."

The Kingdom has experienced a recent expansion of women's rights, including the lifting of the ban on women driving and attending mixed public sporting events.