Since the passing away of the two major sheikhs of Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia, Shiekh Bin Othaimeen and Sheikh Bin Baz, no one has been able to take their place. Their extremely conservative interpretation of Islam has gone unquestioned throughout the 1990s and until now. They were the ones that issued the religious decree that women should be banned from driving cars. They also prohibited women from several things; showing their faces in public, wearing pants, prioritizing education and even the inane issue of shaping their eyebrows.
The vacuum that was left by their passing has never felt so empty until recently. With the numerous sheikh fatwa shows and the everyday emergence of new news websites and forums, all these sheikhs have come out of the woodwork scrambling for fame. In the beginning everyone was following the old worn extremist track that Shiekh Bin Othaimeen had set down long before. It almost seemed like a new Islamic sect under Bin Othaimeen’s teachings was emerging, especially in the Central region. His word was last and no one dared to refute a fatwa of his.
Then Ahmed Al Ghamdi came out with a fatwa stating that it was alright for men and women to mix together. and it was like a wall has broken down and every sheikh suddenly got the guts to say what they really think. We have all heard about Shiekh Al Obeikan’s breastfeeding fatwa and then Shiekh Al Kalabani came out with a fatwa stating that music is allowed. The traditional stance on music is that it is prohibited and that if you listen to it melted iron will forever be poured into your ears come judgment day. So when Al Kalabani revoked that, he too drew major criticism and even accusations of intentional decadence. With Al Kalbani, he seemed to have “I’ve nothing to lose” attitude, after being fired from his prestigious position as the Imam of the Makkah grand mosque. Why he was fired, there are no factual reports but the strongest rumor is that it’s due to him openly opposing King Abdullah’s plan to include Shia shiekhs in the Council Assembly of Senior Ulema. And now it’s rumored that he not only became less of a conservative but that he had also changed his position on the inclusion of Shia Shiekhs.
This trio, Al Obiekan, Al Ghamdi, and Al Kalbani are being attacked by the same people that made them. Members from the Council Assembly of Senior Ulema and other conservative sheikhs are doing everything in their power, short of a death fatwa, to shut these three up. I know it’s crazy but breastfeeding an adult man is on par with gender desegregation and listening to music.
And then of course, you have our charming Shiekh Al Arefe making a fool of himself when he couldn’t keep his promise that his next show will be filmed at the Jerusalem mosque, and the Al Najaimi scandal when he was caught on camera mingling with women at the Women’s day conference in Kuwait, despite his support for an extreme gender segregation fatwa by sheikh Al Barack.
All this squabbling and desperate thirst for fame from sheikhs has led more and more Saudis to the conclusion that yes, sheikhs do make mistakes and you can disregard them. And this has never been so evident as it was last Friday, after a member from the Council, sheikh Saleh Al Fowzan, issued a fatwa that it is prohibited to be led in prayer by sheikh Al Kalabani and yet five thousand men showed up to Al Kalabani’s mosque here in Riyadh. The people of Saudi Arabia are finally starting to make up their own minds!