Category Archives: Fatwas

Another day, another misogynist fatwa…

Yesterday afternoon a document went viral all across the online news agencies and social media. The document is dated Sunday the 31st of October and in it is a fatwa and not just any fatwa, an official fatwa from the governmentally appointed committee for fatwas i.e. the highest council of our ultra conservative version of Sunni Islam. What’s so important that this committee would get together and issue a document and on the very same day release it to the press? Women, of course! A quick translation of the document:

This fatwa is issued in reply to the below question:

Several companies and shops are employing women as cashiers who serve both men and women as families. Each day these women cashiers meet dozens of men, and speak to them while handling back and forth money and receipts. In addition these women cashiers are required to undergo training, attend meetings and interact with their colleagues and supervisor at work. What is the ruling on women working as such? What is the ruling regarding companies and shops that recruit women? Please advise.

After study, the committee has come to the following reply:

It is not permitted for a Muslim woman to work in a place where they intermingle with men. A woman should stay away from places where men gather. She should search for employment that does not expose her to temptation nor make her a source of temptation. And what you have mentioned in your question does expose her to temptation and tempt men, hence it is Islamically prohibited. And the companies that employ women are collaborating with them in what is Islamically prohibited and thus they too are committing a prohibition. It is known that whoever fears God by leaving what God has prohibited and does what God asks of him, God will then facilitate his affairs, just as promised in the Quran (translation* verse 3/Al Talaq):

{And He provides for him from (sources) he never could imagine. And if any one puts his trust in Allah, sufficient is (Allah) for him. For Allah will surely accomplish his purpose: verily, for all things has Allah appointed a due proportion.}

And the Prophet PBUH said: It will not be that you abandon something for the sake of God, but that God will compensate with what is better for you. (my translation)

There is a glimmer of hope here though. First off, this council, throughout its history, has prohibited things that remain legal, such as music and satellite TV channels that are not Islamic. So this fatwa might join the list of things that Saudis feel unwarrantedly guilty about but still do. It would be a shame if another door closes in the faces of women who are in desperate need of jobs.

A scan of the document:

*Yusuf Ali translation

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The niqab and toying with women

This is a translation of an article by Badria Al Bishr that was published in Al hayat newspaper yesterday:

It seems that Muslims and, Arabs specifically, want to turn the veil to a case similar to the cases of Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, and child marriages. By that analogy, I mean convert cultural habits to acts of worship. For example the use of the issue of women rights in the battlefields between the fundamental Islamists and the British government. Some Arabs circumcise their daughters in secret and with the help of unregistered midwives, risking the lives of their daughters, and depriving them of a normal life. They consider FGM as a form of obedience to God, and some Muslims who hold British citizenship remove their daughters from Britain and force them into marrying while not being of legal age. They do not see anything wrong in lying and fraud, and depriving girls of their rights. All of this is justified by their desire to follow Islam.

Then when such issues come to light and are exposed to public opinion, the Islamic world begins to discuss whether or not Muslims have a right to practice these worships as citizens. This is done without the world understanding that these practices are cultural practices and do not reflect the essence of Islam. Just as when France banned the veil in the streets and Sarkozy would sometimes give security issues as a reason and other times that the ban preserves the identity of women as a human because her face is her identity. No one stood up to say that Sarkozy’s reasons are compatible with Islam, where the human face, male or female, is its identity and should not be obscured. This is an opinion stated by the most fervent Salafist Muslim scholars, such as Alalbani in his book «Muslim women’s hijab in the Quran and the Prophet’s tradition». The protestors to the burqa ban also did not go back to Sheikh Mohammed Tantawi, the previous head of Al-Azhar and one of the most important religious entities in the modern Muslim world, when he announced that the veil is not religion, but custom. They instead searched out for extremist fatwas as these were the only ones that would satisfy them. They insist that the removal of the veil, even in such illegal circumstances is a sin, even if it forced women to stay at home, abandoning their interests and the interests of her family, or forced them to pay a fine equivalent to almost two thousand riyals.

Recently, the issue arose again, but this time in Egypt, where the decision was made to prevent female students wearing the niqab to sit examinations at Egyptian universities since the niqab obstructs identifying the student. Although I am with the right of people to express themselves, I would like to point out that the Islamic movements that resort today to defend themselves by claiming a democratic right forget to either take all the truth or leave it whole i.e. that the application of democracy is inseparable from liberalism. Democracy does not warrant you to exercise what is inhumane under the pretext of freedom of cultural practice and personal freedom of belief and expression just because of your Muslim or Arab culture. practices and beliefs such as FGM, child marriages or intimidating women into believing that if they don’t wear the veil, then they have renounced the religion.

The protection of human rights even if the majority opposed, is not subject to a vote. If I had a hand, I would say to them to go play your games far away from our women’s rights which have always been a political toy. I would ask them to direct their games toward men’s rights. The closest parallel to the veil is the shaving of beards, which most Salafi schools agree is prohibited. Despite of this we don’t see anyone banning licenses for barber shops. People are not stopped in the streets or in the universities and chased with advice and discipline. Only the Taliban do this with their men.

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Shiekh Al Ahmed issues a fatwa

Shiekh Al Ahmed is no stranger to the issuance of anti-women fatwas. He has made it his personal mission to be responsible for every single Saudi female. He first came on my radar when he went on TV asking that the Makkah Mosque surrounding the Ka’aba be torn down and rebuilt so that there would be complete segregation between the sexes when Muslims visit the mosque for any reason including the annual pilgrimage, Hajj. Another incident is when he took a group of muttawas to the Ministry of Education to ensure that their new policy of allowing boys to enroll in girls’ schools until third grade would be stopped.

Now Shiekh Al Ahmed has a new mission, and you got to admire him for the bold move at least. In direct opposition to the King’s new legislation that no fatwas be made public unless issued or at least pre-approved by members of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, Sheikh Al Ahmed issued two fatwas on TV. And of course he didn’t disappoint, they were about women. His new pet project is to sabotage HyperPanda Supermarket‘s initiative to employ women cashiers. So he said on a program in reply to a caller that first of all it is haram (Sharia prohibited) in Islam for women to work as cashiers in places where men can be customers and secondly he said that it is not only Jaiz (Sharia acceptable) to boycott the supermarket but also mustahib (Sharia advisable).

The project has started on an experimental basis in Jeddah where currently 16 women are cashiers. If found successful, it will be expanded to absorb 2500 women cashiers all across Saudi Arabia. The application conditions for women according to Arab News are that they be Saudi, above 28 years of age, have a financial need, be a widow or divorced and stick to a dress code.

Shiekh Al Ahmed is calling on all ultra-conservatives to boycott HyperPanda and informed the PVPV that it is their right to file a lawsuit against them. He is arrogantly confident in his followers and the power they have that he says let’s give them a five day warning before we start the boycott. He says that he had called an executive from HyperPanda and found him to be stubborn and insistent in proceeding with employing women. He claims that their insistence is a sign that it is most likely an American supported and plotted scheme to westernize the country. However, my favorite part  is when he says that ultra-conservatives from neighboring countries, like Syria, Egypt and Yemen, call him up to show their support and advise him not to allow what happened to their countries happen to Saudi Arabia.

I keep telling people that the more Saudi Arabia opens up especially when it comes to women’s rights, the more Islamic fundamentalist groups worldwide will too. It will have a dominoes effect on their approach and lifestyle. Because so many of these fundamentalists look to Saudi Arabia as the prime example as to how life should be lived. That’s why I’m going to do my part by supporting HyperPanda’s initiative. Although I’m a Carrefour regular since they are literally five minutes away, I will go the extra distance to buy my groceries from HyperPanda. I hope that others will do the same.

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Welcome to the Middle Ages

Getting to the Middle Ages is not about time machines, it’s a geographical issue. Why have dinner at a cheesy Medieval Times when you can get the authentic experience right here in Saudi Arabia. We got everything you want.

I came across this chastity belt at a museum and it got me thinking. A man that asks his wife to wear this is basically saying your morals and character are not enough; I have to dress you in something to protect you. And that is the same argument that is used in our modern times Middle Ages to get women to wear niqabs!

Then there’s the guardianship system over adult women, the sponsorship system, that’s not unlike a master/slave relationship, over guest workers and finally the cherry on top is the latest decision to limit religious ruling to a legislative body that is made up of ultra conservatives and their friends. Did I hear somebody say “medieval Vatican”?! No, no this is Saudi Arabia, we’re Muslims.

This new decree by the King is supposedly to protect Islam from embarrassing fatwas like the recent adult breastfeeding fatwa and the much more serious call to kill all satellite channel owners who broadcast sinful shows. But to the ultra-conservatives, it’s a miraculous bestowal of victory and return to power. Recently average Saudis got a glimpse of the inner workings of religious fatwas and how even seemingly conservative long bearded muttawas think it’s ok to enjoy music and that gender segregation is not Islamic. People (or what our religious establishment calls “commoners” العوام) started thinking and looking things up for themselves. And that’s where this new legislation comes in, a return to the status quo. However the optimist in me does not think it’s all bad. First of all it’s too little, too late. With internet and TV in almost every home, you can’t control who people listen to anymore.  And secondly I’m hoping the whole thing is to appease the ultra conservatives in order to get them to pass something ultra liberal like …..fingers and toes crossed…..lifting the ban on women driving!?

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Saudi disillusionment with the religious establishment

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!

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What’s front page news in Saudi Arabia?

It never fails to amaze me how in a country where women are only seen covered head to toe in black and get educated and work in mostly gender segregated institutes, and yet men are completely obsessed with them. The latest is a fatwa that originated in Egypt and was recently renewed by Shiekh Al Obiekan in a TV interview. He was asked if it was alright to breastfeed a grown man in order to be able to raise the segregation rule between a man and a woman and he replied with a yes! This was given major coverage in both AlWatan Newspaper and AlRiyadh Newspaper. But before I go into the details of the fatwa, some background information:

Breastfeeding is encouraged in Islam up to the age of two, after which the child has to be weaned. If a woman breastfeeds a child that is not her own, that child becomes her son by breastmilk and she and her daughters do not have to cover from him when he becomes an adult. However she has to breastfeed him before he turns two and it has to be five separate fulfilling sessions of breastfeeding. This is popular in Saudi Arabia especially among sisters because then they won’t have to worry about segregating their kids later. The cousins would be considered as “breastmilk siblings”.

It all began in May 2007 when an Egyptian Sheikh called Mohammed Atiya came out with a fatwa advising women to breastfeed their male coworkers if their job entails spending time alone together. Shiekh Atiya was quickly fired from his post at the Azhar University and the whole thing was swept under the rug. Until this week when Shiekh Al Obiekan, a royal judicial consultant at the Saudi Ministry of Justice renewed it all by replying to a question on a TV interview. He stated that in cases where a household needs an unrelated man like a driver to repeatedly visit the house, it is allowed for the woman of the household to breastfeed the stranger so he becomes a relative! The shiekh’s only condition is that the man does not drink directly from the woman’s breast but that the milk be pumped and then offered to the man in a glass. But this condition was revoked by another sheikh, Abi Ishaq Al Huwaini, who insists that the breastmilk must be sucked by the man directly from the breast!

The whole issue just shows how clueless men are. All this back and forth between sheikhs and not one bothers to ask a woman if it is logical, let alone possible to breastfeed a grown man five fulfilling breastmilk meals. As I’m writing this, I’m  cringing at just the thought of it. I’m a huge advocate of breastfeeding and I’ve exclusively breastfed my three kids for at least six months each. Plus I’ve also done the “breastmilk sibling” thing for two nephews and a niece. Breastfeeding a baby is hard work and it takes a toll to be able to produce enough for a one year old, I can’t even imagine how much a thirty year old would need. Women do not produce breastmilk on demand, you have to have had a baby recently and breastfeed that baby daily or otherwise the milk will dry up within a few days. Also breastmilk is not that appetizing, it has the look and taste of skim milk, so not that many men would be able to stomach five meals of it. Moreover the thought of a huge hairy face at a woman’s breast does not evoke motherly or even brotherly feelings. It could go from the grotesque to the erotic but definitely not maternal!

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Much ado about women

Sheikh Al Najaimi who announced his support for the Al Barak fatwa that anyone who calls for gender desegregation should be killed was caught last month attending a women’s day conference in Kuwait. The conference’s attendees were mostly women and there was no segregation at all. He sat for hours with women and even had a meal with them. When he got back to Saudi Arabia, he told everyone that the majority of women were menopausal and as such it is Islamically allowed for him to socialize with them. Of course, this is not true. In the Quran, the verse is very clear that it is the woman’s decision whether or not to announce that she is post-menopausal and just being menopausal is not enough, she has to have no interest in men too. However, Al Najaimi took it upon himself to make this milestone decision on behalf of all the women attending the conference. Moreover he proclaimed that those who weren’t post menopause confessed to him that they were committing a sin by not covering!

A woman who shiekh Al Najaimi insisted is post menapausal even when she denied it. He said to her face "you are post menopausal whether you admit it or not!".

And then the Deputy Minister of Girl’s Education Ms. Nora Al Faiz, made it a point to appear in photos taken at official meetings in full face cover to even more discredit the photo of her face that was highly publicized when she was first appointed. I’ve met a few teachers since then and they keep telling me that they or other colleagues are uncomfortable with such a liberal woman!

At the same time, King Abdullah had a photograph of him and Princess Mozah, the ruler of Qatar’s wife, on the first page of most major newspapers in Saudi. And then another photo of the king and Prince Sultan with a group of Saudi women, many with their faces uncovered surfaced everywhere. And this one had the names of those women published alongside it as if to show that tribal Saudi women from old families have no issue with having their pictures in newspapers.

It is rumored here and here that recently a Saudi woman declared on a forum that she will stand in the middle of a major highway in Riyadh and burn her face cover and hijab, she was apprehended within a few hours of posting. She goes by the name of Wedad Khalid and lives in a posh area of Riyadh. On her post (I haven’t seen it personally) it is reported that she was going to do it on June 12th 2010 and she invited people to video tape it. She also stated that a couple of years in prison are worth standing up to the hypocrisy of Saudi society. It was reported that within a couple of hours she was reported, tracked down and arrested.

It’s a crazy time to be a Saudi woman. You’re pulled in every direction and a simple and personal decision like covering or uncovering your face decides your spirituality and political stance  and affects everything from family to career.

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