Saudi experts lock horns over full-face veil obligation

Former chief of anti-vice squad says no, grand mufti disagrees

17 December, 17:52

    Saudi women arrive at a mosque to perform the Eid al-Adha prayers in Riyadh (archive) Saudi women arrive at a mosque to perform the Eid al-Adha prayers in Riyadh (archive)

    (ANSAmed) - DUBAI - A former chief of Saudi Arabia's religious police has denied that women must cover their faces, while the country's grand mufti has argued that it is an obligation.

    Ahmad Al-Gamdi, former head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice - which orders lashes for 'bad behavior' - has sparked a nationwide debate by taking part in a television program next to his wife, who was shown without the full-face veil known as the 'niqab'. Wrapped in a black abaya - the long, all-covering traditional garment for Gulf women - and wearing a headscarf, a great deal of makeup and red nail polish, she did not conceal her face in the manner of the vast majority of Saudi women.

    ''I received a question on my Twitter account by a woman who asked me if religion allowed me to post a picture of my face on a social network,'' Al Ghamdi said. ''I told her that it was allowed. My opinion was based on scholarly books and on the stance of well-known and highly respectable religious figures.'' He added that he had ''received more than 10,000 remarks within 12 hours of expressing my view. They were a mix of supporters and critics. But I am used to this. The onslaught years ago when I said that I did not oppose discrimination between sexes was more aggressive.''

    The country's grand mufti immediately rebutted the claim. Grand Mufti Shaikh Abdul Al-Aziz Al-Shaikh said that ''there are those who said that it was alright for women to show their faces to strangers and that the veil is a social tradition, and not a religious order. This is wrong because covering the face is a religious obligation.'' The conservatives of the Saudi kingdom are displeased that a former chief of religious police has gone so far as to show his wife on television.

    The issue of the niqab is extremely sensitive and concerns security, as well. For the religious pilgrimage to Mecca, for example, Saudi authorities explicitly prohibit the use of full-face veils. (ANSAmed).

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