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Saudi religious police director receives death threats over ‘liberal’ stance
Scholar receives abusive messages calling him an infidel and atheist, says people have misunderstood his views on the mingling of sexes and congregational prayer.
May 2, 2010 9:44 by Ben Flanagan
Sheikh Ahmed Al-Ghamdi, director of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in the Makkah Province of Saudi Arabia, said many people had misunderstood his views on the mingling of sexes and congregational prayer (Salat Al-Jamaa), and that as a result he and his family are being threatened and verbally abused.
Last Thursday a young man rebuked Al-Ghamdi’s son in front of his house in Makkah by telling him to bring out his family to mingle with. The son then blocked the youth’s car and called the police. Meanwhile, the youth called his brothers who came with light weapons. The youth ran away when they saw the police.
The young man who sparked the confrontation was then arrested by police, who were also able to arrest his brothers after giving chase. Officials from the Investigation and Public Prosecution Commission are currently questioning the five.
The same youth had earlier asked Al-Ghamdi’s son for his father’s mobile number. When asked why, the youth abused the scholar and accused him of allowing the mingling of sexes and promiscuity.
“This is a false accusation,” said Al-Ghamdi. “What I said was that women are allowed to go out to meet their own needs and that of society while wearing a veil or a lose overcoat or any other decent dress without creating any suspicion or jostling with men, because they need to go out for education and work,” he said.
“There is nothing wrong for women to go out for such purposes. It has been approved by the Shariah and renowned scholars,” he added.
Al-Ghamdi said he is not the only person who has expressed this view. There are other scholars like Sheikh Ali Juma, the mufti of Egypt, who holds the same view. “I have only presented my view on this matter. I never called for any mingling of sexes,” he said.
He also called on Muslim scholars to bring proof from the Qur’an and Sunnah in case he is wrong.
He said his research on congregational prayer (Salat Al-Jamaa) also drew flak from some people who opposed the idea. In that research he explained the views of various scholars on Salat Al-Jamaa including the views of the scholars of the Shafi, Maliki, Hanafi and Hanbali schools, adding that all of these scholars stress that Salat Al-Jamaa is a strong Sunnah. “While emphasizing the importance of congregational prayer I said we should not brand as infidels those who perform it at home with or without a reason. It should not be considered a sin but they will surely lose the reward of congregational prayer,” he said.
“But some people misunderstood my statement and they claimed that I had called for the offering of the five daily prayers at home. This is a false accusation and a big mistake on their part. I have never said that people should not pray in mosques,” he added.
Commenting on the recent statement of the Permanent Committee for Giving Religious Ruling (Ifta), he said the committee had never stated that he had deviated from the right path. What they said was some writers in newspapers had belittled the importance of congregational prayer. The statement did not also mention his name.
Referring to his dialogue with Sheikh Ahmed Al-Hamdan and Sheikh Muhammad Al-Nujaimi, he said he asked the two scholars to bring evidence prohibiting interaction between people of different sexes but they failed. “I presented a number of evidence that allows different genders to interact… There are several pieces of evidence that shows that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) never objected to it,” he said.
He said he has been receiving continuous threats because people have misunderstood his statements. He said he has also received threatening SMS messages on his cell phone with some people calling him an infidel and an atheist. Meanwhile, others have been leaving messages on his car saying they want to kill him. Some other have written abusive comments on the wall of his home. According to one website, some people have claimed that the Ghamdi tribe had disavowed him. Members of his family, however, say there is no truth in these rumors.