When a religious leader in an ultra-conservative country like Saudi Arabia says women don’t necessarily have to cover their faces with a veil, controversy is inevitable.
Sheikh Ahmad al-Ghamidi set off a scorching round of criticism a few days ago when he appeared on a prominent television program and said that contrary to what some Muslims believe, women are not necessarily required to wear the niqab (face veil).
As if this statement alone wasn’t enough to draw the ire of his peers and fellow male citizens, he appeared alongside his wife, whose face was uncovered.
It was rather extraordinary statement coming from someone like Ghamidi, who is not just a cleric but also a former member of the notorious Saudi religious police, which makes sure the sexes are separated in public and they do not do anything “too Western.”
Despite his clarification that he did not imply that women should shun the veil, Ghamidi is being mob lynched on the Internet. In fact, according to the Saudi local newspaper al-Watan, he also “received threats.”
"No one is saying that it is not allowed for a woman to cover her face, but I am saying that it is not obligatory and I have evidence in jurisprudence of this," al-Ghamdi told Badria al-Bishr, the female host of the said television program.
Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh responded to Ghamidi by urging him “to fear God" and “ask repentance” for his “sins."
As severe as the reaction may be, this is not the first time Ghamidi’s words have sparked debate.
“He previously declared that contrary to what some extreme Muslims believe, Music is NOT Haram (forbidden in Islam) and in another fatwa he said that gender-mixing is actually allowed,” according to Al Arabiya news.
He has also passed a religious edict or a fatwa saying women can use beauty products if they want to – which was, again, a controversial ruling in a country where a majority of men think excessive makeup on a woman’s face is the main reason behind the rise in sexual harassment cases in public places.