Saudi cleric sparks controversy as wife shows face on TV

Sporting trendy sunglasses, light make up and varnished nails, but also wearing the traditional black abaya cloak, the wife of cleric Sheikh Ahmed Al Ghamedi appeared with her husband on a television programme on MBC at the weekend.

DUBAI // A Saudi cleric has sparked controversy by appearing on television along with his wife – whose face was uncovered – in an open challenge to strict tradition in the kingdom.

Sheikh Ahmed Al Ghamedi, who has said covering the face is not a must for women under Islam, sat alongside his wife Jawaher bint Ali as she spoke to Dubai-based Saudi MBC television in a programme broadcast at the weekend.

Saudi women rarely show their faces in public.

Sporting trendy sunglasses, light make up and varnished nails, and wearing an abaya, Mr Ghamedi’s wife spoke of the problems their children have at school because of their father’s controversial fatwas or edicts.

“Our children complain that some teachers tell them: why does your father say this and that?” she said of fatwas that have enraged zealots in Saudi Arabia.

Mr Ghamedi, who once headed the religious police in Mecca, has openly challenged the tradition that imposes niqab or face veil on women.

He has also said that wearing make up is permissible.

“The Prophet did not order women to cover their faces. Wearing make up is allowed,” he told Badria Al Bishr, the female host of the television programme.

“Happy now? Every mobile phone now has a picture of your wife,” said one outraged post on Twitter.

Like other posts, it used a picture of the couple – but with the wife’s face blurred.

Saudi Arabia’s mufti or religious leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh criticised Mr Ghamedi on Saudi news website Sabq, urging him to repent and praying that “Allah will guide Ghamedi to the right path”.

Ghamedi supporters also took to social media.

“They insult him for showing his wife’s face ... but they shut up when it’s Alwaleed [bin Talal],” tweeted Ahmed Rasan, posting a picture of the Saudi billionaire prince next to his fashionably dressed wife.

Saudi women are required to cover themselves from head to toe when outside the home, and need permission from a male guardian to work and marry.

Saudi Arabia is also the world’s only country which does not allow women to drive, and those who challenge the ban risk arrest.

On December 9, rights group Amnesty International said authorities have extended the detention of two women’s rights activists, one of whom tried to drive into the kingdom.

The interior ministry has yet to comment on the case of Loujain Hathloul and Maysaa Alamoudi.

* Agence France-Presse

Published: December 16, 2014 04:00 AM

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