‘Overwhelming support’ seen for Al-Ghamdi’s views
RIYADH – The recent interview given by the Makkah head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (the Hai’a) on the subject of the mixing of sexes – “ikhtilat” – has provoked an overwhelmingly positive response, according to Al-Arabiya news network.
“The term ‘ikhtiliat’ in this usage is a recent adoption that was unknown to the early people of knowledge,” Sheikh Ahmad Al-Ghamdi said in a lengthy interview with Okaz, reproduced in last Friday’s Saudi Gazette. “Mixing used to be part of normal life for the Ummah and its societies.”
Al-Ghamdi said that “the word in its contemporary meaning has entered customary jurisprudential terminology from outside,” adding that “those who prohibit the mixing of the genders actually live it in their real lives, which is an objectionable contradiction, as every fair-minded Muslim should follow Shariah judgments without excess or negligence.”
“In many Muslim houses – even those of Muslims who say mixing is haram - you can find female servants working around unrelated males,” Al-Ghamdi said, before citing numerous ahadeeth – sayings of the Prophet – to support his position.
“Those who prohibit ikhtilat cling to weak ahadeeth, while the correct ahadeeth prove that mixing is permissible, contrary to what they claim,” Al-Ghamdi said.
Al-Arabiya, with Al-Jazeera one of the Arab world’s two most prominent satellite news networks, noted that commentators responding to Al-Ghamdi’s views cited his words as “surprising” and “bringing light to the tunnel that has been darkness for years”, while some disapproval was “inevitably evident given that the sheikh was addressing subjects which until recently were taboo and which many were very hesitant to address”.
The network judged the overall response to be in support of Al-Ghamdi, saying he “showed the necessary daring” to broach the subject, “despite the fact that he is from the Hai’a, the body responsible for maintaining ikhtilat, and only until recently it no one would have been expected to discuss such sensitive and thorny topics the way Al-Ghamdi did”.
Comments from the public to the network spoke from personal experiences.
“Some time ago, maybe 30 or 40 years,” wrote Nahari Al-Matari, “the family wasn’t just the father, mother and children, but there were also the uncles and cousins, and friends of the father …the wife would play host and welcome neighbors into her husband’s sitting room without fear of suspicion, as neighbors were treated as one of the family.”
“I personally remember my mother going out without covering her face to meet our neighbor and collect what my father had sent to him for us from when he worked far away,” said Ahmed Sahli. “Men and women would often speak to each other in the street to ask how their families were.”
Some commentators were left somewhat confused by Sheikh Al-Ghamdi’s observations. “Why is it that the Hai’a is saying things that if they were put into effect would mean that its existence as a religious body would no longer be needed?” wondered Yahya Al-Maliki.
“We’ve heard previously from the Board of Senior Ulema, and now we’ve heard from the Hai’a,” said Ahmed Al-Sayyid of the subject of ikhtilat. “This jurisprudential position has been around for a long time, but its has been waiting for someone as brave and wise as King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz and a young jurisprudence expert like Mohammed Al-Issa.”
Justice minister adds voice
That commentator was referring to the Minister of Justice who told Al-Riyadh newspaper recently: “We all have heard about the fear from mixing in coeducation on the grounds of applying the principles of Islam on protecting women and guarding their morals and chasteness, which is the point of confusion. The term ‘ikhtilat’ in Shariah is associated with limited jurisprudents like zaka, but in recent treatises the term has included a notion confused with the term ‘impermissible khulwa,’ which is an Islamic principle that no Muslim’s nature and respect for the religion’s principles would allow being broken, as it is protected by Shariah rules.”
Minister Al-Issa added that this understanding “has ignored evidence from the Prophet’s Sunna and Khulafa and those after them, which differentiated between mixing in public with modesty and chasteness – with being wary of factors that could lead to what is prohibited, like women adorning themselves or wearing make up, close mingling, leniency and not lowering one’s gaze, – and mixing that in a way that is not.”
Hai’a head Sheikh Ahmad Al-Ghamdi was adding his voice to an ever-increasing list of prominent religious figures from the Kingdom and abroad who have gone public in recent months to address the meaning of “ikhtilat” and praise the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, the coeducational institution for post-graduate studies that has opened in Thuwwal, north of Jeddah.
Sheikh Al-Ghamdi described KAUST as an “extraordinary move and huge accomplishment to be added to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s record and the history of the Islamic Ummah” and a “great advance to which the Ummah can look up to in recuperating its role in civilization and its scientific honor.” – SG