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Segregation of sexes: Hai’a chief stands by his comment

Last updated: Tuesday, April 06, 2010 3:53 AM

TAIF – Ahmed Qassim Al-Ghamdi, the head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (the Hai’a) in Makkah, has said he will not go back on his previous comments on the segregation of the sexes, and described opposition to his views from within his own organization as disgruntled individuals trying to “get their own back”.
With a notable security presence and an audience of both sexes, Al-Ghamdi addressed the Taif Literary Club Sunday on a series of sensitive topics, although questions put to him concerning his views on segregation were blocked by the chairman and any attempt to broach the subject from other angles was quickly put paid to.
Al-Ghamdi said, however, that the policy was not of his making.
“I didn’t ask the club to bar the subject or any questions on it from discussion,” Al-Ghamdi told Okaz. “You can write in the newspaper from my own mouth that I still hold to the view I expressed on ikhtilat, and I won’t go back on it, and I’ll continue to repeat what I wrote.”
In an interview reported by Saudi Gazette last December Al-Ghamdi spoke at length on the subject of the mixing of sexes – “ikhtilat” - in which he described it in the current usage as “a recent adoption unknown to the early people of knowledge”.
“Mixing used to be part of normal life for the Ummah and its societies,” he said, adding that the word “in its contemporary meaning has entered customary jurisprudential terminology from outside”.
“Those who prohibit ikhtilat cling to weak ahadith, while the correct ahadith prove that mixing is permissible, contrary to what they claim,” Al-Ghamdi said.
The Sheikh revealed, however, that among those who opposed his views were some Hai’a officials who he had previously “punished for administrative irregularities”.
“Their response was a form of vengeance. They were trying to stir trouble and get their own back,” he said, believing them to have seen the interview as a “provocation” and a chance to take revenge for being punished. “Some of them were extremists in thought, something which we won’t accept in the Hai’a,” he said.
During Sunday’s discussion at the literary club Al-Ghamdi said the work of the Hai’a concentrated on “erroneous behavior that affects society, such as drinking alcohol, magic, immorality and homosexuality”.
“Individual cases like the harassment of women at shops are dealt with straight away with religious and educational advice, and are not overemphasized,” he said, adding that the Hai’a “does not work in isolation”, citing involvement from “other state sectors”. “We seek righteousness and integrity,” he said.
Another important factor in the Hai’a’s work, Al-Ghamdi said, was the maintaining of confidentiality, which he said had contributed to the organization’s success in clamping down on the blackmailing of women.
“Confidentiality is one way of helping societies reform, for it is an essential factor in reforming persons in violation, whether males or females,” he said. “It’s not true to say that confidentiality leads people to repeat their actions as it is a religious principle, but we are sometimes forced to bring in parents or guardians according to the wishes of the young man or woman. The success we have had in handling cases of blackmail has earned us the trust of young women who find themselves in such a position.”
When asked whether it is permissible for women to work in the Hai’a, Al-Ghamdi said: “From the Shariah perspective this is beyond question. The verse says: ‘The believers, men and women, are ‘auliya’ (helpers, supporters, protectors) of one another. They enjoin (on the people) Al-Ma’rouf (Islamic monotheism and all that Islam orders one to do), and forbid (people) from Al-Munkar (polytheism and disbelief of all kinds and all that Islam has forbidden).’” (Surah Al-Taubah)
He added, however, that “their employment is a question for the responsible authorities”.
Sheikh Al-Ghamdi also addressed the subject of Hai’a officials going beyond the bounds of their remit, saying that “anyone found to have damaged the reputation of the Hai’a will be dealt with by the regional governor”.
The Hai’a chief described the “greatest enemy of change and development” as the “clinging to customs and tradition”, and added that he is currently researching the Shariah view of group worship in mosques. “It involves research and studies but has no bearing on the work of the Hai’a,” Al-Ghamdi said. “People can take it or leave as they see fit.” – Okaz/SG
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