try not to talk about religion very much on this blog because it is such a volatile topic that people get really worked up over - and I am clearly no expert in this department. I read and hear so many different and conflicting interpretations all the time, it's difficult to decipher "what is" and "what isn't" when it comes to religion. People believe so many different things and always seem to make it so complicated, when it shouldn't be. And then when I ask questions because I don't understand, some people think I'm being disrespectful - when I really just want answers. So it is with trepidation that I write this post.
Recently, however, there were a few news reports coming out of the Middle East regarding religion that I found were just begging for questions to be asked.
First, one of the most significant stories concerns Sheikh Ahmed Al-Ghamdi (right), the head of the Makkah religious police, who has come out with a few extremely controversial comments regarding traditional Saudi Islamic behavior. The Sheikh is preaching that gender segregation is not supported by Islam and that it represents cultural extremism as it is practiced in Saudi Arabia. The other issues the Sheikh has made waves about recently concern the enforced closings of businesses during prayer times and men praying in the mosques together. Al-Ghamdi says that businesses should not be required to close during each of the five daily prayers. He went further to say that nothing in the religion says that men must pray the daily prayers together in groups at the mosques. I like this guy! I really like him!
At the very least, Sheikh Al-Ghamdi has ruffled the feathers of the religious police in KSA, as he works for them and it is their job to enforce these religious ideals that Al-Ghamdi now claims are unnecessary. His liberal statements are totally out of sync with those of the mostly conservative religious scholars in KSA. Other religious clerics have slammed Al-Ghamdi for his heretical remarks and some people have called for his dismissal or even death. It was initially reported that Al-Ghamdi was relieved of his duties, but within a very short time that statement was retracted allegedly due to intervention from someone within the royal family. Al-Ghamdi's fate at this point is not clear. To read more about this controversy, please see Saudi Woman's opinion piece called "The Man of the Hour."
More repercussions have surfaced in the wake of Al-Ghamdi's remarks when a group photo of Saudi women with the King and the Crown Prince of KSA made headlines around the world of late, further fueling the fiery flap on the issue of gender mixing. The profound significance of this photo is that it seems to indicate that on the highest level here in Saudi Arabia, opinions are changing about men and women socially mixing together. Another kicker is that most of the women in the photo are not wearing the traditional face veil (called niqaab) that a large percentage of Saudi women always wear when out in public. Indeed religious police in KSA have scolded many women for not having their faces covered.
But then, on the other side of this gender mixing tug-of-war, in this article in Arab News, you have this Saudi religious cleric, Abdul Rahman Al-Barrak (right), urging that "modernists" be ignored. He said that "liberalization of women was one of the major outcomes of the enemies’ plots" and decries gender mixing as "keys for evil."
Another news making story came out of Iran when a religious cleric there blamed earthquakes on women who did not dress modestly. Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying, “Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which consequently increases earthquakes.” You know, I was okay with what he said until those last four words...
I have a feeling that this guy is just basing his statement on the fact that seismologists have been saying for 20 years that there is a high likelihood that Tehran, the country's capital city, will be hit by a major earthquake in the near future. Interestingly enough, Tehran sits amidst dozens of fault lines, yet has not suffered a major earthquake for 180 years. I'll bet that when and if the earthquake happens, Sedighi just can't wait to say, "See? I told you so!" and of course, women will be blamed for the natural disaster!
And now, in expectations of this earthquake blame game, women are already being punished - just in case - in Iran. It has been announced that women sporting suntans will be arrested! Why? Because it violates Islamic values - what?
Do people REALLY believe stuff like scantily dressed women cause earthquakes? Seriously? If you know of any scientific explanation, please fill me in.
Are there other places, outside the Muslim world, where religious police ensure that women are dressed modestly enough and if they're not, they can be sharply hit about the ankles with a stick or suffer other consequences? Or where men are rounded up at prayer time to go pray?
How exactly is a woman with a "healthy glow" violating religious values - especially if it is not known where/how/or with whom she got the suntan in the first place? Do YOU agree that having a suntan is a valid offense that someone should be arrested for?
Do other religions around the world even HAVE religious police that make sure its followers behave "morally" according to the religion?
Should religion be FORCED on people? Are Muslims in KSA "enslaved" by religion? Since there is "no compulsion in Islam," why do people in KSA not have a "choice" of whether they want to be Muslim or not? Why do I always hear and read that there is "no compulsion in Islam," yet clearly here in KSA, that is not the case? And why, too, is it even necessary for there to be religious police here in the first place, especially since there is supposedly "no compulsion in Islam?" What does it say about a religion that needs religious police to enforce its religious doctrines? And isn't that considered "compulsion?"
I've asked a lot of questions here - I invite civilized, respectful discussion, without attacks and insults, please...