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An Important Discussion in Saudi Arabia - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Saudi Arabia has been witnessing a continuous effective movement and Discussion over the past eight years that has resulted in changes, which if scrutinized would be more of a surprise to the Saudis themselves than to others.

Such a movement has been vast enough to reach every single corner inside Saudi homes, the ruling regime, educational, judicial, security and economic institutions, the Commission of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice as well as other institutions. The Saudis have tackled several issues that used to be considered “taboo”, and despite the widespread criticism about Saudi Arabia’s slackening change, an observer would find that the transformations are faster than anyone could ever imagine.

The latest of such effective movements is the ongoing debate in the Saudi press between senior scholars and specialists on women, and the concept of “mixing.” The most notable to have been put forth for discussion in this regard was the statement the Saudi Minister of Justice Sheikh Dr. Mohamed al-Eisa made to al-Riyadh newspaper on 24 October 2009. In the statement, Dr. al-Eisa said that the religious [Shariaa] origin of the present-day widespread concept of “mixing” completely contradicts the forbidden act of meeting in privacy. “We all heard of the fear of mixing on the pretext of implementing principles of Islam with regards to maintaining women and guarding their virtue and chastity, but it was sorrowful that the concept of “mixing” was itself mixed up. The lexicon of Islamic Shariaa customs has no mention about such a concept except in a few rules – such as in the zakat’s [almsgiving] fields of research that are not semantically related to the alien concept of mixing that was later on included in recent discourses as a conceptual heresy, though unmentioned in the writings of Muslim scholars. Hence the newly emerging concept of mixing has been interrelated with the forbidden act of meeting in privacy, an act that the natural disposition of a dignified Muslim should not allow”, Dr. al-Eisa said. He added that “Without a doubt, the widespread of the concept of “mixing” in place of the forbidden act of meeting in privacy is an intentional breach of Shariaa terms, as it adds up irrelevant interpretations to their [Shariaa terms]’s texts. What added yeast to the brew is that such an odd concept has been given a pretended immunity whilst the Shariaa texts contradicted and disapproved its semantics.”

Of course, there are those who will criticize Sheikh Mohamed al-Eisa’s statement in view of the fact that he is a minister in the government, though he is a Shariaa scholar before and after he assumed his official post. Nevertheless, a statement was made prior to that of the Saudi Sheikh in al-Madina newspaper on 22 October 2009 by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi in which he said that the word “mixing” – in the relationship between man and woman – “Is a loanword that entered the Islamic lexicon, and was unprecedented in our long and wide history over the past centuries, and emerged and was known only in this age.”

Hence we would say that the significance of such a discourse, specifically in Saudi Arabia, lies in the fact that it may re-operate the Saudi society’s broken machine; that is women. It will also eliminate the obscurity that has inflected the collective vision towards Saudi women over the past few years, especially that the kingdom was and is still backing women’s rights since the reign of the late founder King Abdulaziz, may God rest his soul, and until the present reign of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz. It is enough to recall the education battle that represents a bright model of how the Saudi state is keen on the education of women.

Therefore, the significance of such a discourse will be more beneficial if academically taught as part of school curriculums, rather than being discussed only in the news media.

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin's mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor's degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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