Controversy is raging in Saudi Arabia after the former head of its religious police tweeted that veils are not obligatory and then appeared on TV with his unveiled wife to show he means it.
The surprisingly liberal religious ruling that women are not required to where the Niqab, or face veil, came from Saudi Sheik Ahmed Al-Ghamdi, the former head of the Mecca chapter of the Authority for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.
Though wearing the veil is not required by Saudi law, it is a staple of conservative Saudi society.
The ruling, first given over Twitter, prompted a backlash against Ghamdi, and a special hashtag with his name trended throughout the Saudi kingdom.
In a bold move, Ghamdi, on December 12, appeared on one of Saudi Arabia’s most popular talk shows, Badria, with his wife, Jawaher bint Al-Sheikh Ali, with her face revealed and even wearing makeup.
The hostess of the talk show, in a video translated by MEMRI, said opponents of Ghamdi ask how he can claim women were not commanded to wear the veil when it is mentioned in the Koran.
Ghamdi answered that people had become confused by ancient texts that mention the head scarf and robe that woman are commanded to wear.
“Later, however, people confused the hijab, which was imposed only on the wives of the Prophet Muhammad, with what Allah imposed on Muslim women in general.”
During the program, Ghamdi’s wife said her children have become targets of harassment at school and, according to the al-Watan newspaper, Ghamdi has even received death threats.
Additionally, Arab News reported on Thursday that a group of Saudis intend to sue Ghamdi over his ruling.
He, nevertheless, continues to defend his controversial ruling over social media.
In one tweet, he writes that the law for revealing a woman’s face exists in three of the four Islamic schools of jurisprudence.
Interestingly, the fourth unmentioned school is the Hanbali school – the ultra-conservative Islamic school of jurisprudence that is most prevalent in Saudi Arabia.
This is not Ghamdi’s first encounter with controversy who, in the past, has said women may go out in public without a male guardian and even socialize with members of the opposite sex not from their family.