July 7, 2011 Special Dispatch No. 3981

Former Local Head of Saudi Religious Police: True Islam Is Moderate; The Genders May Mix, and Women May Play Sports

July 7, 2011
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 3981

On May 23, 2011, the Saudi online daily 'Anawin published an interview with Sheikh Dr. Ahmad bin Qasim Al-Ghamdi, former head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (i.e., the religious police) in the Mecca area, in which he expressed moderate views on a number of issues that are a matter of public debate in Saudi Arabia, such as gender mixing, the hijab, public prayer, and liberalism, arguing that his positions are backed by the Koran and the Sunna. Al-Ghamdi condemned the aggressiveness of Saudi Arabia's religious extremists and the methods they employ against those who disagree with them, calling for tolerance, moderation, and dialogue. Asked his view on the uprisings throughout the Arab world, he said they were illegitimate, as they were based on conflict and corruption rather than dialogue and consultation

It should be noted that Al-Ghamdi was fired from his post in the religious police for claiming that Islam permitted gender mixing. [1]

The following are the main points of the interview:[2]

A Woman Is Not Required to Wear a Veil that Covers the Face; The Shari'a Does Not Forbid Gender Mixing

Al-Ghamdi defended the moderate views he had expressed in the past on issues such as the hijab, public prayer, and gender mixing, saying that they in no way deviated from the views of the traditional Islamic scholars, explaining:

- "Women's dress: [When describing of] the garment that a woman must wear upon when leaving [her home], I do not call it a 'hijab,' because in the original [source, i.e., the Koran, the word], 'hijab' did not describe a garment. Rather, in describing the clothing a woman must wear, Allah spoke of the jilbab [long cloak] and the khimar [scarf that covers the head but not the face].

- "Public prayer [i.e., praying at the mosque rather than in private]: I did not say there was no need for this. On the contrary, this is one of the religious commandments. I said that the leaders are obligated to enable the people to [perform] public prayer, to build mosques [for this purpose], and to call on the people [to join in these prayers]... But as for obligating the people to participate [in public prayer], it is an issue over which the clerics are divided... [Some] hold that it is not an obligation, but a custom.

- "Gender mixing: It is not forbidden by the shari'a, and the [Sunna] proves that it was a fact of life among the Companions, and [a custom] approved by the Prophet."

As for fatwas forbidding women from engaging in sports, Al-Ghamdi said these were not supported by any substantial evidence in the authoritative Islamic sources, and that the shari'a permitted women to participate in sports as long as they maintained the proper level of modesty.

Al-Ghamdi rejected the claim that Islam and liberalism are diametrically opposed, saying: "Liberalism is a Western notion that is in line with Islam, for instance in terms of justice among people; non-discrimination based on race, gender, or language; protecting human rights; and similar legitimate liberties... [However,] there is a difference between the notion of liberalism accepted among Westerners and [the liberalism] referred to by some of the Muslim ideologues. The latter, in fact, refer [only to] the positive [aspects] of liberalism that do not contradict the shari'a... All the good aspects of liberalism exist in Islam, [but] in a fuller and better form."

The Extremist Stream, Dominant in Saudi Arabia, Is Working against Those Who Disagree with It

When asked how he, born "of the womb of the extremist stream," had become less extreme, Al-Ghamdi replied: "I am not 'less extreme.' I am 'moderate'... Yes, I was [once] given to the influence of extremism... as the educational and da'wa [discourse] that dominated the scene was saturated with extremism... [This extremism] permeated all strata of society, brainwashing the [people] with various aspects of its ideology, by numerous means – from lessons, tapes, lectures and symposia, to sermons, periodicals, articles, leaflets, booklets, books... [educational] tours, summer camps... websites, forums... conferences, organizations, associations, and key people in the [worlds of] ideology and academia...

"I thank Allah that despite all this influence, my heart refused to accept extremism... Allah saved me from its harm, and showed me [the path of] moderation... My great diligence in clinging to the proper proof and evidence in the Koran and the Sunna may have been one of the key factors that helped save me [from extremism]... [And] it may [also] be the reason that some of my colleagues felt animosity toward me."

Al-Ghamdi condemned the extremists' lack of tolerance towards anyone who disagreed with them: "The extremist stream... is working to preserve its dominance in the realms of education, da'wa, and ideology... It does not accept views that differ from its own... There is no doubt that, faced with those who disagree with them, its members will confront them with all their power and might, and attack them... because this stream is based on alienating [the other], on extremism, and on [clinging to] tradition, rather than on evidence and dialogue. Whoever disagrees with their views [is like one who sticks his hand into] a hornet's nest and must take responsibility for the expected conflict...

"The arena of ideology and da'wa is in dire need of a culture of dialogue, because anyone who opposes the extremist stream is automatically accused of conspiracy, Westernization, [following his] urges, making compromises, and the like... [but] this is the way of the people of the jahiliyya [pre-Islamic state of ignorance and paganism]... [In contrast,] the way of Al-Wasatiyya [the middle path] in Islam is the true religion and the correct path between excess and negligence [in matters of religion]... The path of moderation means moderation in all stances and positions on matters of religion and life... It is a moral behavioral outlook and approach..."

The Uprisings in the Arab World Are Illegitimate

About the uprisings in the Arab world, Al-Ghamdi said: "The protests and uprisings in the Arab world... are an illegitimate means, as they are based on disputes, clashes and incitement, and on spreading anarchy, strife, and division – and all of these are qualities and deeds [characteristic of] the jahiliyya, which Islam [relinquished], forbidding anything that gives rise to failure and corruption...

"The longed-for changed must be effected through legitimate means, such as consultation, wise persuasion, pleasant preaching, study, and education through dialogue and discussion... This is the way to correct the erroneous views and beliefs, and to prepare the people to bear the responsibility [for bringing about] this longed-for change."


[1] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No.2744, "Saudi Cleric: The Mixing of the Sexes Is Not Forbidden in Islam," January 11, 2010, Saudi Cleric: The Mixing of the Sexes Is Not Forbidden in Islam.

[2], May 23, 2011.

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