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Saudi Wahhabi clerics battle over adult-breastfeeding, music fatwas

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  • Saudi Wahhabi clerics battle over adult-breastfeeding, music fatwas

    Ahlul Bayt News Agency (ABNA****), One Wahhabi cleric's endorsement of breastfeeding for grown men and another's saying music is not un-Islamic have opened up a pitched battle in Saudi Arabia over who can issue fatwas, or Islamic religious edicts.

    Hardline and progressive religious scholars, judges and clerics have taken the fight public in what some describe as outright "chaos" in the once ivory-tower world of setting the rules that govern much of life in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom.

    Much of the fight in the past week has focused on a fatwa endorsing music issued by Adel al-Kalbani, a Riyadh cleric famed as the first black imam at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam's holiest city.

    Kalbani, popular for his soulful baritone delivery of Koranic readings, said he found nothing in Islamic scripture that makes music haram, or forbidden.

    But, aside from some folk music, public music performance is banned in Saudi Arabia, and conservatives say it is haram even in the home.

    "There is no clear text or ruling in Islam that singing and music are haram," Kalbani said.

    Also in recent weeks, a much more senior cleric, Sheikh Abdul Mohsen al-Obeikan, raised hackles with two of his opinions, both of which could be considered fatwas.

    First, he endorsed the idea that a grown man could be considered as a son of a woman if she breast-feeds him.

    The issue, based on an ancient story from Islamic texts and source of a furore last year in Egypt, is seen by some as a way of getting around the Saudi religious ban on mixing by unrelated men and women.

    It brought ridicule and condemnation from women activists and Saudi critics around the world.

    But Obeikan, a top advisor in the court of King Abdullah, who is believed to be supportive of a less severe Islam in his kingdom, also angered conservatives when he said the compulsory midday and mid-afternoon prayer sessions could be combined to help worshippers s***t the intense heat of summer.

    While the choice is allowed for individuals in certain circumstances, conservatives say such a broad ruling for everyone is wrong.

    The comments by Obeikan and Kalbani brought rebukes from top-level clerics seeking to get control of a debate that has erupted into freewheeling public discussions in the media and on the Internet.

    In his Friday sermon at Mecca's Grand Mosque, the influential Sheikh Abdul Rahman al-Sudais lashed out at what he labelled "fraudulent" fatwas, likening their originators to market vendors selling fake or spoiled goods.

    The effect, he said, goes so far as to undermine the country's security.

    Meanwhile, the country's grand mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, warned of a crackdown.

    "Those who offer abnormal fatwas which have no support from the Koran should be halted," he said on Al-Majd television on Sunday.

    "If a person comes out (with fatwas) and he is not qualified, we will stop him," he said, comparing such a person to a quack doctor allowed to treat patients.

    Underpinning the sometimes esoteric debate is a real fight over liberalising the Saudi version of Islam, which bans women from driving and forces all shops to close down during the five-times-daily prayers.

    Crucially, the government is also moving to build a consistency in the Islamic sharia law-based legal system, where judges are all clerics for whom fatwas play a crucial role.

    The government wants only one body, controlled by the powerful Council of High Ulema, to issue fatwas, which other clerics must accept. Some people want fatwas more attuned to modern life.

    "The people are governed by old ideas," historian and columnist Mohammad al-Zulfa to AFP.

    "People are forming a new mentality. (Many) have been waiting for such fatwas for a long time," he said about Kalbani.

    "We are part of the world. We have to develop the legal system to meet the needs of the modern time," he added.

    Earlier this year there was an embarrassing fight over the apparently free-thinking head of Mecca's religious police, Ahmed al-Ghamdi, who shocked many by endorsing mixing by men and women.

    He was fired, and then reinstated, in a behind-the-scenes s***mish between conservatives and progressives.

    Hamad al-Qadi, a member of the Saudi Shura Council, called the fatwa fight this week "chaos".

    "The Islamic world follows whatever comes out of our country and its scholars concerning Islam," he said, according to Al-Hayat newspaper.

    For his part, Kalbani said he was open to discussion on the issue.

    "The problem is that there are some who do not accept debate at all," he said.

    He clarified that he was not endorsing all music, using two often risque Lebanese pop singers as examples.

    "I am talking about decent singing, which contains decent words, and supports morality," he told the online newspaper

    "I am definitely not talking about the songs of Nancy Ajram or Haifa Wehbe or other indecent songs."

    However, "if Nancy Ajram sang a song with a positive message, then she would be within my fatwa."