No gender-mixing in parliament: Saudi scholar

Saudi Arabia’s top Islamic body has approved King Abdullah’s decision to allow women to join the Gulf country’s appointed parliament but they would not be allowed to mix with men during debates, a member of the body has said.

Sheikh Abdullah Al Manei, one of the seven senior Moslem scholars making up the conservative nation’s supreme scholars council, also said the council had not yet discussed the issue of ending a long-standing ban on women to drive cars, adding that such a move needs to be studied.

Sheikh Manei was asked by a local TV station on whether the council had approved King Abdullah’s decision this week to allow women to join Shura (parliament) and give them the right to vote and run in municipal elections.

“Women can join Shura according to legal conditions which are based on the need for them not to mix with men in the council…each gender will have to be seated in the floor level allocated for them,” he said.

“We have not changed old fatwa (Islamic edict) in this respect…we are in consensus that the woman’s voice is not a sin…the woman is the man’s sister and God the Almighty has bestowed thought and opinion on them.”’

Asked about the present pressure to end a ban on female driving, he said the council had not been consulted by King Abdullah on this issue.

“Any legal judgment or decision in this regard will be based on weighing its positive results against its negative results…this matter requires us to study the effects of such a decision that is enforced in other countries.”

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