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Saudi clerics battle over adult-breastfeeding, music fatwas

RIYADH - Agence France-Presse | 7/2/2010 12:00:00 AM |

One 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.

One 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.

Hard-line 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 skirt the intense heat of summer.

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