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MIDEAST > Saudi imams warn not to mix sports and protests

JAMES M. DORSEY ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News

Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh warns that the protests in Arab Spring countries are the results of sins of the public. Such sins include the mixing of the sexes at sports events according to another prominent imam as Saudi Arabia feels the pressure to include female athletes in its team for London Games

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Members of the first female Saudi basketball
team ‘Jeddah United’ pose for a team picture
in Jeddah. AP photo

Members of the first female Saudi basketball team ‘Jeddah United’ pose for a team picture in Jeddah. AP photo

Saudi and ultra-conservative imams have warned in separate statements against the mixing of sports, politics and protests against autocratic regimes, which, according to some, results from of the mingling of the sexes in sports.

The warnings come against the backdrop of Saudi efforts to shield the Gulf from the wave of popular uprisings sweeping the Middle East and North Africa, renewed focus on the role of militant football fans opposing military rule in Egypt, and pressure on the kingdom to allow women to compete for the first time in an international tournament at the London Olympics.

Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh, quoted in the kingdom’s Al Watan newspaper, warned that the protests that have already toppled the leaders of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen and brought Syria to the brink of civil war were sinful. “The schism, instability, the malfunctioning of security and the breakdown of unity that Islamic countries are facing these days is a result of the sins of the public and their transgressions,” Sheikh Abdulaziz said.

Such sins include, according to Imam Abu Abdallah of As-Sunnah mosque in Kissimee, Florida, speaking in a video posted on the Internet, the mixing of the sexes at sports events. “In the past it was only men, now it is almost half and half (in stadiums). Allah knows what happens afterwards. Either way it is bad. Either people go out, they are sensing and partying and drinking and all that, so that’s negative. And if they don’t, they go out and they demonstrate and they’re angry and they destroy property and they destroy cars and they destroy people’s business. Either way its haram (forbidden); things have to be done in moderation. These are the things that are associated with sports that the believers have to be careful with,” Abu Abdallah said.

“So there is nothing wrong with watching and practicing your favorite sport as long as you adhere to the norms. When it comes to the way you dress and the way you behave, where you’re going to be, what you going to be listening to; are you going to be mingling in crowds you are not supposed to be mingling with? All of those things do matter when you are practicing or you are watching your favorite sport,”Abu Abdallah said.

The clerics’ statements came as Saudi Arabia prepares for a summit of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in which it hopes to foist closer political and military cooperation on its largely reluctant co-members Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and the UAE. Bahrain, which last year brutally quashed, with Saudi assistance, an uprising against its minority Sunni Muslim rulers, is likely to be the only GCC state to fully endorse the notion of a political union.

The statements also come as International Olympics Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge is under pressure to make good on his pledges earlier this year to stand for gender equality by banning Saudi Arabia from this year’s London Olympics if it fails to field women athletes. A Human Rights Watch report released in February called on Saudi Arabia to protect women’s equal right to participate in sports and urged the IOC to live up to its charter, which prohibits discrimination, or face a ban similar to that imposed on Afghanistan in 1999 partly for its exclusion of female athletes.

With Qatar and Brunei expected to have women athletes for the first time this year in their delegations, Saudi Arabia would be the only country in the world that still refuses to allow women to compete. The kingdom has recently hinted that it would not stand against Saudi women who live abroad competing, but would not field athletes from the kingdom itself.

In separate statements, two Saudi religious scholars admonished soccer players that bad behavior could lead to a ban on public attendance of matches. It was not immediately clear what incidents of bad behavior they were referring to.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Suleiman Al Manei, a member of the Gulf Kingdom’s supreme scholars committee and an advisor to King Abdullah warned that “the spread of such [bad] acts on playing fields is a clear indicator of a decline in moral values and the transformation of sport from fair competition into bigotry.

The continuation of these bad phenomena which pose a threat to the ethical values of our sons makes the attendance of these matches a hateful thing. This means that going to these matches could become prohibited because what is happening there has a strong negative impact on the society.”

In a statement of his own, Sheikh Abdullah Al Mutlaq, another member of the supreme committee, denounced players for allegedly faking incidents in a bid to get a referee to award a penalty in their team’s favor. “These are acts of deception, which is hated and forbidden in Islam. … The sin becomes worse when the player swears by Allah falsely… Players should refrain from such wrong acts as they have become a bad example for the young generation,” Sheikh Al Mutlaq said, without reference to specific incidents.

May/11/2012

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READER COMMENTS

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Ather Zaidi

5/11/2012 11:08:48 PM

The Saudi Imam is a salaried employee of the same government, that gives bases to US and Britain, to bomb cities in Muslim countries. When ever there is a revolution in Saudi Arabia, such Imams will be hung in public along with the puppet kings.

Moiz Ali

5/11/2012 8:51:35 PM

Is this not the same cleric who said that 10 year old girl can be married, and maybe a mother at the age of 11. But mixing sexes in the sports event like Olympics causes corruption in the society. What is a bigger corruption than pedophilia!

V Tiger

5/11/2012 4:33:15 PM

Shall we call this as progress?What do these people eat?Yes eat & not smoke!

Dennis Kavaz

5/11/2012 3:30:25 PM

Every professions has specialized persons (qualified Teachers or technician) that knows the answers to his professions. With the Muslims clerics instead of teaching just theology however, they also thing they know, about politics, economics science and now sports??

mara mcglothin

5/11/2012 3:15:52 PM

FARUK AND STERN Never ever discount the power of Turkish women. There are quite a few that will stand up and scream should their right ever be encroached upon. That would be a noise clearly heard round the world!

Rimon Tree

5/11/2012 2:00:36 PM

@ Faruk I always hope that the AKP will not succeed in that and the smart Turkish people will wake up eventually and get rid of this plague with the next elections!

Faruk Beisser

5/11/2012 12:35:26 PM

AKP learns a lot from the Saudis! Atatürk freed the women, now AKP puts them back where men want them, as servants to the macho world!

B12

5/11/2012 11:57:07 AM

I guess it's not about hatred of women - after all saudi men need them as does the rest of the males in the world. It is more about fear. Perhaps the Saudi establishment are in fear of being eventually ruled by women, and thus being subjected to the same treatment that is dished out to them. It will come, eventually, and then their power will be gone... how sad....

suat yildirim

5/11/2012 10:36:15 AM

Here we go one moore idiot to make a statment.about what is wright and what is wrong. This illitered sad people give a bad name to islam.They are only interested.Married young girls at 10 kept woman in chains like they are not human. For humanty sake get rid of them ones and for all.

Red Tail

5/11/2012 9:59:41 AM

The discrimination Saudis show against women is worse than the apartheid or the way afro americans were ever treated in the south. Why do they hate women so much? Do they not have mothers and sisters they can relate with? I do not understand.
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