Speaking on the Saudi Broadcasting Corp. (SBC) this week, Adil al-Kalbani, former imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, suggested that gender segregation has now become a “phobia or fear of women”, Arab News reported.
The cleric, who has repeatedly gone against mainstream beliefs, including refusing to consider Shia Muslims as heretics, argued that modern interpretations of gender segregation were more conservative than those in the era of Prophet Mohammad.
Al-Kalbani claimed that in the early days of Islam, men and women used to pray in the same room, while in modern mosques women have a separate space for prayers.
“Sadly today, we are paranoid — in a mosque — a place of worship. They are completely separated from men, they cannot see them and can only hear them through microphones or speakers. And if the voice has been cut off, they wouldn’t know what is going on (during prayer). In the Prophet’s era… the men used to pray in the front and women prayed in the back of the mosque without a partition, not even a curtain”, the cleric said, as cited by Arab News.
He, however, noted positive changes in Saudi society, which has become more inclusive of women, including a royal decree lifting a ban on female drivers.
“This is a kind of phobia of women, fear of them doubt in them. Until recently, we were scared to give her a car, to let her go out. We began to constantly hear that a woman became a deputy minister, ambassador and other high ranking positions”.
Having opened up the world of entertainment to women, the kingdom has since hosted a whole row of concerts (female-only, mixed-gender), a Comic-Con pop culture festival, and a mixed-gender national day celebration, when people danced to electronic music for the very first time.
In addition, the Saudi king lifted the ban on women driving cars and allowed them to attend sport events at stadiums. Likewise, for the first time in its history, Saudi Arabia appointed a woman, Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan, as ambassador to the United States.