Cleric Shakes Up Saudis: Uncover Your Face, Wear Makeup, Mingle with Men

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Saudis got a shake-up this month with some radical views from a prominent cleric, who now faces a lawsuit for telling women it’s totally fine to bare their faces and swipe on some lipstick.


Sheikh Ahmad al-Ghamdi, a former head of the religious police in Mecca, issued a fatwa stating that the niqab, or face veil, is not required under Islamic law and women can apply makeup however they wish.

Al-Arabiya reported that Ghamdi underscored this point by bringing his wife onto a popular talk show, where the pair chatted and laughed while her face was uncovered.

He’s the same cleric who rocked the boat last year by noting it’s totally fine for women to travel outside of the kingdom without a male guardian, and stressing that mixing of the sexes in everyday life is “permissible in Islam and is a natural part of life.”

“Those who oppose mixing of the sexes are contradicting themselves as they most likely mix with the opposite sex on a daily basis, such as having female servants,” he noted. He’s also said music is completely fine.

After the Ghamdis’ talk-show appearance, the cleric has been the target of threats and called things like a “filthy pimp” for championing equality.

A few days later, Arab News reported that some Saudis were planning to file suit, hoping to prevent him from speaking on any Islamic matters or appearing in media to do so.


Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Alsheikh has basically told Ghamdi to shut up: “There are those who said that it was okay for women to show their faces to strangers and that the veil is a social tradition, and not a religious order,” he said. “This is wrong because covering the face is a religious obligation.”

The debate rages on, with one scholar suggesting middle ground can be found on the ugliness of the woman.

“If she is used to covering her face and if she is comfortable in doing so, she may continue the practice; but if she is not, it should be left to her own judgment,” said Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Fawzan, a scholar at the High Institute for Jurisprudence at Imam Muhammad Bin Saud Islamic University. “I personally find that it is important for a woman to cover her face, especially if she is young and beautiful. However, if she is old or unattractive then she may be lenient.”


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