The conservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is slowly but surely opening to an increased role for women in society, as for the first time in the country’s history, an important religious leader has declared it possible for women to be admitted into Heaven.
In a sermon he delivered at the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina last Friday, the progressive Imam Sheikh Salah Al-Budair declared that women can be admitted into heaven, as long as they are accompanied by “Mahram relatives” (male kin, who is not suitable for marriage under Islamic law).
“I know that I will shock many people by saying this, but I think that women can indeed be admitted into Heaven. ,” the Imam preached. “ The Prophet said ‘No woman should travel except with a Mahram’. Ascending to heaven is the greatest trip in every good muslim’s existence. I don’t believe that the Prophet meant this trip to be an exception. I think that a woman can get into Heaven, as long as she’s accompanied by a man of her family. This, of course, implies that at least one man in her family needs to be admitted himself…”
This surprising declaration is in complete rupture with the country’s traditional hard line, which states that woman can never be admitted into Heaven, under any circumstances.
A group of conservative scholars and religious leaders from across Saudi Arabia, overseen by the country’s ministry of Islamic Affairs, signed a declaration condemning the Imam’s sermon as a blasphemy, and reaffirming that “only men are worthy of going to Heaven”.
“It’s our responsibility to spread the true word of God, and all irresponsible people like Sheikh al-Budair are tarnishing Islam are contrary to the teachings of the Quran and the Hadith.” asserts the declaration. “Women are sinners by nature and, therefore, cannot be admitted in Allah’s kingdom. Of course, they should still live a devout life to help their sons and husbands go to Heaven.”
The scholars said that many deviant groups and individuals over the centuries have been responsible for the spreading such false beliefs, which are not part of the teaching of Islam. They advised all Muslims to “keep away from all the rituals and beliefs which are unislamic”.
The simple fact that the progressive Imam wasn’t arrested, suggests that some influential members of the Royal family may have secretly come to his defense.
Rumors have already begun to spread, relayed by the Saudi media, that Princess Fahda bint Falah bin Sultan, the King’s second wife and mother of the Crown Prince Mohammed, could have used her influence to keep the religious leader from being arrested.
The controversy has drawn reactions from various groups in the region, including Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who promised to kill the Imam if he doesn’t withdraw his declaration.
Sheikh Salah Al-Budair is expected to preach again at the Prophet’s Mosque next Friday, and his sermon promises to draw a lot attention from both the media and the religious authorities.