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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 March 2008, 18:14 GMT
Saudi sheikh in wedding dance row
By Frances Harrison
BBC religious affairs reporter

Saudis performing traditional sword dance
Saudi Arabian society is subject to strict rules of conduct
A prominent Saudi cleric has publicly criticised religious hardliners after it was suggested he behaved improperly when he danced at a wedding.

Sheikh Abdul Mohsen al-Obaikan had been filmed performing the Bedouin sword dance at the wedding.

But he told Saudi newspaper Asharq al Awsat there was nothing wrong with showing joy.

The sheikh is a prominent member of the Saudi Kingdom's Council of senior Islamic scholars.

He is also a legal consultant to the country's ministry of justice.

Voice of tolerance

There is suspicion Sheik al-Obaikan has been targeted because he has expressed relatively moderate views in the past.

He has given limited support to the right of women to drive and criticised suicide attacks, saying they are not religiously sanctioned as acts of martyrdom.

In Saudi Arabia's strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, where the sexes are segregated and clerics determine social restrictions, Sheikh Al Obaikan is considered a voice of tolerance.

But his enemies attack him by describing him as the cleric to the United States marines and the Saudi establishment.

Now the Sheikh has had to defend his rather sedate Bedouin sword dance at his nephew's wedding - a video clip of which has been posted on the internet.

The Sheikh confirmed to an Arabic newspaper that he did take part in the dance but quoted many stories of the Prophet's life to argue that there was nothing wrong with entertainment like dancing and drum playing.

He complained some extremist groups just wanted to turn weddings into funerals and he urged society to rid itself of the shackles imposed by what he called ignorant people.



SEE ALSO
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11 Mar 08 |  Middle East
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21 Feb 08 |  Middle East

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