Saudi cleric calls for Muslim maids only

Filed on July 26, 2010

RIYADH — A Saudi cleric said only Muslim housemaids should be allowed in the oil-rich country and they should be kept segregated from men in the home, an online news site reported on Tuesday.

“If there is a need to import workers as female domestics, they should be Muslims,” Sheikh Yusef al-Ahmad, a strong opponent of men and women mixing in the ultra-conservative kingdom, told the website.

He also said female domestics should cover themselves in the home, and that, following Islamic requirements for Saudi women, they should also be required to have a male relative guardian, or mahram, with them in Saudi Arabia.

“They should be required to work in the home covered with the hijab (veil), and not mix with men in the home, not enter their rooms or the hall or serve them,” he said.

Sheikh Ahmad is a lecturer at Riyadh’s Imam Mohammed bin Saudi University, the country’s leading Islamic education institution.

He gained notoriety earlier this year when he called for the Grand Mosque of Mecca, Islam’s holiest site, to be torn down and rebuilt with separate entrances and areas for men and women.

His latest comments are directed at the huge foreign labour pool in the country, accounting for an estimated eight to 10 million of a population of about 25 million people.

Saudi families employ millions of foreign cooks, maids and drivers, many of whom already come from large Muslim states like Indonesia and countries in Africa.

Most of the more than one million Indonesian workers in Saudi Arabia are female household workers. But they are not required to be in the country with male guardians.

Under Saudi Arabia’s strict Islamic rules, unrelated men and women are not supposed to mix.

However, the rule is never enforced on families with foreign maids and drivers, or on the many foreign men who work as waiters in the family sections of restaurants.

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