Saudi Cleric Rules Newborn Babies Must Wear Burkas

Sheikh Abdullah Daoud, a Saudi Arabian cleric, issued a fatwa (religious edict), during a television interview on Al-Majd TV, and stated his belief that all newborn females must have their faces covered with a burka to protect them against the threat of sexual violence. In the ruling, Daoud quoted unnamed medical authorities and security forces concerning sexual attacks on babies in Saudi Arabia.

Footage of the interview became a lightning rod for the social media network in Saudi Arabia and quickly became the most hotly discussed and debated issue. According to strict Islamic law, until puberty girls are not required to wear burkas.

Daoud's comments have been condemned by many as disturbing and harmful to the religion. Sheikh Mohammad Al-Jzlana, a former judge for the Saudi Board of Grievances told Al Arabiya that the cleric's words made a mockery of Islam and painted the wrong image of the religion.

He said the ruling was "denigrating to Islam and Sharia and made Islam look bad." The former judge continued and said that forcing baby girls to wear a burka was an injustice to children. He added that he feels saddened when he sees veiled newborn babies in the street and pleaded that Saudis not pay any attention to the unofficial fatwa (official fatwas can only be issued by Saudi authorities).

However, many of the outraged complained that Al-Jzlana failed to address the serious problem of child molestation that takes place in Saudi Arabia.

A recent study conducted in Saudi Arabia revealed shocking information with respect to sexual harassment. Approximately 70 percent of children in the Kingdom suffer from rape and sexual violence at the hands of their relatives.

Muna Al-Awad, a gynecologist at the King Saud Medical Complex reported that married women as well suffer from sexual violence at the hands of their own husbands while unmarried women suffer the same fate at the hands of their brothers.

Recently, the Ministry of Education has begun a social awareness campaign about sexual violence against children.

Saudi Arabia is also a country rampant with sexual discrimination and harassment, stemming from the denial of basic rights (the right to public education, free movement and marriage by choice) and the fact that men are socialized to believe that that women are their property and can do to them as they see fit.

Not only are women in the Kingdom forbidden from obtaining a driver's license, they are not allowed to be seen outdoors without being accompanied by a male member of the family (a woman’s own son can even qualify as her “guardian” in some cases). Women are also denied economic rights. In cases where they are receiving a monthly stipend, it can be confiscated. Inheritance rights may be denied.

A recent conference titled "The Family Protection from Violence Against Women and Children" held at the Women’s Health Sciences College in Riyadh addressed the problem of sexual violence against women. Recommendations from the conference included the imposition and enforcement of strict governmental regulations and punishments against sexual violence, education of women in self-defense and easier access for women to the authorities in order to file complaints.

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