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Deadly prayers, twisted knickers and motorcycles

‘Saudi Labor minister faces “Deadly Prayers” from angry clerics’ ran the headline on the Al Arabiya News website (26 December 2012). When you read an opening paragraph like that you just know, don’t you, that the more you read, the more bizarre it’s going to get?

‘A group of religious figures in Saudi Arabia have threatened to strike the labor minister who seeks to create jobs for women with “deadly prayers” ’, ran the story. ‘They threatened to pray that he gets cancer like his predecessor Ghazi al-Gosaibi, who died of the disease in 2010’. And to prove that he meant business, one of them assured reporters: ‘I supplicated against a senior official at the ministry and he received the (cancer) disease and he died’.

They don’t mess about with their prayers in Saudi Arabia, do they? And while, as threats from Islamic extremists go, having the ‘deadly prayers’ of a group of deranged clerics unleashed at you probably isn’t on the same level as a fatwa, it probably is extremely noisy and inconvenient, and God knows what the neighbours must think.

To a non-believer the most disturbing thing about being threatened with ‘deadly prayers’ by 200 odd clerics (well, very odd clerics in this case) must be that they assume that everyone else is as ignorant and gullible as they are. But what was it that got them so wound up?

The cause of the problem was the obviously unsuitable nature of the work that was being proposed for women to do. It was a ‘Westernisation plan,’ the Minister, Adel Fakeih, was told. ‘Your ministry has thrown our daughters in places that don’t suit their values’.

The unsuitable work for women that the Minister was proposing, believe it or not, and that the clerics were getting their religious knickers in a twist about, was the plan to allow women to work in lingerie shops instead of men.

Meanwhile in the Indonesian province of Aceh where strict sharia law is observed the Mayor, Suaidi Yahya, says he intends to save women’s ‘morals and behaviours’ and has ordered them not to straddle motorbikes behind male drivers.

Under new regulations women motorcycle passengers are only allowed to ride side-saddle because straddling the bike seat violates Islamic values. ‘When you see a woman straddle, she looks like a man’ he said. ‘But if she sits side-saddle, she looks like a woman’. And he added, helpfully, that women sitting side-saddle only rarely fell off.

But ‘how to ride a motorbike is not regulated in Sharia’ protested one local. ‘There is no mention of it in the Koran’. And it does seem that the new regulation has not been fully thought through. What if the woman is driving the motorcycle? Should her crash helmet be worn over or under the burka? What position should she adopt when riding a push bike? What about two women on a tandem? Which side should she face when riding side-saddle?

Well the answer to the last one is obvious. - Whichever side faces Mecca. Although care will be needed to face the proper direction when turning corners.