SHAFAQNA- A prominent Saudi cleric whipped up controversy by issuing a religious ruling forbidding the building of snowmen, describing them as un-Islamic.
Asked on a religious website if it was permissible for fathers to build snowmen for their children after a snowstorm in the country’s north, Sheikh Mohammed Saleh al-Munajjid replied: “It is not permitted to make a statue out of snow, even by way of play and fun.”
Snow has covered upland areas of Tabuk province near Saudi Arabia’s border with Jordan for the third consecutive year as cold weather swept across the Middle East.
Quoting Muslim scholars, Munajjid argued that to build a snowman was to create an image of a human being, an action considered sinful under the kingdom’s medieval interpretation of Sharia.
“God has given people space to make whatever they want which does not have a soul, including trees, ships, fruits, buildings and so on,” he wrote in his ruling.
The sheikh’s comments provoked swift responses from Twitter users writing in Arabic and identifying themselves with Arab names.
“They are afraid for their faith of everything … sick minds,” one Twitter user wrote.
Another posted a photo of a man in formal Arab garb holding the arm of a “snow bride” wearing a bra and lipstick. “The reason for the ban is fear of sedition,” he wrote.
A third said the country was plagued by two types of people: “A people looking for a fatwa (religious ruling) for everything in their lives, and a cleric who wants to interfere in everything in the lives of others through a fatwa,” the user wrote.
Munajjid had some supporters, however. “It (building snowmen) is imitating the infidels, it promotes lustiness and eroticism,” one wrote.
“May God preserve the scholars, for they enjoy sharp vision and recognize matters that even Satan does not think about.”
Saudi Arabian clerics regularly issues fatwas and cast a wide net over what it considers “un-Islamic.”
In October 2014, a top Saudi Muslim cleric declared the micro-blogging site Twitter, popular among both men and women in the kingdom, as nothing more than “a source of lies” and evil.
“If it were used correctly, it could be of real benefit, but unfortunately it’s exploited for trivial matters,” Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh said on his “Fatwa” television show broadcast late Monday.
Twitter is “the source of all evil and devastation,” the mufti said.
“People are rushing to it thinking it’s a source of credible information but it’s a source of lies and falsehood.”
Twitter is highly popular with Saudis and has stirred broad debate on subjects ranging from religion to politics in a country where such public discussion had been considered at best unseemly and sometimes illegal.
Scores of Saudis have been arrested over the years for posting content critical of the Wahhabi regime on Twitter and other social media outlets.
On Friday, liberal activist Raif Badawi was publicly flogged near a mosque in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, receiving 50 lashes for “insulting Islam,” witnesses said.
Badawi, 30, was arrested in June 2012 and charged with offenses ranging from cyber crime to disobeying his father and apostasy, or abandoning his faith.
Badawi’s website included articles critical of senior Saudi religious figures and others from Muslim history.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, a fine of 1 million Saudi riyals ($266,666) and 1,000 lashes last year after prosecutors challenged an earlier sentence of seven years and 600 lashes as being too lenient.
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said the punishment was “barbaric” and noted its timing after Saudi Arabia condemned Wednesday’s deadly attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo.
“Although Saudi Arabia condemned yesterday’s cowardly attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, it is now preparing to inflict the most barbaric punishment on a citizen who just used his freedom of expression and information,” Reporters Without Borders program director Lucie Morillon said Thursday.