The man at the eye of the storm in Saudi Arabia is Ahmad Aziz Al Ghamdi. He’s a religious scholar, the former head of the religious police in Mecca, a group officially known as the Committee for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

He has the pedigree of an ultra-conservative. Yet, he stunned Saudis with a religious ruling, known as a fatwa, that is very liberal by Saudi standards. He declared that the niqab, the black face veil that is ubiquitous among women in Saudi society, is not obligatory.

A Tweet On Women’s Veils, Followed By Raging Debate In Saudi Arabia

Photo credit: Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images

Caption: Saudi Arabian women wear their traditional face covering, the niqab, at a coffee and chocolate exhibition in the capital Riyadh on Monday. A prominent religious figure said on Twitter that the face veil is not mandatory, sparking a heated national debate.

There’s no doubt the veil is used by some as a way of marginalising, controlling and dominating women. It is used to relegate women to second-class citizens, to deny their sexuality and even to threaten sexual violence. But the veil, a piece of cloth, does not have the power to do that. Only societies do. Focusing on the former does not reform the latter.
—  Faisal al Yafai