March 11, 2008 / 5:21 PM / 9 years ago

Cleric attacks hardliners over wedding dance

<p>Saudi men celebrate and dance during a traditional Saudi wedding in Jeddah city, Saudi Arabia, April 15,2005.Ahmed Jadallah</p>

RIYADH (Reuters) - A prominent Saudi Arabian cleric has issued a rare public attack on religious hardliners angry over a video showing him dancing at a wedding in the conservative Islamic state, a newspaper reported Tuesday.

The video, posted on the Internet, showed Sheikh Abdul-Mohsen al-Obaikan dancing the Bedouin sword dance at a wedding. Similar dances are also performed by top royals at some national festivities.

Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi interpretation of Sunni Islam frowns on singing and dancing and maintains a strict segregation of unrelated men and women, even at weddings.

Obaikan, an adviser to the cleric-run Ministry of Justice, defended himself in remarks published in Asharq al-Awsat, saying the society needed to "get over restrictions imposed by ignorant people."

"They want to turn our weddings into funerals and joy to sadness," he said. "There is no report from the Prophet or any of the early Islamic leaders saying that they turned weddings into occasions for preaching."

Saudi Arabia uses a strict interpretation of Islamic law and allows Wahhabi clerics wide influence in social affairs.

But liberal critics say their powers have increased since the 1970s, citing cinema houses and occasional mixed weddings.

Reporting by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Stephen Weeks

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