RIYADH An imam, whose voice helped him become the first black Saudi to lead prayers at Mecca's Grand Mosque, said he was wrong to speak against a fatwa prohibiting singing, in the latest spat between reformist and conservative clerics in the kingdom.
King Abdullah's push for reform has fostered divisions among senior Saudi clerics, and Adil Kalbani shocked conservative clerics in June by speaking in favor of singing, saying neither the Koran nor Prophet Mohammad's sayings prohibited it.
But, in remarks published by Saudi al-Hayat newspaper on Wednesday, Kalbani said that he had discussed the fatwa with people including Islamic Affairs Minister Saleh bin Abdul-Aziz bin Mohammad al-Sheikh and had changed his mind.
"Most singing today ... brings with it debauchery, obscenity and abomination. Even conservative singing authorized by some clerics can be described as drivel at the very least," he said.
Saudi Arabia has no night clubs and its rare concerts are given by male singers to an all-male audience.
The kingdom, a major U.S. ally, is ruled by the Al Saud family in alliance with clerics from the austere Wahhabi school of Islam who oversee mosques, the judiciary and education, as well as running police who enforce religious morality.
Interior ministry police work with the morals squad to make sure unrelated men and women are kept apart, that women are covered from head to toe and do not drive, and that sharia law is fully implemented including a ban on alcohol.
The rulers of the world's top oil exporting country have wrestled with the issue of whether to moderate Wahhabism since the September 11 attacks in 2001 on U.S. landmarks, carried out by mostly Saudi nationals, and the emergence of al Qaeda militancy against the Saudi government in 2003.
Kalbani likens himself to U.S. President Barack Obama, the first African American to hold the office.
While Saudi Arabia abolished slavery about half a century ago, many Saudis of African descent say they still face a glass ceiling in workplaces, especially in public administration.
(Editing by Louise Ireland)