Controversy Erupts After Saudi Academic Calls For Co-Ed Schools

Saudi students sit for their final high school exams in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah on June 19, 2010 at the end of 2009/10 school year.

TEL AVIV — A Saudi academic stirred controversy recently with his call to allow academic lecturers to directly teach students without partitions between the genders.

The comments from Saad Abdulrahman Albazei, a teacher of literature and the English language at the King Saud University in Riyadh, who even called to do away with all gender segregation in educational institutions, drew angry responses from hardliners in the kingdom, who took to Twitter to express their anger.

“I was one of the last to directly teach female students in academia in an open classroom,” wrote al-Albazei in his first post to social media regarding gender segregation. “Some of my female students have doctorate degrees today. Others are professors and their contribution to academia and other fields is amazing and I’m proud of them.”

According to the Saudi academic, despite public perception, certain institutions in the kingdom used to allow male lecturers to teach female students some 30 years ago until, he said, religious radicalism took over. During all those years, he added, he was not aware of any case of harassment.

“The presence of the woman next to the man, meaning an equal presence, became a normalcy in every place in our country and empowerment of women has become today part of the country’s policies,” said the lecturer in another tweet. “Even the Justice Ministry has become part of that change. How, then, do universities continue to operate separately from this social change, which they are supposed to lead?”

A number of local media outlets reported on Albazei’s comments, but they drew a particularly significant amount of attention on social media. Most talkbacks from women expressed their support and there were men who praised him as well, but a majority of the responses in general were statements of condemnation, including from more than a few women.

“Allah, may you disrupt the intentions and destroy those who want to harm Muslim women,” tweeted Asmaa al-Aboudi, a female faculty member and scientist. “The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) commanded the segregation of the sexes even in prayer, which is the purest ritual, so how can the separation be abolished?”

Ebtesam al-Fozan, another female academic with a degree in religious studies from the Islamic University, quoted from the Quran, “Those who love to spread anarchy and immorality will be punished with great torment in this world and the next, a punishment that Allah knows and you do not.”

Saudi businessman Dalmouq al-Dosari wrote, “May Allah make your face black Saad Albazei. … Allah will punish any bastard who wishes to disassemble the religion brick by brick.”

The academic Abdelrahman al-Serafi quoted one of the Prophet Muhammad’s disciples and lashed out at al-Bazei, writing, “Abi Huraira, the Prophet’s friend, said: The Prophet, may peace be upon him, said that years of deceit would come in which the people would believe a liar lie to the just. They would believe a traitor and denounce the honest man as a traitor. They asked the Prophet when this would happen and he said when an idiot begins educating the people.”