The Economist reports that certain elements of the Saudi clerical elite are reconsidering the validity of the ban on ikhtilat, the mixing of sexes:

In the past few months top religious officials, including the minister of justice and the head of the religious police in the Mecca region, which includes Jeddah, have declared ikhtilat a modern term not proscribed by Islamic law. Saudi jurisprudence has erred, they say, by confusing conservative tribal custom with the rules of sharia, thus lumping the innocent mingling of the sexes with the true sin of khulwa, meaning an unmarried, unrelated couple’s “seclusion” in a setting that could tempt devilishness. In support of this argument, they note that wives in the Prophet Muhammad’s time are known to have served male guests and that even today, Saudis rely on maids and drivers in a practical form of daily ikhtilat.

The airing of such views, let alone by senior members of the religious establishment, would once have provoked conservative rage. But such puritanical voices have grown oddly muted since October, when a noted cleric was sacked after he criticised the co-ed policies brought in at the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology, a lavish new college patronised by the king.

Read the entire article here.