Following are excerpts from a TV debate on Saudi women's participation in the Olympics, which aired on Rotana Khalijiya TV on July 1, 2012.
Reporter: For the first time in history, Saudi women are taking part in the Olympic games. This may resonate louder than women gaining the right to vote and be elected in the municipal elections, as well as gaining full membership in the Shura Council.
However, this development, which brought joy to many women and men, also arouses the anger of several clerics.
How will this matter be resolved? Will Saudi women participate in the 2012 London Olympics, or will the [social] constraints prevent this and the Saudi team be banned altogether?
Saudi cleric Ahmad Al-Mu'abi: With regard to women's sports in Saudi Arabia – it can take place in an organized fashion. We have [girls'] schools, which have fences, sports fields, and so on. If women want to practice sports, [they should do it] far from the cameras and out of the sight [of men].
It is in women's nature to keep themselves covered up. Whoever things that we restrict women is wrong. The woman is a hidden gem. Anybody who has a gem tries to protect it, so that nobody sees it or covets it.
We don't want to place our girls in a position where people can see them everywhere, and the cameras...
Interviewer: But this exists in all Islamic countries. You talk about Saudi Arabia as a Muslim country, but in all other Muslim countries, women practice sports, and they participate in the Olympics.
Ahmad Al-Mu'abi: My dear girl, we are a 100% Muslim country. We are all Muslims, Allah be praised. But other countries have Christians and other non-Muslims. Therefore, they are forced to... But this is not up to me, to you, or to anyone. The Council of Senior Islamic Scholars [in Saudi Arabia] will decide one way or the other. That's all I know.
But with regard to a girl's engaging in sports – it is required so long as it is in her home, or with her friends, or her neighbors. But what is the goal of sports? To preserve her religion. The goal of Islam is to build the body and soul. Should we focus on the body and forget about the soul?
Sports journalist Reem Abdallah, founder of the first Saudi women's soccer team: I have read that according to some fatwas, if women participate in the Olympics, they will remove the hijab and wear immodest clothing. Are Saudi women waiting to go to the Olympics in order remove the hijab? That is the first question.
The second question is whether you have such mistrust of Saudi women. She was raised on religion, on moral values, and on lofty principles. I do not believe that the goal of the Saudi woman is to go to the Olympics in order to remove her hijab and wear immodest clothing.
We all have a clear and honest goal. I hope that Saudi women will be viewed in a positive, rather than negative, light. Through my hijab, my modest clothing, and my participation in the Olympics, I may open the eyes of the Westerners, so that they see a Muslim, Arab, and Saudi woman, who can attain great achievements. This has been proven by the equestrian Dalma [Rushdi], who won a bronze medal.
I am totally convinced that any girl who represents Saudi Arabia – whether in the Olympics or anywhere else – will represent it in the best possible way, in a way that brings honor to Islam as well as to the country.
Ahmad Al-Mu'abi: Is there nothing left to deal with but women and sports? What does she want to strengthen her body for? Does she want her body to be muscular in order to wrestle with men? What is the point of this? Will she go to the battlefield?
Sports should be first and foremost for men. Women should follow.