Birthday parties against Islam says top Saudi cleric

RIYADH Thu Aug 21, 2008 9:18am BST

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RIYADH (Reuters) - Celebrating anniversaries, birthdays or mother's day is against Muslim 'righteousness', Saudi Arabia's top cleric has said, quashing suggestions by a colleague that Islam permits personal celebrations.

Media savvy cleric Salman al-Awdah told viewers during a call-in television show last week that celebrating birthdays and wedding anniversaries was not against Islam, sparking a debate in the conservative kingdom and prompting the mufti to weigh in.

Grand Mufti Abdul-Aziz al-Shaikh said celebrating such events would make Muslims like followers of other faiths including Jews and Christians, al-Madina newspaper reported.

Shaikh embodies Wahhabism, the hardline Islamic doctrine that has ruled hand in hand with the Saud family since the kingdom was founded some eight decades ago.

Women are banned from driving and mixing with unrelated men in Saudi Arabia, whose clerics issue edicts ordering Saudis not to buy red roses on Valentine's Day on an almost annual basis.

"A Muslim should thank almighty Allah if his children are healthy and if his married life is stable as the years pass by," the paper quoted Shaikh as saying.

Two occasions call for celebration in the Muslim world, Shaikh said: Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha, which marks the end of the annual haj pilgrimage.

Awdah, who follows a relatively softer line, is widely believed to be favoured by circles close to King Abdullah. The monarch has repeatedly said that Saudi Arabia needs reforms.

(Reporting by Souhail Karam, editing by Tim Pearce)

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