A prominent Saudi religious scholar has been criticised and praised in equal measures after he waded into a controversy over gifts to women in the media.
Mohammad Al Arefi said that he offered gifts to 100 actors, singers and radio hosts and that he was thankful to them for accepting them.
The gift was a box that contained a copy of the Quran, a set of lectures and a bottle of perfume, the scholar posted on his Twitter account where he has more than 7.6 million followers.
The list of those who were offered gifts included some of the most popular women working in the media, prompting critics to lash out at his action.
“Religious scholars are very particular about dealing with women who do not cover their heads,” one critic said. “As they usually refuse and rule out any contact with these women, why is Al Arefi dealing with them? Why does he reject for others what he allows for himself? That is not fair,” the critic said, cited by Kuwaiti news site Al Aan.
Another critic said that he was shocked by the scholar’s gesture.
“I wonder what Shaikh Al Arefi would say if someone offered a gift to his wife,” he said. “Even the reference to ‘love and appreciation’ in the message with the gift is puzzling.”
A blogger, writing under the moniker “Liberated Kuwaiti”, said that the world had gone mad.
“This is a strange world in which singers are offered gifts and thanked for accepting them while children in Syria are suffering from cold and hunger,” he posted.
A person named Kumar posted that Shaikh Al Arefi seemed to prefer to deal with famous people.
“He should seek to preach the good word in other places, such as Somalia,” he said.
However, his supporters said that the gifts were “a positive expression of open communication guided by good intentions.”
“It is very clear that the scholar meant only good when he presented the gifts,” Mohammad Al Herwan, a blogger, said. “He is advising them to read from the Holy Book and to gain insights into his lectures. Unfortunately, there are people with distorted minds who see evil in every action by a religious figure, even where there are only pure intentions.”
For Al Nawmas, another blogger, Shaikh Al Arefi’s attitudes were “first class” and denoted a positive mindset.
“The Shaikh has obviously taken everyone by surprise through his highly laudable attitude,” he said. “He is working hard and he is producing results. Those who are denigrating him are obviously jealous of his success. We are happy with his action and we do encourage him to move forward.”