Sheik Saad Bin Naser al-Shethri, who is a member of the powerful government-sanctioned Supreme Committee of (Islamic) Scholars, was quoted Wednesday in the Al-Watan daily as demanding an end to coed classes at the newly opened King Abdullah Science and Technology University.
"Mixing is a great sin and a great evil," al-Shethri was quoted as saying. "When men mix with women, their hearts burn and they will be diverted from their main goal (which is) ... education."
Al-Shethri's comments indicate there may be significant opposition to the country's first fully integrated coed university among the kingdom's powerful religious establishment.
The multibillion dollar postgraduate institution, which officially opened its doors to students last week, has been touted by King Abdullah as a "beacon of tolerance." The school boasts state-of-the-art labs, the world's 14th fastest supercomputer and one of the biggest endowments worldwide.
Saudi officials have envisaged the university as a key part of the kingdom's plans to transform itself into a global scientific hub — its latest efforts to diversify its oil-reliant economy.
Al-Watan, which is owned by members of the royal family, accused al-Shethri of trying to undermine Abdullah's reforms and suggested such criticism breeds terrorism.
"This is what Al Qaeda awaits as a pretext and justification" for its actions, the paper's editor-in-chief, Jamal Kashukshi, said in an editorial.
Another pro-government daily, Al-Riyadh, also rejected al-Shethri's comments, describing them as "a creed which puts us behind the rest of the Muslim world."
Source: Fox News