Saudi minister’s ‘unintentional’ cuddle of tearful pilgrim sparks mixed reactions

Video footage showing Sheikh Abdul Latif Al Asheikh hugging tearful mother of Christchurch victim and unintentionally kissing her on her head draws both sympathy and ire on social networks.

LONDON - A video of Saudi Arabia's Minister of Islamic Affairs comforting the mother of a Christchurch victim in the holy city of Mecca went viral, sparking mixed reactions on social media in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

The video footage, which went viral, showed Sheikh Abdul Latif Al Asheikh hugging the sorrowful woman pilgrim and unintentionally kissing her on her head.

Last March, a self-avowed Australian white supremacist shot dead 50 Muslims praying at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The accused gunman live-streamed much of the attack and spread a manifesto on social media claiming it was a strike against Muslim "invaders".

The deadly attacks sparked global revulsion and condemnation.

“This picture is natural and very nice, does not disturb anyone except those who have a disease in their heart,” tweeted Abdullah bin Mchaib.

Abdulmohsen echoed Mchaib’s remarks.

A humanitarian gesture summarised the highest meanings of sympathy and affection and whoever says otherwise, then they should review themselves. We, human beings, have been created from feelings and sympathize with each other in the simplest and most difficult things,” wrote Abdulmohsen on Twitter.

However, Ashiekh’s reaction prompted a slew of criticism on social media.

The minister owes an apology to the generations for what he did even if it were unintentional. What is haram (forbidden) is haram and its manifestation is a disaster,” tweeted Salwa Alodidan.

“In my opinion, there is no difference between a woman who cuddles Majed Al Mohandis and a man who cuddles a woman who is not his mahram,” said the Saudi writer.

“Let’s us be impartial. We are waiting for an apology,” she added before deleting her tweet few hours later.

Mohammed Abdelouahab Rafiqui, a researcher in Islamic studies in Morocco, slammed the conservative reactions at a time when Saudi Arabia is embarking on unprecedented social reforms, allowing women to drive and travel without approval from their male guardians.

“Imagine the debates whether it is permissible or not, and the ruling on touching women, whether intentionally or unintentionally, regardless of rules or no rules. It is clear that there is still a long way to go ...,” Rafiqui wrote on Facebook.

“By the way: Salwa Alodidan who posted such awful is counted among the writers and intellectuals and she is the one who filed a lawsuit against Ayed al-Qarni, accusing him of stealing her book and won the case…”, he added.