Beirut: Keep it short and to the point. And above all, don't embarrass the authorities.
That's the message of a series of official Saudi directives restricting the activities of imams who issue fatwas or deliver long-winded sermons, including some imams accused of simply ripping off sermons from the internet and reading them aloud.
The kingdom's top imam ordered one preacher this week to shut up after he issued a fatwa calling on the faithful to boycott a chain of supermarkets because it employs women as cashiers, according to an article posted on Friday on the website of Arab News.
A royal decree has restricted the issuing of fatwas only to Saudi imams approved by King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz. Saudi authorities are getting fed up with imams who embarrass the kingdom by issuing edicts.
The most recent clashes erupted after Yousuf Ahmad told Saudis to avoid the Panda supermarket chain because it allowed the mingling of female and male employees and customers.
Some imams dismissed Ahmad's ruling as against Islam. "Islam has never prevented women from education and work," said Mohammad Zulfah, according to Arab News.
"Those who oppose the work of women should re-educate themselves." But Ahmad may have angered some powerful figures. Panda employs more than 10,000 people in over 100 branches across the Gulf. The firm admitted it was forced to move 11 female employees this week but vowed to continue employing women in public areas of the stores.
Since then, Grand Mufti Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al Shaikh, Saudi Arabia's top imam, publicly ordered Ahmad to stop issuing such religious rulings.
Meanwhile, Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs has ordered clerics to keep their Friday sermons short and smart, according to a report published on Friday by Saudi Gazette.
A ministry official warned imams they would face punishment if they don't trim their speeches, including being forced to undergo training or having their paycheques docked.
Azam Shewair, an official at the ministry's branch in Riyadh, the capital, said imams needed to keep in mind that elderly or sick worshippers may not be able to handle sitting through hour-long speeches. Another scholar told the Gazette that speeches should be no more than 15 minutes.