Riyadh: A senior Saudi scholar is in the forefront of those who made a fervent appeal to the Saudi public and private sectors to create more job opportunities for qualified young Saudi women.

Shaikh Abdul Mohsen Al Obaikan, a member of the Shura Council and adviser to the Ministry of Justice, ruled that Sharia does not prevent women from working as long as they do not mix with unrelated men.

"We cannot see any religious scriptures that forbid women from being engaged in duty together with men at work places. Islam permits women to mix with men even while performing Tawaf and Sa'ai. Similar is the case with shopping at markets," he said.

In his speech at the first day of the Seventh National Dialogue Forum in Buraida City in Qaseem Province on Tuesday, Al Obaikan said: "We cannot say that a woman in Islamic dress in the workplace is in a state of khulwa [mixing with unrelated men], which is prohibited by Islam."

Islam bans such mixing if it involves any fitna or seduction. "All mixings are not prohibited. But only those involving fitna," he said.

However, he also pointed out that the basic duty of women is at home and bringing up children. He also called for opening separate sections for working women at companies and offices.

The first day's session of Dialogue Forum, with the theme of 'Labour Sectors and Employment: A Dialogue Between Society and Labour Institutions', is mainly devoted to problems faced by Saudi women in the local employment market. As many as 70 figures, including academics, thinkers, writers, businessmen as well as officials from the ministries of labour and civil service are attending the two-day forum.

Those who addressed the forum stressed the need for more job opportunities for Saudi women and implementation of resolutions on women's employment.

The discussion was being held in the wake of a recent report of the Ministry of Economy and Planning saying unemployment among Saudi women soared to an alarming rate exceeding 60 per cent.

The first day of the forum was conspicuous by the participation of women. Nadiya Al Dossari, one of the participants, emphasised the need to provide training to Saudi graduates to meet job market requirements, while Dr Muneera Al Shaikha spoke about another key problem of transportation faced by women.

Saleh Al Hosain, president of the forum, said the meeting would discuss various aspects of women's employment, including its motives. He highlighted the importance of national dialogue, saying that discussions on controversial topics would give momentum to the dialogue process.

Dr Khalid Al Sultan, president of King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, moderated the session.