DUBAI (AFP) - A Saudi cleric has sparked uproar by appearing on television along with his wife - whose face was uncovered in an open challenge to strict tradition in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom.
Sheikh Ahmed al-Ghamedi, who has said covering the face is not a must for women under Islam, sat alongside his wife Jawaher bint Ali as she spoke to Dubai-based Saudi MBC television, in a programme broadcast at the weekend.
Saudi women rarely show their faces in public.
Sporting trendy sunglasses, light makeup and varnished nails, but also wearing the traditional black abaya cloak, Ghamedi's spouse spoke of the problems their children have at school because of their father's controversial fatwas or edicts.
"Our children complain that some teachers tell them: why does your father say this and that?" she said of fatwas that have enraged zealots in the desert kingdom.
Ghamedi, who once headed the notorious religious police in the western city of Mecca, home to Islam's holiest shrine, has openly challenged the tradition that imposes niqab or face veil on women.
He has also said that wearing makeup is permissible.
"The Prophet did not order women to cover their faces. Wearing make up is allowed," he told Badria al-Bishr, female host of the television programme.
But one outraged person posted on Twitter: "Happy now? Every mobile phone now has a picture of your wife, you cuckold."
Like other posts, it used a picture of the couple - but with the wife's face blurred.
Saudi Arabia's mufti or religious leader Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh criticised Ghamedi on Saudi news website Sabq, urging him to repent and praying that "Allah will guide Ghamedi to the right path".
But Ghamedi supporters also took to social media.
"They insult him for showing his wife's face... but they shut up when it's Alwaleed (bin Talal)," tweeted Ahmed Rasan, posting a picture of the Saudi billionaire prince next to his fashionably dressed wife.
Saudi women are required to cover themselves from head to toe when outside the home, and still need permission from a male guardian to work and marry.
Saudi Arabia is also the world's only country which does not allow women to drive, and those who challenge the ban risk arrest.
On December 9, rights group Amnesty International said authorities have extended the detention of two women's rights activists, one of whom tried to drive into the kingdom.
The interior ministry has still not commented on the case of Loujain Hathloul and Maysaa Alamoudi.
Border officers stopped Hathloul when she tried to drive from neighbouring United Arab Emirates into Saudi Arabia on November 30.
Alamoudi, a UAE-based Saudi journalist, later arrived to support her.
Both were arrested and are being held in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province.