RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's top cleric on Monday called on Saudi girls to remain chaste in the face of liberal forces who want to Westernise young people's lifestyles.
Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, is a strict Islamic state of 25 million people where religious hardliners and reformers are locked in a bitter dispute over the future of the country. King Abdullah is seen as a cautious reformer.
"They want her to be unveiled, moving about and travelling on her own, getting involved in relationships with whoever she wants and calling whoever she wants to start up friendships with whoever she wants," Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al al-Sheikh said in a statement published by state news agency SPA.
He said the education system needed teachers who had conservative morals at the heart of their agenda. "Those who teach in universities must adopt the desirable quality of the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice," he said.
Saudi Arabia has a special force of religious policemen called the "Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice" which enforces gender segregation in most of the Gulf Arab country, home to Islam's holiest sites.
The Mufti warned of the use of mobile phones and messaging to break the moral code maintained by the powerful religious establishment.
"Muslim girl, there are so many people who want to lure girls by contacting them on the phone, and oh how much they wish women would finally fall victim, and there are many women who have believed them," he said, addressing Saudi girls.
Many Saudis have resorted to the internet to avoid the system and establish relationships. Mobile phones have also been used by men to exert pressure on unmarried women, by threatening them over photographs they may have of them.