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A Saudi scholar has broken the official rule restricting the issuing of fatwas to senior clerics and called for a boycott of a supermarket chain that has hired female cashiers, local media reports on Wednesday.

A YouTube video clip, which was taken from Al-Usra TV, shows Yousuf Al-Ahmad saying it is dangerous and hypocritical to hire females to work as cashiers, the Saudi Gazette reports.

Panda supermarket chain has employed female cashiers since earlier this month – a move which has drawn some criticism from more conservative members of the strict Muslim country.

In answer to a question from a viewer about whether the supermarket should be boycotted, Al-Ahmad said: “Yes, it (boycott) is a noble act and all Muslim Ulema in history did resort to boycott against whoever made innovations in Islam.

“The danger of hiring females in such public places is that it is part of normalizing the Western culture and that it is hypocritical and should be stopped,” he said.

Saudi’s King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz issued a royal decree on August 12 restricting the issuing of fatwas to the board of senior ulema following a number of more bizarre edicts, including one which said drinking breast milk would make a man and a woman related.

However, Qussay Filali, director general of the Labour Office in Jeddah, said Saudi women are able to work as cashiers in supermarkets, subject to certain controls.

Hard working

Panda hypermarkets has put 16 Saudi women to work at one store in the Red Sea city of Jeddah to test the concept in a country where Islamic conservatives have prevented women from working in gender-mixed environments.

“The women, compared to men, are really hard workers,” Panda spokesman Tarik Ismail told AFP

“If everything goes okay, then we will expand the program (in) the kingdom,” he said

Operating more than 100 retail stores across the country, the United Azizia Panda Co, owned by publicly listed foods giant Savola, already employs women sales clerks in its hypermarket in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Inside the HyperPanda market in the Roshan mall in a wealthy area of Jeddah, the female cashiers are sectioned off in check-out lanes “reserved for women and families.”

That models Saudi restaurants, which have separate sections for men and for women and families.

Unlike their male counterparts, the new cashiers are not in Panda uniforms, instead wearing abayas and veils.

Role models

The cashiers have become role models for other working women. “Naturally women work in all fields as long as they earn their living from legitimate jobs,” one of them said.

The women cashiers are also happy to hear encouraging words from customers.

“The looks of appreciation and satisfaction by the customers made us feel that we are in the right place,” one worker said. “The encouragement will make us stick to our jobs; people encourage us because we are earning our living honorably.”

The profession of a cashier was not usually the favorite for women who always prefer to be teachers, doctors, nurses and businesswomen. With the increasing rate of unemployment, women in Saudi Arabia are willing to take up any job as long as it is honest.

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