Saudi women look at jewelry at a gold fair in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 21, 2009.
Saudi women look at jewelry at a gold fair in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 21, 2009. Photo by AP
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Online chats between men and women are forbidden in Islam, a prominent Saudi cleric has said, explaining that a virtual conversation is comparable to the forbidden situation of a man and a woman alone in a private area.

Sheikh Abdullah al-Mutlaq, a member of the Saudi Committee of Senior Scholars, warned Muslim social media users that conversing online may lead to sin, as "the devil would be present when women talk to men," the Al-Arabiya website reported Thursday. 

Al-Mutlaq, whose comments were made during a Saudi radio show, warned that even seemingly innocent online requests for advice are sinful, and urged women against contacting men online.

Saudi Arabia heavily segregates between genders, and women are not generally allowed to converse with men unrelated to them. Women are also expected wear a traditional head covering called a hijab, and in some areas a face-veil, niqab, is also customary.

According to Al-Arabiya, response on Saudi social media to the cleric's statement varied between praise and incredulity. "Why don't they just ban women all together?" one exasperated user wrote.