Saudi Arabia's top clerics have challenged the government's policy to expand jobs for women, with a fatwa ruling that they should not work as cashiers in supermarkets, said a report on Monday.

The official fatwa issuing body said “it is not permissible for a woman to work in a place where they mix with men,” said the news website Sabq.org.

“It is necessary to keep away from places where men congregate.

Women should look for decent work that does not make it possible for them to attract men or be attracted by men,” it said.

The ruling came from the Committee on Scholarly Work and Ifta, the official issuer of fatwas, or religious rulings, under the Council of Senior Scholars, the top authority for Islamic issues in the kingdom.

The fatwa was in response to a question, published with the ruling, asking specifically if women should work as cashiers in supermarkets, Sabq reported.

The ruling was unambiguous, and signed by Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, head of the Senior Scholars Council, and six other members of the fatwa committee.

The fatwa came some four months after the labour Ministry quietly authorised stores in the western city of Jeddah to employ women as cashiers, in an attempt to open up opportunities for women who are forcibly segregated from men under the strict Saudi version of Sunni Islam.

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