Scholars at Egypt's al-Azhar were outraged at a fatwa issued by Saudi cleric Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak that states that all those who promote the mingling of sexes are apostates that should to be killed.
Barrak's fatwa comes in contradiction to earlier statements by al-Azhar, the world's leading institution of Sunni Islam, that claimed that mixing is permitted within limits.
Islam allows the mixing of men and women as long as it within the limits of decency and respect, said Sheikh Abdul-Hamid al-Atrash, former head of al-Azhar's Fatwa Committee.
"A woman can go out to work as long as she is modestly dressed and will not deal with men in a way that arouses them" he told Al Arabiya. "Indecent mixing is what should be prohibited."
Atrash argued that even if the mixing exceeds the limits allowed by Islam, neither those who do it nor those who promote it should be called apostates nor punished by death.
"It could be considered a sin, but not one that is punishable by death."
Sheikh Ahmed al-Ghamdi, head of the Mecca branch of the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, said the fatwa does not deserve any attention.
"Barrak might have just wanted to stir public opinion," he told Al Arabiya. "That is why I think there is no point in responding to his fatwa. This will just lead to endless arguments that will eventually boil down to nothing."
(Translated from the Arabic by Sonia Farid)