“After meditation and dialogue with people I cherish such as the minister of Islamic affairs, I am completely convinced that the singing which I authorised does not exist,” he said in an interview with Al-Hayat newspaper.

Sheikh Kalbani was the first black man to lead prayers in Mecca, a profile on him by the New York Times reveals.

“Some people in this country want everyone to be a carbon copy,” Sheik Kalbani said in the 2009 profile.

“This is not my way of thinking. You can learn from the person who is willing to criticise, to give a different point of view,” he added

At the time of his appointment to Imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, many saw it as a sign that Saudi King Abdullah was slowly beginning to liberalise the ultra-conservative kingdom.

Ten years on, and with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman taking on a greater role in the kingdom’s affairs, restrictive laws on women and foreigners in the kingdom have seemed to ease considerably.

Sheikh Kalbani’s latest remarks come as Riyadh continues to adopt a “moderate” state-sanctioned interpretation of Islam, although this view has been challenged by some.

Read more: Saudi Arabia has more women’s rights than the West, says Saudi princess

Critics say the crown prince’s reforms are meaningless as long as the male guardianship system persists.

In a video posted by Saudi newspaper Arab News, Sheikh Kalbani puts forward the position that women and men do not need to be separated by a barrier while praying in the mosque, as this was not done during the time of the Prophet.

Kalbani argued that Saudi women face stricter restrictions today that “isolate them from society” than they did during the time of the Prophet Muhammad.

The cleric also said this year that despite his previous opinion on Shia scholars being ‘heretics’, he had changed his mind.

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