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Uzbek Imam Calls Male Obstetricians An 'Embarrassment,' Then Backtracks

Chief Imam Rahmatulloh Saifutdinov: "From now on, let's have our sons choose professions suitable for men and leave obstetrics to the women."

A prominent Uzbek imam wants his predominantly Muslim country to prevent men from studying and practicing obstetrics, saying that having male doctors practicing in the medical field was an "embarrassment."

During a recent sermon after crowded Friday Prayers in Tashkent's Mirzo Yusuf mosque, chief Imam Rahmatulloh Saifutdinov said that "being Muslim is not compatible at all with being a male obstetrician."

"It's an embarrassment," the imam told the audience in Tashkent's Yunusobod district. "We should stop it."

Saifutdinov pointed out that the Central Asian country "inherited" the practice of having male OB/GYNs from its Soviet past, when he said "men working as obstetricians was perceived as a normal thing."

"But now we should stop it," the imam reiterated, urging Uzbek parents not to allow their sons to study obstetrics.

"From now on, let's have our sons choose professions suitable for men and leave obstetrics to the women," said the popular Saifutdinov, who was named Imam Of The Year 2011 by the country's state-backed religious affairs department.

However, just days later, Saifutdinov backtracked on the comments he made during his speech, which has since been posted on the Internet (below), sparking online debate.

WATCH: Imam Rahmatulloh Saifutdinov delivers his controversial sermon

The imam told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on April 4 that his comments were "misinterpreted" and that he did not mean men should not work in obstetrics at all.

"The speech only meant to encourage girls to study obstetrics. It called for creating jobs for women," Saifutdinov insisted.

Saifutdinov also is a professor at the Tashkent Imam Al-Bukhari Islamic Institute and runs a website through which he promotes moderate Islamic values and posts his speeches and articles.

Social-media reaction to his speech revealed mixed feelings among users, with some supporting his viewpoint and others arguing that the most important thing is the health of mother and child, not the gender of the physician.

"We don't live in medieval times. When a woman is fighting for her life, does she care who is saving her -- a man or a woman? It's complete ignorance," commented Facebook user Fakhriddin Rahimov.

In Uzbekistan, as in the rest of Central Asia, both male and female doctors practice obstetrics, although females significantly outnumber their male counterparts in the field.

Rustam Rahimjonov, a chief specialist at the Tashkent Institute of Obstetrics and Gynecology, said maternity wards in Uzbekistan allow patients to weigh in on whether they will be treated by a man or a woman.

"It often happens that women ask for a female physician...and we try our best to fulfill their request," Rahimjonov said. "However, there are situations when a patient needs a complicated surgical procedure and the surgeon might be male."

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondent Khurmat Babajanov