Tag Archives: muttawa

Every cloud has a silver lining

The assassination attempt on Prince Mohammed Thursday shocked everyone and exposed the new direction that Al Qaeda is taking. Fortunately the only fatality was the terrorist himself.

Since the news got out there has been this outpour at not only the political but also at the cultural and social level. On Facebook, one Saudi suggests that all men dressed like muttawa should be stopped and questioned. On a more serious level, major newspapers include articles that only begin with the assassination attempt and from there the authors and comment posters criticize the whole religious fundamentalist movement within the country concerning education, human rights and domestic tourism.

In Al-Watan today, Abdulla Al Fowzan, has an article in which he respectfully tells off the Grand Mofti, (the highest rank in sheikhdom) for saying in a speech he gave last month that the monarchy and sheikhs are in an exclusive partnership in leading the country. Al Fowzan basically analyzes the comment and rejects it. He criticizes the religious leaders for being stagnant in keeping up with the needs of the people and times. He ends the article with the opinion that sheikhs are only one small facet of our leadership and other facets should include all other factions of our society. I’m writing this at 8 am so the article has only been online a few hours and yet people are posting their comments. Two so far linked fundamentalists to the ban on women selling lingerie. And of course you have a few of sheikhs’ supporters who predictably accuse Al Fowzan of going against Islam.

Since March the religious puritans have been getting louder and more powerful; more muttawa raids in malls, cancellations of plays and festivals, and even statements by high-ranking officials that were obviously made only to appease these fundamentalists.  The assassination attempt has empowered people to speak out. And so has apparently turned the tide in favor of the average Saudi, even if only temporarily.


Filed under Fatwas, Freedom of speech, Informative

Punishment in Saudi Arabia

We’ve all heard or read about the strict laws and forms of punishment in Saudi Arabia. The most notorious of which is cutting off the hands of thieves. But many people don’t dig deep enough to know that a thief has to steal a substantial amount to get that punishment. No one gets their hand cut for petty theft, but when you have a gang who goes around robbing houses, then that punishment comes onto the table. In all my years here, I’ve only heard about it happening once. A friend of mine had their apartment robbed. Jewelry, TVs, computers and everything of value was taken. Eventually the robber was caught and my friend’s father was asked if he would forgive the robber or not. His refusal to forgive him contributed to the judge’s decision to have the thief’s hand cut off. I don’t know the details such as whether or not the thief had a previous history of stealing. I do know that this type of punishment does not happen often. Another instance is one time my husband and I met a real estate agent to show us a house we were interested in. This guy was a young apparently healthy Saudi guy and one of his hands was cut right at the wrist. Both my husband and I did not say anything so I don’t know if it was cut off as punishment or due to an accident or illness but I bet lots of people wonder when they meet him.

The punishments that are most newsworthy when it comes to Saudi Arabia, are the ones given to people guilty of khilwa (unrelated man and woman alone together) and extramarital sex. A punishment for khilwa is common and we’ve all come across muttawas trolling coffee shops and restaurants searching for pairs who seem too happy to be related. But what happens after they are caught? I don’t know about expatriates but with Saudis, the man and woman are separated at the spot and questioned to see if their stories correspond. Questions like name, relatives’ names and even color of furniture, address, employment and all other things married couples naturally know. If they fail the test or refuse to cooperate, they are taken to the local muttawa center. The girl’s father is summoned and the guy is locked up usually after being given a few slaps and punches. The girl is handed over to her father (if he’ll take her) and the guy is later released after they put his information into the system. He is then required to show up in front of a judge, usually two weeks later to take his sentence. How he appears at the sentencing decides his fate more than anything else. The way he dresses and addresses the judge has more influence than the number of times he has been caught, how and where he was caught…etc. His best bet is to dress like a muttawa, start to grow a beard, hold his head down and look remorseful. He should also tell the judge that since the incident, he has become a born again Muslim. If he could get an established muttawa from a mosque to vouch for him, then he might be lucky enough to be let go with a warning. Otherwise he will most likely be sentenced a number of lashes across the back.

Extramarital sex on the other hand is extremely serious and at the same time very hard to get convicted for. In the Holy Quran, it states that four witnesses to the act have to be found for it to be punishable. Here, unless a person has confessed or made a tape it’s unlikely to be considered as extramarital sex. Even if an unrelated couple checks into a hotel together, they will only be convicted of khilwa. In cases where a confession is made, then other things come into play, such as was it consensual or rape and whether either of them was married at the time. Infidelity is an automatic death sentence. Singles are imprisoned and whipped.

Young Saudis have their ways to get around these laws. One that I heard of is that they go in groups. Another is that the guy takes his sister along and voila it is no longer a khilwa.  


Filed under Culture, Informative

They always have been winning and probably always will…

If you read anything related to Saudi Arabia or have a conversation with someone living there, inevitably this remark comes up”but change is coming soon”. Well from my perspective, it’s just not true. Short of an outright war or a western invasion, women will never get their rights. I remember a Bahraini friend of mine telling me how her grandfather respected her grandmother because he was influenced by the British. Sometimes the thought that we would actually be better off if we were colonized in the late 1800s and early 1900s like our neighbors creeps into my head.

The muttawa way of life, in which everything that brings a smile to your face is HARAM (prohibited), is integrated into the very heart of our society. Music, plays, festivals even when they are segregated are strongly discouraged. And the prohibition is only related to doing it in public. It is a fact that most Saudis do not practice what they preach. Get on any plane leaving the country and witness it for yourself. Abayas come off and men and women become much more relaxed. Women are pressured and brain-washed into living the way they do. But why do men live the way they do, when for many it is obvious that they would rather be more relaxed with their families and have their wives drive their own cars…etc.

International tourism was not affected by H1N1 or the economy in Saudi Arabia. Strangely enough, more and more Saudis are leaving the country each year for a vacation. I know one woman who actually took a loan from the bank just to treat herself and her family to a trip to France. Another woman in her sixties, never had a passport until two years ago and ever since all she talks about is where she’s going and where she’s been for the summer. Just a week ago, there was no traffic in Riyadh! And I could get an appointment at my favourite hairdresser on the same day! Usually it takes at least two weeks advance planning. Everyone was outside the country.

And then they come back to another year-long round of pretending that they agree that everything should be prohibited. I think that what goes through their heads is something in the vein of “well I can handle all this freedom because I’m a responsible person but my fellow citizens need to be treated like caged animals, otherwise they’ll go crazy”. By crazy they mean things like convert to another religion, openly announce their homosexuality, walk around in revealing clothes and/or promote someone that has no blood relation to them.

But these things have not happened in any of our surrounding countries. Why can’t they see that a little freedom does not mean Hollywood?!


Filed under Culture

Are you a muttawa?

Katie Couric from CBS News stops a Saudi man on the street and asks him if he is a muttawa. I found that really funny. You don’t ask a religious fanatic if he is a religious fanatic. The way that she stood there and with a matter of fact attitude claimed that women are not allowed to go to the open market unescorted. Couldn’t she have asked a Saudi? I’m speculating here but she probably asked some non-Saudi Arab translator (Lebanese or Egyptian), someone who probably doesn’t even live in Riyadh.

To set the record straight, I could right now go alone to that very same market and shop until I drop and no one would say a thing. It just happens that she was probably filming on a weekday night and hence there weren’t that many people of either sex. And the term muttawa is a colloquial term that should not be used by a reporter and especially not to ask someone who might be a muttawa. It comes from the Arabic word mutatwa and it basically means volunteer because men are not paid that much to monitor morality in society. Now in Saudi slang it has negative connotations and is used to refer to someone (man or woman) who is a self-righteous Islamic fundamentalist that goes around correcting people regardless of whether or not they are employed by the PVPV. A true muttawa would call himself a member of Al Hisba which means ‘those who hold people accountable’. And their over the top religious life style is called Eltizam and so the person would refer to himself as multizim.


Filed under Regional and International

Hayat (PVPV) al Badiah assualts a citizen after he dropped off his wife at a mall



This article was in Al Riyadh newspaper on Thursday and I fully expected it to be translated and published in Arab News on Friday. As it hasn’t been, I thought I would do the honors:

A Saudi citizen, Al Qahtani, has requested that the authorities open an investigation with members of the PVPV, Badi’ah Branch, accusing them of assaulting him and tearing his clothes after he had dropped off his wife at a local mall.
Al Qahtani told the authorities that his wife had wanted to meet up with her family at a mall west of Riyadh and after he dropped her off he went to a nearby grocery shop where he was accosted by a group of men and pulled outside. They forced him into a car that had the PVPV logo on it.

Al Qahtani added that they then took him back to the mall where he had left his wife and during the trip they insulted him and called him names that he alleged should never come from a Muslim man’s mouth. At the mall, they forcefully pulled his wife outside amid her screams and a gathering crowd. They then interrogated us.

The PVPV members then took Al Qahtani to their Badiah offices and confiscated his car, mobile and wallet. They examined and searched the contents of each.
When the PVPV members finally figured out that they were wrong, the assailants warned Al Qahtani to not report the incident to the papers and one of the members even admitted that he had just finished a course in how to interact with the public.

Al Qahtani requests through this article that the General President of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Ahumain investigate the matter and hold the assailants accountable for how they treated him and his wife. He added that his wife is now traumatized since the incident.

It should be noted that the citizen filed an official complaint at the Police Department against the individuals who assaulted him. And in turn, Riyadh Newspaper contacted PVPV  Badi’ah Branch and could not get any response.

The comments on the newspaper website were 951. I glanced quickly through them and noticed a shift in that previously when such incidents are reported the majority of the comments were made by zealous fans of the PVPV who would go as far as blame those who write negatively about the PVPV for the bad weather because God is punishing us for criticizing the PVPV. And there are some who believe that the PVPV are the extension or at the same level as the Sahaba, the Prophet’s (PBUH) companions. These people did ot have the usual strong presence but there were a few who are in denial regarding the PVPV’s behaviour. They write that either the assailants were not PVPV but men posing as PVPV to dirty their reputation and others wrote that Al Qahtani has to have done something wrong, otherwise these men would not have done this. But I was happy to see that even those who seem like extreme fundamentals have started to write that we should hold PVPV individuals accountable.

I don’t know what really happened but I don’t think that Al Qahtani would take it this far if he had been lying or even exaggerating. I do know of a friend of mine who was out at a fast food restaurant with her brother for dinner and the PVPV  refused to believe that they were brother and sister and took them to the PVPVheadquarters where their father had to come and get them. They were not physically harmed but it was distressing to have to prove that they were siblings just because they wanted a quick bite to eat. And a relative of mine has been interrogated several times at coffee shops whenever he takes his wife out. What my friend and my relative’s wife have in common is that both do like to dress in expensive and embroidered abayas and they both did not have young children with them. So maybe that was what caused the PVPV in Al Qahtani’s case to jump to conclusions.


Filed under Culture, Injustice

Bad day + bad comment =

This is in reply to a comment made by um Maraym in the previous post:

Salam Um Maryam

Just by your “kinya” I can tell you are one of those “reverts” who treat Islam as though it was a cult or an exclusive club that is defined by outer appearances ( tent like abaya) and completely confuse religion and Arab culture.

No those women who you say:

“rather than your religious police, the only people who I find ridiculous are a particular class of saudi woman. One sees them at the Kingdom center or the Faisalyah, aimlessly wandering around, caked in makeup.They way they wear their abyas, would make a western prostitute blush, I’m not sure why they are so shallow, perhaps its lack of education, or its the inbreeding, or perhaps its the free money from the govenrment that has lead to this dysfunctional social pathology.”

These women are never going to be written about on my blog because these women have never banned others from driving their own cars and have never jailed and deported 75 year old widows because they had bread delivered by an unrelated man…etc. It’s your like and your Saudi versions who work against their own sisters. Tell your point of view to the Saudi women who are forced to guard toilets for money while next door in the same mall a foreign man is brought into the country for the sole purpose of selling lingerie for three times the salary she gets. And express your adoration of muttawas to the countless women I know who have been harassed, stalked, traumatized and publicly insulted by them. Why would I write about women minding their own business when I can write about women like you who judge them. Why don’t you say the same about the desperate pathetic men who troll around the malls in the latest designer wear and reeking of expensive perfumes?  Why don’t I write about my cousins who have had to borrow thousands in order to get out of abusive marriages when Islamic shariah law clearly states that women who are abused are allowed divorce. And what about writing about how a friend of mine was asked by a taxi driver if she would like him to pimp her out? A respectable woman whose only problem is that she had to resort to a daily taxi because she is banned from driving her own car. And how about newly appointed teachers who monthly pay half their salary just for a ride to work?


Filed under Culture, Eman

An interview with a muttawa trainer

dean Khalid interviewed by newspaper

In Al Madina newspaper yesterday there was an interview with the dean of the high institute of the prevention of vice and promotion of virtue (PVPV), Khalid Al Shammrani, PhD. This is the guy who teaches muttawas how to do it professionally and let me tell you it is not pretty. The institute was established in 2004 in order to assist in countering the bad behavior of the PVPVs in dealing with people. It’s where a muttawa can get a one year postgraduate diploma in telling people how to live their lives. Dean Khalid put it beautifully when he was asked about what they train muttawas to do, he said a muttawa is trained to handle “the person of sin” as a doctor handles a patient; sometimes a doctor has to be tough on his patient to ensure healing and so does a muttawa with a person of sin has to resort to Islamically sanctioned means to heal sin and then have the offender reprimanded by the courts.

 In the interview published yesterday, dean Khalid expressed his frustration with the ministry of labour because they have been trying to provide jobs for Saudi women. He stated that this is not an area for the ministry to delve in and that it is unacceptable. He moved on to say that the gap that is growing between the people and the PVPV is artificially created by the media. He accused the media of purposely misleading public opinion by giving the PVPV bad publicity and not being objective in its reporting. He backs this up with a claim that opinion polls show that Saudis want the PVPV. Dean Khalid believes that all this demand for more rights and jobs for women is due to western influence. He also announced the founding of a new charity and organization for the study of the importance of the PVPV in Islam and to modernize the PVPV so that it is better able to face today’s kinds of sins. And so on and so forth.

In all his interviews he calls what the PVPV is doing accountability and the muttawas are the ones who make sure that people are accountable for their “sins”. What first caught my attention was of course his take on employing women and I am not alone on this because the newspaper put it as the headline of the article. So the ministry of labour has infringed its area by attempting to encourage the employment of Saudi women and the PVPV are here to put Al Qosaibi in his place and rescue women back to poverty and objectification. I bet that dean Khalid thought that the headline was going to be about the new organization.

Even though I live it, I am constantly shocked by how these muttawas dismiss women as infant-like and not deserving of the most basic rights. But above all I hate Saudi women for lying down and taking it, myself included.


Filed under Culture, Fatwas, Gender Apartheid, unemployment

The problem lies within

With the exception of the Human Rights Organization, to my knowledge there are no organized associations or unions of women rights activists in Saudi Arabia. Those who care are doing it individually and at the local level quietly. Most of them, like myself, are talking to the outside world more than the inside. On the other hand, women who believe in their own oppression are organized in so called religious groups; Quran circles, charity organizations, and teach their point of view in schools. They have seemingly infinite financial backing to publish all the literature they need to get across their narrow interpretations of Islam. Some women even work for the vice cops. And this is the problem. It’s not the government that oppresses women, it’s the women themselves who believe in this ideology and pass it along to their daughters. The problem lies in the imbalance of information. The ultra-conservative interpretation of Arab traditions and Islam is officially sanctioned by the government, so it is taught (actually drilled into) students through the curriculum and occasional lectures by sheikhs and women Islamic missionaries. Then outside of school they are reminded of it through the distribution of free pamphlets at social gatherings, hospital waiting rooms, and even when shopping. Sometimes street ads are paid for to show an abaya and a flower where the face is supposed to be to get across that women are flowers that should be covered and protected. Ironic, considering that flowers don’t thrive unless they are out in the sun. And if you try to discuss this oppression of women and human rights with these ultra-conservatives and their selectiveness in the use of Islamic texts, it all boils down to “the prevention of sin” argument.

At the same time people who believe in a more broad interpretation of Islamic texts are not allowed to express their opinion. When they do, they are quickly dismissed as secularists and liberals as if these were profane terms. They are also quickly assumed as not being really Saudi. I can’t count the number of times that other Saudis have assumed that I am from mixed heritage. Your mother must be Syrian, Egyptian or Turkish, they tell me. When I tell them that my parents were neighbors who grew up together in the Qaseem region, they are unfailingly shocked. All this just because I happen to voice a different opinion from the accepted walking jewels who are put on this Earth for the enjoyment of men, shopping and popping out kids. I digress. My point here is that we should have a more moderate Islam that is grown locally through Saudi literature, women rights awareness and respectable examples. Young ladies should not be made to feel guilty or rebellious just because they don’t like covering their faces or want to drive. As if wanting these means they carry some lewd ulterior motive.


Filed under Culture, Gender Apartheid