Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Saudi Arabia)
|Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice|
|هيئة الأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر|
Seal of the Committee
|Agency executive||Sheikh Abdullatif Bin Abdulaziz Bin Abdulrahman Al Al-Sheikh, President|
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (abbreviated CPVPV; هيئة الأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر in Arabic), also informally referred to as Haia, is the Saudi Arabian government bureaucracy employing "religious police" or mutaween (مطوعين romanized in English) to enforce Sharia Law within that Islamic nation.
Its approximately 3,500 members, and many more volunteers, patrol the streets enforcing dress codes, strict separation of men and women, salat prayer by Muslims during prayer times, and other behavior it believes to be commanded by Islam. They are known for having full beards (sometimes henna-dyed) and for wearing their headscarves (ghutrah or shemagh) loose without an agal; they often wear a besht as well. Prior to the reforms of 2007 they were armed with thin wooden canes.
The police were formerly called the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Elimination of Sin or CAVES. They are also known locally as Hai’a, also transliterated as Haia  or Hayaa. See Mutaween for a list of variant spellings and an extended description of Islamic religious police.
The religious police in Saudi Arabia are employed in direct order of command from King Abdullah. They are tasked with enforcing Sharia as defined in Saudi Arabia. In addition to having the power to arrest anyone engaged in homosexual acts, prostitution, fornication, or proselytizing of non-Muslim religions, they can also arrest unrelated males and females caught socializing, enforce Islamic dress-codes, Muslim dietary laws (such as the prohibition from eating pork) and store closures during the prayer time. They prohibit the consumption or sale of alcoholic beverages and seize banned consumer products and media regarded contrary to Islamic morals. They also actively prevent the religious practices of other religions within Saudi Arabia.
While on patrol, the duties of the mutaween include, but are not restricted to:
- ensuring that drugs including alcohol are not being traded.
- checking that women wear the abaya, a traditional all-enveloping black cloak.
- making sure that men and women who are spotted together in public are related.
- ensuring women do not smoke in public.
- formerly, enforcing the ban on camera phones. This ban was enacted out of a fear that men would use them to secretly photograph women and publish them on the Internet without the consent of the subjects. The ban was enacted in April 2004 but was overturned in December that same year.
- preventing the population from engaging in "frivolous" Western customs such as Valentine's Day.
The punishment for such offenses is severe, often involving beatings and humiliation, and foreigners are not excluded from arrest. The mutaween encourage people to inform on others they know who are suspected of acting unvirtuously, and to punish such activities.
A 27-year-old Saudi man was sentenced to five years in prison, 500 lashes of the whip, and a SR50,000 fine after appearing in a recent amateur gay video online allegedly taken inside a Jeddah prison. According to an unnamed government source, “The District Court sentenced the accused in a homosexuality case that was referred to it by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (the Hai’a) in Jeddah before he was tried for impersonating a security man and behaving shamefully and with conduct violating the Islamic teachings.” The case started when the Hai’a’s staff arrested the man under charges of practicing homosexuality. He was referred to the Bureau for Investigation and Prosecution, which referred him to the District Court.
Among the Western practices suppressed by the Mutaween is the celebration of Valentine's Day. Condemning the festivities as a "pagan feast", Mutaween inspect hotels, restaurants, coffeehouses, and gift shops on February 14 to prevent Muslim couples from giving each other Valentines or other presents. The sale of red roses, red stuffed animals, red greeting cards and other red gift items is banned, according to store owners. These items are confiscated, and those selling them subject to prosecution.
The sale of the fashion doll Barbie was banned as a consumer product for posing a moral threat to Islam, stating: "Jewish Barbie dolls, with their revealing clothes and shameful postures, accessories and tools are a symbol of decadence to the perverted West. Let us beware of her dangers and be careful." Fulla dolls were designed and approved as more acceptable.
More recently, the police have issued a decree banning the sale of dogs and cats, also seen as a sign of Western influence. The decree which applies to the Red Sea port city of Jeddah and the holy city of Mecca bans the sale of cats and dogs because "some youths have been buying them and parading them in public," according to a memo from the Municipal Affairs Ministry to Jeddah’s city government. In 2013 two Saudi men were arrested for giving "free hugs to passersby".
In December 2010 it was reported by Arab News that the Hai'a had launched a massive campaign against black magic in the Kingdom. Despite the refusal of some Saudi lawyers to take on prosecution of such claims some Saudis believe that they have been caused harm by the black magic acts of others.
In May, 2012, the head of the mutaween, Abdul Latif Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, stated that anyone using social media sites, such as Twitter, "has lost this world and his afterlife".
In May 2003, Al-Watan, a Saudi reform newspaper published several reports of people being mistreated by the police force, including the story of one woman from a remote southern town who had been beaten and held in solitary confinement for riding alone in the back of a taxi.
In May 2007, a man alleged to have alcohol in his home was reported by Arab News to have been arrested and beaten to death by CPVPV members in the Al-Oraija district of Riyadh. "The father of the deceased said that commission members continued to beat his handcuffed son, even though he was already covered in blood, until he died" at the Oraija CPVPV center in Riyadh.
One of the most widely criticized examples of mutaween enforcement of Sharia law came in March 2002, when 15 young girls died of burns or smoke asphyxiation by an accidental fire that engulfed their public school in Mecca. According to two newspapers, the religious police forcibly prevented girls from escaping the burning school by locking the doors of the school from the outside, and barring firemen from entering the school to save the girls, beating some of the girls and civil defense personnel in the process. Mutaween would not allow the girls to escape or to be saved because they were 'not properly covered', and the mutaween did not want physical contact to take place between the girls and the civil defense forces for fear of sexual enticement. The CPVPV denied the charges of beating or locking the gates, but the incident and the accounts of witnesses were reported in Saudi newspapers such as the Saudi Gazette and Al-Iqtisaddiyya. The result was a very rare public criticism of the group.
Mutaween suppression of religious activity by non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia is also controversial. Asia News alleges that "at least one million" Roman Catholics in the kingdom are being "denied pastoral care ... none of them can participate in mass while they are in Saudi Arabia .... Catechism for their children – nearly 100,000 – is banned." It reports the arrest of a Catholic priest for saying mass. On 5 April 2006 a Catholic priest, "Fr. George [Joshua] had just celebrated mass in a private house when seven religious policemen (muttawa) broke into the house together with two ordinary policemen. The police arrested the priest and another person."
In August 2008, a young Saudi woman who had converted to Christianity reportedly was burnt to death after having her tongue cut out by her father, a member of the Committee, though it was not an officially sanctioned act of punishment.
Other accusations leveled at the CPVPV include that some of its members have been involved in political subversion, and/or are ex-convicts/prisoners who became Hafiz (i.e. memorized the Quran) to reduce their prison sentences. Author Lawrence Wright has written of a conflict between the Mutaween and at least one allied imam and Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, the head of the Department of General Intelligence (Al Mukhabarat Al A'amah) between 1977 and 2001. After an imam denounced a female charitable organizations run by some of Turki's sisters and accused them of being "whores" during a Friday sermon, Turki demanded and received an apology. He then "secretly began monitoring members of the muttawa. He learned that many of them were ex-convicts whose only job qualification was that they had memorized the Quran in order to reduce their sentences." But Turki believed they had become "so powerful" they "threatened to overthrow the government."
In January 2013, the CPVPV marched into an educational exhibit of dinosaurs at a shopping center "turned off the lights and ordered everyone out, frightening children and alarming their parents". It was not clear why the exhibit—which had been "featured at shopping centres across the Gulf for decades"—was closed, and Saudi's speculated irreverently as to the reason on twitter.
In September 2013 the entrance of a Saudi religious police building has been set on fire, "was intentionally set on fire by assailants." No one was hurt and no further information was provided by the police.
In May 2006 it was announced that the committee would no longer be allowed to interrogate those it arrests for behavior deemed un-Islamic. Prior to this, commission members enjoyed almost total power to arrest, detain, and interrogate those suspected of violating the Sharia.
In June 2007 the Saudi Mutaween announced "the creation of a 'department of rules and regulations' to ensure the activities of commission members comply with the law, after coming under heavy pressure for the death of two people in its custody in less than two weeks". The governmental National Society for Human Rights criticised the behaviour of the religious police in May 2007 in its first report since its establishment in March 2004. In May 2006 the Interior Ministry issued a decree stating that "the role of the commission will end after it arrests the culprit or culprits and hands them over to police, who will then decide whether to refer them to the public prosecutor."
Time magazine ran a report about the Mutaween in August 2007. It noted that "a campaign using text messages sent to mobile phones is calling on a million Saudis to declare that '2007 is the year of liberation.'" Despite statements of reform, the Mutaween turned down Time's request for interviews.
Other similar groups
Outside Saudi Arabia, the Taliban regime, or Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, also had a "Ministry of the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice" with a very similar religious policing function. The Taliban are thought to have borrowed the Saudi policing policy not only because they also had a strict Sharia law policy, but because of alleged financial and diplomatic support from Saudi Arabia.
- Honour killing
- Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Afghanistan)
- Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Gaza Strip)
- New York Society for the Suppression of Vice
- Secret police
- Sheikh Ibrahim Bin Abdullah Al-Ghaith
-  Arab News
- Hilleary, Cecily. "Saudi Religious Police Work to Improve Image". March 27, 2013. Voa. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
- "Forced into extinction". January 21, 2013. the economist. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
- SAUDI ARABIA Catholic priest arrested and expelled from Riyadh - Asia News
- "Saudi minister rebukes religious police". BBC News. 4 November 2002.
- Judicial flogging in Saudi Arabia at World Corporal Punishment Research.
- Saudi Arabia: Gross human rights abuses against women, Amnesty International.
- Abeer Mishkas (17 December 2004). "Saudi Arabia to Overturn Ban on Camera Phones". Arab News. Retrieved 24 July 2011.
- Al-Bishr, Mohammed. Religious Police in Saudi Arabia. Ghainaa Publications. p. 135. "Undoubtedly, one of the major factors that can spoil the happiness of the two sexes is the straying of man or woman from the right path and trying to satisfy those instincts through all kinds of frivolous behavior which puts modesty to shame, .... Since Saudi Arabia is an Islamic country which has been established according to Islamic rules and principles ... pursuing the principle of enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong becomes one of its most salient features. ... Therefore, it was necessary to institute the system of the religious police which derives from the texts of Sharia ..."
- "Saudi religious police see red over Valentine's Day". February 12, 2010. Syney Morning Herald. Retrieved 22 November 2013. "Each year, the religious police mobilise ahead of February 14 and descend on gift and flower shops, confiscating all red items, including flowers."
- Man gets prison, lashes for gay video| ADNAN AL-SHABRAWI| Saudi Gazette| 22 November 2013 - 18 Muharram 1435 H.
- Stephen Schwartz & Irfan al-Alawi, "Valentine's Day in Saudi Arabia: Portents of change from the desert kingdom", The Weekly Standard, Washington DC, 5 March 2007.
- "200 Arrested in Mina for Celebrating Valentine's Day", Arab News, Jeddah/Riyadh, 18 February 2004.
- Saudi Religious Police Say Barbie Is a Moral Threat
- ""Jewish" Barbie Dolls Denounced in Saudi Arabia". Adl.org. Retrieved 2011-05-23.
- "Cats and dogs banned by Saudi religious police", MSNBC, 18 December 2006.
- "Saudi men arrested for offering free hugs in Riyadh". 21 November 2013. BBC News. Retrieved 22 November 2013. ""After seeing the Free Hugs Campaign in many different countries, I decided to do it in my own country," Mr Swed told al-Arabiya news. ... Britain's Independent newspaper reports that his video inspired two more young Saudis, Abdulrahman al-Khayyal and a friend. They offered hugs, advertised on a placard, ... They were subsequently arrested by the kingdom's religious police, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which is charged with ensuring that sharia law is strictly adhered to. The two were required to sign a pledge that they would not offer hugs again, reports say."
- "Lawyers Say No To Sorcery Suits"
- BBC News. "Saudi religious police boss condemns Twitter users". Retrieved 15 May 2013.
- Raid Qusti, "Commission Members Probed for Forced Entry and Murder", Arab News, Jeddah/Riyadh, 27 May 2007.
- "Saudi police 'stopped' fire rescue", BBC News Online, London, 15 March 2002.
- Khaled Abou el Fadl, The great theft: Wrestling Islam from the extremists, Harper San Francisco, 2005, pp. 250-2. ISBN 0-06-056339-7
- "Catholic priest arrested and expelled from Riyadh", Asia News, Italy, April 10, 2006.
- Mariam Al Hakeem (12 August 2008). "Saudi man kills daughter for converting to Christianity". Gulf News. Retrieved 8 September 2010.
- Lawrence Wright, The looming tower: Al Qaeda and the road to 9/11, Knopf, New York, 2006, p.149. ISBN 0-375-41486-X
- "Attackers torch Saudi religious police building". September 1, 2013. Reuters. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
- "Reduced Powers for Morality Police", Arab Reform Bulletin, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, July 2006.
- "Virtue Squads Toning Down Shows of Power in Saudi Arabia" by Rob L. Wagner, The Media Line, May 23, 2010
- "Morality Police under Pressure", Arab Reform Bulletin, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, June 2007.
- Scott Macleod,"Vice Squad", Time, New York, 26 July 2007.
- Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Islam, oil and the new great game in Central Asia, Yale University Press, 2000, p. 201. ISBN 1-86064-417-1
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Saudi Arabia).|
- Official site of Province of Medina's branch (Arabic)
- Amnesty International Report 2002 - Middle East and North Africa
- Washington Embassy's statement on the tragic fire at a Makkah school, 2 April 2002.