Islamic religious police
The word mutaween (Arabic: المطوعين muṭawwiʿīn; variant English spellings: mutawwain, muttawa, mutawallees, mutawa’ah, mutawi’, mutawwa') most literally means "volunteers" in the Arabic language, and is commonly used as a casual term for the government-authorized or government-recognized religious police (or clerical police) of Saudi Arabia. It was originally a casual synonym for the religious police of Saudi Arabia. Probably the most apt translation for this term in the context of "religious police" is "vigilante". In Saudi Arabia, the formal short term for the Saudi religious police is هيئة "hay'ah".
More recently the term has gained use as an umbrella term outside the Arabic-speaking world to indicate religious-policing organizations with at least some government recognition or deference which enforce varied interpretations of Sharia law. The concept is thought to have originated from Wahabbism in Saudi Arabia.
Activities by country
The Mutaween in Saudi Arabia are tasked with enforcing Sharia as defined by the government, specifically by the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV). The Mutaween of the CPVPV consists of "more than 3,500 officers in addition to thousands of volunteers...often accompanied by a police escort." They have the power to arrest unrelated males and females caught socializing, anyone engaged in homosexual behavior or prostitution; to enforce Islamic dress-codes, and store closures during the prayer time. They enforce Muslim dietary laws, prohibit the consumption or sale of alcoholic beverages and pork, and seize banned consumer products and media regarded as anti-Islamic (such as CDs/DVDs of various Western musical groups, television shows and film which has material contrary to Sharia law or Islam itself). Additionally, they actively prevent the practice or proselytizing of other religions within Saudi Arabia, where they are banned.
Among the things the Mutaween have been criticized or ridiculed for include, use of flogging to punish violators, banning Valentines Day gifts, arresting priests for saying Mass, and being staffed by "ex-convicts whose only job qualification was that they had memorized the Qur'an in order to reduce their sentences."
Perhaps the most serious and widely criticized incident attributed to them occurred on March 11, 2002, when they prevented schoolgirls from escaping a burning school in Mecca, because the girls were not wearing headscarves and abayas (black robes), and not accompanied by a male guardian. Fifteen girls died and 50 were injured as a result. Widespread public criticism followed, both internationally and within Saudi Arabia.
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".
Islamic religious police forces outside of Saudi Arabia include:
- Polisi Syariat Islam of Indonesia's territory of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam
- Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Gaza Strip)
- Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Afghanistan) (operated during Taliban rule, now defunct)
- In Iran, Basiji act as "morality police" in towns and cities by "enforcing the wearing of the hijab; arresting women for violating the dress code; prohibiting male-female fraternization; monitoring citizens' activities; confiscating satellite dishes and `obscene` material; intelligence gathering; and even harassing government critics and intellectuals. Basij volunteers also act as bailiffs for local courts."
- In Pakistan, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority is performing a moral policing role. It often bans call and SMS packages (reduced price deals) to stop people from indulging in 'immoral chat'. It also monitors late night calls for "obscene content". 
References and notes
- Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic by Hans Wehr, edited by J. M. Cowan, 4th edition (1994, ISBN 0-87950-003-4), p. 670.
- Rashid, Ahmed (2001). Taliban (1st Pan ed.). London: Pan Books. p. 105. ISBN 0-330-49221-7.
- SAUDI ARABIA Catholic priest arrested and expelled from Riyadh – Asia News
- BBC NEWS | Middle East | Saudi minister rebukes religious police
- The Saudi Media Debates Flogging by the Saudi Religious Police
- Saudi Arabia: Gross human rights abuses against women | Amnesty International
- Valentine's Day in Saudi Arabia by Stephen Schwartz & Irfan al-Alawir 03/05/2007, Volume 012, Issue 24
- "200 Arrested in Mina for Celebrating Valentine's Day", Arab News, February 18, 2004
- Catholic priest arrested and expelled from Riyadh, April 10, 2006 , AsiaNews
- Wright, Lawrence, Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, by Lawrence Wright, NY, Knopf, 2006, p.149
- "Saudi police 'stopped' fire rescue", BBC, 15 March 2002
- "Morality Police under Pressure", Arab Reform Bulletin, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, July 2007.
- Iran's Basij Force – The Mainstay Of Domestic Security. January 15, 2009
- Rizvi, Jawwad (30 August 2013). "PTA bans all chat packages on cell phones, day or night". TheNews.com.pk. The News International. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
- Bonny Ibhawohm (2003). "Defining Persecution and Protection: The Cultural Relativism Debate and the Rights of Refugees". In N. Steiner. Problems of Protection: The UNHCR, Refugees, and Human Rights. Routledge. p. 68. ISBN 978-0-415-94574-5.
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