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.
Estimates of the number are 3,500-4,000. Members 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. They are empowered to detain and berate offenders and shut down businesses. Prior to the reforms of 2007 they were armed with thin wooden canes to strike miscreants.
The police were formerly called the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Elimination of Sin, also CAVES or CPVPV. They are also known locally as Hai’a, (literally "committee") also transliterated as Haia or Hayaa, or mutawiyin (literally "the pious") 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. In January 2012, Abdul Latif Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh was appointed head of the mutaween. He "holds the rank of cabinet minister and reports directly to the king". His agency employs more than 4,000 “field officers” and reportedly has another 10,000 administrative personnel. Its 2013 budget was the equivalent of $390 USD million.
In 2009, the CPVPV created and formalized a special "Anti-Witchcraft Unit" to "educate the public about the evils of sorcery, investigate alleged witches, neutralize their cursed paraphernalia, and disarm their spells". The unit also had a hotline on the CPVPV website for Saudis to report any magic to local officials.
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.
Upon being appointed head of the CPVPV, Abdul Latif Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh identified "five areas the religious police should focus on": preserving Islam, preventing blackmail, combating sorcery, fighting human trafficking, and ensuring that no one disobeys the country’s rulers.
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.
In 2010, 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 an 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 14 February 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.
In 2006 the police 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 "sorcery" or "black magic" in the Kingdom. The prohibition includes "fortune tellers or faith healers". (Some people executed for sorcery following the announcement include a man from Najran province in June 2012, a Saudi woman in the province of Jawf, in December 2011, and a Sudanese man executed on September 2011. a Lebanese television presenter of a popular fortune-telling programme was arrested while on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia and sentenced to death, though after pressure from the Lebanese government and human rights groups, he was freed by the Saudi Supreme Court.)
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".
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.
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 (Salman Al-Huraisi) was reported by Arab News to have been arrested and beaten to death in his own home 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. Another man who died while in custody of the CPVPV was Ahmed Al-Bulawi. He was a driver for a woman with whom he was accused of being in a state of seclusion (when a man and an unrelated woman are together) and died after being taken to a CPVPV center in Tabuk in June 2007. According to Irfan Al-Alawi, "in both cases, the families of the victims took the mutawiyin to court, and in both instances (as in others) charges against the mutawiyin were postponed indefinitely or dropped."
A case of "sorcery" that led to a sentence of death which was overturned was that of Ali Hussain Sibat, the Lebanese host of the popular TV call-in show aired on satellite TV across the Middle East. Sibat was arrested in Medina by the CPVPV in May 2008, while visiting Saudi Arabia to perform the Umra pilgrimage. Sibat was charged with "sorcery" for making predictions and giving advice to the audience on his show. On 9 November 2009, after court hearings not open to the public or a defense lawyer Sibat was sentenced to death. The case was upheld on appeal but after an international outcry was overturned by the Supreme Court on November 11, 2010. The case was controversial in part because neither the defendant or "victims" were Saudis, and the"crime" was not committed in Saudi.
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.
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 "was intentionally set on fire by assailants", according to the Haia. No one was hurt and no further information was provided by the police. In early 2014, the head of Haia, Sheikh Abdul Latif al-Sheikh was quoted in the Okaz daily newspaper as saying that “there are advocates of sedition within the Commission" for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, and promised to remove them.
Involvement in politics
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 Presidency 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."
Another instance when the CPVPV has opposed the Saudi government came in 2005 when the Minister of Labor announced a policy of staffing lingerie shops with women. The policy was intended to give employment to some of the millions of adult Saudi women unhappily stuck at home (only 14.6% of Saudi women work in the public and private sectors in the Kingdom), and to prevent mixing of the sexes in public (ikhtilat), between male clerks and women customers. Conservative Saudis opposed the policy maintaining that for a woman to work outside the house was against her fitrah (natural state). The few shops that employed women were "quickly closed" by the Hai'i who supported the conservative position.
However, in 2011, during the Arab Spring, King Abdullah issued another decree giving lingerie shops -- and then shops and shop departments specializing in other products for women, such as cosmetics, abayas and wedding dresses -- one year to replace men workers with women. Further clashes followed between conservatives and Hai'a men on the one hand, and the ministry, women customers and employees at female-staffed stores on the other. In 2013, the Ministry and the Hai'a leadership met to negotiate new terms. In November 2013, 200 religious police signed a letter stating that female employment was causing such a drastic increase in instances of ikhtilat, that "their job was becoming impossible."
Political use of
According to one journalist with many years of experience in Saudi Arabia (Karen Elliott House), the Hai’a are sometimes used to balance the policies of the government, specifically a loose rein on the Hai'a acts to calm the displeasure of the strong religious conservative forces in Saudi society. When the king dismissed a member of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars in 2009 for condemning gender mixing at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, he compensated for it by doing "nothing to curb the country's religious police from roaming the the kingdom's streets and harassing ordinary Saudis mixing with anyone of the opposite genders".
The original Mutaween have been described as "vigilantes". Robert Lacey describes them as "the righteous of every neighbourhood [that] banded themselves together into societies for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice." In the 1980s they received government subsidies, but were "still essentially volunteers engaged in their own variety of social work."
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.
At the beginning of October 2012, during the Arab Spring, Abdul Latif Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh announced that the powers of the mutawiyin would be significantly restricted. According to Irfan Al-Alawi,
They will be barred from making arrests, conducting interrogations, or carrying out searches without a warrant from the local governor. They will no longer stand at the entrances of shopping malls to keep women out who do not adhere to the Wahhabi dress code or who are not accompanied by “approved” men—husbands, siblings, or parents.
"Community volunteers" who were the original Mutaween, were forbidden from joining Hai’a men on their rounds and pursuing, chastising, and interrogating miscreants, as "a religious duty". Field officers were also ordered to “approach people with a smile,” and forbidden from using their "private e-mails, cellphones, or social media accounts to receive and act on anonymous tips."
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
- Asharq Al Awsat Profile: Sheikh Abdullatif Al Sheikh Asharq Al Awsat. 17 January 2012. 24 December 2013.
-  Arab News
- Zoepf, Katherine (December 23, 2013). "Letter from Riyadh. Shopgirls (behind paywall)". New Yorker. Retrieved 18 February 2014.
- Hilleary, Cecily. "Saudi Religious Police Work to Improve Image". VOA. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
- "Forced into extinction". The Economist. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
- AL-ALAWI, IRFAN; STEPHEN SCHWARTZ. "Saudi Arabia’s 'Religious Police' Reforms". October 9, 2012. Weekly Standard. Retrieved 19 February 2014.
- Lief, Louise (May 23, 2013). "With youth pounding at kingdom's gates, Saudi Arabia begins religious police reform". CS Monitor. Retrieved 19 February 2014.
- MILLER, DAVID E. (07/20/2011). "Saudi Arabia's 'Anti-Witchcraft Unit' breaks another spell". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 20 February 2014.
- 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". 12 February 2010. Syney Morning Herald. Retrieved 22 November 2013. "Each year, the religious police mobilise ahead of 14 February 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.
- Stephen Schwartz and 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. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
- "Cats and dogs banned by Saudi religious police", MSNBC, 18 December 2006.
- "Saudi men arrested for offering free hugs in Riyadh". 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" Arab News.
- "Saudi man executed for 'witchcraft and sorcery'". 19 June 2012. BBC News. Retrieved 19 February 2014.
- "Saudi religious police boss condemns Twitter users". BBC News. Retrieved 15 May 2013.
- "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
- Raid Qusti, "Commission Members Probed for Forced Entry and Murder", Arab News, Jeddah/Riyadh, 27 May 2007.
- Qusti, Raid. "Virtue Commission Men Go on Trial in Bulawi’s Death". 2 July 2007. Arab News. Retrieved 19 February 2014.
- James Hider (2 April 2010). "Lebanese TV host Ali Hussain Sibat faces execution in Saudi Arabia for sorcery". The Times.
- "Death sentences over Saudi 'sorcery' claims". Amnesty International. 10 December 2009. Archived from the original on 23 March 2010. Retrieved 2 April 2010.
- "Saudi Supreme court rejects Sabat death sentence". November 11, 2010. yalibnan.com. Retrieved 19 February 2014.
- Lutz, Meris. "SAUDI ARABIA: Factional politics may be at heart of legal dispute over psychic's fate". April 2, 2010. LA TImes. Retrieved 19 February 2014.
- "Catholic priest arrested and expelled from Riyadh", Asia News, Italy, 10 April 2006.
- Mariam Al Hakeem (12 August 2008). "Saudi man kills daughter for converting to Christianity". Gulf News. Retrieved 8 September 2010.
- "Attackers torch Saudi religious police building". Reuters. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
- "Saudi Arabia's religious police 'contains extremists'". 4 February 2014. BBC News. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
- "Saudi religious police chief vows crackdown on extremists". February 4, 2014. AFP. Retrieved February 4, 2014.
- Lawrence Wright, The looming tower: Al Qaeda and the road to 9/11, Knopf, New York, 2006, p.149. ISBN 0-375-41486-X
- "KSA female employment rate among lowest in MENA region". 25 March 2013. Arab News. Retrieved 19 February 2014.
- "Public Debate in Saudi Arabia on Employment Opportunities for Women". The Middle East Research Unit. 17 November 2006.
- House, Karen Elliott (2012). On Saudi Arabia : Its People, past, Religion, Fault Lines and Future. Knopf. p. 23. "When one of the senior religious ulama had the temerity to criticize [gender mixing at KAUST that the king gave his approval to] ... the mild-mannered king promptly fired him ... the sacking of this sheikh had the desired effect of prompting supportive statements on KAUST from other tame religious leaders, but it angered religious conservatives ... Always careful to balance, the king, who had secured ulama approval for fender mixing at this elite university, did nothing to curb the country's religious police from roaming the the kingdom's streets and harassing ordinary Saudis mixing with anyone of the opposite genders."
- Lacey, Robert (1981). The Kingdom. New York and London: Harcourt Brace Javonoich. p. 178.
- Lacey, Robert. Inside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle .... Penguin.
- "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" Rob L. Wagner, The Media Line, 23 May 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.