Islamic religious police

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The Islamic religious police (Arabic: مطوعmuṭawwiʿ, plural مطوعون muṭawwiʿūn – derived from classical Arabic: mutaṭawwiʿa/muṭṭawwiʿa)[1] is the official police of some Islamic states, who on behalf of the state, disperses sharia-rules in respect to religious behavior (morality),[2][3] or the precepts of Wahhabism.[3] The establishment of a religious police is considered justified with the Quran doctrine, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong or promotion of virtue and prevention of vice.[2][3] Some controversy, though, exists and opinions are divided on the function or purpose of religious police,[2][3] for example, in Saudi Arabia some see them as limiting secularization, while some foreign Islamic imams, see them as an outdated over-conservative annoyance.[3]


The word mutaween (المطوعين muṭawwiʿīn; variant English spellings: mutawwain, ''muttawa", mutawallees, mutawa’ah, mutawi’, mutawwa') most literally means "volunteers" in the Arabic language,[4] 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. 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 Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia.[5] However, the use of religious police was prevalent during Taliban rule as a means to promote their fundamentalist interpretation of Deobandi Islam.

Activities by country[edit]

Saudi Arabia[edit]

Seal of the CPVPV

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.[6][7]

Among the things the Mutaween have been criticized or ridiculed for include, use of flogging to punish violators,[8][9] banning Valentines Day gifts,[10][11] arresting priests for saying Mass,[12] and being staffed by "ex-convicts whose only job qualification was that they had memorized the Qur'an in order to reduce their sentences".[13]

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 fifty were injured as a result. Widespread public criticism followed, both internationally and within Saudi Arabia.[14]

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".[15]

Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan[edit]

Kabul, 2001, image obtained by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan showing a religious policing member responsible for promotion of virtue and prevention of vice dispersing sharia-rules to a woman for removing in public her burqa headpiece.
Taliban police in a pickup truck patrolling a street in Herat, in July 2001.

Afghanistan's Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice was first instituted by the 1992 Rabbani regime, and adopted by the Taliban when they took power in 1996.[16] It was closed when the Taliban was ousted, but the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Afghanistan reinstated it in 2003.[17] In 2006 the Karzai regime submitted draft legislation to create a new department, under the Ministry for Haj and Religious Affairs, devoted to the "Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice".[16] Radio Free Europe quoted many Afghans who greeted news of the draft with alarm.

Other countries[edit]

Islamic religious police forces outside of Saudi Arabia include:


The militant group ISIL has employed the use of religious police in areas under its control, commonly known as the Hisbah.[19] Women who go out without a male chaperone or aren’t fully covered in public are subject to arrests and beatings by the all-female morality police of the Islamic State are known as the Al-Khansaa Brigade.[20]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ The Encyclopaedia of Islam. New Edition. Brill, Leiden. Vol. 7, p. 776
  2. ^ a b c Sultan, Sohaib (2004). The Koran For Dummies. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley Publishing, Inc. pp. 238–240, 246. ISBN 9780764555817. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Cordesman, Anthony H. (2003). Saudi Arabia Enters the Twenty-first Century: The military and international security dimensions 1. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers. pp. 294–296, 298. ISBN 9780275980917. 
  4. ^ Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic by Hans Wehr, edited by J. M. Cowan, 4th edition (1994, ISBN 0-87950-003-4), p. 670.
  5. ^ Rashid, Ahmed (2001). Taliban (1st Pan ed.). London: Pan Books. p. 105. ISBN 0-330-49221-7. 
  6. ^ "SAUDI ARABIA Catholic priest arrested and expelled from Riyadh – Asia News". Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  7. ^ "BBC NEWS – Middle East – Saudi minister rebukes religious police". Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  8. ^ "The Saudi Media Debates Flogging by the Saudi Religious Police". MEMRI – The Middle East Media Research Institute. Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  9. ^ Saudi Arabia: Gross human rights abuses against women | Amnesty International
  10. ^ "Valentine's Day in Saudi Arabia by Stephen Schwartz & Irfan al-Alawir 03/05/2007, Volume 012, Issue 24". Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  11. ^ "200 Arrested in Mina for Celebrating Valentine's Day", Arab News, February 18, 2004
  12. ^ Catholic priest arrested and expelled from Riyadh, April 10, 2006 , AsiaNews
  13. ^ Wright, Lawrence, Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, by Lawrence Wright, NY, Knopf, 2006, p.149
  14. ^ "Saudi police 'stopped' fire rescue", BBC, 15 March 2002
  15. ^ "Morality Police under Pressure", Arab Reform Bulletin, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, July 2007.
  16. ^ a b Golnaz Esfandiari (18 July 2006). "Afghanistan: Proposed Morality Department Recalls Taliban Times". Radio Free Europe. Retrieved 28 October 2008.  mirror
  17. ^ Claudio Franco (7 December 2004). "Despite Karzai election, Afghan conservatives soldier on". Eurasianet. Retrieved 4 August 2008.  mirror
  18. ^ Packer, George (11 September 2006). "The Moderate Martyr". The New Yorker. Retrieved 29 April 2015. 
  19. ^ "Life Under ISIS Religious Police is Brutal and Merciless". August 2014. Retrieved 2015. 
  20. ^ The ISIS Crackdown on Women, by Women, The Atlantic, by Kathy Gilsinan, 25 Jul 2014

External links[edit]