more familiarly as the muttawa.
DISCLAIMER: This entire post is written in a sarcastic tone, tongue in cheek. For those readers that suffer from over-sensitivity and lack sense of humour, I recommend you don't read any further, because you might get offended :)
During Ramadan malls all over Riyadh will fill up with Saudis shopping until they drop (which would be around 3 am). What a better opportunity for the moral cops to get some serious moral enforcement done! If you don't know what Saudi religious police are read more here and find out some of my previous encounters with them here and here.
Before the Holy Month the muttawa have been busy preparing their fleet of white GMC Suburbans in anticipation of making many new arrests. CPVPV recently received some (about 53 million dollars) bribery ahem sorry support money from the royal family and they were able to pimp their 600 rides with hi-tech anti-immorality gadgets. The GMC's now contain laptops, scanners, fax and copy machines and I bet a coffee machine and a plasma TV too.
Why is Ramadan such a fruitful time for muttawa?
Firstly because the pure numbers of immodestly dressed women and men at malls nearly triple compared to normal months. Uncovered faces, male-leggings (meggins), pink shirts on men, shorts, flashy abayas, high heels, t-shirts with the highest button left unbuttoned.
You name it- surely the muttawa will find it.
During daytime the religious police will be on the look out to catch foreigners secretly taking a sip of water or chewing gum in public places which is viewed as forbidden during Ramadan daylight hours (but only in Saudi-Arabia!)
Ramadan also enables easier entry to malls for single men who are normally unable to enter malls without a female (guardian). They might try to sneak into crowded malls by infiltrating into groups of women as fake brothers.
Food courts are another place of interest for the religious police since lots of haram mixing happens if the food court counters are not separated by screens. Women tend to remove their veils partially when eating in the closed family sections. This poses great potential for eager officers who've specialized in terrorizing dining females.
Women's clothing stores might have hidden dressing rooms in the back rooms and if found the muttawa have really hit the jackpot!
Another point of interest for muttawa are mirrors. Some shops for women's clothing actually hide mirrors behind the racks.
Religious cops are also keen to check on the abaya shops for anything with too much color or bling-bling on it. In other words, anything other than ALL BLACK is a big no-no. There is no point of going to the abaya shops when the CPVPV members are present at the mall (if looking for anything else than the standard all black version). Abaya salesmen are clever enough though and often manage to trick the muttawa by hiding the flashy abayas and scarves. Even the catalogs for the embroidery and sequins have magically disappeared.
Just the other day the Saudi religious police force were having a blast at one their favorite hangouts Granada Mall, known to locals as "Gharnaata Moll". As my husband and I entered I noted the presence of not one but two CPVPV vehicles parked outside the entrance. I made a remark to my husband betting we will run into them inside the mall. I counted a staggering seven muttawa apprentices in addition to the Big Boss donning the black cape (bisht), all accompanied by one or two security officers. They were armed as if going into war.
We actually went to this mall specifically to check out the Saudi Cancer Society Photo Exhibition held there. Funny how they allowed that btw.
I took some pictures of the expo and before I could say "maashallah" I spotted the muttawa.
The commission members didn't seem to have any interest in the exhibition itself (although images of living things and art by Saudi women were on display and there was no segregation of sexes) but instead they were going in and out of stores checking for above mentioned forbidden things.
The bearded bullies enter a kids clothing shop
The store we were in was packed with women and children when the joyous mood suddenly changed to silence and wary looks when a religious police officer entered with a mall security guy.
The bearded threat naturally did the most important thing first and went around telling all women to cover (all had niqab on). He then picked out one of the salesmen and took him to the back room with the visibly awkward mall security officer. Everyone in the store was quiet and the atmosphere was like being in a horror movie, will he return alive?
After they emerged (the clerk looked very pale) the commission officer approached my husband. He started interrogating him; name, family, tribe, workplace and so on. The muttawa had an issue with my husband's shorts, which were below the knee length and should be OK, but nevertheless were deemed inappropriate. The muttawa told my husband to immediately leave the mall!
My husband did not take him seriously but politely promised not to wear them next time.
During this grilling session the security guy stood nearby looking extremely squirmy and embarrassed trying to motion for the commission member to leave to the store.
The muttawa ignored his request and then shifted his interest to me, asking my husband: "Why doesn't your wife have a niqab (face veil) on? Her face is exposed!" My husband replied: "What she is wearing is fine. What is your problem?"
The muttawa replied "Saudi men should keep their jewels hidden."
Hehehe. How nice to be called a jewel ;) And what was this exposed jewel doing during all this? Laughing to herself and snapping a pic of this silly situation.
Interesting to see what the priorities of the CPVPV members seem to be during this Holy month.