Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ramadan- Favorite Month For Saudi Religious Police

Ramadan, the busiest season of the year for the members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) aka Saudi religious police force. I like to refer to them
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.
New toys for the bearded boys
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.

Special opportunities 
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.
Muttawa field trips
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.

So what happened to the salesman they harassed? The highest button on his T-shirt had been open and muttawa had given him a long lecture about it in the back room.

Interesting to see what the priorities of the CPVPV members seem to be during this Holy month.


Noor said...

Asalam Alaykum, We have seen them out and about at Kingdom Mall this weekend as well. I am always scared lol but I fully veil so I do not have any problems here alhumdullah. :)

A few months ago we were at Hyatt Mall and they had this guy with a HUGE mustache he was a paid to be there and they came and gave him a hard time and said he had to cut it right there on the spot. IT was INSANE..

Anonymous said...

OMG @ Noor and the mustache story!

My husband was also harrassed for wearing shorts and flip flops while he was here. They were well below the knee. I was waiting for them to mention the fact that my face was uncovered, but they did not.

My 15 year old niece was almost arrested a couple days ago for her strip of black and white fabric sewed into her abaya. Her brother came to her aid, but had to swear to take her home.

I was in Hayat mall 2 days ago and there was a group of 4 Muttawa walking without a police officer. I wore my fancy abaya that's mostly pink so I was scared and turned my back to them. They raided a tiny photo shop (checking for ladies, maybe?) and also went to the food court, to the closed off area where women sat, and yelled loudly at 3 or 4 tables of women. My daughter asked me who they were, and I told her they are idiots.

I wish during Ramadan they would worry about bigger issues like maid abuse, witholding payment from employees, crazy drivers and such!

*Cinderella* said...

That sounds crazy Laylah although your post I was thinking Ya Allah, where do they get off. But surely there are more seriously pressing issues to worry about then covered faces and short length. i Love reading your blog it makes my day haha can't wait till I come to Saudi and view some of these craziness myself :)

Sandy said...

I believe the correct term for shorts is "immoral trousers". At least that's what they were called in an article I read about some guy getting in trouble for wearing them and when they were banned from being allowed here on airplanes (I think that sort of dissapeared) We always call them that in our house.

Layla said...

Noor-please tell me they didnt make him cut the moustache there?? What did you mean he was paid to be there? In any case that IS insane.

undertheabaya- she had only a strip and they wanted to arrest her??whats going on nowadays with haia, its as if all this madness is just becoming worse and worse..I know it sounds crazy but next time please don't turn away just walk by calmly with your head held high,I promise you will feel like a thousand dollars afterwards and they can't do anything to you..
lol your daughter knows the truth then ;)
Good suggestion on what they could be doing!
My suggestion is muttawa could start fundraising in shoppingmalls. Go around and encourage people to give zakat..saudis just tend spend and splurge in the malls, so this could be a good way to remind people of the gift of charity..

Layla said...

Angel-Thanks!when are you coming to KSA?
Yes I guess I could start a comedy series on muttawa encounters..It could be called "Bearded Bullies" any other suggestions?

Sandy-that's funny! Immoral trousers. Next time my husband is about to wear them out I will tell him that :)

*Cinderella* said...

not sure yet I am waiting for a scholarship to study there and also trying to get permission to get married (early early stages at this point in time) very difficult cause I do not know of any Australians married to Saudi and how they did it and not mention he is 26 not 35 :(

but insha Allah i will get the scholarship then move forward on the permission while in KSA.

haha yes i would so watch it i will update u if i come up with a name :)

Chick Flick Journal said...

loool looks like you've been stalking them/:p

Sylvia said...

Hi Layla, have been following your blog for a while as I am fascinated with Saudi Arabia...I'm not sure why, I guess I just find it fascinating reading about how people live under those ˝extreme˝ conditions (well, at least from an European point of view). Though I guess one can get used to anything :) Anyways, just wanted to say that I love your blog, it's probably my fave Saudi blog as it is funny and very informative at the same time, keep up the good work :)
Oh, and just out of curiosity - do you wear the hijab when you're out? I know that non-Muslim women do not have wear a hijab in Saudi (let alone a niqab) so I was surprised to hear about the muttawa making a fuss because of your uncovered face! Or do they just have to find *some* excuse to harass people? How terrible :/


marc said...

hi... I enjoyed reading your articles....

you're great!!!

umm sameera said...

Oh my God you are hilarious. Your musings also make me feel a lot of nostalgia for riyadh, i miss saudi arabia, where i lived for one year (i live in dubai now). I used to live near granada mall but never actually met a muttawa commando there, i actually had to go to old batha, yementown, to meet some...i was looking for some adrenalin!! I actually had to beg my friend (wearing niqab but also a lot of eye make-up) not to make eye contact with them...she actually said she found one of them to be a prohibitive way! How crazy is that!!!
Keep writing you are fabulous. Kisses to your little malika.

Layla said...

Angel-good luck on getting your scholarship and the permission!
CFJ- me, stalking the muttawa? hahaha you might actually be right I did follow them to take pictures :)
Sylvia-thanks for your kind words, I really appreciate it!You asked about hijab, you're right non-muslim women are not required to wear it. Muttawa seem to be more adamant on what wives of Saudis wear in public. I wear the hijab but it wasnt enough for them, or then they just wanted to find something to fuss about like you said.
Marc- thank you for commenting and glad you enjoyed!
umm sameera-thanks for commenting and your kind words, really means a lot to me :)
when were you in Riyadh?Thats amazing that you didnt see them in gharnaata! I bet batha was crawling with them!

Umm Sameera said...

Yeah I was addicted to batha, hallat al qusman souk and the shady area, hara of the bangladeshis...muttawa there found rich sinful territory!! I would go there all covered up and take in those unique sights, the hungry-eyed men, the occasional groper, the muttawa patrol cornering the stray muslims and pushing them to the mosque at sala time...Cannot find such adventures in Dubai. Sigh. I lived in Riyadh till March last year.
I wish all the best to your mother, be strong and healthy. Write, write more about my beloved Riyadh Layla, I live it through your eyes now.
PS do you have a nanny for your cutie yet? You should do a post about indonesian-filipino-ethiopian nannies in the multi-baby Saudi families!

Layla said...

Umm Sameera- that's crazy! But in a good way ;)
Did you ever go to "princess souq" in Batha? Its a secondhand souq selling ridiculously cheap (5 SAR) but usually very tacky evening gowns, supposedly from the houses of princesses..But boy that place is infested with pervs, gropers, and hungry-eyed men. That reminds me I was going to write a post about it!

Anonymous said...

Amazing! I can't even believe it. Doesn't it get exhausting being that picky? I get exhausted just following regular rules, I can't imagine also trying to follow rules made up by picky men who have nothing better to do but suck ALL of the light and fun out of being a Muslim.

Anonymous said...

It sounds pretty intense where you are all at in KSA. We in the eastern province have some stories to tell about malls and mutawa, but not that bad. Lately though they are trying to strike harder, it seems.

Dcs said...

pink shirts, really? 'cause i have two of them. and im not even gay or something. I wear them on my job. I never though wearing those would pose any problem until now. Im here in Riyadh right now, I was in jeddah for about a year and never had any problems regarding pink colored shirts, but i think Riyadh is more strict so i heard

Dcs said...

nice blog, I enjoyed reading it.

Sophie said...

I love this blog and this post!!I met them 3 times in the same day in Granada Mall..they follow me screaming: COVER YOUR HEAD!!

Desert Housewife A. (The Canadian in Jubail) said...

LoL this Post made me laugh and smile -- thnx L. :-)

BTW me and Norma are supposed to go to Hyatt Mall next week to look for Eid clothes; your stories make me nervous haha. I remember in Kingdom Mall the Hai'a came upstairs to the fancy Italian restaurant my Saudi friend took me (who doesn't cover) but when the Filipino server discreetly told us that the Hai'a were outside, she got all nervous and covered. Everyone got super nervous (except me). In Khobar's Dhahran Mall I always see them interrogating the guys for having long hair or wearing shorts. One time the whole mall stopped it's commotion because this big scary man yelled so friggin' loud "COVER YOUR HAIR!!!!!" at this poor girl -- the way he shouted even disturbed my husband :-/

Taher Kagalwala said...

As usual, your entry on mutawwas amused me no end. This is like curiosity for me, as I am in a small village where there are no malls; the mutawwas actually have no way to harass people~! There are just four or five "bakaala"s here. All I have seen them do is to move around in those white GMCs at the time of prayers and check whether all traders have closed their shops or not.