The Al-Madina regional branch of the Saudi religious and morality police, formally known as "The Authority for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vices," recently launched its new website. The site posts news items, citizens' violations, and includes a section that allows citizens to inform anonymously on persons they suspect of violating religious and moral laws. The following is a summary of the website's recent content:
The Religious Police Vs. 'Al-Watan'
The news section of the website included a response to an article that appeared in the Saudi government daily Al-Watan. According to the Al-Watan article, one of the newspaper's correspondents was arrested by the Authority and taken to its Riyadh office. Inspector "Abu Abd Al-'Aziz" asked the prisoner to remove his Kaffiyeh, and after he had done so, told him, "Your hair is long and we want to cut it... Such long hair is proper only for the third sex [i.e. homosexuals]." The correspondent refused to allow his hair to be cut, but the investigator threatened to cut his hair by force. At the same time, the investigators began beating another prisoner until he bled. A barber then entered and cut the correspondent's hair.
Afterwards, the correspondent was charged five riyals, approximately one dollar, for the haircut, and was forced to sign a sheet of charges including the charge of "lusting after girls by the school gates." According to the newspaper, the charge sheet also included a "strange accusation" that the paper chose not to publish as it deemed it embarrassing. The correspondent initially refused to sign, but did so after he was threatened with more beatings. The investigator destroyed the correspondent's notes and confiscated his money and notebook. He then called Al-Watan's employees "secular" and asked whether "there was mingling between male and female journalists in the newspaper's offices." When the correspondent refused to answer and threatened the investigator with legal action, the investigator said that the Authority was "an official body that no one can sue."
Following the publishing of the Al-Watan article, the Authority posted a response by Authority Public Relations Director Ahmad bin Muhammad Al-Jurdan. In the response, he wrote: "…We have been informed by the director of an Authority branch that a 20-year-old man was found in circumstances harming [morality] near one of the girls' schools when the girls were getting out of school. This individual, with the cooperation of the newspaper for which he works, tried to invent lies… The newspaper should have confirmed the facts before publication, in accordance with the words of the Koran… and in accordance with Section Nine of the Publications Law… It should be noted that the news item had no specific aim and no message at all, and thus it appears that its aim was to create confusion regarding the Authority for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vices. Your paper has in the past published similar items which were incorrect and did not serve the public interest or the desired goals. We hope that you will examine the veracity of what you publish and will cooperate with us in clinging to Allah…"
Confiscating CDs, Burning Shoes, Making Arrests on Charges of Witchcraft
Among other news items posted on the Authority website were articles detailing the confiscation of CDs containing "permissive materials," the arrest of an Asian man belonging to the Sufi sect of Islam who "engaged in witchcraft," a study on the role of the Authority in the struggle against "ideological invasion," a report on the flogging of four people accused of harassing girls as they were leaving school, and a report on the burning of 250,000 forbidden articles such as "texts contradicting the faith, shoes with the name of Allah written on them, [and] items for the Holiday of Love [i.e. Valentine's Day]."
Another posting reported that the Authority was patrolling near girls' schools so as to prevent harassment of the girls and to ensure that the girls were wearing veils. The report stated that the patrols had caught some young men who were "loitering near the school while the girls were leaving," and that the young men had "been advised to cease this, and were told that anyone continuing with this ugly behavior would be flogged before the gates of the school." The item noted that the Authority's "field teams had noticed a reduction in the phenomenon following this practical measure."
The site also reported that a man was arrested selling CDs containing "permissive materials at a minimal price of 10 riyals!!" Also according to the website, "the enemies of Islam" had allowed in to the country video games for Sony Playstation which contained sexual content. "The Authority confiscated 130 such CDs, destroyed them, and punished the criminal."
The Religious and Morality Police and Personal Freedom
The Authority's website posted the text of a book written by Dr. Fadhel Alha of the Department of Islamic Preaching and Communications at the University of Riyadh, which discusses the Authority's activities. Dr. Alha wrote: "There are those who say that we must leave people alone and not interfere in personal matters of virtue from which they refrain, because this conflicts with their individual freedom which is set out in Islam. Those preaching this approach quote the words of Allah in the Koran: 'There is no coercion in religion…'"
"First of all, there is no such thing as 'personal freedom.' It is a lie. We would like to ask those who argue in this matter: Have you found personal freedom in the east of the land or in its west? In Eastern or Western regimes? None whatsoever, neither here nor there. Man is required to obey rules and regulations against his will everywhere. Is a man permitted, in the East or the West, to cross the street at a red light? In the West, is a man permitted to build a house with his own money… without observing the municipality's regulations? In the East, the situation is even more clear, and he has no right to own a house at all."
"Second, the personal freedom granted by Islam to the Muslims lies in [Allah's] liberating them from enslavement to men. This does not mean that man is liberated from enslavement to the God of these men…"
"Third, the verse 'There is no coercion in religion' does not mean that everyone can do what they want and refrain from doing what they don't want, or that no one is entitled to require them to do the good that they have abandoned or to refrain from the evil that they do. The meaning of the verse… is that a person must not be forced to convert to Islam – and this too does not concern all non-Muslims, but only the People of the Book [i.e. Jews and Christians], [regarding] the Bedouin polytheist idol worshippers, you must either force them to convert to Islam, or fight them."
On Witchcraft and Worship
Another section of the website allows visitors to submit questions. One visitor wrote that a woman had bewitched him and that when he went for treatment to one of the sheikhs, a Djinn spoke to him. The Authority answered: "Our dear brother, you must go to the head of the Committee for the Struggle Against Witchcraft in Al-Madina, Sheikh Abdallah Al-Zahrani… Often, Djinns lie, and their words cannot be trusted. Perhaps the Djinn, if indeed it was he who spoke, wants to make trouble between you and that person. We have already seen many lies of this kind."
The same section allowed citizens to inform on their neighbors anonymously. For example, one visitor wrote that five of his neighbors did not join regular communal worship, especially the dawn worship. He added that some of them hold senior positions and he wanted to know what could be done to make them worship. He received the following reply: "Patience must be employed with this kind of people… You can get help from members of the Authority near where you live."
Warning: 'That Barbie Doll is Jewish!'
Another section of the website, the "Exhibit of Violations," displays confiscated items from the "permanent collection of violations of Islamic law at Authority headquarters in Al-Madina." The section shows photos of perfume bottles shaped like a woman's torso, with text reading: "Perfume, but…! Examples of perfumes with good fragrances for women and evil bottles that harm the honor of the woman and undermine her morality. We must beware. The Prophet Muhammad said, 'Any woman who wears perfume and passes by people so they can smell it is a whore…'" Also shown is a photo of several Barbie dolls, along with the text: "The enemies of Islam want to invade us with all possible means, and therefore they have circulated among us this doll, which spreads deterioration of values and moral degeneracy among our girls." On the photo, under the heading "The Jewish Doll," is a story titled "The Strange Request." The story reads: "One girl said to her mother: 'Mother, I want jeans and a shirt open at the top, like Barbie's!!' The dolls of the Jewish Barbie in her naked garb [sic], their disgraceful appearance, and their various accessories are a symbol of the dissolution of values in the West. We must fully comprehend the danger in them."
On Goats and Wolves Additionally, the website posts issues of the Authority's Al-Hisba magazine. An article titled "The Goat Hunts the Wolf" stated: "In the past, it was the young man who preened in order to attract the girl's attention. He played the part of the sophisticated wolf planning schemes to ensnare [her]… But these days, with the spread of the satellite channels and their influence, like deadly poison, all is reversed. In our time, the girls preen and dress in a way that attracts attention to ensnare the young man whose heart and religion are weak. The girl begins to devise schemes, and she plays the part of the wolf… She tries to obtain a luxury watch, a beautiful bag, an evening gown, or even the newest model of mobile phone. And then what?! She goes to hell, as has happened to young people in the past. What is the meaning of these ideas, which lead to the collapse of our entire society? Why don't the girls think of always wearing the veil to stop the corruption? Why don't they seek to become women of value, instead of being easy prey in the mouths of all?"