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The Virtue & Vice in Steak

July 2, 2007

Over the last few trips to Saudi, I’ve become instilled with a sense of paranoia about the Muttawa.

Who are the Muttawa?

Well one of the Saudi Government bodies is something called the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, or as some call them, the ‘Religious Policemen’. They are responsible for monitoring that nothing untoward or allegedly ‘Unislamic’ happens in the Kingdom.

In the past, they have held a strong control over what people can and cannot do. I have heard stories of women having their hair clipped by Muttawa if it was slightly exposed and all sorts of other stories. It is not possible for single Saudi males to go into shopping malls in the evening or weekends unless they have family with them. On occasion I have waved my British passport and have been let in with no problem. Inside these malls, those single males teenagers who do get through spend their time communicating with people of the opposite gender via bluetooth. Something which from a western perspective sounds kinda cute.
On occasion you will even see young ladies without the Niqab (veil) and even without the Hijab so all their hair is exposed. I’m guessing in the past this would never have been seen. But it seems that times are a-changing in KSA.

In a recent case, a man was arrested by the religious policemen for picking up a woman. This man later died in custody and now some of the Commission staff face a trial. This would never have happened in the past. It was later found out that the man in question was in employ of the family of the woman and was simply running an errand.

But the sense of trepidation still exists. A friend and I were indulging in a steak in a mall the other day. This was a special kind of steak where they bring the meat out on a hot slab of granite which you end up cooking yourself. But of course you need aprons and these are provided. As we put these aprons on, a couple of young ladies approached us and started asking questions about the aprons and what we were doing. Now in the UK, we would chat along and not worry about a thing. But conversation was stilted from our side simple because of this fear of the religious policemen. Be careful who you talk to when you’re in KSA…


From → Islam, Travel

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