SAUDI ARABIA

Video: Saudi woman lashes out at religious police

 “Don’t provoke me!” This video filmed by a shopper in a Riyadh store shows a Saudi woman giving an officer from the religious police a piece of her mind. He had apparently asked her to cover up her entire face, even though she was already wearing a traditional niqab, with only her eyes and the top of her nose visible. 

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“Don’t provoke me!” This video filmed by a shopper in a Riyadh store shows a Saudi woman giving an officer from the religious police a piece of her mind. He had apparently asked her to cover up her entire face, even though she was already wearing a traditional niqab, with only her eyes and the top of her nose visible.

 

 

When the video starts, the argument is already underway. “Nothing in Islam says a woman must fully cover her face, and I already have half my face covered,” she yells at the religious police officer, who can be recognised by his red-and-white headscarf. “Are you only here to provoke me? I have children and I need to shop for them. Leave me alone!” A regular police officer standing nearby watches, but doesn’t intervene. According to local media, the woman was not arrested.

 

 

In Saudi Arabia, the Islamic religious police, also known as the mutaween, are tasked with applying sharia law. They make sure that stores close on time for prayers, and seize any goods considered anti-Islamic, such as CDs of Western music. They also have the power to stop anyone who they believe is behaving “indecently”.

"Women cover their face differently in different regions"

According to our Observer Mohammad Alsaeedi, the country’s younger generations are growing increasingly fed up with the mutaween.

 

Most young people today refuse to listen to the religious police, which watches people and forces them to pray.

 

Many young women don’t entirely cover up their faces. But it’s really a matter of culture, and it depends on which region they live in. In the cities of Jeddah or Khobar, for example, they can do this without any problem. In Qatif, where I live, about half of them don’t completely cover their faces – even those who work in the administration. But in more conservative places like Al-Qassim province, north of Riyadh, this would be unthinkable.

 

"The religious police officer is clearly out of line"

According to Susie, an American blogger who is married to a Saudi man and has spent the last six years in Jeddah, the religious police officer seen in the video took things too far.

 

Covering one’s face is a cultural practice, which is not regulated by Islam. According to Islam, women must dress ‘modestly’. It also says that men -- including the religious police! -- should lower their eyes when they are in the presence of a woman who is not their kin. So in this video, the officer is clearly out of line.

 

It’s very rare for a woman who is already covering half her face to get hassled like this. The guy is an idiot and should be fired. It seems that in the past few years, Saudis no longer hesitate to rebel against this kind of overzealousness. [Editor's Note: Last year, FRANCE 24 had reported on a similar case.]

 

Indeed, criticising the religious police seems to be increasingly common in Saudi Arabia, in part thanks to social media.  On September 24, the country’s national holiday, a car chase involving several of its officers in Riyadh ended in a crash that killed a young man and severely injured another. A video of the incident, filmed by a witness, was published on Twitter with the caption “the religious police killed two men on our national holiday”, and quickly went viral.

 

The religious police chief, Sheikh Abdullatif Al Sheikh, confirmed that this car chase did indeed take place and that an internal investigation was underway.

 

 

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist François-Damien Bourgery (@FDBourgery).