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Saudi king, religious police, Islam and donkeys – via WikiLeaks

December 8, 2010

mutaween 1

(Photo: Religious police perform dusk prayers with Saudi youth outside a Riyadh cafe on June 27, 2010 during half-time of the Germany-England World Cup soccer match. The police ensured that people watching matches in cafes said their prayers during the tournament/Fahad Shadeed)

WikiLeaks has come up with an interesting insight into the way King Abdullah views his own kingdom’s religious police, the mutaween who enforce Islamic behaviour in public. A cable from the Riyadh embassy entitled IDEOLOGICAL AND OWNERSHIP TRENDS IN THE SAUDI MEDIA and dated 11 May 2009 mentions what appears to be a U.S. diplomat’s visit to a Saudi newspaper editor whose name is XXXed out. The Saudi says the king had visited the office and complained about how ignorant the religious police were about Islam and how they  treated people like donkeys:

//Okaz//
18. (S) In a meeting with Jeddah CG and XXXXXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXXXXX was blunt when asked about SAG efforts in countering extremist thinking. “King Abdallah was here,” he said, pointing around his well-appointed office XXXXXXXXXXXX in Jeddah. “He told us that conservative elements in Saudi society do not understand true Islam, and that people needed to be educated” on the subject. King Abdallah, he said, used a metaphor of a donkey to explain how the religious police use the wrong approach. “They take a stick and hit you with it, saying ‘Come donkey, it’s time to pray.’ How does that help people behave like good Muslims?” XXXXXXXXXXXX quoted the king as saying.

The same cable also comments on a new and more moderate tone in religious programming on some television channels:

15. (C) Saudi-produced religious programming on ART and Rotana also departs from past models. Rotana’s popular religious channel “Al Risala” features a hip, clean-shaven Saudi in western clothes offering practical religious advice in a calm and friendly manner. Jeddah-based Arab Radio and Television company (ART) (owned by Saleh al-Kamel and according to our contacts being edged aside by MBC and Rotana) recently featured an MTV-style music video clip on its “Iqraa” religious channel depicting a group of dissolute young Saudi men who give up their carousing and return to observance. They are then shown succeeding in sales presentations and other interactions at work, gaining the admiration of their colleagues and supervisors. The young men continue to dress in standard attire, remain clean-shaven and are fully integrated into normal, workaday Saudi society. The message of moderation in the religious realm could not be clearer.

mutaween

(Photo: Religious police during a training session in Riyadh September 1, 2007/Ali Jarekji)

The religious police don’t treat all Saudis like donkeys, however. In a cable on 18 November 2009 entitled UNDERGROUND PARTY SCENE IN JEDDAH: SAUDI YOUTH FROLIC UNDER “PRINCELY PROTECTION”, the Jeddah Consulate  reported on an underground Halloween party where the “full range of worldly temptations and vices are available — alcohol, drugs, sex — but strictly behind closed doors.” It then noted:

3. (C) Religious police/CPVPV (Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice) were nowhere to be seen and while admission was controlled through a strictly-enforced guest list, the partygoers were otherwise not shy about publicizing the affair. According to a young Saudi from a prominent Jeddah merchant family, the Saudis try to throw parties at princes’ houses or with princes in attendance, which serves as sufficient deterrent to interference by the CPVPV…

Here are some recent Reuters reports about the Saudi religious police:

Saudi Arabia less rigid with Muslims during haj

The perils of eating fire in Saudi Arabia when religious police disapprove

Saudi religious police crack down on summer festivals

Saudi religious> squad beefs up anti-vice patrols

Head of Saudi morals police eases tone on cinema

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