Mutaween

Islamic religious police (also mutaween) is the police force responsible for the enforcement of sharia in some Muslim-majority countries.

In some Western countries like Canada, the Mutaween practices, especially those targeting women, are officially recognized as culture-based persecution (for refugee-status hearings).[1]

Names

The word mutaween (Arabic: المطوعينmuṭawwiʿīn; variant English spellings: mutawwain, muttawa, mutawallees, mutawa’ah, mutawi’, mutawwa') most literally means "volunteers" in the Arabic language,[2] and is commonly used as a casual term for the government-authorized or government-recognized religious police (or clerical police) of Saudi Arabia. It was originally a casual synonym for the religious police of Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia, the formal short term for the Saudi religious police is هيئة "hay'ah".

More recently the term has gained use as an umbrella term outside the Arabic-speaking world to indicate religious-policing organizations with at least some government recognition or deference which enforce varied interpretations of Sharia law. The concept is thought to have originated from Wahabbism in Saudi Arabia.[3]

Activities by country

Saudi Arabia

The Mutaween in Saudi Arabia are tasked with enforcing Sharia as defined by the government, specifically by the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV). The Mutaween of the CPVPV consists of "more than 3,500 officers in addition to thousands of volunteers...often accompanied by a police escort." They have the power to arrest unrelated males and females caught socializing, anyone engaged in homosexual behavior or prostitution; to enforce Islamic dress-codes, and store closures during the prayer time. They enforce Muslim dietary laws, prohibit the consumption or sale of alcoholic beverages and pork, and seize banned consumer products and media regarded as anti-Islamic (such as CDs/DVDs of various Western musical groups, television shows and film which has material contrary to Sharia law or Islam itself). Additionally, they actively prevent the practice or proselytizing of other religions within Saudi Arabia, where they are banned.[4][5]

Among the things the Mutaween have been criticized or ridiculed for include, use of flogging to punish violators,[6][7] banning Valentines Day gifts,[8][9] arresting priests for saying Mass,[10] and being staffed by "ex-convicts whose only job qualification was that they had memorized the Qur'an in order to reduce their sentences."[11]

Perhaps the most serious and widely criticized incident attributed to them occurred on March 11, 2002, when they prevented schoolgirls from escaping a burning school in Mecca, because the girls were not wearing headscarves and abayas (black robes), and not accompanied by a male guardian. Fifteen girls died and 50 were injured as a result. Widespread public criticism followed, both internationally and within Saudi Arabia.[12]

In June 2007 the Saudi Mutaween announced "the creation of a 'department of rules and regulations' to ensure the activities of commission members comply with the law, after coming under heavy pressure for the death of two people in its custody in less than two weeks".[13]

Other countries

Islamic religious police forces outside of Saudi Arabia include:

  • Polisi Syariat Islam of Indonesia's territory of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam
  • Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Gaza Strip)
  • Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Afghanistan) (operated during Taliban rule, now defunct)
  • In Iran, Basiji act as "morality police" in towns and cities by "enforcing the wearing of the hijab; arresting women for violating the dress code; prohibiting male-female fraternization; monitoring citizens' activities; confiscating satellite dishes and `obscene` material; intelligence gathering; and even harassing government critics and intellectuals. Basij volunteers also act as bailiffs for local courts."[14]
  • In Pakistan, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority is performing a moral policing role. It often bans call and SMS packages (reduced price deals) to stop people from indulging in 'immoral chat'. It also monitors late night calls for "obscene content". [15]

See also

References and notes

External links

  • Sharia police block women's rally - BBC News
  • Sharia police: who are they? - The Jakarta Post
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