Saudi religious police chief rejects repression to enforce Shariah code

Sheikh Abdulatif Al al-Sheikh says repression is not part of Islamic Shariah

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The head of Saudi Arabia’s controversial religious police, officially referred to as the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, has denied that his forces are using repression to enforce the Shariah code in public.

Sheikh Abdulatif Al al-Sheikh told Al Arabiya News Channel in a special interview aired on Monday that there are ultra-conservative members within the committee who espouse a tougher approach to enforcing the Shariah code.

“We are neither extremists nor too lenient. We follow the course of the Prophet Mohammad and we don’t seek to be repressive or brutal because this is not part of Islamic Shariah,’ he said.

While touring a mall in Riyadh with Al Arabiya reporter Ahmad Altowayan, the religious police chief found a young man working at a women’s clothing shop.

“This is a shop for women only and all the customers are women. Do you think that there is a need for a man to be here selling women’s accessories… to be honest?” the sheikh asked.

The young man replied: “It’s best if women sell women’s clothes.”

“This is a violation, but we are giving them chances to abide by regulations so we don’t hear that the committee is being repressive,” the sheikh told Al Arabiya reporter Altowayan.

He said the committee is also in the process of drafting measures to better regulate businesses during prayer times. He said businesses will be required to shut down for only briefly during prayer times.

Members of the committee will carry out surprise checks and if a business is found open during prayer time the salesman could be subject to punishment.

Dealing with women in public places is another challenge that the committee seeks to address.

Al-Sheikh said women are prohibited from revealing their faces “when there is a clear violation of public decency.”

He said it would be up to committee members working on the field to judge whether a woman violates public decency by uncovering her face.

The religious police chief asked a woman inside the mall if she supports the idea of walking in public without the face veil.
“No, no, never, I reject this,” the woman replied, but complained that some committee members overstep their responsibilities in “advising” women.

Another woman complained that the number of the committee members has decreased in public due to pressures. “We want more of them, they are important and have stature,” she said.

The head of the religious police, which is comprised of 6,000 members, criticized “activists with special agendas” who seek to create unrest in Saudi Arabia with their “irrational demands.”

“The government is strong and the state is strong and our leaders are supported by all the people,” he said. “No doubt there are activists and those with special agendas disguised in religious clothing …who grew up like a malicious and corrupt plant unfortunately in Saudi Arabia.”

“But this is a weak plant, has no value and will vanish,” he added.

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