Al Arabiya’s exclusive on Saudi prayer-time laws makes global headlines
Head of Saudi religious police spoke to Al Arabiya about possibility of relaxing rules of prayers
Comments by the head of Saudi Arabia’s religious police to Al Arabiya News Channel this week indicating the possibility of relaxing rules of closing shops during prayer times have generated global headlines.
Sheikh Abdulatif Al al-Sheikh, head of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, told Al Arabiya News Channel on Monday that they are in the process of drafting measures to better regulate businesses during prayer times.
In Saudi Arabia, all shops are obliged to shut for half an hour during Muslim daily prayers, which take place five times a day.
Al al-Sheikh said that businesses will be required to shut down only briefly during prayer times.
He noted that members of the committee will carry out surprise inspections to ensure businesses are following the measures.
“For shop owners who are found praying collectively or whose shops are far from mosques, there will be nothing against them,” he said.
Anyone found working during the prayer time could be subject punishment according the law, he added.
Reuters reported the story on Wednesday quoting local Saudi press, which in turn quoted Al Arabiya’s story published on Monday.
Saudi Arabia’s English language newspaper Arab News had carried the story with a headline that said: “Haia chief for shorter prayer break.”
The Reuters story was carried by several regional and international media outlets, such as Egypt’s Al Ahram Online, Gulf Business News, Voice of America and Israel’s Haaretz.
“The comments are the latest sign of Al al-Sheikh’s attempts to improve the image of the morality police, officially known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice,” Reuters said.
King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz appointed Al al-Sheikh a year ago after a clip went viral on YouTube showing a morality police patrol harassing a family in a shopping mall.
In the interview with Al Arabiya he said his forces would not use rigidity to enforce the Shariah code in public.
“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.
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