Saudi Arabia eyes field work guidelines for religious police


Saudi Arabia’s Consultative Assembly has urged the kingdom’s religious police authority, commonly referred to as the Hai’a, to set up field guidelines for its members and define the cases in which they can intervene to enforce the Islamic law.

Members of the Hai’a, who often patrol the streets to enforce dress codes, gender separation and behaviors believed to be commended by the Islamic Sharia, have come in many cases under controversy for reportedly overstepping their duties to breach citizens’ basic civil liberties.

Surah Council member, Khdeir al-Qurashi, told that the council's recommendation sought to assist the Hai'a in order to better perform its mission.

“The recommendation was proposed by Maj. Gen. Abdullah Salol, and its goal was to help the Hai'a perform its job as required. All employees have a work guideline that they follow, and it is necessary that the employees of the Hai'a have their own guideline to avoid some of its members doing mistakes.

“In order to avoid exaggerating the small mistakes of the Hai'a and to recognize its services to the society, the (Shura) Council saw that this recommendation would provide for general guidelines for its work.”
Qurashi added that setting up such guidelines would not be difficult because Islam “is clear and its prohibitions are few.”

“All matters are allowed unless banned by a clear text, and this is why it would be easy to identify things that are prohibited.”

“The new system will set a mechanism for the field work of the committee’s men which hands over some of their specializations to other state bodies, such as arrests and interrogations,” al-Hayat daily quoted religious police chief Sheikh Abdullatiff Abdel Aziz al-Sheikh as saying, AFP reported.

Agents of the body known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice will also be banned from carrying out “searches without prior approval from the governor,” he said according to an AFP report.

Okaz Daily also reported that the religious police agents will be prohibited from “standing at the entrances of shopping malls to prevent the entry of any person,” referring to attempts by agents to ban women who do not comply with the Islamic dress code and unmarried couples from entering malls.

Relatively moderate Sheikh, appointed in January as the new chief of the religious police, has raised hopes that a more lenient force will ease draconian social constraints in the Islamic country.

Two weeks into his post, Sheikh banned volunteers from serving in the commission which enforces the kingdom's strict Islamic rules.

In April he went further, prohibiting the religious police from “harassing people” and threatening “decisive measures against violators.”

In June, Sheikh came out strongly against one of his men who ordered a woman to leave a mall because she was wearing nail polish.

The woman had defied the orders as she filmed her argument with the policeman and posted it on YouTube.