Monday, August 18, 2008

Religious police, good grief !

Old news but astonishing:
Saudi police 'stopped' fire rescue
Mecca city governor, Prince Abdulmajeed bin Abdul Aziz, visits the fire-damaged girls school
The Mecca city governor visited the fire-damaged school
Saudi Arabia's religious police stopped schoolgirls from leaving a blazing building because they were not wearing correct Islamic dress, according to Saudi newspapers.

In a rare criticism of the kingdom's powerful "mutaween" police, the Saudi media has accused them of hindering attempts to save 15 girls who died in the fire on Monday.

About 800 pupils were inside the school in the holy city of Mecca when the tragedy occurred.

Saudi hospital staff carry a victim of the girl school fire to an ambulance in Mecca
15 girls died in the blaze and more than 50 others were injured
According to the al-Eqtisadiah daily, firemen confronted police after they tried to keep the girls inside because they were not wearing the headscarves and abayas (black robes) required by the kingdom's strict interpretation of Islam.

One witness said he saw three policemen "beating young girls to prevent them from leaving the school because they were not wearing the abaya".

The Saudi Gazette quoted witnesses as saying that the police - known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice - had stopped men who tried to help the girls and warned "it is a sinful to approach them".

The father of one of the dead girls said that the school watchman even refused to open the gates to let the girls out.

"Lives could have been saved had they not been stopped by members of the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice," the newspaper concluded.

Relatives' anger

Families of the victims have been incensed over the deaths.

Most of the victims were crushed in a stampede as they tried to flee the blaze.

The school was locked at the time of the fire - a usual practice to ensure full segregation of the sexes.

The religious police are widely feared in Saudi Arabia. They roam the streets enforcing dress codes and sex segregation, and ensuring prayers are performed on time.

Those who refuse to obey their orders are often beaten and sometimes put in jail.

Virtue or Vice? Maged Elhayek, a veterinarian, says the ban on selling dogs and cats is a bid to stop people from 'acting Westernized.'
Caryle Murphy

In dog-walking, Saudi virtue police see vice

In Riyadh, theories that the practice can encourage flirting revives a ban on buying and selling cats and dogs.

By Caryle Murphy | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

from the August 12, 2008 edition

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA - A complaint about the "phenomenon" of dog-walking recently landed on the desk of Prince Sattam bin Abdul Aziz.

This practice was "becoming more and more acceptable and ... being taken advantage of by some young men in a way that conflicts with the rules and regulations of Islam," according to the protest from Othman al-Othman, head of Riyadh's religious police.

The young men, it seems, were being young men. They were "using cats and dogs to make passes at women and pester families," Mr. Othman told Al Hayat newspaper.

Prince Sattam, acting governor of Riyadh Province, responded by ordering city officials to begin enforcing a 1994 religious edict banning the sale of dogs and cats, because the prophet Muhammad had encouraged Muslims to refrain from trading in the animals, according to an officially circulated memo.

Although the ban does not prohibit walking your dog or owning a pet, Al Othman told Al Hayat that "if a man is caught with a pet, the pet will be immediately confiscated. And the man will be forced to sign a document pledging not to repeat the act."

For days after, the no-pet-in-public ban – consistent with the often heavy-handed efforts by the Saudi religious police to control the lives of ordinary people –was mocked in newspapers and blogs around the world.

Saudi-born veterinarian Maged Elhayek says he took a "panicky" call from a US Army vet asking if foreigners would still be allowed to take their pets out of the country.

Mr. Elhayek says that the religious edict goes beyond what the prophet Muhammad said. "First of all, he only discouraged people from selling dogs, he didn't prohibit it," said the vet. And there was no mention of cats in that advice.

The religious police "are trying to stop people from buying cats and dogs so they wouldn't act like a Westernized nation," says Elhayek. "I don't know what they're really after. You cannot stop people from being opened up to the world."

At the Life and Nature pet store, the ban was met mostly with derision.

"What kind of logic is this?" asks teenager Abdulaziz A. Al Bahassan, cradling his cat, "Dallah," in his arms. "What about little kids who like cats and dogs? They're not going to use them to flirt with girls, so why are they banning these people from buying?"

"I'm prettier than the dog, if I want to flirt with women, I'd just use myself!" says young Mohammed Al Anezi. "I wouldn't need the dog."

He adds that "there should be nothing wrong with buying a cat or dog. It should be normal."

Abdelaziz Al Yousef, who has a German shepherd named "Rocky," predicted that the ban would be "a big failure."

Upstairs in the store, university student Rabah Al Shuwaier, her face completely veiled in black except for her eyes, was visiting the vet with two of her six kittens: Snow white "Sugar" and light brown "Caramel."

"I know that having a pet at home and taking care of it is permissible under Islamic law," Ms. Shuwaier said. "But I'm not sure about the ruling on selling and buying cats and dogs. They wouldn't say it's wrong unless they had a reason to."

Salesmen at the pet shop said they'd received no official notification of the ban.

The Commission to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice, as the religious police are formally known, did not respond to e-mailed questions about its dog-walking concerns from the Monitor.

More than a week after Al Hayat newspaper disclosed the ban, no Saudi official had come forward to clarify that the written version does not include dog-walking, or to explain how people can now acquire dogs and cats.

The officials' absence is partly explained by the grand bargain that the ruling royal family has with the Saudi religious community: In exchange for the clerics' support, the royal family allows them a free hand in many areas, particularly ones deemed minor in the larger scheme of things.

Meanwhile, the ruling family retains its prerogative to implement changes in more important issues. King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, for example, has taken important initiatives in interfaith dialogue and the issue of women entering the workforce despite clerical opposition.

Arab culture has generally considered dogs unclean, and Saudi religious authorities have advised against having them as household pets.

But dogs are increasingly seen as attractive pets and Saudis, especially the well-off, are keeping household animals of all kinds, said veterinarian Elhayek, administrator of Riyadh's Advanced Pet Clinic.

Ten years ago, the majority of his clients were Western pet owners. "Now it's almost 50-50," he says, with Arabs accounting for half.

Elhayek notes that Islam's holy book, the Koran, has a story about a group of believers who slept in a cave for 300 years with their dog.

In addition, revered stories about the prophet Muhammad tell of him commending people who saved lives of dogs by quenching their thirst.

"Now don't come and tell me that dogs are a yucky creature," says Elhayek. "They're a beautiful creature and the more I know people, the more I love my dog."

Cats have always been popular pets among Arabs, who as children learn about the prophet Muhammad's companion "Abu Huraira," or "Father of the Kitten," so-called because he carried one around.

Elhayek says that his understanding is that the government's order contains no prohibition on walking dogs in public, which is rare anyway in the capital, which has few parks and green spaces.

"Everybody who lives in Riyadh ... should not be afraid of walking their dogs out in the streets, because nobody's going to do anything to them," Elhayek says. "It's not illegal, it's not against the law."

Muslim father burns Christian daughter alive
Man slices out girl's tongue, ignites her after 'heated debate on religion'

Posted: August 13, 2008
9:54 pm Eastern

© 2008 WorldNetDaily

A Saudi Arabian Muslim father cut out his daughter's tongue and lit her on fire upon learning that she had become a Christian.

The child became curious about Jesus Christ after she read Christian material online, the Gulf News reported.

Her father read of her Internet conversation, detached her tongue and burned her to death "following a heated debate on religion," according to an International Christian Concern report.

The father is employed by the muwateen, or Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. The muwateen are police tasked by the government with enforcing religious purity. The man has been taken into custody, and his identity has not been released.

The ICC pointed out the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has reported textbooks at the Saudi Arabian government school in Northern Virginia teach, "It is permissible for a Muslim to kill an apostate (a convert from Islam)."

Saudi Arabian oil money is used to export Wahabbism – a version of Islam said to be least tolerant toward non-Muslims – to other nations, including the U.S., ICC notes.

 ICC president Jeff King said, "Saudi Arabia has to treat Christians with the same respect that it wants Muslims to be treated in other countries. It has to stop exporting hate and persecution against Christians in other countries."


The self-appointed moral guardians of Yemen

An alliance of Yemeni religious scholars and tribal leaders has decided to watch and   safeguard the morals and values of the society through holding annual meetings rather than permanent committees, which were strongly criticized before being established.

Under the slogan "It's the guards of virtue who will protect the ship from drowning," the clerics and tribesmen – the self-appointed guardians of virtue – decided to hold a yearly conference, called "The meeting of promoting virtue and combating vice."   They backed down from a previous proposal submitted to President Ali Abdullah Saleh last May, for establishing virtue committees (religious police) and for monitoring the activities of individuals  and institutions by banning any vice-related activity such as selling alcoholic drinks, night clubs, hotels, restaurants, or massage centers.

The clerics and tribesmen retracted from establishing their committees of promoting virtue and combating vice after strong criticisms from journalists, writers and politicians, who viewed the job of such committees as the responsibility of the state.       

No single woman attended the one-day meeting held on Tuesday July 15 by the tribesmen and the Sunni religious scholars.  The meeting was chaired by the tribal leader, Sadeq Abdullah al-Ahmar – sheikh of Yemen's most influential tribe, the Hashed – and cleric Abdul Majeed al-Zandani, who is accused by the United States of supporting terrorism.

Most of the nearly two thousands male attendees were students of Al-Eyman University, a religious university run and owned by al-Zandani. The rest of the attendees were Salafi clerics and tribesmen. No prominent politicians from the Islamist party Islah attended the meeting except Sheikh al-Zandani, who has his own Salafi current inside the party. The politicians of Islah refused the demand of establishing committees for virtue, saying that it was only a political trick from the president Saleh to divide the Islah party, the largest opposition party on the one hand, and divide the opposition alliance which includes the Islah Islamists, Socialists and Nasserites on the other.

"Talking about committees for virtue has political reasons behind, aiming to mix the cards and confuse political life in an official attempt to divert the attention from its helplessness and corruption of the government, and thus holding others responsible for its faults including weakening the effectiveness of the official bodies and working outside the constitution and law," said the alliance of the three parties in a statement issued three days before the meeting of the clerics and tribesmen.

The clerics and tribesmen demanded the government to take its responsibility for protecting the virtue by closing hotels, night clubs and tourists' places and the non-Islamic banks, which deal with "reba" (interest), and the shops that sell alcoholic drinks and hotels that show pornographic movies.

In Yemen, alcoholic drinks are sold secretly except in the few five-star hotels where it is sold openly to mostly foreign customers. In the capital Sana'a, there are no public night clubs except in the three five-star hotels. But in the southern coastal city of Aden, there are about ten public night clubs. 

In the capital Sana'a, two restaurants serving wine and one massage centre were closed by the prosecution one hour after the meeting of the tribesmen and clerics on Tuesday July 15.

"It is not the orders of the committee for virtue, it is the orders of the prosecution," said the policemen who closed the restaurants to reporters who were banned from taking photos.  

The organizers of the meeting, which had no specific program distributed to the attendees, especially those who came from outside Sana'a, a book containing all the articles written by journalists against the committee of virtue since early last May, when the proposal was submitted. The book is entitled The Committee of Virtue and Writings of Destruction and Ruins. 

"The daring of journalists reaches to the extent of ridiculing the Sha'ria law and religion," one of the speakers yelled while the book was distributed.

At the end of meeting, the clerics and tribesmen formed a follow up committee chaired by Sheikh al-Zandani with the tribal leader Sadeq al-Ahmar as his deputy.  The participating clerics and tribesmen demanded that the name of their chairman Abdul Majeed al-Zandani be dropped from the US and UN terror list.




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