Ramadan- Favorite Month For Saudi Religious Police

Ramadan, the busiest season of the year for the members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) aka Saudi religious police force. I like to refer to them more familiarly as the muttawa or Hai’a.

DISCLAIMER: This entire post is written in a sarcastic tone, tongue in cheek. For those readers that suffer from over-sensitivity and lack sense of humour, I recommend you don’t read any further, because you might get offended. EDIT : This post is from 2011, thankfully in 2017 the religious police are no longer present in malls or have any power in Riyadh)

During Ramadan malls all over Riyadh will fill up with Saudis shopping until they drop (which would be around 3 am). What a better opportunity for the moral cops to get some serious moral enforcement done! If you don’t know what Saudi religious police are read more here and find out some of my previous encounters with them here and here.

New toys for the bearded boys

Before the Holy Month the Hai’a have been busy preparing their fleet of white GMC Suburbans in anticipation of making many new arrests. CPVPV recently received some (about 53 million dollars) bribery ahem sorry support money from the royal family and they were able to pimp their 600 rides with hi-tech anti-immorality gadgets. The GMC’s now contain laptops, scanners, fax and copy machines and I bet a coffee machine and a plasma TV too.

Why is Ramadan such a fruitful time for religious police?

Firstly because the pure numbers of immodestly dressed women and men at malls nearly triple compared to normal months. Uncovered faces, male-leggings (meggins), pink shirts on men, shorts, flashy abayas, high heels, t-shirts with the highest button left unbuttoned. You name it- surely the muttawa will find it.

During daytime the religious police will be on the look out to catch foreigners secretly taking a sip of water or chewing gum in public places which is viewed as forbidden during Ramadan daylight hours (but only in Saudi-Arabia!) Ramadan also enables easier entry to malls for single men who are normally unable to enter malls without a female (guardian). They might try to sneak into crowded malls by infiltrating into groups of women as fake brothers.

Special opportunities for finding haram items

Food courts are another place of interest for the religious police since lots of haram mixing happens if the food court counters are not separated by screens. Women tend to remove their veils partially when eating in the closed family sections. This poses great potential for eager officers who’ve specialized in terrorizing dining females. Women’s clothing stores might have hidden dressing rooms in the back and if found, the Hai’a have really hit the jackpot! Another point of interest for muttawa are mirrors. Some shops for women’s clothing hide mirrors behind the racks to trick Hai’a officers.

Fashion police

Religious cops are also keen to check on the abaya shops for anything with too much color or bling-bling on it. In other words, anything other than ALL BLACK is a big no-no. There is no point of going to the abaya shops when the CPVPV members are present at the mall (if looking for anything else than the standard all black version). Abaya salesmen are clever enough though, often fooling the muttawa by hiding the flashy abayas by covering them with the plain ones. Even the abaya custom made catalogs for the embroidery and sequins have magically disappeared.

Hai’a fun field trips

Just the other day the Saudi religious police force were having a blast at one of their favorite hangouts Granada Mall, known to locals as “Ghornaata Moll”. As my husband and I entered, we noted the presence of not one but three CPVPV vehicles parked outside the entrance. I made a remark to my husband about them, betting we will run into the muttawa inside the mall. I counted a staggering seven muttawa apprentices in addition to the Big Boss donning the black cape (bisht), all accompanied by one or two security officers.

They were armed as if going into a war zone.

We actually went to this mall specifically to check out the Saudi Cancer Society Photo Exhibition held there. Funny how they allowed that btw. I took some pictures of the expo and before I could say “maashallah” I spotted the muttawa. The commission members didn’t seem to have any interest in the exhibition itself (although images of living things and art by Saudi women were on display and there was no segregation of sexes) but instead they were going in and out of stores checking for above mentioned forbidden things.

The bearded bullies enter a kids clothing shop 

The store we were in was packed with women and children doing last minute Eid gift shopping.  The joyous and relaxed mood suddenly changed to silence and wary looks when a religious police officer entered with a mall security guy. The bearded bully naturally did the most important thing first, going around the store telling (yelling at) all women to cover (all had niqab on).

He then picked out one of the salesmen and took him to the back room with the visibly awkward mall security officer. Everyone in the store was tense and quiet. The atmosphere was like being in a horror movie, will he return alive? Finally the door opened and the trio came out with the very pale and shaky looking sales clerk.

The commission officer then directed his attention toward my husband. He started an interrogation; name, family, father, tribe, workplace and so on.

Turned out this fashion police officer had an issue with my husband’s shorts, (which were below the knee length, which normally are OK) but nevertheless were deemed inappropriate. The muttawa told my husband to immediately leave the mall. My husband did not take him seriously and politely promised not to wear them next time. During this grilling session the security guy stood nearby looking extremely squirmy and embarrassed, trying to motion for the commission member to leave to the store.

The Hai’a guy ignored the security officer’s hint and then shifted his focus on me.  He asked my husband: “Why doesn’t your wife have a niqab (face veil) on? Her face is exposed!” My husband replied: “What she is wearing is fine. It’s none of your business!”  The muttawa insisted that “Saudi men should keep their jewels hidden.”

So what happened to the salesman, why was he singled out? I asked when we went to pay and he told us: The highest button on his T-shirt had been unbuttoned. The Hai’a officer had given him a long lecture in the back room about how it attract women, accusing the sales clerk of leaving it open on purpose for him to flirt with female customers.


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Hello there, I’m Laura, the author of Blue Abaya, the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia established in 2010. I’ve been traveling around and exploring Saudi Arabia since 2008.
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  • NoorAugust 28, 2011 - 7:45 pm

    Asalam Alaykum, We have seen them out and about at Kingdom Mall this weekend as well. I am always scared lol but I fully veil so I do not have any problems here alhumdullah. :)

    A few months ago we were at Hyatt Mall and they had this guy with a HUGE mustache he was a paid to be there and they came and gave him a hard time and said he had to cut it right there on the spot. IT was INSANE..ReplyCancel

  • undertheabayaAugust 28, 2011 - 8:59 pm

    OMG @ Noor and the mustache story!

    My husband was also harrassed for wearing shorts and flip flops while he was here. They were well below the knee. I was waiting for them to mention the fact that my face was uncovered, but they did not.

    My 15 year old niece was almost arrested a couple days ago for her strip of black and white fabric sewed into her abaya. Her brother came to her aid, but had to swear to take her home.

    I was in Hayat mall 2 days ago and there was a group of 4 Muttawa walking without a police officer. I wore my fancy abaya that’s mostly pink so I was scared and turned my back to them. They raided a tiny photo shop (checking for ladies, maybe?) and also went to the food court, to the closed off area where women sat, and yelled loudly at 3 or 4 tables of women. My daughter asked me who they were, and I told her they are idiots.

    I wish during Ramadan they would worry about bigger issues like maid abuse, witholding payment from employees, crazy drivers and such!ReplyCancel

  • AngelAugust 28, 2011 - 11:27 pm

    That sounds crazy Laylah although your post I was thinking Ya Allah, where do they get off. But surely there are more seriously pressing issues to worry about then covered faces and short length. i Love reading your blog it makes my day haha can’t wait till I come to Saudi and view some of these craziness myself :)ReplyCancel

  • SandyAugust 29, 2011 - 3:01 am

    I believe the correct term for shorts is “immoral trousers”. At least that’s what they were called in an article I read about some guy getting in trouble for wearing them and when they were banned from being allowed here on airplanes (I think that sort of dissapeared) We always call them that in our house.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahAugust 29, 2011 - 3:12 am

    Noor-please tell me they didnt make him cut the moustache there?? What did you mean he was paid to be there? In any case that IS insane.

    undertheabaya- she had only a strip and they wanted to arrest her??whats going on nowadays with haia, its as if all this madness is just becoming worse and worse..I know it sounds crazy but next time please don’t turn away just walk by calmly with your head held high,I promise you will feel like a thousand dollars afterwards and they can’t do anything to you..
    lol your daughter knows the truth then ;)
    Good suggestion on what they could be doing!
    My suggestion is muttawa could start fundraising in shoppingmalls. Go around and encourage people to give zakat..saudis just tend spend and splurge in the malls, so this could be a good way to remind people of the gift of charity..ReplyCancel

  • LaylahAugust 29, 2011 - 3:27 am

    Angel-Thanks!when are you coming to KSA?
    Yes I guess I could start a comedy series on muttawa encounters..It could be called “Bearded Bullies” any other suggestions?

    Sandy-that’s funny! Immoral trousers. Next time my husband is about to wear them out I will tell him that :)ReplyCancel

  • AngelAugust 29, 2011 - 9:44 am

    not sure yet I am waiting for a scholarship to study there and also trying to get permission to get married (early early stages at this point in time) very difficult cause I do not know of any Australians married to Saudi and how they did it and not mention he is 26 not 35 :(

    but insha Allah i will get the scholarship then move forward on the permission while in KSA.

    haha yes i would so watch it i will update u if i come up with a name :)ReplyCancel

  • Chick Flick JournalSeptember 1, 2011 - 1:17 pm

    loool looks like you’ve been stalking them/:pReplyCancel

  • SylviaSeptember 1, 2011 - 2:14 pm

    Hi Layla, have been following your blog for a while as I am fascinated with Saudi Arabia…I’m not sure why, I guess I just find it fascinating reading about how people live under those ˝extreme˝ conditions (well, at least from an European point of view). Though I guess one can get used to anything :) Anyways, just wanted to say that I love your blog, it’s probably my fave Saudi blog as it is funny and very informative at the same time, keep up the good work :)
    Oh, and just out of curiosity – do you wear the hijab when you’re out? I know that non-Muslim women do not have wear a hijab in Saudi (let alone a niqab) so I was surprised to hear about the muttawa making a fuss because of your uncovered face! Or do they just have to find *some* excuse to harass people? How terrible :/


  • marcSeptember 2, 2011 - 1:02 am

    hi… I enjoyed reading your articles….

    you’re great!!!ReplyCancel

  • umm sameeraSeptember 2, 2011 - 7:40 pm

    Oh my God you are hilarious. Your musings also make me feel a lot of nostalgia for riyadh, i miss saudi arabia, where i lived for one year (i live in dubai now). I used to live near granada mall but never actually met a muttawa commando there, i actually had to go to old batha, yementown, to meet some…i was looking for some adrenalin!! I actually had to beg my friend (wearing niqab but also a lot of eye make-up) not to make eye contact with them…she actually said she found one of them to be hot….in a prohibitive way! How crazy is that!!!
    Keep writing you are fabulous. Kisses to your little malika.ReplyCancel

  • Umm SameeraSeptember 3, 2011 - 5:46 pm

    Yeah I was addicted to batha, hallat al qusman souk and the shady area, hara of the bangladeshis…muttawa there found rich sinful territory!! I would go there all covered up and take in those unique sights, the hungry-eyed men, the occasional groper, the muttawa patrol cornering the stray muslims and pushing them to the mosque at sala time…Cannot find such adventures in Dubai. Sigh. I lived in Riyadh till March last year.
    I wish all the best to your mother, be strong and healthy. Write, write more about my beloved Riyadh Layla, I live it through your eyes now.
    PS do you have a nanny for your cutie yet? You should do a post about indonesian-filipino-ethiopian nannies in the multi-baby Saudi families!ReplyCancel

  • LaylahSeptember 6, 2011 - 10:08 am

    Umm Sameera- that’s crazy! But in a good way ;)
    Did you ever go to “princess souq” in Batha? Its a secondhand souq selling ridiculously cheap (5 SAR) but usually very tacky evening gowns, supposedly from the houses of princesses..But boy that place is infested with pervs, gropers, and hungry-eyed men. That reminds me I was going to write a post about it!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousSeptember 23, 2011 - 12:49 am

    I hate these Muttawa, Whenever I see them I get upset. This is how most of Saudies feel about them. I hope soon we can kick them out of our streets and malls.


  • Proud MuslimahMarch 8, 2012 - 8:22 pm

    Amazing! I can’t even believe it. Doesn’t it get exhausting being that picky? I get exhausted just following regular rules, I can’t imagine also trying to follow rules made up by picky men who have nothing better to do but suck ALL of the light and fun out of being a Muslim.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousMarch 11, 2012 - 12:35 pm

    It sounds pretty intense where you are all at in KSA. We in the eastern province have some stories to tell about malls and mutawa, but not that bad. Lately though they are trying to strike harder, it seems.ReplyCancel

  • Don SolanoJune 13, 2012 - 3:47 pm

    pink shirts, really? ’cause i have two of them. and im not even gay or something. I wear them on my job. I never though wearing those would pose any problem until now. Im here in Riyadh right now, I was in jeddah for about a year and never had any problems regarding pink colored shirts, but i think Riyadh is more strict so i heardReplyCancel

  • Don SolanoJune 13, 2012 - 4:06 pm

    nice blog, I enjoyed reading it.ReplyCancel

  • SophieJuly 29, 2013 - 7:54 pm

    I love this blog and this post!!I met them 3 times in the same day in Granada Mall..they follow me screaming: COVER YOUR HEAD!!ReplyCancel

  • MrsღA.July 30, 2013 - 12:47 am

    LoL this Post made me laugh and smile — thnx L. :-)

    BTW me and Norma are supposed to go to Hyatt Mall next week to look for Eid clothes; your stories make me nervous haha. I remember in Kingdom Mall the Hai’a came upstairs to the fancy Italian restaurant my Saudi friend took me (who doesn’t cover) but when the Filipino server discreetly told us that the Hai’a were outside, she got all nervous and covered. Everyone got super nervous (except me). In Khobar’s Dhahran Mall I always see them interrogating the guys for having long hair or wearing shorts. One time the whole mall stopped it’s commotion because this big scary man yelled so friggin’ loud “COVER YOUR HAIR!!!!!” at this poor girl — the way he shouted even disturbed my husband :-/ReplyCancel

  • drtaherJuly 30, 2013 - 1:11 pm

    As usual, your entry on mutawwas amused me no end. This is like curiosity for me, as I am in a small village where there are no malls; the mutawwas actually have no way to harass people~! There are just four or five “bakaala”s here. All I have seen them do is to move around in those white GMCs at the time of prayers and check whether all traders have closed their shops or not.ReplyCancel

  • […] around shopping malls looking for any items resembling Halloween festiveness to confiscate. Read this post if you want to learn more about muttawa raiding shopping […]ReplyCancel

  • RichardJuly 19, 2014 - 3:37 pm

    I see you posted this in 2011, I feel the information is rather outdated perhaps ? I have lived in Riyadh with my wife and 2 teenage daughters for the past 3 years and have never had any encounters with the religious police. We frequent the malls several times per month and whilst my family carry scarves they have never been asked to wear them.
    I appreciate your posts but perhaps they can be quite scary to newcomers to the Kingdom ?ReplyCancel

  • Margo Kanters CattsSeptember 14, 2014 - 1:41 pm

    Hi fellow Saudi sojourner! I had to link to this post in my own blog (margo.catts/foreigngirl) on the muttawa today. It and the others you have linked to it are priceless. Thank you!ReplyCancel

  • Some Things Are Puzzles | Foreign GirlSeptember 14, 2014 - 4:33 pm

    […] The officer was soft-spoken and friendly, making polite requests. I complied. No problem. (Read here for another blogger’s experiences–Blue Abaya is the go-to source around here for […]ReplyCancel

  • Margo CattsSeptember 14, 2014 - 5:19 pm

    Hi fellow Saudi sojourner! I had to link to this post in my own blog on the muttawa today. It and the others you have linked to it are priceless. Thank you!ReplyCancel

    • LaylaSeptember 17, 2014 - 4:37 am

      Hi Margo!
      Thanks for linking to the post, glad you liked them :)ReplyCancel

  • Some Annonymous NameApril 14, 2015 - 6:44 pm

    Quite accurate…I hope you continue to write about what it is really like to live in Saudi. Eventually…your efforts along with others will make a difference and will make life for women (and men) more tolerable. Great Job!ReplyCancel

    • LaylaApril 17, 2015 - 10:07 am

      Thank you for the comment Someone :)ReplyCancel

  • […] Muttawa Gone Wild […]ReplyCancel

  • […] flogged and or deported from the Kingdom. More about that in this post (written tongue in cheek) Ramadan-The Favorite Month of the Saudi religious Police.Ramadan in Saudi Arabia can be and is a wonderful experience for many. However, the non-Muslims and […]ReplyCancel

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