The Attack of the Flying Muttawa

This is the most shocking story involving the Saudi religious police I’ve heard for a while. From beginning to end, it just amazes me how in this day and age an incident like this could still occur. In short: A British man and his Saudi wife were assaulted by Haia’ officials at Danube parking lot last Friday.  The incident started inside the store, when a gang of Haia (religious police) officers began harassing the couple over such a petty thing as going to the wrong cashier. **Note to those not aware, recently Saudi supermarkets have opened “female tellers” which are meant for females (includes couples without children) and families only (not for single males). Despite there being nothing wrong with the couples choice of tellers, the Hai’a decided to make a big fuss about it.

The row continued outside, escalating to the point where one of the Hai’a officers pounced from top of a car on the Brit’s back.


flying muttawa

flying muttawa


Not even the police, which the couple called from inside the car where they were trapped for over an hour, helped the couple.
Only the bullet-proof vehicle which was sent by the British Embassy to their rescue, finally got them out of there.

Some people might remember a very similar incident from two years back, where crowds gathered outside a mall watching an expat-Saudi couple being assaulted by a gang of young Saudis. In that case too, the crowd mostly just watched, as the heavily pregnant wife tried to beat the s**t out of the attackers while Saudi men pounced from top of cars on the husbands back. The bystanders then even began to participate mobbing the Saudi husband and his 9 months pregnant Finnish wife got hit in the stomach in the process. Read about the incident here.

Here are the facts first hand directly from mr. Peter Howarth-Lees, regarding the incident on Friday, August 29th around 9:45pm.

“We went shopping on Friday evening after Isha prayer at Danube Hypermarket in Hiteen Plaza, exit 2, off the Northern Ring road.

While shopping we had noticed three young men, who looked ‘religious’ wandering the aisles and obviously not shopping while being followed and observed by two store security guards.

We finished our shopping and were asked to use the female family checkout line.

We were at the checkout with the female cashier when the three men approached and aggressively objected to us using the family line and harassed us while we were almost finished paying for our shopping. I told them to stop harassing us and go away but they persisted.

An argument ensued when the female cashier explained that we were a family. A scene developed at the checkout with two female cashiers arguing with them and me holding my ground.

Supermarket security intervened but the three men continued their harassment.

They then started pushing and shoving me while giving myself and my wife verbal abuse.

As I handed over my bank card to the cashier one of the men snatched it from her hand and refused to return it. I protested,

We eventually handed the card back to the teller after I agreed to let my wife enter my PIN number into the cashiers machine.

The three men followed us out of the supermarket onto the parking lot continuing with verbal abuse and threatening behavior.

Now on the parking lot, we reached our vehicle and I asked my wife to quickly get inside and lock the doors while I loaded the shopping into the trunk with our driver.

As I walked to get into the car, I noticed that one of the three men, who were now all standing in front of our car, was taking photos of our plate no.

A large crowd had now gathered.

I went to remonstrate with the man taking the photos and decided to take a photo of them with my phone for evidence of who they were so we could file a complaint of unnecessary harassment later.

Then, suddenly and very violently, the three of them attacked me and threw me to the ground and tried unsuccessfully to take my phone.

While I was on the ground all three of them proceeded to kick me repeatedly in the head and back and then one of them stamped hard on my face.

On seeing this, my wife got out of the car and somehow managed to push them off me and I managed to stand up.

Then, as seen in the short video clip now circulating on social media, one of the three stood on another vehicle and tried to jump on my back but only succeeded in kicking me forward into the crowd who then held me back for a few moments.

My wife, at the same time, and in clear self defence, hit back at this man while mall security and members of the public tried to prevent him from further attacking us.

At this point the man managed to kick my wife in the stomach before I got her to the other side of the car to get her inside.

As I was getting her into the car, another person (a member of the public seemingly incited by the Hai’a or simply carried away with the violence) jumped on our hood and roof and then karate kicked me in the neck and I fell again. I then got up from the ground again and bundled my wife back into the car, got in myself and locked the doors.

We were very concerned for our safety at this point as the three men tried to force us out of the car, pulling at the doors and banging on the roof and windows.

We called 999 and local police eventually arrived but were unable to help and said they did not wish to get involved. We called the British Embassy for assistance.

Another Hai’a official arrived – a much older man who was very respectful and seemingly embarrassed at the actions of his younger officers. He tried to negotiate and calm the situation, speaking to is through a small gap in the window but it was clear the other three would not be happy until they had us out of the car. They continued their insults and made racist comments to my wife. The older man told us we could leave without being arrested, only if we deleted photos from my phone. We refused, telling him we had done nothing wrong and told him we would not leave until a representative from the British embassy arrived. This seemed to unsettle him.

Our photo was the only evidence of the men who had violently assaulted us.

A heated discussion between the Hai’a and Police continued for a while.

Our driver was not allowed into the car and a Hai’a vehicle was blocking our only means of escape.

The Police then left the scene. This development alarmed us further. We were now very frightened and felt extremely vulnerable as again we felt we were left to the mercy of the Hai’a. If they were capable of such public violence against in front of 50 plus witnesses, what could they do to us if they managed to get us into their vehicle? Thankfully, and to our great relief, they left a few moments before Embassy security arrived and we were escorted home.

The following day, Police from Sahafa district tracked us down and took full statements. We were treated extremely professionally with great courtesy and respect by the officers and later taken to hospital for check ups.

We have the utmost thanks and respect for the Sahafa Police Department for their care and support.

Alhamdulillah, we were not badly hurt, just bruised, battered and shocked that a simple Friday night shopping trip in Riyadh’s most exclusive neighborhood could turn into an unprovoked and violent attack on us by government employees.

Despite this, our love and loyalty for this country which is our home, is not shaken by this incident but we expect to see answers from the authorities.

How can men with such a violent nature, prepared to kick a defenseless woman half their size be allowed to work in an official capacity? Thank God my wife is a strong woman able to stand her ground. I’m very proud of her and her actions should be applauded.

Thank God she was not injured and if she hadn’t got out of the car, I may have suffered far more serious injury or worse.

We do not believe that the actions of these three men represent Saudi society and culture.

We are confident that the highest authorities will take all necessary steps to keep us safe, protect and uphold our rights and the rights of all citizens and guests in this country.”


Below is the 10 second video clip taken by a bystander posted on Youtube:

UPDATE: The couple has met with the chief of Haia, Abdullatif Al-Asheikh on Sunday, who has ordered an investigation into the incident.

The CPVPV has released an official  report of the investgations including an apology which can be read here (in Arabic):

The Haia has issued an official report outlining the findings of the investigation, stating all the men involved were indeed members of the CPVPV, but it was an individual action which does not represent the Haia organization, its rules or procedures. The Haia member that jumped on the British man was the leader of the group. They found that Mr. Howarth-Lees did nothing wrong and that the Haia members had lied in their statements. The involved Haia men have been taken off field duties and transferred to office work outside of Riyadh.





Here is the interview with the Saudi wife (in Arabic) about the incident:

In case you were not aware, the President of the CPVPV, Abdulatif Al Alsheikh, has banned the commission officers from harassing, chasing, spying on or displaying any kind of violent behavior in their actions. According to this Saudi Gazette article published June this year: 

“Al-Alsheikh said there were six “nos” Haia members should stay away from: Spying, extremism, fanaticism, authoritarianism, harming people and chasing suspects. He said the Haia is applying rules and regulations equally among all citizens and residents without any distinction.

Haia men have been instructed never to abuse any man or woman. They should always be lenient and nice to every one. “No one should be falsely accused or deliberately harassed. The Haia men should not resort to devious means just to incriminate the others,” he said.”


Personally I doubt any severe punishment will be given to the Haia men. This is because as usually happens in these cases, and yes there are LOTS of them, (even one is one too many) the Hai’a officers have been merely suspended from work for a while, or they were placed somewhere else to work. I have yet to hear of any of the Haia officers actually getting a jail sentence of flogging for their offenses, if anyone has heard of such cases, please do let us know! Not long ago they were involved in a car chase which resulted in the death of some young Saudi men. The muttawa were let off charges for murder, of course. Here’s an excerpt the article from Arab News about it:

The two Haia members allegedly chased the victims, resulting in them running a traffic light, hitting a taxi and then a bridge fence before plunging from the King Fahd Road overpass onto Imam Mohammed bin Saud Road, near the Riyadh Gallery Mall.
The Haia members fled the scene, but a motorist recorded the incident on his phone. The older brother died at the scene, while the other one succumbed to brain injuries in hospital.


Hopefully this time things will be different though, and the officers will be facing severe consequences for their actions, not just suspending them from work!

It’s such a shame that these men are supposed to be representing Islam but when they act like this people all around the world will think wrongly of Muslims and Islam. These kind of incidents with muttawa give such a bad name to Saudi Arabia and Muslims! It’s embarrassing and their actions have nothing to do with the true Islamic teachings.


Such a shameful incident! I pray the couple will recover from this trauma quickly and they can go on living their lives in peace in the country they love, Saudi Arabia.

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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. Connect with me on social media with the links below!
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  • The veiled oneSeptember 1, 2014 - 1:00 am

    I enjoy yr posts tremendously having been raised in Riyadh a long time ago… I can fully imagine the situation and have only compassion for this couple. One question though : how can a british man be married to a Saudi woman. Have the laws changed ? Would love some insight on this. Best regards.ReplyCancel

    • KiritoSeptember 1, 2014 - 11:49 pm

      Saudi women marry non-Saudi men all the time if they were Muslims! There has been a system for that. There are some exceptions of course with certain people who are not allowed to do so such as prime minsters, judges, students who study abroad, diplomats, and others. However, There might be other exceptions to agree on those who are not allowed to so. In any way, they should ask the Saudi government to agree first whether they were allowed or not.ReplyCancel

    • stephen doyleSeptember 2, 2014 - 12:30 pm

      What you really meant was how can a Saudi woman be married to a white man?ReplyCancel

      • ArtSeptember 2, 2014 - 3:39 pm

        What the original writer obviously is confused about is that a “British” person in his mind must ergo be a non-Muslim, as if the UK has no Muslim population or citizens. Ignorance, I’m afraid. Who are the British jihadis flocking to Syria if not British Muslims?ReplyCancel

  • Syed Kabeer IrfanSeptember 1, 2014 - 1:00 am

    Shame On. U. Guys U All Standing there and no one come forward to help them…..These Haia(Islamic police) have no rights. To do these. Shits …Islam Is perfect. But. We ate Not . respect people’s. PlzReplyCancel

  • arab nursing jobSeptember 1, 2014 - 1:06 am

    I am very dissapointed to read about this story, how can this happen when he is married to the woman.

  • Susie Johnson KhalilSeptember 1, 2014 - 1:24 am

    It is supposed to be permitted for a man accompanying his wife to use female cashiers. These idiots were way out of line and just looking for someone to harass, by the sound of it. Just adding to the never ending black eye image that Saudi has…ReplyCancel

  • Hamza FarooqSeptember 1, 2014 - 5:11 am

    Surly they remind me the boss character in games. with 2-3 sub characters defending THE BOSS.ReplyCancel

  • Adnan HSeptember 1, 2014 - 5:17 am

    The biggest WTF moment in a long time! These people are crooks in every sense of the word! I hope the couple continue to press charges and justice is served. Shame on the crowd who seem to be looking at the incident as a source of entertainment!ReplyCancel

  • Waseem QamarSeptember 1, 2014 - 7:20 am

    this is really a shame….ReplyCancel

  • Shahid AhmedSeptember 1, 2014 - 8:17 am

    As i say yet again that we Muslims are bunch of ignorant and intolerant hypocrites! We being Muslims are not practicing Islam, but following our culture from old gloomy days.ReplyCancel

  • GinghamSeptember 1, 2014 - 3:51 pm

    Disgusting and cowardly act from so called
    Religious people. I pray they are ok and justice will prevail. Thank you for updating the story.ReplyCancel

  • JessicaSeptember 1, 2014 - 4:47 pm

    This makes me sick. I am constantly harassed by the Muttawa for not covering my face when I am out with my Arabic husband and children, and that is bad enough. It is incomprehensible how they can do this to a woman and her husband.ReplyCancel

  • Justin ClarkSeptember 1, 2014 - 5:29 pm

    Just goes to show you get violent, stupid cretins in every country. Their behaviour isn’t right and they should face some justice, but these types of events are pretty rare. Riyadh is a safe city – compared to many others – and you’re more likely to be injured in a violent attack (except with a car) in many other capitals.ReplyCancel

  • AgnieszkaSeptember 1, 2014 - 6:45 pm

    Oh, I’m shocked ! What they are doing, and the crowd should help the victims not just stand and watch. I just came to Riyadh and so far everything seems ok, but seeing what Muttawa can do scares me. I would probably went into full combat mood and then be kicked out of the country…

    On the other hand Blue Abaya you have constant invitation to DQ or wherever you want to go I’m lonely now when kids went to school…….

  • EdithSeptember 1, 2014 - 6:53 pm

    Muttawa are constantly harassing me in the malls. There was a new rule while ago they’re not allowed anymore to say more than once in a nice polite way that you have to cover. But no change! I normally always wear the scarf anyways but they still harass me for always something they look for any reasons.ReplyCancel

  • not afraid!September 1, 2014 - 6:54 pm

    I actually had an encounter with the infamous mutawa yesterday too. I was in a shop waiting for my new abaya in Hyatt Mall when two of them walked into the shop. As usual, I ignored them and pretended not to see them. They told me to cover my hair, and I told them with a raised voice that I was buying one. Then one of them shouted: Buy it now!, which made me shout even louder “Don’t tell me what to do!!!”. He apologised. Then, they started harassing the shop assistant. I saw them pushing him. I was sitting right next to them. To the shop walked a Saudi woman with a fifteen-year old girl who I asked what was going on. She told me they didn’t like the abayas. They wanted all of them to be only black with no patterns. She said they were crazy. We both started laughing. As soon as they left the shop, the argument was getting more and more abusive. They literally cornered the guy not giving him any space to move. They told him to show them his ID and took a photo (is this actually legal?). At this point, I got a bit upset, got up and told them to leave the shop assistant alone NOW as his job is to serve me, and I was in a hurry. They left. I followed them out of the shop. They were on the escalators when I shouted at the top of my throat to get their and everyone else’s attention: Who are you??!!!” , to what they answered : Police. ” I yelled: ” you are not the police! You are bullies!! Don’t run away! Why are you running away? Why won’t you give me your names or ID numbers?? Shame on you for harassing the man! Haram! Shame on you!” People were staring, the mutawa made a gesture to make me quiet, to which I yelled that I wasn’t going to be quiet. I was going to be even louder. The Saudi woman who was in the shop earlier walked up to me and told me to take a picture. Her daughter was shocked and kept saying they were crazy. Anyway, the mutawa ran away. I also told them not to come back to the shop and harass the man or they would be in mooshkila. I told the shop assistant to call me to tell me if he has any roblems with them again as I witnessed the whole incident and am ready to file a complaint!

    Whenever you run into one of them, ask them for their ID. refuse to talk to them. Ask for their ID and make a complaint.ReplyCancel

    • LaylaSeptember 1, 2014 - 7:14 pm

      Awesome! GOOD FOR YOU! I’m s proud of you for standing up for what’s right! They had no right to harass the guy, he just works there! It’s not like he actually DESIGNED or manufactured those abayas anyways! And what if someone wants to wear the fancier abaya to a private event? They should be able to sell all kinds of abayas.
      May I post your comment on the Blue abaya FB page please!ReplyCancel

    • NajeebSeptember 2, 2014 - 4:14 am

      Wow, good for you for being so brave, even following them out and scolding them loudly! They are nothing but bullies and thugs, with too much time on their hands.

      A sizable percentage of them are ex-cons who were freed because they turned to Islam in prison and memorized parts of the Qur’an (heartfelt, or just to get out, who knows), and as we can see frequently, it is hard to escape one’s innate nature.ReplyCancel

    • Lina hariqiOctober 2, 2014 - 3:21 pm

      Bravo for what u did!!!!i i wish more women follow suit.there are good mutawas as well as nasty ones. D bad ones should not be accepted or not fit to work as mutawas…they belong somewhere else or better as garbage collectors!!!!!ReplyCancel

  • Najeeb SheikhSeptember 2, 2014 - 1:09 am

    To show that SA is serious when it says that its constitution is the Qur’an and that everybody is equal before the law, the government should publicize on the world stage the punishments those barbarians are given.

    Plus, the police that responded but left seeing that the attackers were bearded men of God, should also be punished for letting civilians continue to get terrorized by government officers.

    All those Saudi bystanders should be ashamed as well, and I hope they arrest the member of the public who also took part in the assault and give him exemplary punishment. Flog everybody who took part in the assault, flog them in a public place for the whole world to see. And then jail them for a couple of years at least. They are religious terrorists, and should be treated as such. I hope next time they assault a bodybuilder or a fighter and get their guts beat out of them, what an awesome sight that would be.

    Fact of the matter is, a sizable percentage of those field workers are ex-cons who were freed because they turned to Islam in prison and memorized parts of the Qur’an (heartfelt, or just to get out, who knows), and as we can see frequently, it is hard to escape one’s innate nature.ReplyCancel

  • […] A first-hand account of the assault is revealed on a Saudi blog, Blue Abaya, where Howorth details the incident step by step in a post titled, The Attack of the Flying Muttawa. […]ReplyCancel

  • rSeptember 2, 2014 - 8:35 am

    Wow this story is scary for me as an American wife to a Saudi. I have never had any encounters with the haia except once. My husband and I were outside Masjid al Harram with our daughters just sitting and enjoying the view, when one of the Haia told my husband to leave because it was a women’s area. The strange thing was that there were families all around us sitting with blankets under them. My husband was a little annoyed, but the guy only said it once and just walked away. He didn’t yell or anything. I almost wonder if the incident with the British man was just because he was a Brittish man married to a Saudi woman. I know in my husband’s tribe they don’t even like the women of their tribe to marry outside of their tribe. Getting married to a foreigner is unimaginable. Maybe these men felt angry just because they don’t like a Westerner married to a Saudi woman (completely unislamic behavior).ReplyCancel

  • Irfan AwanSeptember 2, 2014 - 1:18 pm

    Dear All,

    Good & bad cop exist in every society so please consider them like a bad cop.Its seems like that these guys were frustered to see a Saudi Girl with a Non Saudi Man (Particularly a Western man). I have been lived in Riyadh for around 04 years and the biggest problem with local Saudi in Riyadh are their attitude. When ever I found a good Saudi, he was always from outside Riyadh (Mostlly Jeddah & Medina).
    Extremism is always bad whether its in the form of nationalism or in the form of reglion like these people as religious Police.ReplyCancel

  • ArtSeptember 2, 2014 - 3:36 pm

    It is all well and good for Saudi authorities to claim that the Mutawwa’een/Haia don’t represent official Saudi policy, yet this law-unto-themselves group is tolerated by the same government year after year. Even the police fear to interfere. In the ’60s they were spray-painting the legs of Saudi Aramco employees’ daughters and attacking long-haired boys with scissors on the street.

    The Guardian of the Two Holy Mosques must also look to guarding the name of Islam in the eyes of the rest of the world, Muslim and non-, by finally outlawing this brainless band of bigots. Is this really the Islam and Saudi Arabia they want to advertise? Letting it go on says that, yes, this really is the face of Saudi Islam. It’s their choice.ReplyCancel

  • Arijenne DobSeptember 2, 2014 - 4:11 pm

    I am sooo extremly embaressed by this incident.Although i dont live in saudi or am related in anyway to saudi except by being a moslim i feel a huge anger and disappointment and emberessement to this act. This is such a shame on all moslims.Whats wronh with these people i want to know wand whats wrong with the authorities that allow these people to represent “religious” conduct. Are they above the law? and is this how the prophet would of dealt with any situation no matter what it would of been.Shame on you to disfigure any justice!!! I am truly sorry and my apology to you and your wife!! Hamdulilah ur safe and havent been wounded!! ReplyCancel

  • EuropeanSeptember 2, 2014 - 4:48 pm

    I am afraid I would not have been so passive if I were confronted by those goons. They would have ended up with a free nose re-structuring. They need something like that. These peoples action is haram, very much so. It seems to me they only do this kind of work because they are too dumb to do any other meaningful job.ReplyCancel

  • Arif ShaikhSeptember 2, 2014 - 8:08 pm

    ……….And such is the state of muslim community all over the world. Where strong rules the weak unjustly.
    Since when a Muslim man is allowed to hit a women.
    May allah guide us to the right path.
    We have forgotten what our Prophet (PBU) thought us. ReplyCancel

  • haji jojjooSeptember 2, 2014 - 9:05 pm

    embarrassing people is their aim with the protection of the police .they made islam a difficult religion for life . this is happening for years & the victims are mostly Saudie citizens & nobody care of defending their rights , even worse if the victims are people from poor countries . this story is a sad one , but that present the ugly face of them ..the victim this time is a britsh citizen . the britsh embassy should take care of this case & to know their is no human rights here .
    the saudi government should change a lot of rules to protect their volk & not to embarrass them with false religion . we do not need any muttaw more .ReplyCancel

  • Imran KhanSeptember 3, 2014 - 5:20 am

    Hmmm, a lot of rhetoric and hyperbole in the comments I have read, but no solution presented. The reason why the Muttawa behave with impunity is because they enjoy complete anonymity. Try asking Muttawa who misbehaves for identification and he will laugh at you.

    Solution is to make every single Muttawa have a badge and an identification present on their body entire time they are interacting with the populace. This will send a message to them that they will be identified and held accountable for their misdeeds.

    This will not entirely eliminate their aggressiveness, but will definitely decrease it. So if you want to be a part of the solution, write to King Abdullah and ask him to issue a royal decree for the solution I presented. Thank youReplyCancel

  • Taher KagalwalaSeptember 3, 2014 - 6:27 am

    This was very distressing news indeed, Layla. Thanks for a detailed interview with the victims. Our prayers are with them.ReplyCancel

  • IshtarinSeptember 3, 2014 - 11:18 am

    ….you will know them by their fruit.

    Matthew 7:15-20

    إِذَنْ مِنْ ثِمَارِهِمْ تَعْرِفُونَهُمْReplyCancel

  • Tabish PatelSeptember 3, 2014 - 1:02 pm

    There is some bigger aim here, seriously if this guy was an Asian or African, it would have never made the news, chances are that he might have even proved guilty for some reason unknown. But knowing the police left without solving the case is really sad, they should have been arrested for assault and public misbehavior. ReplyCancel

  • Rana AlamaSeptember 3, 2014 - 8:06 pm

    They’re monsters human evolution kills everything beautiful ,pls stopped them because their danger now exists as Daash or ISISReplyCancel

  • […] week on the blog we learned of some very primitive, backward and close-minded actions of a few men, hopelessly stuck in the Saudi Stone […]ReplyCancel

  • […] are still at it harassing citizens and expats on the streets: read the true story of the “Flying muttawa” which happened to a British friend of mine and his Saudi wife in […]ReplyCancel

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