Thursday, December 17, 2009

Fun Police

The influence of the religious police is felt much more strongly in Riyadh than in Jeddah.

One evening, I was waiting on a friend and made the mistake of walking in to a coffee shop on Tahlia street right before prayer time. Not only was I unable to order a hot drink, but while I was indisposed the staffed locked the front door and refused to let me out of the shop. I tried to reason that leaving a store during prayer time could not be possibly against any religious rules, (what if I wanted to go to the mosque?) but he was immovable.

"No, no, no," he told me, "last warning from Muttawah!"

Uh oh.

I think this store had been reprimanded a few times before for serving customers during prayer time, so I finally gave up on convincing him verbally and just stood in front of the locked glass door. Me being in full view of the street made him even more nervous, and I was quickly let out.

Riyadh doesn't mess around with prayer time. Prayers are called five times a day, and most stores close for up to 45 minutes or risk a reprimand from the Religious Police. The same happens in Jeddah, but for some reason, in Jeddah it doesn't feel as forced or as legalistic.

Also, in Jeddah I haven't heard Religious Police discussed as much as in Riyadh - maybe there just aren't as many. Some people praise them as a good influence, and many young people ridicule them in private jokes or complaints for the restraints they force upon youth, but Saudi Society sees them as a necessary force to enforce cultural and religious practices which are not quite civil law.


  1. Great post and I totally hear the same thing - Riyadh is much more 'strict' that other parts of the country (east or west it seems). They sort of touched on the... um... highly encouraged prayer routine in Tash Ma Tash (a great satire show if you get a chance to see it, although they used to be more funny in years past - they are a bit too serious now...)