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The Mutaween ( muṭawiʿiyn; variant English spellings: mutawwain, muttawa, mutawallees, mutawa’ah, mutawi’, mutawwa') means "subjugated people" in Arabic is commonly used as a casual term for the government-authorized or -recognized religious police (or clerical police) of Saudi Arabiamarker.

More recently the term has gained use as an umbrella term outside the Arab-speaking world to indicate religious-policing organizations in some Islamic countries like Saudi Arabiamarker and the former Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan with at least some government recognition or deference, who enforce varied interpretations of Sharia Law.


"Mutawwa'în" (plural; sing. mutawwa') originally was a casual synonym for the religious police of Saudi Arabiamarker. In Saudi Arabia, the proper term for the Saudi religious police is هيئة "hay'ah" which is Arabic for "commission" and is a shortened version of "the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vices" which serves as the infrastructure of proselytization and enforcement of islamic tenets.

Other uses and confusion

In the Muslim Arab world the more generally traditional meaning of mutawwa is "pious man" and generally refers to any Muslim that "volunteers" to adopt all the orthodoxies of Islam, including the non-compulsory ones such as praying extra prayers or giving more charity. Consequently many native Arab speakers will use "mutawwa" simply to refer to any orthodox Muslim.

Change in use

The phonetic romanization "mutaween" has gained increasing use as a generic term outside the Arab-speaking world for any religious-policing organization in a Muslim nation. This may range from official state bureaucracies to unabashed militant enforcers aligned to powerful local clerics (e.g.Basij in Iranmarker).

Recently (2005), "mutaween" has appeared to describe the enforcement of Sharia by autonomous groups within Muslim enclaves located inside secular nations.

Mutaween in Saudi Arabia

The Mutaween in Saudi Arabia are tasked with enforcing Sharia as defined by the government, specifically by the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV). The Mutaween of the CPVPV consists of "more than 3,500 officers in addition to thousands of volunteers...often accompanied by a police escort." They have the power to arrest unrelated males and females caught socializing, anyone engaged in homosexual behavior or prostitution; to enforce Islamic dress-codes, and store closures during the prayer time. They enforce Muslim dietary laws, prohibit the consumption or sale of alcoholic beverages and pork, and seize banned consumer products and media regarded as un-Islamic (such as CDs/DVDs of various Western musical groups, television shows and film). Additionally, they actively prevent the practice or proselytizing of other religions within Saudi Arabia, where they are banned.

Among the things the Mutaween have been criticized or ridiculed for include, use of flogging to punish violators,banning Valentines Day gifts,arresting priests for saying Mass,and being staffed by "ex-convicts whose only job qualification was that they had memorized the Quran in order to reduce their sentences."

Perhaps the most serious and widely criticized incident attributed to them occurred on March 11, 2002, when they prevented schoolgirls from escaping a burning school in Meccamarker, because the girls were not wearing headscarves and abayas (black robes), and not accompanied by a male guardian. Fifteen girls died and 50 were injured as a result. Widespread public criticism followed, both internationally and within Saudi Arabia.

In many incidents in 2008, they have been criticized for many deaths occurring in separate occasions including one man's death from a heart-attack that occurred while he was in their custody. The employers of the man claimed that he would not have had the attack unless triggered due to extreme pressure or stress.

In August 2008, a young Saudi woman who had converted to Christianity was burned to death after having her tongue cut out by her own father, a member of the Committee.

See also


References and notes

  1. SAUDI ARABIA Catholic priest arrested and expelled from Riyadh - Asia News
  2. BBC NEWS | Middle East | Saudi minister rebukes religious police
  3. The Saudi Media Debates Flogging by the Saudi Religious Police
  4. Saudi Arabia: Gross human rights abuses against women | Amnesty International
  5. Valentine's Day in Saudi Arabia by Stephen Schwartz & Irfan al-Alawir 03/05/2007, Volume 012, Issue 24
  6. "200 Arrested in Mina for Celebrating Valentine's Day", Arab News, February 18, 2004
  7. Catholic priest arrested and expelled from Riyadh, April 10, 2006, AsiaNews
  8. Wright, Lawrence, Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, by Lawrence Wright, NY, Knopf, 2006, p.149
  9. "Saudi police 'stopped' fire rescue", BBC, 15 March 2002
  10. Burned Alive For Changing Religion, Alessandra Antonelli, ANSAmed, Aug. 13, 2008

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