Mutaween (Religious Police)

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Mutaween (المطوعين‎ muṭawiʿin, literally meaning "volunteers")[1] is commonly used as a term for Islamic, government-authorized or recognized religious police.[2] In Islamic states in which the governments are either directly controlled by, or fall significantly under the influence of, Islamic clergy, the Mutaween enforce the state's interpretation of the Shari'ah. Alternate names include; clerical police, hisbah groups, morality police, moral police, public order police, religious police, sex police, and virtue police.

In contrast to the legislatively-restrained police forces of secular nations, the religious police have broad and arbitrary discretionary powers of surveillance, entry to property, detention and interrogation of suspects, and, in some places, summary judgment and application of punishment for perceived violations of Shari'ah. The religious police discipline both Muslims and non-Muslims in Islamic states.

Qur'anic Basis

Islamists frequently refer to the commandment for "Enjoining Good and Forbidding Evil".[3]

And (as for) the believing men and the believing women, they are guardians of each other; they enjoin good and forbid evil and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, and obey Allah and His Messenger; (as for) these, Allah will show mercy to them; surely Allah is Mighty, Wise.

Religious Police in Islamic States


The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan imposed a strict version of Shari'ah enforced by the religious police.

In a February 2007 speech at the American Enterprise Institute, George W. Bush said, "In 2001, Afghanistan was a totalitarian nightmare -- a land where girls could not go to school, where religious police roamed the streets, where women were publicly whipped, where there were summary executions in Kabul's soccer stadium."[4]


Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has had a religious police that punishes offenders relentlessly. Jamal Karimi-Rad, in 2006, has vowed to work with other governmental organizations and continue the prosecution of social vice[5] or "moral corruption". The Islamic officials use words like Western and un-Islamic as their talking points to justify such arrests.[6][7][8] The Islamic government's obsession with the people's behavior and dress even reached a point when it would employ female religious police who "with a razor took off the lipstick from the lips" of other female citizens.[9]

Women are required by the country's Islamic law to cover their hair and wear long, loose clothing to "protect their modesty".[10]

The government relied on "special units" (yegan ha-ye vizhe), to complement the existing morality police, called "Enjoining the Good and Prohibiting the Forbidden" (Amr be Ma'ruf va Nahi az Monkar) in an effort to combat "un-Islamic behavior" and social corruption among the young. These auxiliaries were to assist in enforcing the Islamic Republic's strict rules of moral behavior. Credible press reports indicated members of this morality force chased and beat persons in the streets for offenses such as listening to music or, in the case of women, wearing makeup or clothing regarded as insufficiently modest or being accompanied by unrelated men.[11]

The religious police is extremely disliked by some Iranian teenagers and youths.[12]

In Iran, now all government-affilated people like the police of the interior ministry, the Basij of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards and Ansar e Hezbollah[13] work in tandem to curb un-Islamic demeanor. For example, any of them has the legal authority to question and take into custody people who, inter alia, flirt or women without the proper hijab.

However, the Islamic Republic of Iran allows women to attend educational institutions, drive, and work. Therefore, the Islamic laws are not as severe as they were in the Islamic State of Afghanistan.

Saudi Arabia

The Saudi Arabian Mutaween are tasked with enforcing Shari'ah as defined by the government; purportedly the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice "comprises more than 3,500 officers in addition to thousands of volunteers...often accompanied by a police escort" who have the power to arrest unrelated males and females caught socializing, enforce Islamic dress-codes, prayer schedules, and Islamic dietary laws prohibiting 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 such is banned.[14]

The police have issued a decree banning the sale of dogs and cats, seen as a sign of Western influence. The decree which applies to the Red Sea port city of Jiddah and the holy city of Mecca bans the sale of cats and dogs because “some youths have been buying them and parading them in public,” according to a memo from the Municipal Affairs Ministry to Jiddah’s city government.[15]

The Saudi mutaween have launched a website where people can anonymously report tips about un-Islamic activities within that country.

Other countries

There are morality police forces in other places, too. For example, they can be found in Indonesia,[16] northern Nigeria, Malaysia,[17] the Gaza Strip,[18][19] and elsewhere.

External links

Saudi Arabia


References and notes

  1. Hans Wehr - The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic - Spoken Language Services, 1994, ISBN 0879500034, p. 670
  2. or clerical police or public order police
  3. al-fatawa alwadeha/ Section Nine: Enjoining Good and Forbidding Evil - Bayynat
  4. President Bush Discusses Progress in Afghanistan, Global War on Terror - White House News, February 15, 2007
  5. The Morality Police In Iran - The Command Post, July 12, 2004
  6. Iran crackdown on New Year revellers - BBC News, January 3, 2001
  7. Robert Tait - Police in Tehran ordered to arrest women in 'un-Islamic' dress - The Guardian, April 20, 2006
  8. Robert Tait - Iran's fashion police put on a show of chadors to stem west's cultural invasion - The Guardian, July 14, 2006
  9. Nasrin Alavi - We are Iran - Portobello Books Ltd, 2006, ISBN 9781846270031
  10. Iran police step up crackdown on unIslamic dress - Reuters, Jul 16, 2007
  11. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor - Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2006 for Iran - U.S. State Department, March 6, 2007
  12. Video of Iranian village youth explaining how Basijis arrested him while he was hanging out with his friends
  13. Ansar-i Hizbullah: Followers of the Party of God - GlobalSecurity
  14. Saudi minister rebukes religious police - BBC News, November 4, 2002
  15. Cats and dogs banned by Saudi religious police - Associated Press, December 18, 2006
  16. UnIslamic Behaviour - Indonesia Matters, December 27, 2006
  17. Singer draws ire of religious police, Reuters, Jul 6, 2007
  18. Khaled Abu Toameh - They accused me of laughing in public - Jerusalem Post, July 4, 2009
  19. Jonathan Spyer - Analysis: The Islamic republic of Gaza - Jerusalem Post, September 29, 2009