Thursday, January 3, 2013

Precious Moments with Saudi Religious Police

Some days I wear hijab, somedays I don't.

Being new to Riyadh, I was not accustomed to the common harassment from religious police to "cover my face". In most other cities in Saudi Arabia it's rather rare to experience a run in with the country's notorious religious police, and I never had to deal with it until moving to Riyadh.

A day prior - with my hair fully covered by Hijab - a frustrating argument arouse when 4 religious police followed me and insisted that I cover my face. I explained my reasonable condition; (as a crowd inconveniently began to surround us) only if the four religious police would first cover their faces would I cover mine. Upset by my remark, and perhaps in attempt to appear in control of the situation in the eyes of the gathered spectators, they summoned a police officer to "escort" me out of the mall.

Frustrated by the prior days events, I decided that day to leave my little black scarf behind at home. No scarf, no tool for which to cover my face with.

I waltzed into Riyadh Gallery Mall, grabbed a coffee and took a pathetic stroll along the indoor mall river. About half-way through my coffee, I heard a voice summon from behind; "Fear God and cover your hair, the end of the world is nearing..."

I turned and saw a familiar sight; a young man with a long beard, shortened thob, and shymagh draped over his head without an 'agal; surely religious police. Thinking myself to be clever, I replied "Ooops! I left the scarf at home". He gave me glare, then I swear he almost smiled as he disappeared.

I delighted in my victory over him; the second half of my coffee was more delicious than the first, and the indoor river became more magical. I felt myself more free and powerful than when I had first began the coffee.

The victory was short lived; "girl!" I heard a familiar voice call from behind me. The same young man who had just disappeared had reappeared with a small GAP bag in hand that he was stretching out towards me in ofference. I froze, absolutely confused. Receptive to my confusion, he reached into the bag and pulled out a small blue scarf with a subtle design and fresh GAP tags hanging from it.

He bought me a scarf! I covered my mouth as I embarassingly started laughing. He looked around confused by my reaction, unsure as to how he should interpret my laughter. I shook my head refusing to take the bag, he insisted and looked very pleased as I finally took the bag. "God be with you", he told me. "He always is", I replied.

Though I don't appreciate or agree with the religious police, rather than try to get my point across I decided to let him win. An image of a little girl who often begged in a dirty clothes and hijab in a market near my home popped into my mind. I told the driver to pass by that market on the way home. Sure enough the little girl was there begging, I stretched out my hand with the GAP bag in ofference, in the same way the religious police man had done to me.

She took the bag and gave me a HUGE smile as she pulled the new scarf out of the bag to examine, an instantly put it on her head.

Somedays I wear Hijab, Somedays I don't.


  1. you have to wear Hijab its your god order. why you Muslims dont follow your islamic teaching .?

  2. Actually, I doubt that young man was religious police. Many religious youth in Riyadh take it upon themselves to enforce "virtue" with or without the blessing of the Hay'a.

  3. it's all about understanding, consideration, & compromise.
    beautiful write up.

  4. It is your wish to wear Hijab or not, Thank god I didn't born in KSA. What an awful oppressive regime. If any religious guy approached me and forced me to do something, I would have punched in his face.

  5. Awful - controlling private matters of a person unprovocatively in the name of religion. That too in a modern mall. "Modern" - apparently perhaps, not in true sense of the term.

  6. A very entertaining story, thanks for sharing it. You kind of set up your own logical trap when you argued that the unavailability of a scarf was the reason behind not covering your head. In the end, however, the story had a happy ending with all parties leaving pleased. The religious guy must have felt satisfaction for contributing to resolving a sinful situation (in his view), the poor girl for receiving an expensive gift, and you for passing on that gift to the girl and not having to cover your face.

    I remember once I was traveling from Riyadh to Jeddah long time ago (maybe 2003?) and a bizarre situation broke out. There was this western lady who wasn't covering her head, who came face to face with a very elderly man with the typical attire and looks of a religious man. The man asked her, as politely as such an intrusive and disrespectful act can be asked, to cover up, to which she replied that she didn't have a scarf (reminds you of someone? lol). So the elderly man went to the flight attendant and asked for a table cloth and came back asking her to put it on! It was so bizarre, and the man, despite being frail and two steps away from the grave, was unrelenting. The flight attendants didn't know how to diffuse the situation so they asked the lady to put it on until he goes to his seat and then she can take it off. It was a very humiliating situation for everybody, especially us spectators who didn't do a thing to stop this ridiculous situation. Alas, she did put it on and the guy left pleased with himself. I endured a long flight of shame for being silent.I hope if I'm confronted with a similar situation again that I will react differently.

  7. wel i appretiate that person getting you a scarf when you said you forget urs at home. He smiled and disappeared and then getting you a scarf is a very kind and noble gesture.

  8. Welcome to Riyadh :)

    I'v enjoyed reading this beautiful article , I hope you don't get in any trouble again , although I think you will find it joyful in this dull city if you did .

    if you don't mind me asking , Do you teach in any Saudi university ?

    thanks a lot , best wishes .