Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ahh Life In Saudi - The Muttawa

I have been living in Saudi for a year and a half and this is the first time this has happened to me.

I was sitting in the family section of Starbucks with my daughter. This section is for women only or a family. I heard someone speaking loudly, not yelling, just a raised voice. They kept repeating something. I turned around and standing by the counter was a man saying something in Arabic and then "cover" pointing to his head. My face immediately turned bright red and my heart began to beat faster. This was my first negative direct encounter with a Saudi and I was really embarrassed. I hadn't done anything wrong, and yet I felt like I had. I looked around for my scarf which I had in my stroller somewhere and covered my head. After this I noticed that the whole place had gotten strangely silent.

The Muttawa (religious police) are the only ones who would be bold enough to walk into a womens area. They patrol the shopping malls looking for un-Islamic dress or behaviour. At one time they carried long sticks with which to enforce their orders; for instance women who had not covered their legs completely might get a rap on the ankle with this stick.

Non-muslim women might be approached by the Muttawa and asked to cover their hair, as with me. The advice from the embassies was that women should always carry a scarf. If requested, the scarf should be worn until the Muttawa was out of sight, at which point it could be removed.

I finished my coffee and muffin, cleaned up the little lady, removed my scarf and walked out. I didn't see them again in the mall. I have forgotten the scarf at home a few times but I will be sure to keep handy at all times now.

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