Religious police

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The Mutaween or enforcers of obedience, usually referred to by the Western media as religious police and clerical police, exist in several Islamic nations, notably Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, Egypt, Nigeria though the specific name varies. Afghanistan (under the Taliban) had a similar organization. In Saudi Arabia they are known as the Authority for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. They consist of Islamic clerics, sometimes in the employ of the state, authorized to enforce Sharia law.

Egypt and Yemen use state-employed clerics, under the auspices of their normal police forces, to enforce state-sponsored interpretations of Islam, mostly by policing religious material found at Mosques. Some African nations (such as Nigeria and Sudan) employ similar groups with varying levels of legal authority, military authority, and connection to national government, to enforce Islamic religious law. In addition, some Muslim local (village) governments form groups (again with varying degrees of true legal authority) to enforce Islamic law.

Their duties consist of enforcing religious doctrine law as defined by the government and rooting out "Un-Islamic" activities. They have the power to arrest any unrelated males and females caught socializing. They also have the power to ban consumer products and media as "un-Islamic", such as the Barbie line of dolls and various Western musical groups and television shows. The Mutaween of Saudi Arabia recently launched a website where people can anonymously inform about "un-Islamic" activities in Saudi Arabia.

During the 19th centurty, the Wahhābīs in alliance with the Saud family began to expand territorially. Within the new kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Wahhābīs became dominant in conservative control, introducing mutawwiūn, ‘enforcers of obedience’, a kind of private religious police, monitoring not only public but also private conformity to Islam (since before Allāh there is no distinction between private and public).

An incident attributed to the mutaween occurred when they prevented girls from escaping a burning building because they did not have proper headgear on. Fifteen girls died as a result. There was widespread public criticism and the Saudi government condemned the Mutaween for their actions.

In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the religious police has banned the sale of dogs and cats as well as walking them in public. Violators found outside with their pets will have them confiscated by agents of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. The commission's general manager said, "If a man is caught with a pet, the pet will be immediately confiscated and the man will be forced to sign a document pledging not to repeat the act," and "If he does, he will be referred to authorities." [1]