Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
On Sept. 8, 2014 I wrote an article titled “Defining the role of Haia is a must” for Arab News. Once again I would like to lay emphasis on the need for redefining Haia’s role and remodeling the organization along modern lines, particularly the way it interacts with the masses, so as to make it effective. There is no problem in Haia reporting something that is against the law or against the social and religious sensitivities of the Kingdom but it is not its duty to probe into the matter and take action against the erring individual(s). This article is basically a response to a recent incident that has created uproar within in the Kingdom. Those who are avid followers of the social media must be aware of the incident and the public response to it. Like women around the world, Saudi women are also fond of shopping and visiting malls. With the development of huge malls, it has become our women’s favorite pastime. Shopping malls in the Kingdom are not only considered one of the largest in the world but we have the highest number of malls in the world. Our capital city has a shopping mall in almost every nook and cranny. Naturally, women throng these malls more than men. The standard of our malls is on a par with any upscale mall in the world. However, there is one thing that makes our malls different from the rest of the world. In our malls, we occasionally see members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haia). The basic concept of Haia is as old as our religion. It started as a volunteer work to help the society and its people. For example, they roam around the souqs (markets) to ensure proper conduct of traders so as to protect buyers or consumers’ rights and they kept the marketplace safe for everyone. But today things have changed. They have started to watch the general conduct and behavior of people. But, sometimes things go out of control due to misunderstanding or because of simple wrong exchange of words. It becomes big news especially when there is a woman involved in an incident. And it is awkward to see a woman running. That is exactly what had happened last week near a mall in Riyadh. As we have heard and later learned that two young women outside the mall were asked by some Haia members to either cover their faces or follow a dress code that I myself don’t know about or its details or its meaning. The two young ladies tried to ignore the conversation and things went sour from that point. One of the young women found her way out of it by running away and the other was chased by one of the Haia officials and was thrown to the ground and subsequently was helped by one of the security guards working in the mall. An official Haia spokesman admitted that its officials made a mistake and adopted a wrong approach in dealing with the issue. He, however, added that the two young women also should have behaved to prevent the incident. Many members of the public didn’t buy it and thought that the Haia men were entirely to be blamed. Chasing a woman in the street is not acceptable in any society. Even if somebody has made a mistake, there are proper ways to deal with the matter. Now, the harm is done. The poor woman was put in harm’s way either during the chase or exposing her to passing by cars near the mall’s adjacent major road. Also, there has to be due process to let justice take its course to give the woman her right to pursue her case against anyone who had done emotional or physical harm to her. Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. Making Haia More Effective reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.