Manama: Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, the religious police, said that it had launched an investigation into a clip showing one of its members ordering a female shopper not to enter a shop and to go home instead.
The clip, below, went viral on the internet amid claims that the commission member, tasked with ensuring shoppers and shopkeepers complied with strict regulations, was upset the woman was not wearing gloves and that she looked “indecent”.
However, a source close to the commission said that the member was alarmed to see the woman sitting inside the shop at a close distance with the male shopkeeper.
“There was only one small table separating them and their position prompted the commission member to intervene and to ask her to finish her shopping and leave the shopping area in the northern area of Hael,” the source said, local news site Al Marsad reported on Monday.
The woman reportedly did not respond to the instructions and took her time to leave the shop, which made the angry commission to ask her to go home without taking anything despite her pleas.
“We are looking into what happened and we will take the necessary measures based on the conclusions,” Fahd Al Amer, the spokesperson for the commission in Hael, said.
The 29-second clip became a sensation on Saudi social networks for showing the argument between the man giving out the orders to leave and the woman pleading to go inside the shop.
The commission member was expressing shock over the way the woman was sitting cross-legged inside the shop and insisting that she leave, while the shopper was imploring to be allowed back inside the shop.
Bloggers were divided over the attitudes by both parties.
An Arabic hashtag was created on Twitter under the title ‘Commission member kicks out shopper for not wearing gloves’, allowing online users to post their comments that encompassed a wide spectrum of views, ranging from full support to the shoppers to outright condemnation of her attitude.
One Twitter user, Fahad Al Butairi, posted a tweet under the hashtag, saying: “if she had worn gloves, the problem could have been solved”. The tweet was accompanied by a picture of boxing gloves, and was retweeted more than a thousand times.
Those who supported the commission member said the woman had put herself in the terrible position by not behaving properly.
“These women who are alone in the malls brushing shoulders with men from various nationalities had better comply with the instructions,” Tahaweel posted.
However, those who sided with the woman said that commission members needed to make sure they knew how to treat people and to avoid humiliating them.
“I wonder how this woman will feel once she goes home and realises fully the depth of the humiliation and disgrace,” Abdullah Al Otaibi said. “How will she look at society?”
Mashhour Al Harithi said the clip was “disgusting.”
“Which religion allows people to feel superior to others and treat them with disdain and contempt? It is such haughty people who tarnish the reputation of the commission,” he said.
Alia said she supported the woman, but reproached her passivity.
“He humiliated her and admonished her family, and yet she was still pleading with him,” Alia posted. “My dear lady, your passivity and submission are the causes of your weakness,” she said.
A blogger writing under the moniker of Sniper said “the defenders of morals and values are doing a fine job, but when a member makes a mistake, he should admit it so there is credibility and transparency.”
“There is no need for concocting excuses or giving illogical excuses that do not rise to the standards of the commission and holding all commission members responsible for their acts is a clear indication of transparency and credibility,” Sniper wrote.
Some shopkeepers said the commission members often targeted female shoppers and shops kept by Saudi nationals.
The commission has launched a programme to train 17,600 members on field and office work.