If I ran the "muttawa’…
It seems even the faithful folk in Saudi Arabia are getting fed up with fanaticism. A recent report out of Riyadh confirms what many of us already suspected. The muttawa are starting to get on the nerves of the natives.
The muttawa are those Muslim men who have been authorized to enforce Saudi Arabia’s strict Islamic code. “Religious Police” is how we might describe them over here – where they might be described, but never tolerated.
The muttawa roam the streets of Riyadh, sometimes armed with clubs, seeking to catch anyone in acts of disobedience. They claim to be only enforcing the rules of the Koran, but many faithful Muslims would disagree fervently. According to how the muttawa see it, a woman eating in a restaurant with a man is in big trouble and if she decides to stop off at the local Blockbuster to pick up the latest movie she runs the risk of being picked up herself. The muttawa have been known to arrest a man for having a funky haircut or prosecute a young woman for possessing pornography when all she held in her hand was an ad for the movie “Titanic.”
In any case, it appears many Muslims have had it with the muttawa. It all came to a head in March when the pious police stopped schoolgirls from fleeing a fire because they were not wearing the required black cloaks women are required to wear outside their homes.
It is difficult not to do a bit of gloating over the impending comeuppance of these far-out fanatics. After all, we residents of the land of the free and the home of the brave pride ourselves on how free we are to brave life without ridiculous religious restraints.
Still, I can’t say I’m not just a little bit envious of the prospect of perpetrating a few religious edicts of my own. After all, as a cleric myself, the thought of propagating my own prejudices has a certain allure. In fact, I’ve been doing some research and have found ample scriptural justification in my own holy book for imposing a few new rules to make us all a little more reverent.
For instance, in Proverbs 14:3 it is written: “The talk of a fool is a rod for his back.” Now I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I would still use it to prevent people from chatting on their cell-phones in public places. If the muttawa can chuck a person in jail for having an offensive hairstyle, I should be able to slap somebody into the slammer for sharing his/her conversation with everyone in the restaurant. Not too long ago – and this is the absolute truth, as opposed to the somewhat provisional truth I sometimes employ in this column – during a recent sermon of mine, a cell phone rang out. As a Christian I am compelled to forgive such sinfulness and I was just in the process of doing so when it rang again. This time the owner of the transgressing instrument answered it and began carrying on a conversation even as I was trying to carry on a sermon. I don’t think I am being too harsh when I suggest that such behavior is surely deserving of a punishment slightly more severe than eternal damnation.
I am sure all of you would agree that Isaiah’s reference in Chapter 65 to “a smoke in my nostrils” is enough evidence anyone would need to sentence those sinners who smoke within sniffing distance to a life behind bars. And by the way, where do smokers of filtered cigarettes assume their filters go when they toss them so cavalierly onto the ground? Do they imagine little gnomes hide in gardens and beside highways just waiting to whisk their vile trash away? Fifty lashes for a first offense. Off with their lips for the next!
Do you remember the scene in “Annie Hall” where Woody Allen is standing in line at a movie theater and a fellow behind him launches into a supercilious summary on the work of Fellini and other directors? Woody wants in the worse way to tell the arrogant offender what he can do with his opinions. Now he can. Psalm 17:10 gives all pious people the authority to do just that. “They close their hearts to pity and with their mouths they speak arrogantly.” I really like this one but for reasons that are probably obvious to you, dear reader, I am hoping it isn’t used too often.
If I could only establish my own muttawa, even for a little while, I promise you I would use it only for the benefit of humankind – just as long as you are my kind of human.
Rich Mayfield is pastor of the Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church and regular columnist for the Summit Daily News.
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