Religious Cops Offer 'Mobile Mosques' for Saudi Fans

by VR Sreeraman on Jun 30 2010 12:01 PM

 Religious Cops Offer
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em: Saudi Arabia's religious police, who once used staves to prod people to the mosque at prayer time, are taking the mosque to football fans for the World Cup.
The Islamic morality cops began rolling out prayer carpets this week in front of popular coffee shops on Riyadh's central Tahlia street, where Saudi men are turning out nightly for the matches broadcast from South Africa.

The "mobile mosques," as they are called, make sure the faithful don't miss the sunset mahgrib prayer, which by chance falls just at the end of regulation time of the daily first match in the World Cup's current round of 16.

On the other hand, on Tuesday the call to prayer began just as Japan and Paraguay entered extra-time.

Abiding by Saudi religious rules that require all commercial establishments to close for prayers, the big-screen TVs were shut off in La Caverna coffee shop and customers herded outside.

There a team from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), as they are formally known, laid out carpets facing Mecca on the broad sidewalk, and mounted a microphone for the imam.

Large loudspeakers broadcast the imam's call from the mobile mosque truck; it also had pop-out water spigots for pre-prayer ablutions.

Firas Douglass, a Jordanian resident of Saudi Arabia and a Netherlands team fan, said he didn't mind missing Japan and Paraguay's extra-time battle.

"It's not a big matter, it's only five minutes. We are losing around 90 minutes doing nothing" but watching football, he said.

"We are making it convenient for everyone to pray," said Khalid al-Rusais, the CPVPV team leader.

They plan to lay out their carpets at different locations on Tahlia throughout the World Cup, he said.

Long despised by many Saudis for their rough enforcement of Saudi Arabia's strict Islamic morality, the CPVPV have in the past year gone on a charm offensive, curtailing some of their more controversial actions.

But a key job is to enforce shop and restaurant closings during the five daily prayer times -- even if it means missing a penalty shootout, like the one that left Parguay the winner over Japan Tuesday.