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From snowmen to Viber: Bizarre bans in Saudi Arabia

January 14, 2015 09:25 IST

Women behind the wheel, movie theaters and now snowmen! Everyday things in the outside world are prohibited in Saudi Arabia’s incredibly conservative society. compiles a list


Snow has covered upland areas of Tabuk province near Saudi Arabia's border with Jordan for the third consecutive year as cold weather swept across the Middle East. Photograph: Jamal Saidi/Reuters

A cleric in Saudi Arabia has sparked an outrage by recently issuing a fatwa on snowmen, describing them as 'anti-Islamic'.

According to Sheikh Munajjid, to build a snowman is to create an image of a human being, an action considered sinful under Saudi Arabia’s strict interpretation of Sunni Islam.

“God has given people space to make whatever they want which does not have a soul, including trees, ships, fruits, buildings and so on,” he wrote in his ruling provoking an debate on Twitter.

Cats and dogs

Pets are confiscated if found outside their houses. Photograph: Regis Duvignau/Reuters

In 2008, the kingdom enforced a law banning the sale of cats and dogs, as well them in public. 

The reason -- pet owners may use their animal companions to make passes on women, the religious police in the country believe.   

Pets found outside are confiscated by agents of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, the official name of the religious police, tasked with enforcing Saudi Arabia's strict Islamic code.

Mingling of men and women

Muslim pilgrims line up at a KFC restaurant outside the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Photograph: Ali Jarekji/Reuters

The body that issues religious edicts banned the mingling of men and women at offices, educational institutions and public places.

“Women are not allowed to work with men. For example, they cannot work as secretaries for men or at receptions, production lines or accounting sections in a commercial center, pharmacy or restaurant where men are also present,” according to the ruling said.

“Women’s work and education should be done without mingling with men. They should work in women-only workplaces, as Islamic teachings ban the mingling of sexes,” the committee said.

The mingling of sexes would have a negative effect on the family and society, the committee warned.

Movie theaters

Citizens of Saudi Arabia travel to Bahrain and Dubai to watch movies. Photograph: Reuters

Cinemas are forbidden in Saudi Arabia. They were banned in the 1980s as they “allow for men and women to mingle unsupervised, leading to possible immoral actions”.

However, last September there was talk that the ban could be lifted after the labour ministry added on its website, cinemas as part of economic activities, providing work and business opportunities to individuals and companies.

Listening to music in public

Despite the ban there is an underground culture of rock bands in the kingdom, according to reports. Photograph: Albert Gea/Reuters

Music is legal here, but listening to music in public is not.

Schools and universities do not teach music. Malls do not have songs playing on speakers.

Women travelling alone     

Here women have no authority over their own lives. Photograph: Fahad Shadeed/Reuters

In Saudi Arabia, a woman is nothing but a legal minor.

Everywoman in Saudi Arabia must have a male guardian. Till she ties the knot, the guardianship is the job of the father, but even uncles, brothers and sons can assume the role of a guardian.

Saudi women need a go ahead from the guardian to study, work, travel and marry. That's not all. They need the permission of the guardian to access certain types of healthcare.

Valentine’s Day

Everything red is banned in Saudi Arabia on V-Day. Photograph: Mohamed al-Sayaghi/Reuters

Valentine’s Day is banned. That comes as no surprise since mingling of sexes is considered ‘anti-Islamic’.   

On February 14, flower and gift shops are not allowed to sell red roses, anything heart-shaped or red. Wearing anything red on that day is a strict no-no. The rule applies even to school girls.

Women behind the wheel

Female driver Azza Al Shmasani displays a note, which according to her, was placed on her car by an unknown person, in Saudi Arabia. Photograph: Fahad Shadeed/Reuters

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive with Muslim clerics claiming "licentiousness" will spread if women drive.

However, the kingdom is considering proposals to lift the restriction, but it comes with a rider.

The king’s advisory council recommends women over 30, wearing no make-up, should be allowed to drive between 7am and 8pm most days.


Halal sausage is displayed at the Halal exhibition. Regis Duvignau/Reuters

Under the Islamic law, Muslims are not allowed to eat pork. Saudi Arabia considers all its citizens to be Muslims and all non-Muslim foreigners are expected to abide by this law.

All the food that enters the country must be ‘halal’. 


CITC has threatened action against other internet applications and web services if they didn't comply with the kingdom's rules.

Saudi Arabia slapped a ban on Viber, a service that allowed users to call for free, send messages and share photos as they failed to comply with the rules of the country's Communications and Information Technology Commission.

The kingdom maintains strict Internet censorship. In July 2006, Google Translate and Wikipedia were blocked as they were being used to bypass the filters on the blocked sites by translating them.

PS: Saudi Arabia, in April 2004, banned the sale of camera phones before reallowing their sale in December 2004. Woman had no voting rights, but from 2015 they will be granted the right to vote and run in local elections.


The Rediff News Bureau