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Saudi Arabia imposes restrictions on Ramadan practices, limiting loudspeakers and surveiling worshippers

A general view of the Masjid al-Haram (Grand Mosque) as Muslims visit in Mecca, Saudi Arabia on January 8, 2023 [Hani Alshaer/Anadolu Agency]
A general view of the Masjid al-Haram (Grand Mosque) as Muslims visit in Mecca, Saudi Arabia on January 8, 2023 [Hani Alshaer/Anadolu Agency]

Saudi Arabia has announced a set of rules and restrictions on the practice of the holy month of Ramadan in the Kingdom this year, including a number of controversial ones such as the reduction in mosque loudspeakers, the surveillance of worshippers wishing to seclude themselves during the month's last ten days, limitations on donations and the banning of filming or broadcasting of prayers within mosques.

In a document released and circulated on Friday by Minister of Islamic Affairs, Abdul Latif Al-Sheikh, the Islamic holy month of Ramadan is to be regulated by ten points, by which those within the Kingdom must abide.

Among these commandments are that "imams and muezzins are not absent except for extreme necessity", that the Tarawih (evening) prayers are not prolonged, and the "completion of the tahajjud prayer in the last ten days of Ramadan, before the dawn call to prayer, with a sufficient time, so as not to be difficult for the worshipers", as well as other basic directives.

They also include those such as "not using cameras in mosques to photograph the imam and worshippers during the performance of the prayers, and not transmitting the prayers or broadcasting them in the media of all kinds", as well as obligating "the imam's responsibility for authorising the i'tikaaf [seclusion in mosque during last ten days] and knowing their data."

The Ministry also forbade mosques from collecting financial donations for organising meals to break the fast for fasting people, and for any such meals to be prepared and held in designated areas in mosque courtyards rather than inside the mosque itself, and to be conducted under the responsibility of the imam and muezzin.

Other controversial rulings announced by the Ministry are the limitation on the amount and volume of the loudspeakers emitting the call to prayer – a continuation of the same decision earlier this year and last year – and the complete ban on their emittance of prayers and recitations, along with the ban on parents bringing children to the mosque for prayers.

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The restrictions have sparked outrage and backlash from many Muslims worldwide, with critics seeing the rules as a further attempt by the Saudi government, under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to limit the influence of Islam in public life through the use of restrictions long practiced by the likes of Tunisia's former dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the former Soviet Union.

All the while, as critics point out, the Saudi government increasingly promotes musical concerts and invites popular Western artists and raunchy cultural figures in an attempt to appeal to international audiences and open the Kingdom's society.

The Ministry's spokesman, Abdullah Al-Enezi, brushed away such concerns in a telephone interview with the channel, Al-Saudiya, stating that "the Ministry does not prevent breaking the fast in mosques but, rather, organises it, so that there is a responsible person who takes permission from it, and it will have facilities within the framework of preserving the sanctity and cleanliness of the mosque and not collecting donations other than official."

He also addressed the ban on filming and broadcasting prayers, claiming it aims "to protect platforms from exploitation and was not issued due to mistrust of imams, preachers or lecturers but rather to avoid any mistake, especially if it was unintended."

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