Saudi Arabian Morality Police Battle Beauty Pageant

Saudi Arabia
A woman using an iPhone visits the 27th Janadriya festival on the outskirts of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Fahad Shadeed/Reuters

Saudi Arabian morality police have taken issue with "Miss Makkah," an upcoming beauty pageant scheduled to be held in the holy city of Mecca.

Arab News reported several businesswomen had reserved and paid to use a banquet hall palace in Mecca to host the four-day pageant. The Commission for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue, also known as the Haia or morality police, has instructed the banquet hall to cancel the reservation.

The female organizers encouraged attendance and participation in the pageant by passing out leaflets and promoting the event on social media. Participation was free, and "women of any colour aged between 17 and 27 years" were encouraged to join the pageant. Prizes included a gold ring for the winner and "valuable gifts" for the runners-up.

In Saudi Arabia, the morality police patrol the country for acts they believe violate Sharia law. The group was established in 1926 and follows the Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam.

The police presented a report about the pageant, including invitations and local citizen complaints, to Mecca officials. The police are often on the lookout for violations in dress codes and prayer hours for shops.

Saudi Arabia has previously allowed one pageant, "Miss Beautiful Morals," which organizer Khadra al-Mubarak told The Week takes into account Islamic morals, as he sought to offer an alternative to pageants "that only take into account a woman's body and looks." Beauty pageants are not strictly outlawed in the Muslim culture.