Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Sheikh Ibrahim bin Abdullah Al Gaith, the General President for the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Saudi Arabia, speaks to Asharq Al Awsat on a number of issues related to the Commission and Saudi society. Al Ghaith discussed the relationship between the Commission and the media, the Commission’s capabilities in dealing with internet-related ills, studies that are being conducted by the research center that is affiliated to the Commission and the appearance of underground alcohol factories and brothels in Saudi Arabia.
Q) You were invited recently to establish ties with the media in light of media criticism of the weak cooperation with regards to clarifying different matters and the delay in issuing statements. What is your comment in this regard?
A) We were invited a number of times to establish such ties based on our belief in the importance of media serving the society and portraying an accurate image of us. Like other government authorities, we deal with the media and contact media institutions so as to clarify our role, our goals and our mission which is to uphold religion, morality and decency. We are also keen on cooperating with the media to rectify the erroneous image that we have. Therefore, it was necessary to inform people of the presidency of the Commission and the goals for which it was created. I, as the chairman of the Commission care about all forms of media: audio, visual and print. The Commission has a Public Relations department that oversees issues related to the media and contributes to the media. There is the Al Hesba bulletin that is issued every two months as well as a weekly editorial that is published in Al Jazirah newspaper every Friday.
We used to communicate with media through the presidency and its branches as we would send news constantly. We communicate with all forms of media through press conferences, dialogues, seminars, and via Saudi television, Saudi radio and the Holy Quran radio station.
As for “weak cooperation” with regards to clarifying issues and delaying statements, the presidency of the commission has issued statements on issues related to it in a timely manner, however, at times it is appropriate to wait until results of investigations in any case are completed, especially if the issue relates to other government authorities. This stems from the presidency’s devotion to public interest and its wish not to spread rumours or inaccurate information.
Q) What is the reason behind the Commission’s lack of monitoring internet practices that are contrary to Islamic doctrine?
A) Anyone who uses the internet knows that it is expanding quickly. There are a number advantages to this however, there are also many negatives and risks for communities.
In the face of such risks, countries and organizations hold numerous conferences and meetings and enact laws and regulations to reduce the risk of terrorism and corruption on the internet. The internet is considered a flourishing arena for this. On the other hand, this expansion is countered by guidance entrusted to officers of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in our beloved Kingdom.
There are always requests to block dangerous websites. Specialized units have been established in some of the Commission’s branches to identify such websites and telecommunications devices. These units have made significant achievements in this field that may not yet correspond with the magnitude of danger; however their efforts should be respected like other efforts exerted by other authorities.
Q) How do you assess the efficiency of members of the Commission in dealing with various social strata and foreign nationals within the country?
A) The leadership of the Commission strives towards improving the skills of its members in dealing with various segments of society. There is a remarkable development in this field, particularly with the frequent training courses that workers take part in.
Q) Why has the Commission not invested in establishing research centers to identify the phenomena of ethics?
A) In this field, the management of the Commission has come through with flying colours after having sensed the urgent need for such research centers that focus on the phenomena and means to develop field work and discuss social problems addressed by the Commission in a modern scientific way and create scientific solutions to develop its work and address social ills. Thus we issued a decision for the establishment of the Research and Studies Center in 2005 as a supervisory center that is specialized in conducting studies and research. Scientific, administrative and technical professionals were invited to work at the center and it soon began to accomplish its objectives. Over the past two years, the Center initiated a number of scientific studies that serve within the religious duty of promoting virtue and preventing vice. The center had contracted with King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies to prepare a “comprehensive field study that analyzes the crimes detected by the Commission’s centers.”
The Center had also studied the ‘field problems for the Commission’s centers’ after forming an agreement with the Institute for research and consultative services at Imam Mohamed Bin Saud Islamic University. Also the center united with King Abdullah Institute for Research and Consultative Studies in King Saud University in Riyadh to conduct research under the title ‘Development of Field Work Program’. The study is conducted by selected researchers and academics specialized in various disciplines.
Q) What other studies will the Research and Studies Center conduct during the upcoming period?
A) The Research and Studies Center plans to conduct four studies. The first is entitled ‘Runaway Girls: Causes, Effects and Treatment’ and the second one is called ‘A Media Strategy for the Commission’. The third study is entitled ‘The Mixing of Genders: Causes, Effects and Treatment’ and finally, a study on ‘Strategies for the development of the Commission’s activities’.
The Research and Studies Center is cooperating with the King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology through the humanitarian grants program by conducting a study entitled, ‘The Internet and its Negative Uses: Causes, Effects and Treatments.’
The Center had completed a number of internal studies on certain phenomena such as ‘blackmailing women’, ‘Electronic games consoles and their negative effects upon youth’ as well as a documented research on the ‘efforts of the general presidency of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in combating terrorism.’ The center is currently preparing a number of studies.
Q) Why does the activity of the Commission differ from one city to another?
A) The level of activity and the skill of the members of the commission differ depending on the level of the workplace. There are some areas where there are a number of complexes, parks and places where a high rate of illegitimate acts takes place; thus the responsibility of the commission member and his activity in such an area increase.
Q) There have been reports recently on the discovery of brothels and liquor factories in Saudi Arabia. In your opinion, what are the reasons behind the spread of this occurrence?
The main reason [behind this phenomenon] is the weak religious morals [of some people] and the excessive desire to obtain money by any means whatsoever. This happens among some foreigners who come to the country and try to obtain as much money as possible during their stay in this blessed country. Also, families must apply the principal of promoting virtue and preventing vice in the home. The role of propagating virtue and preventing vice should be taken up by every Muslim and should be coupled with patience and compassion, as stated by Abi Said al Khadri (may God be pleased with him) who said: I heard the Prophet (PBUH) saying “Whoever amongst you sees an evil should change it with his hand. If he is unable to do that, then with his tongue. If he is unable to do that, then with his heart, and that is the weakest level of faith,” according to Muslim. If every member of the community adhered to this, we would not have underground liquor factories in our areas and if every Muslim advised his brother and neighbour to perform prayers we would never meet anyone who does not pray.