Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Difficult-to-enforce Religious Regulation

Today's Reuters religion blog FaithWorld has a short piece about a particular religious regulation in Saudi Arabia that is associated with the Hajj.

Here are the brief facts. The Saudi monarchy enforces a strict Wahhabi school of Islam. Praying at historic Islamic sites is, according to Wahhabi thought, a problematic practice that goes against the spirit of Islamic teachings. During the Hajj, many people come to Saudi Arabia to visit various sacred Islamic sites in the country. Religious police try to enforce a ban on praying at sites. Religious police patrol selected areas and warn visitors against certain practices.

The short blog post does not explain what punishment results from violating the rule. But it strikes me as a very difficult rule to enforce. Although the presence of the police may prohibit certain overt forms of prayer common, the police cannot stop more discreet forms of prayer. Moreover, the blog post mentions that even the belief that a site is sacred is something the police try to stop, and this strikes me as impossible.

Clearly, the religious police are confronted with a cost-benefit calculation. They could put police at every location and interrogate every visitor to ensure no praying happens. But doing so would involve a tremendous amount of resources, and it seems clear from the blog-post that the police are not committing the resources necessary for such an endeavor. Is this an indication that the Wahhabi scholars care only a limited amount about the rule, or is it more the cold hard reality about the cost of resources for enforcement?

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