Saudi Arabia Imposes Controversial Restrictions on Ramadan

Saudi Arabia has released a new controversial set of rules and restrictions for Ramadan in the Kingdom this year, sparking backlash across the Muslim world.

The country’s Minister of Islamic Affairs, Abdul Latif Al-Sheikh, published and shared a document on March 3rd containing regulations for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan that everyone in the Kingdom must follow.

Some new rules state that "imams and muezzins are not absent except for extreme necessity.” Other rules decree that Tarawih or evening prayers shouldn’t be 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."

The new regulations also include "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,” and obliging "the imam's responsibility for authorizing the i'tikaf [seclusion in the mosque during last ten days] and knowing their data."

The Ministry also prohibited mosques from collecting donations for organizing meals to break the fast and instructed them to prepare and hold meals in designated areas in mosque courtyards rather than inside the mosque itself, to be conducted under the responsibility of the mosque’s imam and muezzin.

Other controversial rules from the Ministry include limiting the amount and volume of loudspeakers announcing the call to prayer (a continuation of the same rule from last year and earlier this year), altogether banning them from saying prayers and recitations, and prohibiting parents from bringing their children to the mosque for prayers.

Many Muslims worldwide criticized the new rulings, claiming that under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Arabian government further attempted to limit the influence of Islam in public life, similar to Tunisia under Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the former Soviet Union.

They also pointed out the country’s promotion of musical concerts, inviting international artists such as John Legend and BLACKPINK to perform there, and other plans to appeal to global audiences and open up Saudi Arabia to the world, which was once closed off to much of the world.

However, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Abdullah Al-Enezi, dismissed these criticisms in a telephone interview with Al-Saudiya, explaining that "the Ministry does not prevent breaking the fast in mosques but, rather, organizes 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 defended the ban on filming and broadcasting prayers, saying it was done "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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