15 Saudi Schoolgirls Die in Fire Because They Were Not “Properly” Dressed

Sheila Musaji

Posted Mar 30, 2002      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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15 Saudi Schoolgirls Die in Fire Because They Were Not “Properly” Dressed

by Sheila Musaji

This story is so tragic and so far outside of any behavior that could be called “religious”, or even human that all I can bring myself to do is to reprint the following article.  I am ashamed that these supposed religious police call themselves Muslims.  It remains to be seen what will be done, but I am not holding my breath that the Saudi’s will do the right thing, overhaul their entire system, and send those responsible to jail.  I am also not holding my breath for the U.S. Government to put any pressure on the Saudi’s over this or any other human rights violations.

15 girls die as zealots ‘drive them into blaze’

“The Desert Arabs are more obdurate in disbelief and hypocrisy and more likely not to know the limits which God has sent down to His Messenger. God is All-Knowing, All-Wise.” (Quran - Surat at-Tawba: 97)

Saudi Arabia’s religious police are reported to have forced schoolgirls back into a blazing building because they were not wearing Islamic headscarves and black robes.

Saudi newspapers said scuffles broke out between firemen and members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice who tried to keep the girls inside a burning school in Mecca.

Fifteen girls were killed as they stampeded to escape from the blazing building in the Muslim holy city. Saudi media and families of the victims have been angry over the deaths of the girls in the fire that gutted the school.

The resulting public criticism of the religious police, or mutaween, is highly unusual.

The English-language Saudi Gazette, in a front-page report yesterday quoted witnesses as saying that members of the religious police stopped men who tried to help the girls escape from the building, saying: “It is sinful to approach them.”

A civil defence officer told an Arabic-language newspaper, al-Eqtisadiah, that he saw three members of the religious police “beating young girls to prevent them from leaving the school because they were not wearing the abaya”.

He added: “We told them that the situation was very critical and did not allow for such behaviour. But they shouted at us and refused to move away from the gates.”

The father of one of the dead girls alleged that the school watchman refused to open the gate to let the girls out.

“Lives could have been saved had they not been stopped by members of the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice,” the Saudi Gazette said.

The much-feared mutaween roam the streets of the conservative kingdom wielding sticks to enforce dress codes and sex segregation and to ensure that Islamic prayers are performed on time.

Those who refuse to obey the orders of the religious police are usually beaten and sometimes jailed.

Daily Telegraph (London), March 15, 2002 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/saudiarabia/1387874/15-girls-die-as-zealots-drive-them-into-blaze.html

Saudi police ‘stopped’ fire rescue http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/1874471.stm “Saudi Arabia’s religious police stopped schoolgirls from leaving a blazing building because they were not wearing correct Islamic dress, according to Saudi newspapers.”
Saudi Girls May Not Have Died in Vain, Ambreen Syed http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?c=Article_C&pagename=Zone-English-Muslim_Affairs%2FMAELayout&cid=1156077794132
The Fire That Won’t Die Out, Christopher Dickey and Rod Nordland   http://www.islamawareness.net/MiddleEast/Saudi/fire.html