Saudi Arabia’s religious police have declared Barbie dolls a threat to morality, complaining that the revealing clothes of the “Jewish” toy – already banned in the kingdom – were offensive to Islam.
The Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, as the religious police are officially known, lists the dolls on a section of its website devoted to items deemed offensive to the conservative Saudi interpretation of Islam.
“Jewish Barbie dolls, with their revealing clothes and shameful postures, accessories and tools are a symbol of decadence to the perverted West. Let us beware of her dangers and be careful,” said a poster on the site.
The poster, plastered with pictures of Barbie in short dresses and tight pants, and with a few of her accessories, reads: “A strange request. A little girl asks her mother: Mother, I want jeans, a low-cut shirt, and a swimsuit like Barbie.”
Such posters are distributed to schools and hung in the streets by the religious police, or muttawa, an independent body affiliated with the office of the Prime Minister.
Vice police officials were not available for comment.
Sheik Abdulla al-Merdas, a preacher in a Riyadh mosque, said the muttawa take their anti-Barbie campaign to the shops, confiscating dolls from sellers and imposing a fine.
Although illegal, Barbies, the creation of California-based Mattel, are found on the black market, where a contraband doll could cost 100 riyals ($42) or more.
“It is no problem that little girls play with dolls. But these dolls should not have the developed body of a woman, and wear revealing clothes,” al-Merdas said.
“These revealing clothes will be imprinted in their minds and they will refuse to wear the clothes we are used to as Muslims,” the sheik said.
Women in Saudi Arabia must cover themselves from head to toe with a black cloak in public. They are not allowed to drive and cannot go out in public unaccompanied by a male family member.
Other items listed as violations on the site included Valentine’s Day gifts, perfume bottles in the shape of women’s bodies, clothing with logos that include a cross, and decorative copies of religious items – offensive because they could be damaged and thus insult Islam.
An exhibition of all the violating items is found in the holy city of Medina, and mobile tours visit schools and other public areas in the kingdom.
The muttawa act as a monitoring and punishing agency, propagating conservative Islamic beliefs according to the teachings of the puritan Wahhabi sect, adhered to in the kingdom since the 18th century, and enforcing strict moral code.
The muttawa patrol the streets of the kingdom, preventing men from mingling with women, enforcing strict Islamic dress for women, chasing worshippers late for prayers, and punishing shopkeepers who stay open during prayer hours. They sometimes work with a police officer who can enforce legal punishments on people deemed violators.