Photos of party-goers dressed up as zombie nuns emerged shortly after the police broke up a party in Riyadh
Saudi Halloween party bust sparks debate in the Kingdom
Halloween celebrations have sparked debate in Saudi Arabia, where - despite reforms - the population remains divided over the appropriateness of celebrating a Western holiday with themes of the undead, the spooky and, at times, the demonic.
Early on Saturday morning, police broke up a Halloween party in the capital Riyadh after neighbours of the Al Thumama neighbourhood filed noise complaints. Shortly afterwards, images emerged online of party-goers dressed as zombie nuns and ghouls.
Riyadh police spokesman said they were concerned by "disorderly conduct" and "the use of masks and strange costumes".
Disturbing the peace and the failure to obtain a permit to hold a gathering were the stated reasons for closing the event.
Previously, responding to complaints of this nature would have fallen under the purview of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, also known as the morality police. Effectively functioning as a sub-state authority, officers of the "Hisbah", as the body is known in Arabic, could characterise “culturally inappropriate” activities as forbidden by Islam.
However, amid general reforms in the Kingdom, the role and scope of the morality police were greatly curbed last year. The maintenance of public peace and decency is now enforced by the police, and is governed by the law rather than being subject to interpretations of Islamic jurisprudence.
Now, according to the law, officers are not tasked with policing behaviour at parties in private residences.
A resident of Saudi Arabia told The National that while parties have been occurring in Saudi Arabia for decades, reforms curbing the morality police may have given would be party hosts greater confidence.
“People have thrown parties in Saudi Arabia and will continue to throw parties, but I guess it’s getting out of control where there are complaints,” said the man, who spoke anonymously to discuss what remains a sensitive topic in the kingdom.
Some conservative Saudis are concerned at the pace of reform and the potential for moral decay.
For some religious conservatives, dressing up for Halloween, particularly in demonic costumes, represents a gross deviation from Islam.
Many Saudis voiced their displeasure on Twitter after the photos were shared online showing costumed partygoers who were reportedly attendees of the Riyadh party. Others voiced concern that the party may have been serving alcohol, which is illegal in the kingdom.
Despite the prohibition, black market alcohol still enters the kingdom. Last week, 22,000 bottles of alcohol were reportedly seized by police in a bust.
More liberal segments of Saudi society have welcomed the relaxing of religious norms. Previously, the morality police rigidly determined appropriate conduct in many facets of public life, ranging from women's makeup to what kind of music that was tolerated. In April, Saudis were able to attend public cinemas for the first time in almost 40 years after the lifting of a ban on a form of entertainment once deemed corrupting and un-Islamic.
Saudi Arabia's second largest city, the economic hub of Jeddah, has traditionally been more liberal than Riyadh and Makkah. Stores in Jeddah publicly sell costumes, props and makeup around October.