For decades, commercial businesses in Saudi Arabia used to halt business activities as soon as the first call of prayer was heard.
However now, Saudi Arabia will allow shops to remain open during prayer times, according to a circular issued by the head of the Saudi Chambers on Friday, local media reported.
“This is in an effort to improve the shopping experience and the level of services for shoppers and clients,” Arab News reported Ajlan bin Abdul Aziz Al-Ajlan, head of the Saudi Chambers, said in his circular to all members of the Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
Commenting on the decision, Ali Sameer Shihabi, an author and commentator on Middle East politics and economics, with a focus on Saudi Arabia, tweeted that keeping shops open during prayer time is another “hugely symbolic and practical step to end the dominance of the religious class in daily life.”
Prior to the recent reforms, violations were regulated by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), also known as Haia, or the religious police. Officers of the commission had the power to arrest and punish shopkeepers for even delaying the closure of their stores for a few minutes. Punishments ranged from detention to deportation for expatriate shop attendants.