The fact that one of the principle allies of the “self-proclaimed champions of democracy” is routinely beheading people makes one feel like they’re living in Lewis Carroll’s surreal “Wonderland.” According to Amnesty International, Saudi Arabia violently executed 79 people in 2013, more than 150 in 2015, and at the beginning of this year a total of 47 people were beheaded in just one day in Saudi Arabia. The horrific results of this year are yet to be assessed, but it is now becoming clear that the norms of international law are being blatantly disregarded in this country.
It is also important to note that while the entire Islamic world strictly adheres to the norms of Islam, Riyadh puts itself above the Righteous Caliphs, the Prophet and the word of the Quaran. This is because it has been violently punishing and killing people and seeks for a way to justify it religiously.
Lately, Saudi Arabia has been beheading and publicly beating offenders. It’s true that according to interpretations of Islamic law, some offenses can be punished by death, especially those violating the boundaries set by Allah. The so-called Hudud crimes include adultery, fornication, false accusations, consuming intoxicants, rebellion against the lawful Caliph, as well as robbery and theft. For each crimes there’s a predefined punishment. It should be noted that at the end of the tenth century, Sharia law formally ceased to evolve. But today the Muslim World has been actively discussing the need to bring Sharia regulations in line with modern day realities. It’s curious that Osama bin Laden criticized the Saudi regime for disallowing the “free believer” and imposing harsh restrictions on the practice of Islam.
Most offenses that are being strictly punished in Saudi Arabia are those that fall under the Hudud category, however Riyadh is acting well beyond the scope of actual Sharia law. If Islam remains intolerant to apostasy, adultery, rebellion in the form of treason, the use of alcohol, for example, even though it is condemned implies the punishment of a more educational nature, since Muslims believe that after drinking alcoholic beverages a person loses his identity. Thus, the Quran strongly condemns the use of alcohol: in verse 5:90 it states:
O you who have believed, indeed, intoxicants, gambling, [sacrificing on] stone alters [to other than Allah ], and divining arrows are but defilement from the work of Satan, so avoid it that you may be successful.
However, it doesn’t set a penalty for this sin. The measure of punishment that a person must get for this offence is established in the Sunnah, for example:
Anas b. Malik reported that a person who had drink wine was brought to Allah’s Apostle (Peace be upon him). He gave him forty stripes with two lashes. Abu Bakr also did that, but when Umar (assumed the responsibilities) of the Caliphate, he consulted people and Abd al-Rahman said: The mildest punishment (for drinking) is eighty (stripes) and ‘Umar their prescribed this punishment.
Later sources, like the book written by Islamic scholar Nuh Ha Mim Keller, published under the title Reliance of the Traveler: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, would clarify it further:
The following criteria must be obtained before imposing the punishment of forty to eighty stripes: (a) he drinks; (b) he has reached puberty; (c) he is sane; (d) he is a Muslim; (e) he does so voluntarily; (f) and he knows it is unlawful.
Thus, an adult Muslim can be brought to justice according to the norms of Sharia law if he has been drinking alcohol and he knows that it’s a sin. But since 1978 Saudi Arabia has been using harsh punishments for non-Muslims, changing the rules of Sharia law for its own purposes.
In 1978, Saudi Arabia sentenced nine Britons to flogging for drinking alcohol. In 2003 an Australian, Robert Thomas was sentenced to 16 months in prison and 300 lashes. Finally, in 2014, 73-year-old Karl Andree faced 378 lashes for having wine in Saudi Arabia.
Similar concerns can be voiced about the mass execution that occurred in Saudi Arabia on January 2, 2016. It must be noted that in recent years, dissatisfaction with the rule of Saudi Arabia is gaining great momentum, but Saudi authorities monitor those dissatisfied with their rule to bring them to their version of justice. However, the degree of responsibility is not dependent on the degree of dissatisfaction of a person, instead its depends on his ability to lead others. Thus, Saudi Arabia violated one of the fundamental principles of law – the principle of equality.
In the last three years, Riyadh has been sentencing those who were dissatisfied with the regime. Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for allegedly “insulting Islam through electronic channels”. Human rights activists Mikhlif bin Daham al-Shammari and Omar al-Saed were sentenced to 200 and 300 lashes respectively. Then, finally the Shia scholar Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr Amin who was executed at the beginning of this year on the day of the mass execution of 47 people, was accused of having ties with terrorists. All of these people called for political reforms, for the recognition of and respect for human rights, but none of them called for regime change, no one tried to undermine the lawful authorities or betray their homeland. Therefore, the concept of rebellion, used in within the context of Sharia law cannot be applied to those individuals, and thus the punishment was out of the scope of Sharia law.
The list of Riyadh’s crimes and human rights violations through cruel and disproportionate punishment is extensive. We haven’t even discussed the cruelty of punishment for adultery. It is important to note that a person who was sexually abused will get no protection from the Saudi state, instead they will be punished for adultery as well, since the fact that a person filed a complaint is regarded as an admission of committing this offense. Therefore, official statistics in Saudi Arabia for sexual assault is close to zero, because the victims are unable to defend themselves in any way.
Thus, today, Saudi Arabia, proclaiming itself as the center of the Sunni community, violates the very founding principles of Islam. So where could Riyadh bring the Islamic World, and in what way does it differs from ISIS, where executions have become a common practice as well?
Jean Périer is an independent researcher and analyst and a renowned expert on the Near and Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”