Death Penalty In Saudi Arabia – OpEd


By Khalid Alnowaiser

I realize that this is another very sensitive subject, but I would like to make two important points in order to dispel any confusion or misunderstanding.

When I discuss a matter having religious implications, I do not mean to criticize the divine Islamic religion itself, of which I can only express admiration, respect, and my sincere devotion. However, I will criticize the wrongful practice of the religion when it betrays Islam’s fundamental principle of human rights. Narrow mindedness and ignorance by some have no place in upholding the greatness and true essence of the Islamic religion.

Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia

Further, when I criticize anything that is related to Saudi Arabia, I am not trying to tarnish any aspect of our great country. The Kingdom has achieved wonderful things and it has always been a source of pride for all its citizens.
However, we have reached a stage in our nation’s development when we must be more honest and transparent in addressing our problems, especially now when we live in a world entirely different from the past. There is no need (as the Arab media have tried to do in the past) to keep misleading others and ourselves as if everything is perfect and there is no room for improvement in our policies.

The issue of the death penalty as imposed in the Kingdom is a matter worthy of contemplation, considering all its civil, human and moral dimensions, especially now when we live in a time that emphasizes the importance of human rights issues like never before and when Saudi Arabia needs to promote a positive image to the world. It is well known that the Kingdom imposes the death penalty in accordance with the provisions of the Shariah. This is something that we all acknowledge, but consider the following:

1. If the death penalty is imposed on the basis of texts in the Holy Qur’an that says, for example, “If anyone slays a human being – unless it be (in punishment) for murder or for spreading corruption on earth – it shall be as though he had slain all mankind,” “for, in (the law of) just retribution, O you who are endowed with insight, there is life for you, so that you might remain conscious of God,” or on any other verses, this requires thorough examination. We must consider the text in the context when it was written and what the circumstances were at that time. For example, some Qur’anic verses are associated with a certain event that occurred in the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), such as the saying “Indeed, when we return to the city, (we) the ones most worthy of honor, will surely drive out therefrom those most contemptible ones !” One is left to wonder how long the worthy ones have to drive out the contemptible ones: A year, a decade, or a century?

The verse is not specific, so we simply don’t know. This verse was sent down by the Lord concerning the biggest hypocrite Abdullah Bin Abi Bin Sallul and those who took part with him in one of the invasions. This text and other similar texts were associated with a certain period, context and event. How can some people insist on reciting texts without thinking about the reasons and circumstances then existing or considering their context?

2. Let us ponder that there is no place for jurisprudence in the presence of a relevant text in the Holy Qur’an. Why did Caliph Al-Farooq stop granting the people who converted to Islam, without being deeply convinced by this religion, their share from alms giving (Zakat), although it was mentioned in the Holy Qur’an, declaring that there was no need for them? Moreover, and also as an act of jurisprudence, he suspended one of the Islamic penalties of theft in the year of Cinders (Aam Al-Ramada). Didn’t these texts exist at that time as well? Didn’t Caliph Al-Rashid issue a jurisprudence in spite of the existence of the texts very clearly in the Holy Qur’an and sought to achieve the interests of the Muslims without abiding by a specific text?

3. Furthermore, since the Kingdom abides by Shariah, then Shariah includes many other penalties that are no longer imposed or probably never have been imposed as punishments (an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear and a tooth for a tooth). The Kingdom stopped — or even did not practice at all — the gouging out of eyes, the cutting off of noses and ears, the breaking of teeth, and the cutting off hands of thieves. Yet these penalties are included in clear and explicit Qur’anic texts as stated above. How can this be when religion is followed as a whole and not in parts, that is, it cannot be divided or classified?

The truth is that the Kingdom has been misunderstood and is suffering the consequences because of some so-called scholars who are experts in memorizing and reminiscing instead of contemplating and studying.

All this leads to talking about execution. Why are people in the Kingdom executed so quickly after judgment is passed when we all should acknowledge that every soul that is created by God can only be reclaimed by the Creator himself? Is this the result of the Qur’anic texts or some other reason? If the texts are the reason, it is clear that clinging to the text without taking into account the factors, circumstances and times of these verses is worrying and dangerous.

I realize that some persons will argue that Islam requires the death penalty in many instances, and I respect and obey the Islamic religion. I am keenly aware this subject may have political implications that may offend some religious groups. I call on Saudi Arabia to seek a Fatwa to limit the death penalty only to terrorism, drug dealing and similar heinous crimes and not extend it to other criminal offenses.

Further, why aren’t those who are convicted of a serious crime or murder given a period of time – let’s say, 10 years – before they are put to death?

Perhaps some new evidence or documents may come to light establishing their innocence during this period. Finally, the manner in which this penalty is executed, with a sword and in public, is not in any way compliant with the simplest human rights; a criminal or a convicted person, regardless of his crime, must have his dignity and pride, even if he is to be killed. So, why not use modern technology instead of the sword, which is such a harsh and outmoded means of execution? Why can’t he be executed – if at all – by more humane means?

We are living in an era of human rights. These rights may not be infringed, whatever the claim or excuse, for the concept of human rights is international.

The Kingdom has defended human rights at every international convention and through every platform. Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has been personally engaged in the pardoning process of more than one killer in spite of his busy schedule and endless responsibilities. This simply shows to the Saudi citizens and the world that the Kingdom is a nation of peace, harmony and humanity and that the Islamic religion is a religion of forgiveness, love and affinity. But, we must now hope that these generous initiatives by the king evolve into legislation furthering human rights. Are we strong and enlightened enough to achieve this ideal?

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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