Sunday, January 6, 2013

When Religious Debate Becomes a Capital Offense


I find the religious aspect of living in Saudi Arabia very confusing.  Muslims tell me all the time that questions are encouraged in Islam, yet getting satisfactory answers is an entirely separate matter.  I have also found that when I ask questions, people often seem offended or insulted at the thought that I would question something they believe in.

Then there are reports in the news that I find puzzling too, that definitely seem to contradict Islamic teachings.  For example, Islam permits marriages of Muslim men to women of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish faiths, yet a Muslim man was recently arrested in Mecca for letting it be known that he wanted to marry a Jewish woman.

With Islam being the predominant religion of the Middle East - and the only one permitted in Saudi Arabia, so much so that it requires religious police to keep everyone in line - I find it peculiar and troubling that the rate of depression in Middle Eastern countries is excessively higher in this part of the world, according to a just released study by the World Health Organization.  I can't help but wonder if this has some correlation to the ultra-strict religious choke hold on life here. 

I believe in freedom of religion.  I dislike it when others try to impose their religious beliefs on me.  I also abhor the wars, the killing and the violence, and the oppression of women that people around the world commit in the name of religion.  And I think it's a very sad day when a person is jailed and could even face the death penalty for encouraging discussions about religious beliefs.


The following article  appeared on the Human Rights Watch website on Dec. 22, 2012...
Saudi Arabia: Website Editor Facing Death Penalty 
Encouraged Peaceful Religious Discussion

(Beirut) – Saudi authorities should immediately drop all charges against the detained editor of a website created to foster debate about religion and religious figures in Saudi Arabia.

On December 17, 2012, the Jeddah District Court, which had been hearing the case against the editor, Raif Badawi, referred it to a higher court on a charge of apostasy, which carries the death penalty. The charges against him, based solely to Badawi’s involvement in setting up a website for peaceful discussion about religion and religious figures, violate his right to freedom of expression.

“Badawi’s life hangs in the balance because he set up a liberal website that provided a platform for an open and peaceful discussion about religion and religious figures,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Saudi Arabia needs to stop treating peaceful debate as a capital offense.”

A member of Badawi’s family told Human Rights Watch that during the December 17 hearing, Judge Muhammad al-Marsoom prevented Badawi’s lawyer from representing his client in court and demanded that Badawi “repent to God.” The judge informed Badawi that he could face the death penalty if he did not repent and renounce his liberal beliefs, the family member said.

Badawi refused, leading Judge al-Marsoom to refer the case to the Public Court of Jeddah, recommending that it try Badawi for apostasy.

Prior to the December 17 hearing, Badawi had been charged with “insulting Islam through electronic channels” and “going beyond the realm of obedience,” neither of which carries the death penalty. A different judge, Abdulrahim al-Muhaydeef, presided over five sessions of the trial but was replaced without explanation for the December 17 hearing by Judge al-Marsoom.

Saudi law derives from principles of Islamic Shariah, which are not codified and do not follow a system of precedent. As a result, individual judges are free to interpret the Quran and prophetic traditions – the two agreed-upon sources of Shariah – as they see fit.

With the exception of a few crimes – including the capital offense of apostasy – judges essentially can interpret offenses to fit facts rather than assessing whether facts fit a clearly defined offense. Saudi judges also frequently convict people who engage in peaceful criticism of religious or political authorities on vague charges, including “going beyond the realm of obedience.”

Security forces arrested Badawi, a 30-year-old from the port city of Jeddah, on June 17. Badawi in 2008 was co-founder of the Free Saudi Liberals website, an online platform for debating religious and political matters in Saudi Arabia.

On the website, Badawi and others had declared May 7, 2012, a day for Saudi liberals, hoping to garner interest in open discussion about the differences between “popular” and “politicized” religion, Su’ad al-Shammari, secretary general of the website, told Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch had previously called for al-Badawi’s release on the grounds that his arrest violated his right to freedom of expression.


Based on a royal decree issued by King Abdullah in April 2011, all crimes related to insulting Islam by electronic means fall under the jurisdiction of a judicial council in the Ministry of Information. The council has the authority to refer cases directly to the king, who may “take measures in the public interest,” including referring cases to court.

The judicial process against Badawi has not made clear what words or activities provoked his prosecution. However, international human rights law provides broad protection of the right to freedom of expression. It permits restrictions only in narrowly defined circumstances, such as speech that constitutes incitement to imminent violence. International norms provide protection for speech about religion, including speech that some may find departs from commonly held beliefs or insults a religion or religious group.

Saudi authorities have harassed Badawi since he founded the website. In March 2008, prosecutors arrested and detained him for questioning but released him a day later. In 2009, the government barred him from foreign travel and froze his business interests, depriving him of a source of income, a family member told Human Rights Watch.

His father and a brother have publicly distanced themselves from him and declared him an unbeliever, and members of his wife’s family also filed a suit in a Jeddah court to have him forcibly divorced from his wife as an apostate. His wife and children are living outside of the country.

“Instead of protecting their citizens’ right to freedom of expression, the Saudi government has gone all-out against Badawi, to punish him and intimidate others who dare to debate matters of religion,” Goldstein said. “The authorities should drop the charges against him.”

17 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing information. those of us blessed tolive and a free and peaceful land have a hard time realizieng how extreemest religions can prosicute in the name of *good.* I'm sure they excuse themselves before the Holy as *just beein too observant!* Well, I hope they exjoy the praise of people here. In Heaven they will answer to God!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I wonder how the current king can explain his noisy promotion of religious tolerance outside of the country, but still exclude any open discussion in his own country.

    I guess whatever fools the infidels in Europe is ok as long as they can keep living in the 7th century at home. It is news like this that keeps people like Robert Spencer in business.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jerry - With the opening of the king's much touted center for religious tolerance, * http://cnsnews.com/news/article/saudi-king-opens-religious-tolerance-center-europe-spread-message-islam * it would appear that maybe the Saudis' idea of religious tolerance only works one way. It seems really contradictory to promote religious dialogue outside of Saudi Arabia yet jail people inside the country for doing the same. The only religious tolerance that Saudi Arabia seems to be interested in promoting is tolerance of Islam.

      Delete
  3. Quite frankly there is no coexists of monotheistic faiths. That is more than evident across the span of history as they hunted down and killed all those pagans who were tolerant. This is just but another continuing saga of some fools believing that monotheist beliefs will be compatable at some level. They have never been since inception and they never will be as they were never designed to co-exist with another belief. This is even true today. The only reason people of beliefs get along today is not due to their devout religious stance but due to there lack of it.

    The whole co-exist theory is nothing but a farce; if it wasn't then you would see different senarios being played out across the middle east and africa than what is currently going on. So if it quacks like a duck, it waddles like a duck and it looks like a duck then it is a duck. The duck is nothing but deception and the winner takes it all. Religion particular monotheist (the intolerant) has always played this game and always will.

    The pagans learn this the hard way. I always hope that we stop going down this course but......... I am not seeing it just yet. Let's hope for less religious devotion and more human compassion.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi BigStick - Basically all religions teach tolerance for others (loving your neighbor and all that stuff), but practicing what they preach is an entirely different matter. Muslims love to tell the story about how an old woman mistreated the Prophet every day for a long time by throwing garbage at him as he walked past her house on the way to the mosque. He never reacted to her abuse. One day she was not there and he learned that she was ill. So he went in to visit her and see if there was anything she needed. She was so moved by his compassion and ashamed of her past actions that she accepted Islam on the spot. It's a great story and is a great example of the "coexist" theory, but one that is unfortunately not truly followed by many Muslims.

      Delete
    2. The only problem is that, that is countered by another where a woman taunted him and she was torn apart. This was accepted as a good thing. So, you have to excuse me when I state that no Abrahmic religion tolerates the other. In every Abrahamic religion it is specific about beng able to lie to those who are not of the same religion and if you look you will find that being kind is only to those who believe as you do not to those who do not. So, no all religions do not teach tolerance for each other as loving your neighbor is only about your neighbor who believes as you do. This is not only how it is taught but it is also practiced in how the other is treated. Thus if you do not believe as the x religion does then you will have to pay mafia money, be exiled, or must convert. Why do you think there is the death penaty for heretics, apostates or blasphemy? Tolerance is not included. Why do you think this is jiyza tax (mafia money?) Tolerance is not included. I could go on as you know I can.

      Delete
    3. Thanks, BigStick - Thanks for pointing this out. It certainly is a big area that I have a problem with. My idealistic views always try to give religions the benefit of the doubt. Otherwise I find it all quite depressing!

      Delete
  4. The offense ignited by questioning is not unique to Saudi or Islam; I think it applies quite well to all monotheistic religions. Obviously the ramifications will vary drastically from a democracy to a theocracy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Songwriter - I hate it when I ask religious questions that are met with offense and not with answers. Thanks for your comment.

      Delete
  5. If polytheists were tolerated, they would still be in control of Meccan pilgrimage places.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Oh Susie, i asked you in the other blog where you are born, and found the answer in your heading links. I hope living in that culture will not be so difficult for you, because your personality is developed in a free country and now you are living in a "culture of contradictions". I hope you will not experience any distressing incident. Take care and God bless!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Andrea - I am in my 6th year now living here in Saudi Arabia. This past year things have improved for me. I still don't have a driver, but I have some wonderful new friends who have made quite a difference in my life here. I have also stopped waiting around for my hubby to take me places and show me his country because he has no interest in doing that - so I have been making plans on my own and it's made a world of difference for me. Thanks so much for your concern - but I think I'm doing okay now!

      Delete
  7. When your religious beliefs and dogma are founded on shaky ground..then enforcing belief and punishing anything and everything that deviates is proving only one thing...you do not have true faith in your religion or that god favors it specifically. If force must be used to keep people inline regarding YOUR opinion on YOUR religious beliefs...then f**k your religious beliefs. They are weak at best and hypocritical at worst.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, CoolRed - I totally agree. Having religion forced on me has always been a real turn-off for me.

      Delete
  8. Why are you still living in KSA. It is obvious you're not happy there...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Noor - I have questions, but that doesn't mean I am not happy. I don't agree with many things that go on here, but that doesn't mean I'm not happy. I write posts that are positive views of life here and others that highlight negative things about living here. I know that there is no perfect place. I have been with my husband for 35 yrs and we still love each other. He wants to live here. What do you expect me to do?

      Delete
  9. thanks for share.

    ReplyDelete

I had to enable Word Verification due to spam comments - Sorry!
This is my personal blog and therefore it reflects MY personal opinions. If you don't agree with me, that's fine. But if you feel the need to let me know that you don't agree with me, you must do so in a civilized, kind and constructive manner, without namecalling or filthy language, or being rude or offensive. In other words: BE NICE, OR I WILL NOT PUBLISH YOUR COMMENT!