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Islamic Society ( 16 May 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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The Normality of Torture in Saudi Arabia: Islamic Law or the Shariah in Action?

By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam

16 May 2016

The recent death of a 25 year old Muslim woman from Hyderabad from the torture meted out to her by Saudi employers should not come as a surprise. Torture is endemic to Saudi Arabia and thanks to their regressive and peculiar interpretation of Islam, torture almost seems normal if one is living within the kingdom. Moreover, if the person is an immigrant, then some of the laws which should ideally be applicable to everyone hardly applies to this section of population. Considering that immigrants form a sizable section of the population of Saudi Arabia, in effect it means that people who work hard on this soil do not have access to decent a legal protective system. The rentier economy which dictates such norms is only too happy to allow such gross violation of human rights and a dignified living. Public flogging and beheading are practices which would be repugnant to much of the civilized world today, but is carried on with a monotonous regularity in the kingdom.

But it is not just the immigrants which have been at the receiving end of such regressive laws although it would not be out to place to suggest that they hardly get a chance to defend themselves. Part of the problem of course is the Islamic law or the Shariah which informs the penal law of Saudi Arabia. One only has to recollect the punishment meted out to the blogger Raif Badawi. His only fault, if at all it was a fault, was that he was blogging about the regressive nature of Saudi Arabian laws. But in Saudi Arabia, being critical of the regime is perhaps the biggest crime that one can commit. Badawi was sentenced to public flogging and after the initial round of flogging when he could not take it anymore, the punishment was suspended. This sadism on the part of the regime is very normal and most Saudi officials would not even recognise it as problematic.

What is also not recognised as a problem is the fact that women in this kingdom are not allowed to drive, to have a bank account in their name and even to travel unaccompanied. All this and much more is considered normal since women are still considered as chattel in this country. And because of this understanding, they are not supposed to work and engage in a life which they think is meaningful. As the particular interpretation of Islam in Saudi Arabia dictates, if women are made for the pleasure of men, then they should not be engaged in anything remotely productive. In short they should not have an agency.

Giving women freedom would mean inviting a Fitna and what could be worse than that? All that women can look up to in this kingdom is a life of ‘protection’ under the all-encompassing patriarchal gaze. Very few can forget that in 2002, when a fire broke out in a girls’ school, the authorities refused to open the gates to let the students out which led to the death of fifteen schoolgirls. The more recent video in which a Saudi imam is advising how to gently beat wives is a reminder that very little has changed in the kingdom since then despite the media hype around the reformist measures of the previous King.

Wahhabism is not Islam; rather it is a corruption of Islam. What interpretation of Islam teaches the Saudi to fund millions of dollars to Muslim communities abroad with the purpose to exterminate the very cultural context in which these Muslim communities are embedded? And within its own country, this Islam has wrecked havoc on its own historical and cultural sensitivity by larger scale destructions of sites linked to early history of Islam. What kind of religion is this which teaches its adherents that hands be cut of stealing and which still insists that the onus of proving that she was violated lies with the women? The torture and eventual death of the Muslim women from Hyderabad will soon be forgotten as has been many cases of the past. What is required is the recognition and acceptance that the Saudi Wahhabi regime is a regime of torture. And that torture is considered normal and even Islamic by the Wahhabi regime. Till the time we recognise this normality, we will not have an engaged discussion on what goes on in the name of Islam in that country.

One would have hoped that such incidences of torture would raise criticism from various governments which have their citizens working in Saudi Arabia. The silence has once again proved that these governments are inept and in-effectual in mounting any criticism of the Saudi regime, partly owing to their own geo-strategic interest and party owing to the Saudi manipulation of media industry. It is only a robust criticism from the people which can force the Saudi government to sit up and take notice of the fact that something is inherently rotten with their interpretation of Islam. And Muslims must take the lead in this critique.

A columnist, Arshad Alam is a New Delhi based writer


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