By Hilmy Ahamed –
A 45-year-old Sri Lankan mother of 4 children, still legally married to her Sri Lankan husband, has been charged for adultery and is to be stoned to death if the Saudi Supreme Court confirms her sentence. Her identity has been withheld honouring her plea to protect her family. Her alleged male lover, another Sri Lankan, will receive 100 lashes only, because he is not a married man. Adultery if proven beyond any reasonable doubt or by admission of guilt by the accused has no clemency in Sharia law and even the king of Saudi Arabia cannot pardon her.
Zina or adultery in Islam is classed as a Hudud crime (class of Islamic punishment that is fixed for certain crimes that are considered to be “claims of God”). To prove an act of Adultery (Zina), a Qadi (religious judge) in a Sharia court relies on an unmarried woman’s pregnancy, the confession in the name of Allah, or four witnesses to the actual act of penetration. In the case of punishment due to a confession, it can only be enforced if the person accused of Zina makes a confession and does not retract his/her confession. Once the person retracts his/her confession, they are not punishable because there is no proof of the act. As such, implementing this law is almost impossible under normal circumstances in Islamic Jurisprudence.
Islamic Sharia law, which conforms to any common law, is being bashed for this sentence. Different countries have their own laws, and anyone living in these countries need to abide by its laws. Singapore, who we try to emulate, has the death sentence for drug trafficking that is executed regularly. They also cane in public those found guilty of a number of other crimes. USA sends hundreds to the electric chair every year. No one calls Singapore or USA barbaric nations.
I do not intend to trespass on a legal system of a country or religion, whether it is considered primitive or otherwise. Sharia laws that I am aware of are suitable for all situations and nations, as it is a very fair and appropriate legal system, which should be implemented without prejudice whether the accused is a king or slave. The contradiction is that Saudi Arabia and many other Muslim leaders in the Arab world implement Sharia law selectively. Islam should not be bashed because of these miscreants.
There is no ambiguity, Islam has commanded the death sentence for adultery on the married, but a careful examination of this order will no doubt reveal that it is intended as a deterrent than a law to be implemented. Mufthi Menk, one of the most respected Muslim preachers and an eminent scholar on Islam, gives a very clear explanation on the implementation of this aspect of Sharia law.
Muslims as well as non-Muslims have started defending and bashing this sentence as deplorable in a democracy. The purpose of this article is not to defend or contradict their stand, but to argue whether Islamic obligations of this aspect of Sharia law were followed in sentencing our sister, a fellow Sri Lankan. Yes, she is reported to have admitted guilt, yet did this Sri Lankan female, who probably is not conversant or fluent in Arabic and the laws of Saudi Arabia, understand the meaning of what she was admitting to (or made to admit?), and the gravity of her alleged crime when she supposedly admitted to a relationship with one of her countrymen? Was she in a suitable mental state to be questioned? Was she provided adequate counsel by the law enforcement authorities as required under these circumstances? Did our diplomatic representatives intervene on her behalf? What was the role played by our Foreign Employment Bureau (FEB), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and did our Government fulfill its obligations as she would have paid for any intervention when she took the mandatory insurance required by the FEB as a condition for her employment abroad?
Saudi Arabia implemented this aspect of Sharia law on Princess Misha’al bint Fahd, a young Saudi Arabian princess. She and her Saudi lover were publicly executed for adultery in 1997. She was a member of the House of Saud, and she was executed by gunfire at the age of 19. She was a granddaughter of Prince Muhammad bin Abdulaziz, who was an older brother of King Khalid of that era. She faced the firing squad because the Royal family did not want her to be stoned by commoners. An award-winning movie “Death of a Princess” produced by ATV in cooperation with WGBH in the United States brought this tragedy to screens across the world. Many countries banned this movie, including our own, fearing the wrath of the Saudi regime and its consequences.
In a comment to Dr. Ameer Ali’s article in the Colombo Telegraph, the Muslim civil society and religious leadership are accused of pandering to the petro dollars by not protesting about this sentence. I do not want to discuss Dr. Ameer Ali’s article. Instead, I would like to drive home the point that it is not the Muslims but our own Government that is pandering to the Saudi petro dollars. This is because our economy would not survive without the remittances from our slave labour trade.
One of the key aspects of Sharia law that Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations totally disregard is the need for a ‘Mahram’ (In Islamic sharia legal terminology, a mahram is an unmarriageable kin with whom sexual intercourse would be considered incestuous, a punishable taboo.) when a woman leaves her home or travels abroad. The key aspects of the Sharia law related to Mahram are explained in detail here. In short, a female needs to be accompanied by a person whom she cannot marry under any circumstance, ie, father, brother, son, etc.
They conveniently disregard this aspect when it comes to hiring maids to be their ‘work slaves’ from Sri Lanka, Philippines, Indonesia, etc. This is their biggest contradiction because they who control the holy cities of Makkah and Madina implement Mahram laws for those who perform Haj or Umrah – (A religious obligation of every Muslim who could afford it) but this is not implemented for their housemaids.
There are many stories of benevolence, love and tender care of numerous Arabs who have supported entire families to come out of poverty. Therefore painting all Arabs with the same brush is not justified. Yet, the tragic stories of considerable numbers who suffer under their masters are not acceptable under any circumstance.
We as a country are sending our own mothers, sisters and wives to be enslaved, and sometimes abused; the social consequences have been well documented. It is important that we phase out this slave trade by not sending our women as House-maids.
Instead, we must start training our young women and men to take on skilled or semi skilled jobs that are in great demand in Europe, the USA, Australia, South Korea, Hong-Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, etc, where their rights would be protected. Our Government must ban sending our women as domestic aides abroad, particularly if their rights and welfare cannot be ensured. They should instead be facilitated to earn a living with dignity, self-respect, adequate remuneration and security. This is the need of the hour, and challenging the laws of other nations will get us nowhere. Meanwhile, it is the duty of our Government to do everything in its power to get this lady released, and ensure the safety of all our citizens working abroad.