Shariah Doles Out Disparate Punishment

Friday, 14 Jan 2011 07:46 AM

By Tawfik Hamid

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Last week a court in the Saudi city of Medina sentenced a Saudi woman to three years in jail for the severe physical abuse of her Indonesian maid.

Sumiati Binti Salan Mustapa, 23, was admitted to a hospital in November with broken bones and burns to her face and body. The Saudi woman for whom she found work as a maid was arrested after allegedly beating Sumiati so severely she had broken bones and internal bleeding.

She also was accused of putting a hot iron to Sumiati's head and stabbing and mutilating her with scissors.

The case received worldwide attention, and prompted the Indonesian president to demand justice for her.

Such Shariah punishment raises many concerns about the practice. Other recent cases raise questions over the practice of Shariah.

Just two years ago in a case that grabbed headlines, Abdul-Aziz al-Mutairi, 22, suffered a spinal injury which left him paralyzed when he was struck with a cleaver intentionally by another man. Saoud bin Suleiman al-Youssef, a Shariah judge of the northwestern Tabuk province has contacted several hospitals in the area to see if they could perform a surgical procedure on the attacker which would paralyze him. The sentence was based on the Shariah concept of “an eye for an eye.”

This concept has roots in Koranic verse 5:45: We ordained therein for them (the children of Israel): "Life for life, eye for eye, nose or nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth, and wounds equal for equal."

In the case of the Indonesian woman it is reasonable to ask ourselves why the Shariah judge did not use the same principle that had been used in al-Mutairi's case.

Can this be related to the fact that the victim was not a Saudi citizen? In other words, would the Shariah court limit the punishment for the assailer if the situation was the other way around and the Indonesian servant was the one who tortured the Saudi woman?

Furthermore, when we see that the punishment was only three years in prison for the Saudi woman after torturing another human being to this extent and, on the other hand, realize that a Lebanese man charged with sorcery or future telling had been sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia and was scheduled to be beheaded in March 2010, we must question not only the Shariah but the whole justice system that permits these bizarre situations to exist.

I only hope that the punishment that has been given to the Saudi woman for torturing her maid is not in any way based on or related to the Shariah rule that a free man is not killed for a slave.

Didi Wahyudi, from the Indonesian consulate in Saudi Arabia, told the BBC his country would press for a harsher sentence. "We are going to file an objection to the judge's verdict because the sentence is too light compared to the maximum jail sentence of 15 years according to Saudi law, whereas Sumiati has suffered extraordinary consequences."

In addition, the defendant's lawyer also said she would appeal against the sentence, reported Saudi Gazette.

The Shariah judges should at least seek justice between humans irrespective of their class or nationality as the Koran stated clearly (4:58: God doth command you to render back your Trusts to those to whom they are due; And when ye judge between man and man, that ye judge with justice . . . In addition, they need to learn from the Hadith of prophet Mohamed that described the reason for destroying some ancient nations was that they used to avoid punishing the criminals if they were from higher class and on the contrary they used to give touch punishment for the criminals if they were from a weak family).

In brief, the Saudi scholars need to re-evaluate the sentence of the judge in the case of torturing the Indonesian lady and enforce true justice.

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