Court of Embarrassment

Not so long ago, criticizing the judiciary was a taboo in this country. But with more people learning more about their rights and finding new outlets to express their dissatisfaction, they began to clearly show their impatience with the performance of the justice system. The system has become a battlefield between reformers who demanded change and conservatives who defended the judges fiercely, arguing that since their verdicts are based on Sharia then they should be unquestionable.

Luckily for the rest of us though, the complaints did not fall on deaf ears. In October 2007, King Abdullah announced a $2bn plan to overhaul the legal system. It is a large undertaking and it will certainly take a long time to see the effects of this plan. The resistance of the old guard in the system will only make this process slower and more difficult. But one of the good immediate effects of this plan is that it has placed the judges under increased scrutiny. The past two years have witnessed a number of high profile cases that attracted much attention from people and the media, not just in Saudi Arabia but around the world.

I think that last week’s case in Onaiza, where a court rejected a divorce petition filed by the mother of a an eight-year-old girl whose father married her to a 58-year-old man, should be seen in that context. Sure, the verdict is outrageous and unfair, but hey, this is the K of SA, a country where judges are not tied to written laws and justice is a subjective matter that pretty much depends on their whims. Does Sheikh Habib al-Habib know that his government has singed the international Convention on the Rights of the Child since 1996? I don’t think he does, and I think he does not care because such international laws are made by mere mortals while he probably believes that he is applying God’s laws.

Abdullah Al-Jutaili, the lawyer representing the girl’s divorced mother, said he was going to appeal the verdict. Let’s hope judges at the appeals court will be wiser than their colleague here when they deal with this case that not only exemplified the kind of injustices the people of this country have to go through when their misfortunate leads them to a court, but also further tarnished the already distorted image of Saudi Arabia in the world.

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15 thoughts on “Court of Embarrassment

  1. the signing of conventions means diddly doo I mean you can beat your child to the point of a few days hospitlization and nothing is done to you. Break a bone have it set in the ER and no one questions the right of the father.

    Same goes for this case, which is a travesty in every sense. The leaders have a duty to protect this child, and all the others in this kingdom, and they are failing in that duty.

    I have an 8 year old and to think anyone would see her as marriagable is just utter stupidity.

  2. Let me offer a counter-opinion to abu daoud.

    The problem is not the sharia, if by that we mean the authentic meaning of the teachings of the Rasulullah.

    The problem is the obscurantist interpretation which the ulemaa provide to the Quran.

    There are authentic forms of Islam (Sufi for example) that permit sharia to move forward and progress.

    It is the ulemaa that have unilaterally decided that there can be no innovation [bida].

    The ulemaa are the problem.

    In addition, though, we do need to have a system of governmental laws that is essentially separate from sharia.

    By what right do the ulemaa have the ability to impose their own version of sharia on a follower of Shia, or Wahhabiyya, or Ahmadiyya, etc?

    Let the ulemaa function entirely in a non-governmental context, with the government being responsible for the laws, rather than ulemaa who can render null any law that the ulemaa believe violates the ulemaa’s interpretation of what god would want.

  3. Dear Andrew,

    I actually agree with you and you are right in differentiating between shari’a and fiqh, which is the interpretation and application of the shari’a.

    I am also aware that there are movements trying to revisit question of fiqh that have been set in stone for many centuries. I hope that such movements will be successful, but realistically I think it is very unlikely. But yes, in theory you are correct.

    What is your background in jurisprudence?

  4. He will turn two blind eyes…Imran he is BLIND!

    No insults intended…

    Simply a juxtapositional situation in which the Grand Mufti is blind and so are the judges who interpret Shariah to their own whims

  5. Abu Daoud,

    I have studied [abroad] Western law and regulation and enjoy reading on the topic of ideal philosophical systems of law and justice.

    I agree that an objective assessment would be that currently any updates to fiqh are unlikely in the near term.

    However, I believe that such revisions are inevitable in a longer term.

    The Islamic nations will ultimately be forced by modernity to dislodge the power of the ulemaa and develop a modern understanding [and I believe more authentic understanding] of the Rasulullah if we are to not to be left behind.

    It is deeply regrettable that for some in the world the perception of the teachings of the Rasulullah are strongly based on the views of the kleptocratic ulemaa in the K of SA, or the deeply cynical clerics of Iran, or on the paleolithic views of the taliban.

    Is that not cause for some degree of self-reflection and concern by all believers?

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