As many now know, a Saudi writer – Hamza Kashghari – is in deep trouble. He went on Twitter on or near the Prophet’s Birthday (which is not, incidentally, officially observed in Saudi Arabia, though it is a national holiday in many other Islamic countries) and made some unfortunate remarks. These remarks questioned the almighty. Under Shariah law, that is a major crime, apostasy (ridda or irtidad) one which can lead to execution if not promptly repented. Kashghari appears to have repented in that he took down his offensive Twits as soon as he was told how unwise they were and acknowledged that they were a mistake. But he also fled the country.
Too late. As Arab News reports, not only does he now have the highest religious authority in the Kingdom calling, literally, for his head, but apparently he offended King Abdullah as well [link goes to Arabic source].
Ifta wants Kashghari tried for apostasy
RIYADH: In a new development in the case of Saudi writer Hamza Kashghari, who wrote a few tweets that were considered slanderous to Almighty Allah and His Prophet (peace be upon him), the Permanent Committee for Scholarly Research and Religious Edicts (Ifta) issued a strongly worded statement in which it said mocking Allah or His Prophet is a downright sacrilegious act, kufr (infidelity) and apostasy that should no go undetected, local daily Al-Eqtisadiah reported Thursday.
“Whoever dares make a mockery of Allah, the Prophet or the Holy Book undermines the religion and displays enmity toward it. It is the duty of the rulers to try such a criminal,” the committee said, warning Muslims to stay away from such practices so as to avoid exasperating God.
The committee issued its statement after a meeting under its chairman Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh, the Grand Mufti.
Various media pieces note that Kashghari fled to Southeast Asia. The Washington Post reports that he did, in fact, go to Malaysia, where an American human rights activist, David Keyes of Advancing Human Rights conversed with him by phone. According to Keyes, Kashghari has been detained by Malaysian authorities pending extradition back to Saudi Arabia.
Keyes notes that this case has the makings of an international cause cause célèbre. International jurists are starting to line up to argue against his extradition. If he ends up being sent back, there will be loud and broad international calls for mercy.
Non-prosecution does not seem to be an available goal. Because Saudi Arabia closely follows Shariah law, it will be compelled to follow its rulings. The Quran [2:217] appears to consider apostasy to be a serious sin/crime, but that is to be punished in the afterlife. Numerous ahadith, however, call for the death of the apostate. The question is under debate in various parts of the Islamic world, but for the ulema in Saudi Arabia, the question is settled.
Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari was detained in Malaysia on Wednesday night and is likely to be extradited soon to Saudi Arabia, where he will be tried for blaspheming religion. Kashgari, 23, had fled the kingdom Monday after he received thousands of death threats. His crime? He posted on Twitter a series of mock conversations between himself and the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
… The tweets came to light last week around a celebration of Muhammad’s birthday, and Kashgari’s ordeal began. Hours before he was detained, Kashgari spoke to me by phone from the house in which he was hiding. “I was with sitting with my friends and one of them checked Twitter on his mobile phone,” he said. “Suddenly there were thousands of tweets of people calling to kill me because they said I’m against religion.”
Saudi Arabia is not exactly a theocracy: the religious leaders are not also the secular leaders. Islam is so important that the government does things like send out a quarter million copies of the Quran. But Islam and Shariah law are so intertwined in the Kingdom that religious judgments hold the force of law; many things which would be sins are also crimes. International human rights generally see sin as a moral failing and crime as a subset of those failings. Not all sins, however, are crimes. Certain things, like the ability to change or to leave one’s religion are seen as fundamental human rights, guaranteed to all mankind. Shariah law does not agree.
The recent years have seen conflicts over this issue in several countries. In some, human rights advocates have been able to exert sufficient pressure to save the lives of the apostates; in others, they have failed. We’ll have to see how the case of Hamza Kashghari works out, starting with his extradition.