January 16, 2004 Special Dispatch No. 644

Saudi Court Finds In Favor of an Author Who was Blamed for Being 'Secular'

January 16, 2004
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 644

An unprecedented lawsuit was initiated in August 2003 in Saudi Arabia by the author Ibrahim Shahbi against a man who accused him of "secularism and straying from the [Islamic religious] path." In December 2003, a Saudi judge sentenced the accuser to sixty lashes, but Shahbi forgave the man, saying that what was important was "to get the message across…" [1] The following are reactions to the incident from Saudi reformists:

Accusations of Heresy are a Problem for Most Muslim Writers

The lawsuit attracted the attention of Saudi intellectuals. Saudi writer and journalist Hiyam Al-Muflih wrote in the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh that the suit "deserves the support of all intellectuals … because it is a problem for most writers. We live in a time when a writer, after publishing something, is surprised by a deluge of accusations and name-calling, accusing him of heresy… The issue is no longer restricted to libel through the Internet, camouflaged by pseudonyms, but accusations have been boldly aimed at writers, publicly in forums and from the pulpits of mosques… The general lack of reaction of thinkers, writers, and authors about being targeted by insolent and ignorant individuals … paved the way for anyone to hurtle accusations… Some [of the accusers] are not knowledgeable in Islamic jurisprudence and have no evidence to support their claims. [In the case of Shahbi, the accuser] is a fifty year-old man, who has [an] elementary school education… Who gave him an edict that allowed him to hurt other peoples' honor and faith?" [2]

The Saudi Education System Promotes Hate

An especially harsh reaction to the case came from Saudi author Abdallah Thabit, who used the opportunity to express severe criticism of the Saudi educational system. In an article titled "The Scapegoat Has Something to Say and Has Two Questions," [3] Thabit assumed the identity of the accuser, trying to explain his motives to the accused:

"Don't you know that I, like millions of others, have learned since childhood that anyone who is not with me is the enemy of Allah and His messenger…? After all, you are the product of [the same system of] education that advocates that whoever shaves his beard, changes the [style of] his clothes, and thins his moustache is a secular [person] who wants to control me, my family, my society, and my country with his Western ideas. And whoever disagrees with our predecessors in any way, and asks for something different, is a modernist who attacks the [Muslim] faith and plots day and night to destroy it.

"I was raised to hate anyone who is not Muslim, and even anyone who is not Sunni. Furthermore, I was [taught] to hate anyone who has a different point of view than mine, and consider him a misguided sinner… You know how many times we heard on Fridays [sermons], in lectures, at school, or at the university the supplication … for the demise of others and for the murder of innocents, and for the love of the criminals who shed innocent blood and allowed the murder [of] anyone who does not say 'there is no God but Allah' [i.e. non-Muslims], and [allow the murder] of secular and modernist Muslims. After all, heresy according to them includes both [non-Muslims and secular Muslims]. Furthermore … I was told that the [secular Muslims] are more dangerous because they recite [the Shahada] asa cover to attack Allah's religion.

"'Loyalty to the nation of Islam and disavowing non-Muslims' ['Al-Walaa Wa Al-Baraa' is one of the fundamentals of the Islamic faith, which dictates that the believer must love Allah, the Prophet, and other believers, and hate those who disagree with them]… It justifies even hatred to my family. Didn't they explain to us that 'Say Oh heretics, I do not worship what you worship [Koran 109: 1-2]' means disavowing the sinners and mistreating them? [Didn't they teach us] that those whom we must be wary of first and foremost … are the closest of our family members … because they have committed numerous grievous sins by listening to music, watching a television series, and disregarding prayers and veiling the face… [Didn't they teach us that] a smoker, or one who discards some of his clothing items, or one who does not pray, or a thief, or a murderer, [are all considered] to be walking on the same path…

"There were also those who told us that we were allowed to wed Jewish and Christian women among the 'People of the Book,' but - at the same time - hate them. She is my wife to fulfill my lust, but she is a heretic who provokes Allah, His Prophet, and the believers, even though she is the mother of my children… Don't you know how the propagators of the Islamic faith vilify the non-Muslims and the Muslims who disagree with them or their religious doctrine? Don't they repeat from the pulpits, on Fridays and other [days], that Allah will turn their wives into widows, crush their power, paralyze their extremities, and freeze the blood in their veins? Don't they shout these curses and vilifications… even during the most beautiful spiritual moments on Fridays, holidays, and the evenings of Ramadan?"

The Saudi Culture is to be Blamed – Not a Single Individual

"I was affected by this culture … so why do you blame only me for its consequences… You are unable to bring to justice those who are behind this culture … and you excuse the authors of books and sermons [that engage] in accusations of heresy and in discrimination [among Muslims]… How do you want me to be different than my environment…? And how can I not accuse you of secularism when you watch satellite channels, listen to music…? How can I not accuse you when you [have the] urge to teach English, and to teach women to drive … and when you maintain that the face and the hands of women [should not be covered] with a veil, that photography is permissible and that [growing] a beard is only a preferred custom [and not a religious duty]…? How can I not accuse you when you disregard these fundamental [values] upon which the religious practice is based … and why shouldn't they sue all those who isolated us from the world and convinced us that pagans rule it and that we are the ones to be saved [on the Day of Judgment]…?" [4]

[1] Arab News (Saudi Arabia), December 24, 2003.

[2] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), August 22, 2003.

[3] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), September 1, 2003.

[4] The writer is alluding to the tradition that says the Prophet said that after his death his nation would be divided into 73 groups and only one would be saved.

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