International

Sharia law in Saudi Arabia, Islamic legal code
Amr Nabil/AP
Egyptian doctors and activists raise banners in support of an Egyptian doctor who was
sentenced by a Saudi court on charges he prescribed high doses of morphine to a Saudi
princess.

Egyptian Doctor’s Sharia-Based Sentence Sparks Outcry

November 14, 2008 11:00 AM
by Anne Szustek
Egyptian citizen Raouf Amin el-Arabi, a doctor for the Saudi royal family, has been imprisoned for allegedly getting a Saudi princess addicted to painkillers.

Diplomatic Tension Rises Over Medical Case

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Raouf Amin el-Arabi moved to Saudi Arabia from Egypt years ago, lured by the prospect of higher wages than what he could earn in his native Egypt. The doctor soon received one of the more lucrative positions for a young expatriate: working for the Saudi royal family.

His 20-odd years of service to the royal family came to an abrupt halt when a Saudi court convicted him of giving a Saudi princess the wrong medication, allegedly leading her “to addiction.”

His apparent crime originally received a sentence of seven years in prison and 700 lashes. After appealing his case two months ago, however, a judge increased his punishment to 15 years imprisonment and 1,500 lashes.

Since the new ruling, the case has made national headlines and spurred public outcry in Egypt over treatment of expatriates in Saudi Arabia. “The tragedy of the two Egyptian doctors shows the level of humiliation that Egyptians have become subjected to in and outside Egypt due to the corrupt and unjust ruling regime,” wrote Alaa Aswany, a writer well known in Egypt. “However, it also shows the brutality and hypocrisy of alternative religiosity.”

Sharia, the Islamic legal code, is essentially the law of Saudi Arabia. The legal system in predominantly Muslim Egypt is largely based upon British civil law.

The Saudi government has kept mum on the subject. The Egyptian government, cautious to keep diplomatic channels wide open with the petrodollar-rich Gulf kingdom, has treaded softly in its handling of the el-Arabi situation.

“The ministry is very much concerned with the case,” Egyptian Foreign Ministry official Ahmed Rizq said in a statement. “However, the Saudi judicial and political system should be respected.”

Rights groups have called for protest and wrote an open letter to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has close diplomatic links with the ruling Al-Saud family.

“President Mubarak should withdraw the Egyptian ambassador in Saudi Arabia to save the dignity of Egyptians and to respond to this bloody verdict that contradicts God’s laws and logic,” wrote Mostafa Rashed, a poster on the Web site of non-governmental Egyptian daily Al-Masry al-Youm.

Meanwhile el-Arabi’s family sits and waits while the doctor serves out his sentence in Jeddah, a city on the Saudi coast of the Red Sea. “How can I breath or take a sip of water while my husband is being whipped in the middle of the street there?” el-Arabi’s wife, Fathiya el-Hindawi, said on Arab satellite TV.

Background: Sharia law in Saudi Arabia

Sharia, which can be translated as “the way” in Arabic, is the Islamic legal system delineated in the Islamic holy texts, including the Quran and the hadith.

Muslims consider the Quran the literal word of God, while the Hadith, the ways of the prophet, provides the finer details of much of Islamic law, and is used by Muslims to interpret the Quran. It consists of thousands of descriptions of the Prophet Muhammad’s daily life. As is common among religious texts, both texts have been subjected to varying levels of interpretation; this is reflected in how sharia is applied in Muslim countries.

In Saudi Arabia, sharia is effectively the national constitution and covers all facets of daily life—from family affairs to banking—as well as celebration of holidays, some Saudi religious scholars argue.

In a BBC online guide to religion, British Muslim Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood offers his interpretation of sharia and what it means to him. “The whole principle of God’s will is to bring about compassion, kindness, generosity, justice, fair play, tolerance, and care in general, as opposed to tyranny, cruelty, selfishness, exploitation etc.,” he writes. Maqsood goes on to defend the Islamic legal code: “The usual criticisms of Sharia—that it is so cruel as regards execution, flogging and cutting off hands—totally ignore all the extenuating circumstances that would lead to these penalties not being applied,” he continues. “They are known as hadd penalties (pl. hudud), the extreme limit of the penalty. Thus, if a person was sentenced to having a hand cut off, he or she should not be sent to prison and/or be fined as well.”

Reference: Learning about Islam

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