Monday 18 August 2014

Human Rights abuses in  some  Islamic countries. (Part 1)

Some countries with majority Muslim populations have tried to introduce some semblance of Islamic human rights. The Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI), adopted by the member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in 1990, provides an overview on the Islamic perspective on human rights, and affirms Islamic law (Sharia) as its sole source. CDHRI declared its purpose to be the general guidance for Member States of the OIC in the Field of human rights". This declaration is usually seen as an Islamic response to the post-World War II United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) of 1948. However, even these more limited rights are mostly ignored or patchily implemented. In particular, the Cairo Declaration does little to assure the rights of religious minorities in Islamic dominated countries. Changing one’s religion to abandon the religion of Islam is defined as  apostasy  and may be punished severely by fines, whippings, imprisonment and in some cases, even death.

Here are three of the kinds of laws relating to Sharia law.

Marriage laws

A Muslim man who is not currently a fornicator can only marry a woman who is not currently a fornicatress or a chaste woman.  The Muslim fornicator can only marry a Muslim fornicatress.

A Muslim woman who is not currently a fornicatress can only marry a Muslim man who is not currently a fornicator.

A Muslim fornicatress can only marry a Muslim fornicator.

A woman cannot marry without the consent of her guardian. If she marries, her husband becomes her new guardian.

A guardian may choose a suitable partner for a virgin girl, but the girl is free to contest and has the right to say 'no'.

A guardian cannot marry the divorced woman or the widow if she did not ask to be married.

The law states, “Do not marry unless you give your wife something that is her right.” It is obligatory for a man to give gifts to the woman he intends to marry.

I can’t really fault the last three laws.

The penalty for theft

The Qur'an and several has set out two different punishments for theft (stealing). They say that the punishment should depend on how many times the person stole, and what he stole. One punishment is imprisonment. Another is amputating (cutting off) the hands or feet. However, before a person is punished, two eyewitnesses must swear, under oath, that they saw the person stealing. If this does not happen, then the punishment cannot be carried out. Also, some other requirements have to be met. All of these requirements must be met, as decided by a judge. [Qur’an 5:38]

The penalty for adultery

In the Quran it is stated that if an unmarried man or woman commits adultery or sleeps with a person and they are not married to each other, the punishment should be 100 lashes. In the Hadith the punishment is 100 lashes and banishment for a year, and if a married man or woman commits adultery, the punishment should be 100 lashes and followed by stoning to death. There are some requirements that need to be met before this latter punishment can be enforced. For example, the punishment cannot be enforced unless the person confesses, or unless four male eyewitnesses each saw, at the same time, the man and the women in the action of adultery. Every requirement must be met, and assessed as true by a judge, before the punishment can be enforced. (Qur'an 24:2)

There is no doubt in my mind that these (except the last three with respect to Marriage laws) laws are contrary to human rights. Now I will tell you how these abuses are enforced in various Islamic countries however in this article, I shall only give you information as to how the people written about in this article are treated in the country described.

Saudi Arabia.

The human rights situation in Saudi Arabia is considered to be very poor. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy which is ruled by the House of Saud. The nation of Saudi Arabia is a center for Islamic fundamentalism and the Wahabi sect institutes the practice of Sharia law which involves the use of punishment for wrongdoers. Public executions are held regularly and which involve decapitation, firing squads, and stoning. Women and men who commit adultery are stoned to death. Women are forced to conceal their body in public, be escorted by a man in public and are not allowed to drive a motor vehicle.

Unlike executions in most other countries that have not abolished the death penalty, Saudi Arabia performs public executions in central Riyadh, (capital of Saudi Arabia) instead of privately executing criminals in prisons. It is one of the last four countries to still carry out public executions.

The death penalty can be imposed for a wide range of offences including murder, rape, false prophecy, sorcery, blasphemy, armed robbery, repeated drug use, apostasy, (advocating others to accept other religions), adultery, sodomy, lesbianism, witchcraft, carjacking, drug smuggling, home invasion,  treason and sedition can be carried out by beheading with a sword, or more rarely by firing squad, and sometimes by stoning. The 345 reported executions between 2007 and 2010 were all carried out by public beheading. Beheading is done with a large sword while the condemned is kneeling on the ground.

In 2003, Muhammad Saad al-Beshi, whom the BBC described as Saudi Arabia's leading executioner, gave a rare interview to Arab News. He described his first execution in 1998: “The criminal was tied and blindfolded. With one stroke of the sword I severed his head. It rolled metres away.” He also said that before an execution he visits the victim's family to seek forgiveness for the criminal, in return for a payment of diyya, or blood money, by the perpetrator which can lead to the criminal's life being spared. A woman from England was sentenced to death for murder and she promised the victim’s family she would pay them a large sum of money if they spared her life. They spared her life and when she returned to England, she reneged on her promise.

Once an execution is about to proceed, the executioner’s only conversation with the prisoner is to tell him or her to recite the Muslim declaration of belief, the Shahada.  When they get to the execution square, their strength drains away. Then the executioner reads the execution order, and at a signal, he cuts off the prisoner's head.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving. Women were previously forbidden from voting or being elected to political office however King Abdullah declared that women will be able to vote and run in the 2015 local elections, as well as be appointed to the Consultative Assembly.

Gender roles in Saudi society come from Sharia (Islamic law). Islamic law (sharia) is based on the Quran and Hadith (teachings of  the Prophet Muhammad). In Saudi culture, the Sharia is interpreted according to a strict Sunni form known as the way of the Salaf (righteous predecessors). The law is mostly unwritten, leaving judges with significant discretionary power which they usually exercise in favor of tribal customs.                           

The variation of interpretation often leads to controversy. For example, Sheikh Ahmad Qassim Al-Ghamdi, who is the chief of the Mecca region’s mutaween  (religious police), has said that prohibiting ikhtilat (gender mixing) has no basis inSharia. Meanwhile, Sheikh Abdul Rahman al-Barrak, another prominent cleric, issued a fatwa (religious opinion) that proponents of ikhtilat should be killed.

Enforcements and customs in Saudi Arabia vary considerably by region.  Jeddah  is relatively permissive. Riyadh and the surrounding Najd region, origin of the House of Saud, have stricter traditions. For example, prohibitions against women driving are typically unenforced in rural areas.          

The enforcement of the kingdom's strict moral code including wearing the hijab and the separation of the sexes is often handled by the Mutaween (also Hai'a)—a special committee of Saudi men sometimes called ‘religious police’. The Mutaween have some law enforcement powers, including the power to detain Saudis or foreigners living in the kingdom for doing anything that is deemed by them to be immoral.     

The government under King Abdullah is considered to be reformist. It has opened the country's first co-educational university, appointed the first female cabinet member and passed laws against domestic violence.                   

In 2006, a government poll found that over 80 percent of Saudi women did not think that women should drive or should work with men. A Gallup poll found that most Saudi women did not think women should be allowed to hold political office either. No other Muslim country in the poll had a similar response. Saudi women supportive of traditional gender roles argued that these changes would be opposed to Muslim values and an unwanted Western cultural influence, and that they already have a high degree of independence.    

Under Saudi law, all females must have a male guardian, typically a father, brother or husband (amahram). Girls and women are forbidden from traveling without their guardian being with them (if they are under 45),   conducting official business such as opening a bank account, or undergoing certain medical procedures which are of a sexual nature without permission from their male guardians. The guardian has duties along with rights over the women in many aspects of civic life. Imagine if you will, a woman in her early forties having to ask her teenage son who is her guardian for permission to go outside their home or his permission to re-marry.

A United Nations Special Rapporteur report states that “legal guardianship of women by a male is practised in varying degrees and encompasses major aspects of women's lives. The system is said to emanate from social conventions, including the importance of protecting women, and from religious precepts on travel and marriage, although these requirements were arguably confined to particular situations.” unquote

Quite frankly, I suspect that the real reason for this law is that the men don’t want their women fraternizing with other men.

The official law, if not the custom, requiring a guardian's permission for a woman to seek employment was repealed in 2008.

Here are some examples of how the law of guardianship is abused.

There was a July 2013 case, where at the King Fahd hospital in Al Bahah, the doctors had  postponed amputating a critically injured women's hand because she had no male legal guardian to authorize the procedure. Her husband had died in the same car crash that left her and her daughter critically injured.

In August 2005, a court in the northern part of Saudi Arabia ordered the divorce of a 34-year old mother of two children from her husband, Mansur, despite the fact that were happily married and her father (then deceased) had approved the marriage. The divorce was initiated by her half-brother using his powers as her male guardian, who alleged that his half-sister's husband was from a tribe of a low status compared to the status of her tribe and that the husband had failed to disclose this when he first asked for Fatima’s hand. If sent back to her brother’s home, Fatima feared domestic violence so she spent four years in jail with her one-year-old daughter before the Supreme Judicial Council overturned the decision.

Guardianship requirements are not found in any written law. They are applied according to the customs and understanding of particular officials and institutions (hospitals, police stations, banks, etc.). Official transactions and grievances initiated by women are often abandoned because officers, or the women themselves, believe they need authorization from the woman's guardian. Officials may demand the presence of a guardian if a woman cannot show an ID card or is fully covered from head to foot. These conditions make complaints against the guardians themselves extremely difficult to investigate.

I would be less than honest if I didn’t mention that a great many women in Saudi Arabia actually approve of the guardianship of women.  Some defend the status quo and have requested punishment for activists who are demanding equality between men and women, and mingling between men and women in mixed environments.  If they lived in Canada, their views would get short thrift. I think these women are either immature or have been brainwashed to such a degree, they can’t change their ways.

The guardianship of grown women whether it is based on love or not, is extremely demeaning to women. They believe (and rightly so) that the object to being treated like subordinates and children is outrageous when acted on by the male population in Saudi Arabia.

Part 2 will be about the abuses in Iran. 

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