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The maximum number of lashes mentioned in Islamic texts is 100. It is a punishment for what is
Lashing a doctor for claimed wrong prescription that has led to addiction, or lashing a female teacher 100 times in public and in the presence of all her students and some parents for throwing a shoe at a student, does not do the society any good or deter anybody from making a mistake, notes Iqbal Tamimi.
considered the major crime of adultery. But the latest of shocking news of abusing the punishment system in Saudi Arabia has been reported 31st August 2010 by a number of local Saudi websites including (hrofy.com), claims a Saudi judge at a court of the city of Taef, has sentenced an elderly man in his 90s to 100 lashes. This old man did not commit adultery. He was sentenced to 100 lashes for breaking the windscreen of a car that belongs to the judge of Alqureea Bani Malik’s court during Friday prayers. The old man said he broke the windscreen of the judge's car to take revenge over a previous verdict against him.
In October 2008 a Saudi court in the city of Jeddah, sentenced the Egyptian doctor Raoof Ameen AlArabi who was working in Saudi Arabia to 1500 lashes and 7 years imprisonment. He was accused of prescribing a drug to a female patient that resulted in her becoming addicted to the prescription. Alriyadh Saudi national newspaper warned on 5th April 2009 that flogging punishments has reached an astronomical record in Saudi Arabia; one of such sentences was 40.000 lashes. Another punishment was 4.000 lashes for stealing two lambs.
These punishments raised controversial issues, since such numbers of lashes has never been reported or recorded in Islamic punishments’ system before. The punishment by flogging in Islam has been recorded in three cases and allowed only under tight regulations and conditions. Making the flogging punishment an almost impossible task, such as in the case of adultery, where four witnesses are required to come forward to testify accusing the person of adultery, and they should swear that they have seen personally, without a shadow of doubt the intercourse act was happening in front of all four of them at the same time and that the genitals of both adulterers were fitting like a hand in a glove. Hugging in bed, kissing or seeming like making love does not count in such testimony, making accusing a person of adultery almost an impossible task.
The small number of flogging incidents reported along history took place after the persons who committed adultery came forward themselves and confessed willingly, to take the punishment in an act of repentance.
The cases where Islam punishes by flogging are mentioned in Islamic texts in three cases. The first is 100 lashes for committing adultery if the adulterer was a virgin. This punishment has been mentioned in Quran, Surah An-Nur, 2. “The woman and the man guilty of illegal sexual intercourse, flog each of them with a hundred stripes. Let not pity withhold you in their case, in a punishment prescribed by God, if you believe in God and the Last Day. And let a party of the believers witness their punishment”. (This punishment is for those who were never married and found guilty but if they were married the punishment is to stone them).
The second punishment of 80 lashes is a punishment for defamation, when accusing a person of adultery without being able to produce 4 witnesses; as mentioned in Quran, Surah An-Nur, 4. “And those who accuse chaste women, and produce not four witnesses, flog them with eighty stripes, and reject their testimony forever, they indeed are the Fasiqun” (liars, rebellious, disobedient to God).
The third case is a punishment of 40 or 80 lashes for drinking alcohol.
The maximum punishment by flogging mentioned in Islamic texts is 100, and the justification for punishment by lashes has been mentioned in the Quran. The over-application of the flogging punishments and increasing the number of lashes in Saudi Arabia raised many questions about the legitimacy of such punishments, and upon what foundations the Saudi judges estimate the number of lashes when they make their verdicts especially that these verdicts vary from one judge to another and the matter is left to their own personal judgements.
People wonder, since 100 lashes is the maximum punishment for committing adultery, which is considered a major crime in Islam, how come some Saudi judges issue verdicts of thousands of lashes for misdemeanours cases or minor violations, such as sentencing two teenagers to two thousand lashes and a jail sentence of three years each, for stealing a sheep.
The Legal Counsellor for the National Assembly for Human Rights, Khalid bin Abd al-Rahman al-Fakhiri warned that this ciaos of flogging punishments will turn the Saudi judicial system from achieving justice to an oppressive tyranny tool. Others favoured the over-flogging punishment and welcomed it, such as the lawyer Sultan AlZahem, the Chairman of the Lawyers Committee in Madinah who told Alriyadh Newspaper in a report published 5th April 2009: “Increasing the number of lashes to a thousand or more, is a good thing, because it might deter the offenders by setting an example to others who are tempted to commit such crimes, considering the harm they cause the victims. The over-flogging will serve as a deterrent that maintains the security and stability in the country”.
A proportional punishment for a particular offense must be considered to protect the rights and dignity of human beings. Lashing a doctor for claimed wrong prescription that has led to addiction, or lashing a female teacher 100 times in public and in the presence of all her students and some parents for throwing a shoe at a student, does not do the society any good or deter anybody from making a mistake. Contrary to that, it will frighten people from working in Saudi Arabia where such system of punishments discourage much needed skilled people to work in its segregated society, especially where skilled and educated expatriate women are desperately needed to work in the medicinal and educational fields to serve Saudi females, besides many other sectors. People will be hesitant to accept employment offers in a country where there is a possibility of miscarriage of justice should one get entangled in any mishap.
Iqbal Tamimi is Director for Arab Women Media Watch Centre in UK.