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Lankan maid to be stoned to death for adultery in Arabian nightmare

Monday 30 November 2015, by siawi3

Source: http://www.sundaytimes.lk/151129/columns/lankan-maid-to-be-stoned-to-death-for-adultery-in- arabian-nightmare-172844.html

Sunday Punch

by Don Manu

The Quran rules 100 lashes only but Saudi laws demand brutal punishment for love in the sand
In a few weeks, if not in a matter of days, a Lankan woman who had been working as housemaid in Saudi Arabia for three years will be dragged out of her Saudi jail and forcibly led to a downtown public square in Riyadh. This is the place commonly known as chop-chop square, where public beheadings are generally carried out nearly every Friday.
Scene from Death of a Princess which dramatized Princess Misha’al’s ordeal
But for this Lankan mother of four, it will not be a brief tryst with the executioner; to feel the sudden swish of sword as it swiftly slices the air and severs her neck in the act of decapitation. Instead she will be the focus of all eyes in a bizarre public spectacle that involves the participation of the whole congregation.
At the infamous square, she will be lowered into a specially dug hole to set the scene for Saudi justice to be enacted. Once she has been buried up to her neck in the sand, the signal will be sounded for the assembled throng to form a ring of death. The gathered crowd will then be let loose to hurl stones at her face and her head until they finally kill her. And, in case, they run out of stones to smash her head to kingdom come and she survives the ordeal, a few gunshots aimed point blank at her head, will do the needful to put her out of her misery.
And what’s her heinous crime to deserve this brutal, barbaric, inhumane form of punishment? Having an affair with a Lankan youth in the dusty desert of oil rich Saudi Arabia where, like its wealth, its hypocrisies lie buried in the sand. She and the youth have been convicted of zina, or the crime of adultery or fornication which is not a crime in Sri Lanka. And as the punishment for the crime of adultery in Saudi Arabia holds, she will be stoned to death. The man to a hundred lashes.
She will meet the same horrible fate, a royal Saudi princess met 38 years ago. Princess Misha’al bint Fahd from the House of Saud was the granddaughter of Prince Muhammad bin Abdulaziz, who was an older brother of King Khalid. Misha’al studied at a school in Lebanon and while she was there met and fell in love with the nephew of the Saudi ambassador in Lebanon. Khaled al-Sha’er Mulhallal. An affair blossomed. Upon their return to Saudi Arabia, it emerged that they had conspired to meet alone on several occasions. They were charged with zina. But there were no witnesses. However in court she is said to have confessed four times. They were found guilty and sentenced to death. On July 15, 1977, Misha’al, 19 years old, was led to the square to discover the music that serenades love in Saudi.
Since stoning to death involves public participation in the gruesome act by throwing stones at the convicted, perhaps the Saudi Royal Family deemed it unwise to set a precedent by inviting the populace to shed royal blood with impunity for any reason; and prudently opted instead to have her shot.
But whether it’s a serious Romeo and Juliet love affair of the heart or a one night steamy romp in the sand dune, the punishment is the same. Saudi Arabia which is the only country in the world to be named after its founder Ibn Al Saud, who died only 62 years ago, and still bear the family name, is also one of
the few countries in the Muslim world which carries out the punishment of death by stoning for adultery on the basis they are following Islamic law to the letter.
So what are the indefatigable efforts taken by our Ministry of Foreign Employment to help save this unnamed Lankan woman from being stoned to death? After all, she is part of the work force forced through circumstances to toil and sweat in torrid climes for family and country. Though often viewed disdainfully by the stay-at-homes, it is the hard earned money of these housemaids that keep Lanka’s cash tills ringing.
Last week its Minister Thalatha Atukorale announced that the Lankan Government has retained a lawyer at a cost of Saudi riyal 10,000 (Rs. 350,000) to plead her case in appeal. She declared: “We are trying to get her sentence reduced and, if that is not possible, to have a lenient sentence.†she said.
Apart from boggling the mind what the end result of the minister’s efforts to get the death by stoning sentence reduced will be if successful — will it result in a half stoned to death or stoned to near death — her second hope to obtain a lenient sentence instead of the stoning to death punishment through the courts, reveals the extent to which she and her advisors are out of their depths when it comes to Islamic law that govern the life and stay of the Lankan labour force working in Saudi Arabia.
In Islam, illegal sexual intercourse is known as Zina and is a crime. It includes premarital sex and extramarital sex or fornication and adultery. It is not only a crime but it is a crime which falls under acts classified as Hudud crimes. Hudud crimes are crimes against God. And no person, whether king or commoner, or state can pardon an offender. Unlike murder, which is not a hudud crime and which a court can pardon or the victim’s relatives can forgive the killer upon the payment of blood money, no forgiveness can be meted to one convicted of zina or adultery.
The punishment is mandatory. It is fixed by God. There are no extenuating circumstances. No mitigating factors are allowed to be taken into account. Thus it is hard to see how any lawyer will be able to appeal to court for clemency for the court will be rigidly bound by the strict command that one duly convicted of adultery must suffer the punishment as writ by God and no earthly hand can alter one word of it.
In such a case isn’t it wishful thinking based on ignorance for the Foreign Employment Ministry to hold that a Saudi court is empowered to alter a sentence fixed by God?
Once a person is charged with adultery, the burden of proof is on the accuser to prove the charge. In order to do so, four males must testify that they witnessed the sexual act. Each man must testify that he actually saw penetration. The second way of obtaining a conviction is to show that a woman who has no husband is pregnant. The way is for a woman to confess to the crime, not once, not twice, but four times: ‘I have committed adultery’ swearing in the name of Allah. She will be given time to retract the statement but not after judgement has been given.
The offender must also be sane, a Muslim, one who has attained puberty and a free woman and not a slave. The Lankan woman in question is Muslim, not a slave, an adult and has been assumed to be sane. But, unfortunately, she digged her own hole when she confessed that she was an adulterer in the name of Allah.
Why, in Heaven’s name, she went and confessed to a crime which is otherwise almost impossible to prove — given the fact that it requires four men to actually witness actual penetration and not merely the seeming act of intercourse — is anyone’s guess. According to officials she went through a 21-day training course by the Bureau of Foreign Employment before going to Saudi Arabia. But what did they teach her there? It is unlikely that her training included the art of committing adultery without getting stoned.

The officials say the Lankan Embassy was informed of her case several weeks ago. Yet embassy officials had met her for the first time only on October 28th and provided her with ‘consular assistance’. Unfortunately for her, no official had thought it fit to advise her to keep silent and dare her accuser to produce four males to testify that they saw her being actually penetrated by her Lankan lover indulging in the act of sexual intercourse.
No one deemed it fit to tell her that whether four men testified to that effect or not or whether by her own volition she confessed to the act in the name of Allah, the punishment would have been the same, that no mercy would have been shown. Perhaps it is possible that they viewed the whole matter in terms of a traffic offence in Lanka and thought an admission of guilt would move the cockles of a Saudi judge to be as merciful as Allah and show more leniency when it came to the sentencing.
Thus today, having confessed to the crime, she has been convicted of adultery, a hudud crime, a crime against God for which the punishment is fixed. And in Saudi Arabia’s state-sanctioned interpretation of Islam, which follows a strict interpretation of Sharia law, the punishment for adultery is death by stoning. But in the Holy Quran nowhere is death by stoning mentioned as a punishment for Zina which means illegal sexual intercourse, be it fornication or adultery. The punishment as laid out in the Quran is 100 lashes.
According to the Quran 24:2, “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 Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day: and let a party of the Believers witness their punishment.â€
But it is found in the Hadiths. The Hadiths are reports which claim to quote in narrative form what Prophet Mohammed said to his companions on various matters. Many Muslims and Islamic scholars consider an authoritative source second only to Quran as a source of religious law and thus Sunni and Shia schools of jurisprudence accept it as a prescribed punishment for adultery. But not all agree.
According to one hadith, the reason why the Qur’an does not mention the act of stoning is because the verse calling for stoning for adultery were accidentally eaten by a goat. As narrated by Aisha:†“The verse of the stoning and of suckling an adult ten times were revealed, and they were (written) on a paper and kept under my bed. When the messenger of Allah expired and we were preoccupied with his death, a goat entered and ate away the paper.â€
Many Muslim scholars have rejected this hadith because all common routes of transmission of it conflict with all versions of the hadith which bear authentic routes — none of which mention the goat eating the piece of paper. And a great debate continues to exist in Islamic theology circles on the status to be accorded to the hadith vis-a-vis the Quran. Many eminent scholars hold that where the Quran is distinctly clear on a matter it is needless to seek interpretation from a hadith.
For the present purpose of even having a distant hope of securing the release of a Lankan citizen condemned to be stoned to death for the crime of adultery which is not a crime in Sri Lanka, the Foreign Employment Ministry should not clap itself for having filed an appeal and say, in the words of Acting Director-General of Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Public Communications Division, Satya Rodrigo, “there is nothing much we can do but wait for the appeal process to take place†.
No amount of appealing will move the Saudis even if it could move a mountain. If the Ministry officials are serious about saving the Lankan woman they should involve not only civil rights groups in Lanka, not only international human rights groups but mainly the international Quranist networks which ‘make the Quran the sole source of that philosophy whereas the others acknowledge other sources as divine sources’. With the help of such influential Muslim groups, an international campaign to save the Lankan woman should be launched to pressure the Saudi Government to make an exception. In this regard the view held by some eminent Muslim scholars that stoning to death for adultery should only be done in the case of “proclaimed offenders or those beyond reform, upon whose extinction the society heaves a sigh of relief†,
should be offered to enable the Saudi authorities to have a face saving reason to make the exception and avoid the adverse publicity a stoning to death event is likely to cause to the desert kingdom.
The fate that has befallen this Lankan woman is one that can visit any Lankan worker in Saudi Arabia. It is not for the bright lights of Bollywood that she saw shining in the Saudi sky that this mother of four left her family and went to work abroad. Loneliness sometimes makes some discover an inner power; loneliness sometimes can make some crave for companionship which may lead to a physical relationship. But before one rushes to condemn this Lankan woman for her act of infidelity, it is best to remember the words of Jesus Christ, spoken to the crowd who had brought a woman to him and wanted to stone her to death for being an adulteress in the manner prescribed in the Old Testament’s Book of Deuteronomy 22:24. Jesus replied, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her†.
Foreign Employment Bureau statistics has revealed that 80,000 Lankans were working in Saudi Arabia, each earning a minimum salary of Rs 34,000 per month. That is Rs 32,640,000,000 flowing into the country in terms of US dollars each year from Saudi Arabia alone. Needless to say that Lanka’s labour exports have become the top most foreign currency earner, yet its ministry — perhaps because it’s still derisively considered as a mere ‘housemaid affair’ — is given low priority and considered fit to be headed only by ministerial lightweights, like UPFA’s Dilan Perera who held office since its formation in 2010 and now UNP’s Thalatha Atukorale from this year as a thanksgiving gift for political support rendered.
But consider its official mission as stated on its website “for converting the entire labour migration sector into a demand driven process and make it highly competitive by introducing required structural changes together with necessary promotional and welfare activities to meet the international market challenges considering the importance of its contribution to the national economy.†And all these activities to be handled by a staff of only 55 employees.
As Foreign Employment Ministry Secretary G. S. Withanage states, “An estimated 1.7 million Sri Lankans are employed abroad, impacting nearly 25% of our population. A total of 293,105 left for employment in 2013. During 2013, total remittances received amounted to US$. 6.4 billion or Rs 827.7 billion.†Unlike the US$ 450 million black money that was reported to have been brought back by those who had stashed their money in Swiss banks, perhaps amassed through corruption or even drugs, under the ‘no questions asked’, amnesty generously granted by the present Government last month, the contributions made by the housemaids of Lanka have been earned at enormous sacrifice and peril.
They deserve to have their value weighed in gold and treated regally as Lanka’s most valued export commodity. And when they are in trouble the Government must raise the flag in their support and make meaningful efforts to bring them safely home even as a Briton sentenced to 360 lashes for transporting home-brewed wine by a Saudi court was freed this month after the British public and Government successfully campaigned for his release.
But not so Lanka. The country’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Azmi Thassim, had a special message to those Lankan housemaids who earn valuable foreign exchange to fill the nation’s coffers and keep the economy afloat. He told Arab News on Friday: “If they don’t like the laws of the Kingdom, they should not come.†Maybe Thassim should drill a bit more to discover who really supplies the oil to pay his diplomatic salary and peruse his Quran to see the punishment the Holy Book prescribes for adultery.
Meanwhile, while a lone Lankan woman languishes in her Saudi jail anguishing over her date with death by stoning; meted out as punishment for her only for her only sin, the sin of being born in a country that makes her flee abroad to work in alien climes to keep the home fires burning; while the bureaucrats at the Ministry for Foreign Employment warm their seats waiting for the appeal they have filed in a Saudi court bound by the fixed punishment for a hudud crime, the rest of Lanka can only hope and pray for a miracle to occur to save another Lankan gander who lays Lanka’s golden eggs.