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Living With Shariah

Living With Shariah

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Some years ago I had the experience of living under the Saudi implementation of shariah - it was a very different experience.  Not to sound dramatic, but it was a fearful experience.  One false move and one became very aware of the antiquity of shariah.  It is a remnant of a type of barbaric law of previous millennia.

Whilst the Judeo-Christian based legal systems are older, they are not quite as unforgiving as shariah, and they promote ‘one law for all’ whereas shariah does not. 

The essence of shariah is the explicit trust which is placed in the judge and his working relationship with Allah; under shariah, Allah is judge, and the human is only the mouthpiece.  The human judge hears both sides of a case, then communes with Allah who ‘tells’ him the judgment. 

There is no equality under shariah law; non-Muslims are second class citizens and judgment will always be given to the ‘believer’.  For it is not about ‘justice’ or ‘right and wrong’ it is about the furtherance of Islam, and it is supremely important that the West understands that it is doing no favours to anyone in tolerating shariah law.

Shariah is a vehicle for the promotion of fundamentalist Islam as described in Umdat as-Salik wa 'Uddat an-Nasik’s book “Reliance of the Traveller” - the official handbook of shariah.   Make no mistake, allowing shariah a place in Western society is no small matter.  In my opinion, it is a corrupting rather than a benign influence, and it is significant that most business contracts in Saudi are drafted under a foreign legal system, usually Swiss law.

One must keep the legal ‘flexibility’ in mind as one walks the streets of Riyadh, knowing that, as an unbeliever, one is not even near the top of the food chain of the legal and social hierarchies.  At the top is royalty, followed by descendants of the prophet, and fellow clan/tribe members.   This influence is known as ‘wasta’ and the judge’s influence with Allah can be ‘enhanced’ by a good dose of wasta. 

Shariah allows believers to punish unbelievers on the spot for perceived ‘slights’, and a ‘slight’ can be as little as exposing too much flesh, for example by wearing shorts.

There are four ‘schools’ of sharia, each being broadly similar.  The Saudi variety is enforced by the ‘metawa’ (religious police) who turn up in all kinds of places and are bullies of the first order, especially to women.   Under shariah law they can beat you on the spot (the shariah equivalent of an ‘on the spot fine’).

For a male in Saudi Arabia, life can be unpleasant, but for a woman it is dire.  Saudi women are not allowed out without a male relative; 12 year old sons are often bribed to take ‘mum’ to the shops, and mum has to obey!

Women are not allowed to work in public places so all shop assistants are male, usually from South Asia - imagine having a bra fitted by a foreign male!  I remember my boss in M&S Manama (Bahrain), on the telephone to his 14 year old daughter, trying to choose and ‘fit’ a bra by phone (the daughter was still in Riyadh).

Restaurants are segregated, some sections are male only - but there is no such thing as having a quiet drink, for although the Koran forbids only drunkenness, shariah in Saudi forbids the consumption of alcohol altogether.  Shariah also dictates that all business ceases during prayer time, so one’s dinner at a restaurant is subject to interruption.  This phenomenon means that ‘life’ tends to be delayed until after nine o’ clock in the evening. 

On one occasion I walked along the beach at Khobar (on the East Coast) where all the little boys were splashing around as usual.  Their sisters were sitting demurely watching - still clad in their black abayahs: a shapeless tent in which their young female bodies must be hidden in case a male gets sexually aroused at the sight of it.  Six years old and confined to a black tent-like garment on the sidelines, that is shariah at its finest.

Women are not just ‘second class’ under shariah, they have almost no status at all.  They are ‘goods’, much like a man’s iPad might be.  Daughters are owned by their fathers, and, when married, by their husbands.  Nothing more.

The subject of women under shariah is fraught, and much, much worse than I can address in an essay like this.  Females of all ages are ‘sex toys’ under shariah, they are guilty of ‘tempting’ men just by existing, and if a male is ‘tempted’ it is the woman’s or the child’s fault - and she will be duly punished by a flogging or worse.

The punishments too under shariah reflect a barbarous desert culture of over a thousand years ago, indeed most of shariah remains unchanged since that time.   Public executions are a huge spectacle, with public floggings as supporting acts.  Theft means a public amputation.   This is all done in chop-chop square in a holiday atmosphere.

Yet it is also a surprise to find out what shariah does not cover.  Driving in Saudi is hell in a V8, high speed high jinx are the norm; what Allah has predestined will happen anyway, so I can drive like a demon.   One will also see a 12 year old boy driving the family to school, because mum cannot drive.

In conclusion, at the core of shariah is an appeal to all that is worst in the male psyche.  Women in Saudi Arabia have no ‘spiritual’ footprint, the ‘female’ half of that society is locked in the zenana (inner apartments of a house in which the women of the family live) and only emerge under the close guard of a dominant male.  Because of this, the overall society suffers, because the female influence is so often the civilizing influence.

This essay is very negative, mainly because I cannot say much that is positive about shariah.  Those who think they are being kind and tolerant by allowing shariah in Western society should stop and think.  “Causing offence” is a shariah-based concept that is rapidly gaining momentum in our society; a sort of combination of ‘seditious libel’ and ‘blasphemy’ rolled into one.  “Causing offence” is a ‘gagging’ law and beware, many police forces around the country are already prohibiting the causing of offence, despite it not being on our statute book.

So, as shariah creeps into Western society, say goodbye to our hard won equalities, say goodbye to equal rights for women, say goodbye to free speech, and say goodbye to the idea of one law for all.   If shariah expands its influence in our midst, we too will have to learn to walk our streets in timidity.