Saudi Arabian Government and Law
Saudi Arabia is an Islamic state and the law is based on the Shari'a, the Islamic code of law taken from the pages of the Koran and the Sunna, which are the traditions addressed by Prophet Mohammed. The Koran is the constitution of the country and provides guidance for legal judgements.
Executive and legislative authority are exercised by the King and the Council of Ministers. Their decisions are based on Shari'a law. All ministries and government agencies are responsible to the King.
The criminal laws of Saudi Arabia adhere to strict Islamic precepts. The word Islam means "Surrender to the will of God." The most important concept of Islam is the Shari'a, or the "path," which embraces the total way of life ordained by God. All people of the Islamic religion are expected to conduct their lives by the traditional values set by Mohammed, the Prophet of God, who was born in A.D. 570 and died in A.D. 632. It is difficult for most Westerners to understand the complete and total submission of Muslims to the laws of the Koran in every aspect of their daily life. The Koran, along with traditions set by Mohammed, is the law of the land in Saudi Arabia. While living in Saudi Arabia, I once asked a noted scholar of Islam, who made his living as an attorney, to describe the application of justice in Saudi Arabia that stems from the teachings of the Prophet. His explanations helped dispel my misunderstandings of Saudi law. Here is a portion of his written report to me that I thought might appeal to the reader's interest:
Crimes of Hudud
Crimes of Hudud include theft, drinking of alcohol, defamation of Islam, fornication, and adultery. Persons found guilty of theft are punished by payment of fines, imprisonment, or amputation of the right hand. (The left hand is amputated if the right has already been amputated.) Persons found guilty of drinking, selling, or buying alcohol, sniffing drugs, taking injection of drugs, or stirring drugs into dough are punished by a sentence of eighty lashes. Persons found guilty of defamation of Islam are sentenced according to the circumstances. The harshness of the sentence varies depending on whether the person is a Muslim or a non-Muslim. Flogging is the general punishment for Muslims. Persons found guilty of fornication are flogged. Men are flogged while standing and women while sitting. The faces, heads, and vital organs of the guilty are protected. The usual number is forty lashes, but this number may vary according to the circumstances. Adultery is the most serious of crimes. If the guilty party is married, he or she is sentenced to death by stoning, beheading, or shooting. Stoning is the usual method of punishment. Proof of this crime must be established by confession or by four witnesses to the act.
Crimes of Tazir
The crimes of Tazir are similar to misdemeanor crimes in America. There is no set punishment, but each person is judged on an individual basis, according to the seriousness of the crime and the sorrow shown by the criminal.
Crimes of Qisas
If a person is found guilty of crimes against a victim or his family, the aggrieved family has the right to retaliate. The sentence is decided in private by the family and the actual punishment is carried out in private. If murder has been committed, the family has the right to kill the murderer in the same method their loved one was murdered, or in any method they choose. If a member of the family was accidentally killed (such as in an automobile accident), the family of the deceased may collect "blood money." In the past, camels were used as pay for blood money; today the rate of exchange is in currency. There are set damages according to the various circumstances: The payment can be anywhere from SR 120,000 to SR 300,000 ($45,000 to $80,000). If a woman is killed, the payment is one half that of a man. If a person cuts off another person's body part, the family or the victim may commit the same act upon the guilty party.
Who May Testify in Criminal Proceedings
The witness must be deemed sane, the age of an adult, and a Muslim. Non-Muslims may not testify in criminal court. Women may not testify unless it is a personal matter that did not occur in the sight of men. Actually, the testimony of a woman is not regarded as fact but rather as presumption. The court may decide whether the testimony is valid according to the circumstances.
Why Women Are Forbidden to Testify in Criminal Proceedings
There are four reasons given why women's testimony is not valid in a Saudi court:
Short History of Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is a nation of tribes that can trace their roots back to the earliest civilizations of the Arabian peninsula. The ancestors of modern day Saudis lived on ancient and important trade routes and much of their income was realized by raiding parties. Divided into regions and ruled by independent tribal chiefs, the various warring tribes were unified under one religion, Islam, led by the Prophet Mohammed, in the 7th century. Before the Prophet died at age 63, most of Arabia was Muslim.
The ancestors of the present rulers of Saudi Arabia reigned over much of Arabia during the 19th century. After losing most of Saudi territory to the Turks, they were driven from Riyadh and sought refuge in Kuwait. King Abdul Aziz Al Saud, father of the present day King, returned to Riyadh and fought to regain the country. He succeeded and founded modern Saudi Arabia in 1932.
Oil was discovered in 1938 and Saudi Arabia began a rapid climb as one of the world's wealthiest and most influential nations.