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.
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:
1. There are four main sources of the Shari'a: the
Koran, which is compiled of thousands of religious verses revealed by God
through his Prophet, Mohammed; the Sunna, which are the traditions the Prophet
addressed that are not recorded in the Koran;
the Ijma, which are the perceptions of the Ulema, or religious scholars; and the
Qiyas, which is a method whereby known jurists agree upon new legal principles.
2. The king of Saudi Arabia is not exempt from the
regulations set forth by the Shari'a.
3. The court system itself is complicated, but if a
judgment is appealed, it is reviewed by the court of appeals. This court,
usually consisting of three members, increases to five members if the sentence
imposes death or mutilation. The king is the final arbitrator who serves as a
final court of appeal and as a source of pardon.
4. Crimes are classified into three divisions:
Hudud, Tazir, and Qisas. Crimes of Hudud are crimes that are denounced by God;
the punishment is made known in the Koran. Crimes of Tazir are given to the
appropriate authority to determine punishment. Crimes of Qisas give the victim
the right to retaliate.
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
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
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
Women Are Forbidden to Testify in Criminal Proceedings
There are four reasons given why women's testimony
is not valid in a Saudi court:
1. Women are much more emotional than men and will, as a result of their
emotions, distort their testimony. 2. Women do not participate in public life,
so they will not be capable of understanding what they observe. 3. Women are
dominated completely by men, who by the grace of God are deemed superior;
therefore, women will give testimony according to what the last man told them.
4. Women are forgetful and their testimony cannot be considered reliable.