Friday, March 19, 2010

Ali Hussain Sibat, Islamic Law, and Getting a Grip

With friends like these, Islam doesn't need enemies.
"TV presenter gets death sentence for 'sorcery' "
CNN (March 19, 2010)

"Amnesty International is calling on Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah to stop the execution of a Lebanese man sentenced to death for 'sorcery.'

"In a statement released Thursday, the international rights group condemned the verdict and demanded the immediate release of Ali Hussain Sibat, former host of a popular call-in show that aired on Sheherazade, a Beirut based satellite TV channel.

"According to his lawyer, Sibat, who is 48 and has five children, would predict the future on his show and give out advice to his audience.

"The attorney, May El Khansa, who is in Lebanon, tells CNN her client was arrested by Saudi Arabia's religious police (known as the Mutawa'een) and charged with sorcery while visiting the country in May 2008. Sibat was in Saudi Arabia to perform the Islamic religious pilgrimage known as Umra...."
The Saudi legal system seems to have, ah, interesting procedures. Ali Hussain Sibat's case apparently went to an appeals court. And bounced a few times.
"...The case was taken up by the Court of Appeal in the Saudi city of Mecca on the grounds that the initial verdict was 'premature.'

"El Khansa tells CNN that the Mecca appeals court then sent the case back to the original court for reconsideration, stipulating that all charges made against Sibat needed to be verified and that he should be given a chance to repent.

"On March 10, judges in Medina upheld their initial verdict, meaning Sibat is once again sentenced to be executed.

""The Medina court refused the sentence of the appeals court," said El Khansa, adding her client will appeal the verdict once more..."
Ali Hussain Sibat and his family are people I'm sincerely glad I'm not.

Diversity and Islam

At times like these, it's a little difficult to shake the impression that Islam is the property of the House of Saud. I've written before, though, about Muslims around the world stretching Islamic beliefs and practices over whatever culture they have.

I'll admit that it makes Islam one of the more colorful of the world's major religions. You've got everything from the lot that's running Sudan to Indonesia's people deciding what Islam is. Having no central authority (that I know of) probably helps.

In its own way, Islam is one of the finest examples of diversity on the planet.

Culture Shock

It's occurred to me that Islam may have lasted this long partly because until the last generation or so we didn't have transoceanic telephone cables, communications satellites, and the Internet.

Another few generations back, and telegraph service was the latest thing in information technology. I live in America, where we've kept up, at least: and I remember when you couldn't call someone in, say, Hong Kong or Mumbai without negotiating your way across the globe. Good grief. I remember when Mumbai was Bombay. ("Well, That's Interesting: Brooklyn and the Names of Things," Drifting at the Edge of Time and Space (March 9, 2010))

Getting back on-topic:

Over the centuries, every Muslim who could had to go to Mecca at least once. My guess is that most of the foreign Muslims were savvy enough to keep quiet about their own culture's brand of Islam. Death threats, particularly from an area's rulers, get people's attention. Back in the 'good old days,' foreign Muslims might not know all that much about what was "Islamic" and what wasn't in Mecca when they started their journey. But they had plenty of time to pick up travelers' tales on the way.

No airlines, remember?

So the folks around Mecca probably didn't get shocked too often. When they did, the carnage that followed would probably ensure that the next set of pilgrims would have gotten word that you didn't do whatever horrific thing the deceased did.

Like wear the wrong kind of clothes.
Welcome to the Information Age
Until just a few generations ago, almost all the folks on the Arabian peninsula seem to have been living pretty much the same way that their ancestors did when Abram moved out of Ur and changed his name.

Things weren't exactly placid as the millennia rolled by. Energetic cultures like the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans shook things up a little: but that was mostly politics and warfare. As each empire in turn (Alexander the Great was from the area we call Greece these days) had its heyday and crumbled, the nomads and farmers lived in a way Abraham would have recognized and understood.

Then, about four and a half centuries back, someone invented a machine that knitted socks. That was, arguably, the start of the Industrial Revolution. A century earlier, somebody in Germany invented movable type. You could call that the start of the Information Age, although I'm inclined to use Jacquard loom's invention or the implementation of telegraph technology as a significant milestone.

Then as century followed century, canals were built, steam power developed, factories automated, robot spaceships sent out to explore the solar system, and hundreds of channels of cable programming made available to just about anybody with a dish antenna.
Meanwhile, Back on the Saudi Peninsula
Meanwhile, folks living around Mecca and Medina weren't being bothered much. Which seems to have suited them just fine. Change can be - and usually is - a bit difficult to deal with.

Then folks in Europe - a place that had been bothered, big time - developed machines that needed something with more power per pound than coal. Today, we've got nuclear reactors, are working on developing fusion reactors, and there's a promising development or two in antimatter production. But we're still using petroleum products.

A lot.

The Arabian Peninsula is mostly desert. But underground are some of the world's richest petroleum deposits.
We're Rich! Good News, Bad News
I've gotten the impression that the first generation or so of oil production in Arabia profited westerners more than the folks living there. But things change and a few decades back, sheiks with suitcases full of money were a staple news item. At least one of the mansions they built here in America set a new standard for tastelessness.

It's likely enough that they acted as - eccentrically? - as they did in large part because back home they'd have been executed for indulging their personal tastes. Over here, they were among foreigners who simply didn't care what you did with your place, aside from restrictions like how much yard you had to have. But as long as you didn't own a place with a neighborhood association, pretty much anything goes.

Loud taste in lawn ornaments, repressed for decades and suddenly released, is not a pretty sight.

But that's yet another topic.

More seriously, the folks back home were dragged over several thousands of years of cultural change in a generation or two. A world of burqas and Sharia law suddenly had things like individual rights, Barbies, soap operas, bikinis, Mickey Mouse, Ex-Lax, and Budweiser roaring in over satellite feeds with hundreds of television channels.

Islam as a House of Saud Franchise?

I'm pretty sure it's not, but as I said before, it's hard to shake the impression that Islam is a sort of franchise owned by the "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques." (November 14, 2008) Many franchises let local owner-operators tailor the brand to local culture: just like Islam has been shaped to fit a wide variety of cultures.

I hope the House of Saud doesn't see it that way: and I'm not going off on that topic.

16th Century Values, 21st Century Information Technology

Seriously: I can see charging Ali Hussain Sibat with fraud, if he received goods or services from his listeners, in exchange for (bogus, I trust) predictions. But I'm an American: and fortune tellers are legal in most parts of the country, provided they have some sort of 'for entertainment purposes only' notice up.

I think it helps that Americans had to learn to live with people who didn't believe exactly what they did, since before the revolution. All those Protestant Christians who came over from England probably look like a homogeneous group to an outsider. But many came over because they were convinced that they alone were the true believers, and all the rest were wrong. There were a lot of groups like that.

But as the 13 colonies grew - and eventually got fed up with King George III - these mutually antagonistic groups learned that cooperation and coexistence are good ideas.

America has more diversity now, ethnically, culturally and religiously, which I think helps us keep from going (too) crazy over religious differences.

Which is a good thing for me. As a Catholic, I'm part of a religious minority. Which, getting back to Ali Hussain Sibat, means that I wouldn't touch anything like the sort of fortune telling he seems to do. Divination is something we're not supposed to do. (" 'If you must see ghosts ...' Materialism, Being Spiritual, and Uncle Deadly," A Catholic Citizen in America (December 18, 2009))

But, apart from protecting people from fraud, I wouldn't force my beliefs on anyone. It's against the rules.1

And yes, I know about the Spanish Inquisition. If you're an American, it's well to remember that those legal proceedings came to America after being filtered and edited by the sincerely non-Catholic English culture. Henry VIII and all that.

And, as I've said before, America isn't perfect. (July 3, 2008)

But execute someone because he did on-air fortune telling? Get a grip. This is the post-Magna-Carta world. You don't like fortune telling? You think it's wrong? No problem. But get a grip: Tell people why you think it's wrong; don't kill them.

Related posts:In the news:More:
1Like I said, I'm a Catholic, and we've got rules about a lot of things: including tolerance.Those documents are about as dry as their titles suggest. But they give a pretty good look at what the Catholic Church really teaches - not what you hear on the evening news.

That 2001 document refers to a United Nations Conference. I'm not the biggest fan of the United Nations, but the Church works with them, and with the national governments of places like America, China and Haiti. About fifteen centuries back, we worked with the war bands of barbarian Europe (my ancestors, by the way). We'll work with anybody.


Morten, said...

Hi Brian,

Thanks for your views. It is nice to know one are not the only one with this kind of perspective of life.

However the future looks quite challenging considering the human history / human nature...

Brian H. Gill said...



But then, I don't know of a time since humanity broke the lease on Eden that we haven't been in challenging times.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.