Thursday, September 14, 2006

Religious Intolerance: A Young Saudi Serves A Life Sentence For A Deadly Joke

There are good jokes, bad jokes, and PJs. Now there's a new kid in the block, the DJ — a deadly joke, a joke that could lead you to years of imprisonment and perhaps cost your life.

You'd think I'm joking. I wish I were, but sadly, I'm not.

That's what happened to Hadi Al-Mutaif, a young Saudi whose joke about the Prophet Muhammad didn't go down well with the Saudi authorities. As a result he's already spent thirteen years in prison, and still languishes in a solitary cell without proper medical attention.

It all started 13 years ago, in 1993, when Hadi, an 18-year-old teenager from the desert of Najran joined the Najran police training camp to become a policeman. While he was getting ready to join his fellow recruits for the afternoon prayers following the usual call from the Imam to pray upon the Prophet, Hadi allegedly joked, "Let's pray upon the penis of the Prophet."

His quip was reported by two or three colleagues, leading to a series of unfortunate and equally bizarre events. He was first handed over to the local police station, then to the Saudi domestic intelligence where he was tortured, held for months, and finally put on trial in December 1994. He was found guilty and was sentenced to death.

Two subsequent appeals, one in a court of Mecca and the other one in the Supreme Judicial Council, were both rejected. Apparently in all his trials, Hadi's religious background - he's an Ismaili Shia - became a major factor that swayed the judges. In Saudi Arabia, the Ismaili Shias are hated by the ruling Wahhabi Muslims.

The Wahhabi Chief Justice had even argued that Hadi must get the death penalty, not because it's just for his derogatory comment on the Prophet but because he's an Ismaili Shia. The death sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment by King Abdullah.

Presently Hadi, 31, has started a hunger strike and wishes to fast until death.

At best, Hadi's joke on the penis of the Prophet was just a joke like any other, and there's nothing more to it. At worst, it's a silly remark from an 18-year-old immature teenager. In what kind of society would such a comment earn someone in life imprisonment?

Look, I am not religious, and I really don't care about the penises and vaginas of Gods and Goddesses, and their messengers. For all I know, Gods need to screw the Goddesses because that's how you keep the God-line going. Which holds equally true for their messengers, most of whom have fathered multiple children.

I know that the Hindus worship "Shiva Lingam", the "Penis of Lord Shiva" and feel quite happy about it. I know that there have been thousands of jokes on the penis of Jesus. Actually, there's a website called Jesus Penis and I don't think the Pope is after the people who maintain that website.

And I do know most religions could care less. The portraits of Hindu Goddesses are generally quite sexy and revealing and very much acceptable.

The Pope might not like the birth control pills and condoms but he's not worried about the arguments on the length of Jesus's penis.

The problem with Islam is not that it is habitually intolerant. The problem with Islam is the people, the likes of the Saudi Royals, the Taliban, and the mullahs in Tehran, who use Islam to further their own fascist agendas.

Sending someone to prison for life, for making a "silly" comment about the Prophet when he's 18, is wrong. It violates all the letters of the word "human".

Brian Whitaker @ The Guardian and Saudi Information Agency



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