Hamza Kashgari, a 23-year old journalist and blogger from Saudi Arabia, is currently in jail in Jeddah awaiting trial on apostasy charges. On February 5, the day Moslems celebrated Mohammed’s birthday, Hamza sent the following tweet addressing the prophet:
“On the day of your birthday, I won’t bow before you (…) I loved certain things about you, but I abhorred others, and there is so much I don’t understand about you.”
It was too much for Saudi Arabians’ monochrome mentality. It caused an outrage among Twitter users and netizins who alerted the authorities. A facebook page was created and has now over twenty thousand members clamoring for Hamza’s execution. Why facebook is allowing such a masquerade is unclear at this time.
The following day, he sent another tweet recognizing his “sin” and apologizing, but it was too late. The religious authorities, known to have an animus against shaving kits and free thinking which they believe is the work of Satan, decided to try him for publicly repudiating Islam. This of course makes Islam sound like a mafia; once you’re in, it’s for life. In accordance with the unreasonable and angry sharia law, Hamza will most likely face a stiff sentence to “restore his soul,” if not the gallows.
After having received hundreds of death threats, Hamza boarded a flight on February 9 to New Zealand via Malaysia. Unfortunately, upon arriving to Kuala Lampur, he was arrested at the behest of Saudi authorities and deported two days later back to Jeddah. International human rights associations accused Interpol of disseminating a warrant for his arrest and deportation knowing that Hamza would face an unfair trial and a possible execution. Interpol categorically denied involvement.
Without the support of the international community, Hamza has little chance of walking out of this ordeal alive. In a country crisscrossed by red lines, a minefield of known and unspoken taboos where he is considered a radical fringe, the young journalist has very few sympathizers. Those who support Hamza’s right to free expression are part of a small group of Saudi secular literati known as the “enlightened Moslems.” Their point is not to change the conservative majority, but rather to allow a free thinking minority the right to self-actualization.
Saudi conservative intellectuals seized the opportunity to attack the “enlightened Moslems.” Dr. Suhayla Zinalabidin Hamad, a prominent academician and a member of the Saudi Human Rights Association nonetheless, bemoaned the alarming pervasiveness of secularism in the Saudi society and accused the proponents of freedom of speech of encouraging the desecration of Islam ‘sacrosanct symbols. She called for an inquisition of those writers who, she claims, use creative license as an excuse to irreverence.
Ironically, it hasn’t been two years since Prince Saud al-Faisal said to an American journalist that Saudi Arabia is “breaking away from the shackles of the past,” since Jedah hosted Art Pure, an avant-garde exhibition similar to the ones organized in New York City, Paris, or Rome, without a raid from the marauding mutawas.
The Hadith relates the story of Abdoullah Ibn Oubay, a follower of the prophet who was known to be a hypocrite. It was reported to Mohammed that Ibn Oubay insulted him and was urged to kill him to deter others from similar disrespect. Mohammed refused. And so, this is not about why I and so many others are critical of Islam’s unsparing posture vis-à-vis those who question its precepts, but rather why Islam today has grown less tolerant than during the time of its prophet.
A. T. B. © 2012