Saudi Arabia: Twin Brothers Charged with Islamic Crime of Hiraba

(Feb. 9, 2018) On January 16, 2018, the Criminal Court of Riyadh began the trial of twin brothers accused of killing their 67-year old mother; attempting to kill their 73-year-old father and twenty-two year old brother; and accusing the rulers, police, and Muslim scholars of apostasy. (Saudi Arabia: Twins on Trial in Al-Hamra District Case in Riyadh, ASSAKINA (Jan. 16, 2018) (in Arabic); Sami Aboudi, Killing of Mother in Saudi Arabic Sparks Debate About Islamic Scholar, REUTERS (July 5, 2016).) The brothers, who were twenty years old when they committed their crimes, were arrested on June 24, 2016, by Saudi security forces while they were trying to flee across the border to Yemen. (Saudi Arabia: Twins on Trial in Al-Hamra District Case in Riyadh, supra; Killing of Mother in Saudi Arabic Sparks Debate About Islamic Scholar, supra.) The prosecution has called for the brothers to be sentenced to death. (Saudi Prosecution Tries Twin Brothers Who Beheaded Their Mother, ASHARQ AL-AWSAT (Jan. 17, 2018) (in English).)

The public prosecutor is seeking to convict both defendants of the crime of hiraba, as described in verse 33 of Surat al-Maida of the Holy Koran. (Saudi Arabia: Twins on Trial in Al-Hamra District Case in Riyadh, supra.) Verse 33 of Surat al-Maida reads as follows:

It is but a just recompense for those who make war on God and His apostle, and endeavour to spread corruption on earth, that they are being slain in great numbers, or crucified in great numbers, or have, in result of their perverseness, their hands and feet cut off in great numbers, or are being [entirely] banished from [the face of] the earth: such is their ignominy in this world. But in the life to come [yet more] awesome suffering awaits them. (The Message of the Quran, translated and explained by Muhammad Asad, Arthur’s Classic Novels website (last visited Feb. 7, 2018).)

The crime of hiraba or qat‘ al-sabil (brigandage, highway robbery) is one of a handful of crimes known in Islamic law as hudud—that is, crimes whose punishment is prescribed by God. (Mohammad H. Fadel, Hiraba, or Brigandage, WORLD HISTORY (June 13, 2015).) Saudi Arabia is probably the only country that enforces the classical uncodified Islamic law of crimes. (Caryle Murphy, Saudi to Codify Sharia “for Clarity, NATIONAL (July 21, 2010).)

Some media reports have stated that the twin brothers committed their crimes on the basis of instructions they received from the terrorist organization known as Daesh (ISIS) and that the mother had objected to her sons joining Islamic State jihadists in Syria. (“Specialized Criminal Court” Begins Trial of Twin Brothers Who Killed Their Mother, OKAZ (Dec. 31, 2017) (in Arabic); Killing of Mother in Saudi Arabic Sparks Debate About Islamic Scholar, supra.)

Despite the fact that in court “the first defendant commented that he and his twin brother had not intended to commit the crime” and “denied having any association with terrorist organizations,” the General Secretariat of the Council of Senior Scholars, Saudi Arabia’s highest religious body, attributes the brothers’ crimes to the takfiri (extremist) ideology spreading in society and blames ISIS for relentlessly working “to hold the nation’s youth as hostage to its extremist thought.” (Saudi Prosecution Tries Twin Brothers Who Beheaded Their Mother, supra.) Saudi clerics have warned that the goal of ISIS is to put youth on “a path paved with violence, death, murder and terrorism and away from the teachings of Prophet Mohammed.” (Id.)

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