Friday, July 8, 2011

Rizana’s Case: The Power of Mercy An over view

Rossana Favero-Karunaratna July 5th 2011

The recent news about Rizana Nafeek have been disseminated by all sectors of our media. It is also necessary to mention the role of Saudi Arabian papers in English in the electronic media highlighting this case. The Saudi Arabian papers have also exposed details about Rizana and her arrival to that country, how her passport referred to a false date of birth, turning her into a minor seeking employment as a housemaid. The Dawadmi High Court sentenced Rizana Nafeek to death for killing the baby she was entrusted to look after. President Mahinda Rajapaksa intervened seeking pardon from the King of Saudi Arabia and Minister Rauf Hakeem is planning to send a delegation to ask for clemency for her.

There are many interesting and relevant points in this case to reflect and understand the present situation of Rizana. She was a minor when the sad event took place and a life of a child was lost.

Article 7 of the Arab Charter of Human rights entered into force in 2008 stipulates that:

(a) Sentence of death shall not be imposed on persons under 18 years of age, unless otherwise stipulated in the laws in force at the time of the commission of the crime.

"According to this international instrument, it is prohibited to render a sentence using the death penalty on a person under eighteen at the time of the crime, suspend execution and enforce it once the person reaches majority. The Committee on the rights of the child (there after the Committee) has always recommended that a person should not be executed for a crime committed when she was under eighteen years old , for example in one of its concluding observations it observed that : ""The Committee remains concerned that national legislation appears to allow children between the age of 16 and 18 to be sentenced to death with a two years suspension of execution .It is the opinion of the Committee that the imposition of suspended death on children constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment…" .

(Children’s rights and the death penalty in the Arab States, by Professor Kamel FI L AL I, Vice Chairman of the United Nations CRC)

Comments of readers in Saudi Arabia refer to several of these details , raising questions about the age of this girl, the absence of Mahrams- how women can travel so far without someone to look after them and the application of Shariah Law and the absence of a post mortem report of the infant.However they also refer to the application of the Shariah Law. Everybody who travels to a Muslim country should have at least basic information about its importance and relevance in daily life.

All aspects of a Muslim’s life are governed by Shariah and therefore that law is also applicable to Rizana. Shariah Law comes from a combination of important sources including the Qur’an (the Muslim Holy Book), the Hadith (sayings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad) and Fatwas (rulings of Islamic scholars).

Normally us, the non-Muslim sectors, associate Shariah Law with physical punishment and death. For Muslims, it is an important source of justice and it must be imposed. However we should all make an effort to understand the essence of Shariah.

"Today I have perfected your way of life (din) for you, and completed My favour upon you, and have chosen Islam as your way of life." (Qur’an, 5:3) The Holy Prophet Muhammad himself was told that, "We have only sent you as a mercy for all creation." (Qur’an, 21:179)

Shariah regulates life in order to attain perfection as it is seen as divine. Judges have a very deep knowledge on these matters and when there are different issues involved it is a common feature that Judges will refer to Shariah. If a sinful act has been committed therefore there must be a punishment that can act as deterrent for others. However, Shariah Law has, at the same time, the aspects of compassion, kindness, generosity, justice and tolerance. Shariah is in essence therefore opposed to cruelty and injustice. Rizana, was a minor when this incident happened and this fact puts her in a different situation as she was underage when she was performing her activities. This situation also raises the question if the event that took place could be defined as a sinful act or an accidental death caused when the infant choked with the milk he was drinking.

Shariah Law in relation to murder allows capital punishment, death penalty but after judicial judgement has been pronounced, appeals are allowed to the family of the victims, and they are begged to be merciful. It has been said that in Islam, it is always regarded as the height of mercy to forgive a murderer. Rizana has been convicted for murder.

Many comments in the Saudi papers give evidence of readers praying for the parents of the infant and fervently supporting the requests to pardon Rizana who they consider an innocent girl, wishing and praying Almighty Allah also to bless this affected parents with more wonderful and beautiful kids. The treatment of the Saudi papers in relation to Rizana herself has also been fair and with a compassionate approach.

Having said this, it is the power of mercy which will play a role in this case. It can be the prayers of all of us not only for Rizana but for the parents of the infant who died, to be able to be blessed and given peace at the end of the day. I believe the Muslim community has a big role to play in this case. While reading various sources of information for this article I came across these lines which really inspired me and which must guide us , having in mind Rizana and the grieving parents of both sides:

May Allah inspire you, to live your life under the shade of the mercy of Allah, Praised and Exalted be He. And may Allah, make you instruments of His mercy, not of His punishment.

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