This kind of hasty judgment reminds us that what we really miss in Saudi Arabia is the ability to discuss matters, and to have the right to disagree if we think differently on issues being discussed.
Abeer Mishkhas | firstname.lastname@example.org
A sheikh was recently on Al-Majd TV and spoke in great detail about rats. He went on and on about how bad rats and mice are, listing all the benefits gained by eliminating them. I don't know how informative that section of the sheikh's talk was but I am sure most people who were watching the program were either not listening or shaking their heads in disbelief. But the talk did not end with any obvious statements of harm caused by rats and mice; the sheikh continued by denouncing the fact that children these days are not getting the message about mice and rats because they have been influenced by Western cartoons that represent mice as funny and clever. Think Tom and Jerry and Mickey Mouse. To conclude and drive his point home he said, "They like Mickey Mouse whereas in reality Mickey Mouse should be killed." Thus ended the talk, and although it was as absurd as can be, it seems that such talks have become a normal thing on TV these days. As satellite channels proliferate, they pack their broadcasts with as much as they can of what they feel will attract viewers and religious programs are sure winners, especially in Ramadan.
The problem lies not only with the channels. Many of the programs often depend on people's calls and questions. Those questions can vary from asking for advice about a religious duty to asking the sheikh's opinion on any subject under the sun - hence the mouse question. On a panel of women scholars on an Egyptian channel last week, one of the interesting things the three women agreed upon was that some people ask for scholars' opinions on almost anything, whether it is a worthy matter or just a mundane everyday triviality. I have to say that those women's opinions were refreshing. They wanted people to stick to major, sensible and important issues. Which brings us back to the death sentence against Mickey Mouse.
This was not the first - and will not be the last - of verdicts that will make us question the person who issues it, or the stream of religious verdicts that almost everyone comes up with everyday and which have to be countered with questions, debates and discussions. We cannot just sit and listen and accept anything. When people hear these opinions, they rightly ask and question and criticize if need be. That is what reason dictates and it in no way contradicts faith. But this is not what a prominent Saudi scholar said last week. He actually demanded that journalists and writers who criticize or object to prominent Saudi scholars' pronouncements and fatwas be punished, and eventually sacked from their jobs. The punishment he asks for ranges from lashes to long imprisonment to firing them from their jobs.
I certainly understand that if a writer has insulted or lied about a sheikh or any other person, he must face the legal consequences of his actions. The offended party has the right to sue the offender and this is how it should be. But what the sheikh has asked for is simple punishment for even criticizing and questioning the opinions of religious scholars. With all due respect to the sheikh, I beg to differ. Criticism and debate does not mean that writers are crossing any lines; writers and journalists are citizens and are affected - like everyone else - by religious discourse, and if they choose to discuss a religious issue, or differ with a scholar that does not warrant that they be lashed, imprisoned or lose their jobs.
This kind of hasty judgment reminds us that what we really miss in Saudi Arabia is the ability to discuss matters, and to have the right to disagree if we think differently on issues being discussed. And as a reminder we mention a small incident from Islamic history. When the second caliph, Omar, said in one of his sermons that women should not ask for high dowries, a woman who was present raised her voice and disagreed with him and provided proof from the Qur'an in support of women's rights for dowries. What did Omar do? He acknowledged his mistake in front of everyone. Just a reminder!
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