September 19th 2010.
The Holy City of Madina, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
I have been in the Kingdom for about 9 months now. I have endured the brutal Arabian summer and I am pretty familiar with Islamic culture, so I feel adjusted and acclimated. I’m enjoying this place despite the mega slow pace of things and the weirdness of the native culture. Today started just like any other day with the predawn adhan, “call to prayer”, signaling the people that it was time to offer the first of the five daily prayers to the Creator of the Heavens and Earth. I walked to one of the many houses of worship, “masjids”, in my neighborhood then offered my prayer as usual. After prayer, I went on with my daily routine of studying until the sun had risen then I went back home for breakfast. At around 8:30 am, I received a phone call informing me that a public execution would be held shortly in the “town square”. “WOW”.
I jumped at the opportunity to witness this and, honestly, I was looking forward to witnessing it. Despite my lifelong familiarity with Islam, I had never experienced this one aspect. Being a Muslim from The West where the Shariah is not applicable, there was no way I would have been able to “finally see a beheading” in the States. However, here I am in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, so let us watch the heads roll…………Kill Bill.
After receiving the phone call, I immediately threw on my long white robe, or a “thawb” as it is called, then I headed to the place where the beheading was schedule to be, ummm, executed. The “town square” was actually the large parking to a government building and to my surprise; I wasn’t the only spectator on hand for the “event”. Men of all ages were there patiently waiting to see the beheading, many of whom were locals who I presume have witnessed this before. Surrounding the perimeter of the parking lot were armed Saudi policemen standing at ease as crowd control, I guess. The time went on and more spectators crowded around the large parking lot. Some men even brought their young children there to witness it.
After about an hour of standing under the merciless Arabian sun, a large procession of police vehicles enter the massive parking lot. There was also an ambulance, a few official unmarked government vehicles with groups of Saudis inside them, a fire truck, and the good old “patty wagon” carrying the prisoner. At that time, I still did not know what the offense was, but it did not matter because I know people aren’t beheaded for stupidity. He had to have done something egregiously despicable for this. So, the police cars parked in a single file along one side of the lot while one police cruiser with a large bullhorn on the roof drove the center. From inside of the unmarked government cars exited a few “regular” looking people. There was an older male, an older female, and few other non-police looking people. “Okay, now the show is about the go down.” is what I though to myself as players started to emerge. The crowded packed itself as close to the barricade as possible because the middle of the parking lot was at least 300 feet away from cordoned off area. Standing at 6’2, I didn’t need to be directly on the barricade to get a birds’ eye view, but the locals, most of whom were mini-men did.
After about 20 minutes, one of the officials placed a large cardboard in the center of the parking. There were maybe 15 different men in that vicinity, so I really could not tell who was who. I knew the prisoner was still in the patty wagon, only because I am from the hood, but I could not identify the executioner at that point. After the cardboard was placed on the asphalt ground, the patty wagon pulled up right beside it, then the backdoor was opened. Out stepped a man holding one of those old school doctor’s cases then I started to feel my heart thump through my chest, “It’s going down, it’s going down.” Shortness of breath followed and I was actually nervous. While I have witnessed senseless ghetto violence (shootings and deaths) from an early age, this was something totally different. I cannot put my finger on why this was different but it was. Simultaneously, as the prisoner was removed from the patty wagon, a policeman went the police car at the middle of the parking then got on the bullhorn. The prisoner, handcuffed with his hands behind his back, was taken from the patty wagon to the cardboard. He was then instructed to kneel down in a lotus position. By this time, the executioner was already on hand and a bowed sword was drawn. From a distance, I could tell the sword was extremely long. I am estimating it was probably 3 and half feet long. My anxiety over the ordeal did not allow me to see where the sword came from. To my recollection, none of the 15 men were carrying a sword prior to the prisoner’s exit from the van. My vantage point was briefly obstructed when then patty wagon pulled up to the spot. At this time, the policeman with the bullhorn got on the loudspeaker. He started with a prayer then he said, all in Arabic, “The charges are four……” The executioner holding the bowed sword in his right hand said something to the prisoner as he knelt. Maybe it was a prayer, I don’t know. He then guided the prisoner’s head by placing his hand to the side of the prisoner’s face almost as if to say, “This is the position you need to be in so I can take your head cleanly.” The executioner raised his sword then he dropped it on the back of the prisoner’s neck. WOW. WOW. WOOOOOOOOOW. The prisoner’s head dropped then rolled a few feet away while his body sat knelt over in the same position it was in when he took his last breath. WOOOOOOOW.
Blood began to pour, skirt and gush from his headless body as the executioner poured a bottle of water on his sword to clean the razor sharp blade. The show was over and the locals began to file out. I stood there in total shock, unable to move, trying to process what I had just witnessed. WOOOOOOOW. A short time thereafter, the lifeless, headless body was laid down on the ground by one of the men on the scene. I asked my companion what were the charges, as I did not fully comprehend the address on the loudspeaker. I was told the man had become drunk then he broke into someone’s house while the husband was at work. He then savagely beat and raped the woman of the household. My companion also informed me, the “regular” looking folk who exited the unmarked vehicles were from the family of the victim. A little while later, I am guessing after most of the blood exited the man’s body, he was placed on a stretcher and his head was retrieved then placed on the stretcher as well. His body and head was then placed inside of the ambulance. WOW. Some sight. The fire truck then sprayed the ground with water cleaning the huge amount of blood from scene.
Indelible is a gross understatement when it comes what I experienced earlier today. I will never forget what I witnessed for as long as I live. I will refrain from passing judgement on the execution for a few reasons. The first reason is the punishment is based on a divine law, according to Islam, that I have no right to object because I am not divine. Secondly, I am a guest in a foreign culture and who am I to comment on their culture and laws. Where I’m from, peoples’ lives are taken for positioning in the drug trade, “disrespect”, greed, rage, and a myriad of other senseless reasons. In addition, the American justice system seems to be quite malleable when the defendant can afford quality legal representation. Because of this, many crimes go unpunished and those who are punished are rarely rehabilitated or “corrected”, as the name “correctional facility” implies. Shortly after my entry into the Kingdom, I can recall a case in NYC where an ex-con recently released from prison for rape, proceeded to rape an elderly woman his mother was the caretaker for. The perv wasn’t out of prison for an entire year before he raped a helpless old lady. While trying to Google the pertinent link for this blog, I could not find that incident but I did find quite a few more similarly disgusting cases throughout the states. Would things be different if proven rapists and murders were beheaded in the States? I wholeheartedly believe so. Why? Because as I write this blog at 2:30am, I hear the sounds of children, as young as 6 years old, playing in the streets below me. The safety that is evident in their leisurely activities is one of the main reasons why I am in Saudi Arabia with my young family and not in Bed-Stuy. Some may object to capital punishment, but I object to living with subhuman maniacs. Furthermore, the public spectacle I witnessed earlier undoubtedly deters the crazies and offers a clear example to the sane folk, like myself.
The execution is called “Hudoodullah” or “The Punishment of Allah” and that is deep to think about. Just imagine having the punishment of the Creator inflicted on you. Man’s punishment, imprisonment, doesn’t seem to stop people from committing horrendous crimes, but maybe if they started taking the heads of murderous “O-Dog” gangbangers, serial killers, rapists and others who are proven guilty without a shadow of a doubt and admit guilt, then the children of NYC and the entire USA would be able to play outside past midnight unsupervised. Just a thought.
For the record, the family of the victim has the right to spare the life of the criminal and demand blood money or payment for the offense. In addition, the criminals are due a trial with the evidences presented by the prosecution during which time the criminal is imprisoned. There is a long list of legal procedures done prior to the execution of a criminal. Moreover, it is important to know that many of these criminals admit sincere guilt and are very excepting of their fate. The man who I witnessed earlier was not dragged from the van and did not seem to outwardly object his fate. He kneeled down on command and took his beheading.
I am still processing what I witnessed and one more time for good measure, WOOOOOOW. But I do feel safer here than I have ever felt in the States. Go figure.