» 01/31/2008 15:26

SAUDI ARABIA
Abdullah to reform kingdom’s much criticised justice system
Reforms might include new specialised courts and better trained judges. Sharia colleges are especially singled out for criticism. Scholar points out that they tend to attract poorly qualified students and offer very partial education. An editorial in Arab News calls for upgrading Islamic law.

Riyadh (AsiaNews) – Criticised from within and without, Saudi Arabia’s justice system is set to undergo a major overhaul if King Abdullah has his way. Changes are expected to include special criminal courts, tribunals to deal with matters like business and family, and better training for judges.

The last issue is actually a Gordian knot that needs to be cut. In a long editorial article, Arab News, a paper generally seen as close to the Saudi king, has called for in-depth changes to the country’s Sharia colleges to “upgrade the level of these institutions.”

Far from being a peaceful or even a neutral question in the Muslim world, especially in Saudi Arabia, the call for change is highly relevant since it recognises that things have evolved a lot since Muhammad first issued Islam’s rules.

“When the Prophet spoke more than 1,400 years ago,” said the editorial, “he tailored his words to the people of that time and addressed the issues of those days in terms understandable to much simpler people in much simpler times. In a world made smaller by transportation and telecommunications networks and a world of great cities and global commerce, it is incumbent upon the keepers of Shariah law to ensure the relevance of its interpretation in the daily lives of the millions of adherents to Islam today.”

For prominent Sharia scholar Tarek Al-Suwaidan, this means that “[t]o reform the judiciary, we need to reform the Shariah colleges first and upgrade the level of these institutions.” Likewise “[t]here should be a more advanced curriculum, and the teaching standards should be enhanced.”

A poor quality education in such important institutions means poor academic standards for students. Since those who enrol in these colleges tend to graduate from school with low or average grades, they are usually not the brightest of the bunch. And what they do study tends to be largely confined to subjects related to Islamic jurisprudence.

For Al-Suwaidan well-rounded Muslim scholars and judges must instead be familiar with international law and be educated on aspects of modern-day needs and concerns.

Students who go to Sharia colleges ought to get a bachelor’s degree in business, law or other specialised fields to make them more knowledgeable and guarantee a higher standard of qualification.

Sharia law graduates should also be well-versed in current commercial laws and be familiar with cyberspace crime, copyright violations or labour issues.

If this is done it is more likely that certain sentences that have caused international criticism will not happen, sentences like the one inflicted on the Qatif rape victim or the divorce imposed by a court on a young woman because that was her brother’s wish.

 

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