Her crime? Mingling with two 24-year-old men – one the nephew of her deceased husband – when they delivered five loaves of bread to her home north of the Saudi Arabian capital city of Riyadh last April. 75-year-old widow Khamisa Mohammed Sawadi is from Syria, but was married to a Saudi man. After her March 3rd sentence of 40 lashes and 4 months in prison is carried out, she will be deported back to Syria.
The men were arrested by the religious police after delivering the bread to Sawadi. They, too, will be lashed and serve time in prison. The court based its decision on “citizen information” from the father of one of the young men, who accused the woman of corruption. The court verdict said:
Because she said she doesn’t have a husband and because she is not a Saudi, conviction of the defendants of illegal mingling has been confirmed.
Khamisa Sawadi says she even breastfed one of the young men who delivered the bread…which would normally establish a degree of maternal relation and would save her from the charge of mingling. Because she can’t prove it, the charge stands. Her lawyer is appealing the sentence.
Saudi Arabia prohibits men and women who are not immediate relatives from mingling and practices some of the strictest interpretations of any Islamic country. I know…I lived there many years ago. When I, or any woman, would go to the main market (the souq), I had to have my arms and legs covered. I couldn’t drive…even as an American woman…and had to have a man with me everywhere I went.
One morning when I was waiting outside a store for it to open. My driver was sitting in the car right in front of me and I had my baby in my arms. An Egyptian man came up to me and started a conversation about politics. After a few minutes, he asked me if I’d like to go with him to his house. Stunned, I just said no. I did my brief shopping and returned to the car (usually the driver would come in with me, but he could see me from the car and remained there this time). I told the driver what the man said and he was upset and said I should’ve immediately come and told him. I asked him what would have happened. He said the police would’ve come and gotten the Egyptian man and beaten him. I was glad I didn’t tell.
The outrageousness of the religious police in Saudi Arabia is reaching new levels and causing outcries. Recently King Abdullah fired the chief of the religious police and a cleric who condoned killing owners of TV networks that broadcast “immoral content.” When I lived in Jeddah many years ago, there was only one English-speaking television station that ran really old very wholesome shows and had 15 minutes per day of news – 10 of which was what the king did that day.
I saw the work of the religious police everywhere…a can of beans with serving suggestions of “with pork” would have those words marked out (pork is unclean and illegal there). A magazine ad showing a woman’s bare midriff would have the midriff blacked out. Some pages would be ripped entirely from magazines and some magazines – with news the religious police didn’t want us to know – would not even make it into the country. As I entered the country and waited in the Jeddah airport, a man was trying to smuggle a can of ham in his suitcase and the police were stabbing the ham and screaming at the man. I heard of an American man accused of dealing drugs in Jeddah. He was offered the choice of having a hand cut off or spending 10 years in a Saudi prison.
Justice is harsh in Saudi Arabia. Beheadings, advertised in even the English newspaper, were held in the public square for anyone to watch. For more on “justice” in Saudi Arabia, read my recent post on how being gang raped is considered adultery – a crime with a harsh sentence.
I never felt unsafe in Jeddah and the people were very nice to me, my two tiny children, and my then husband. It saddens me to see these helpful young men treated as criminals because they showed kindness to an elderly woman and to see her treated as a criminal for accepting their kindness. This is not religious. This is not just. This is not right.
Here’s a report from CNN on this: