In Sharia law, the person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The plaintiff and defendant are equal before the law.
29 January 2013| Last updated on 29 June 2017
In Sharia law, as in other legal systems, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The plaintiff and defendant are equal before the law – i.e. in a court of law – and it’s incumbent upon the former to provide proof of guilt. This involves producing two or four eyewitnesses, depending on the seriousness of the crime.
If a plaintiff isn’t able to produce eyewitnesses, he can insist on the defendant swearing an oath as to his innocence. If the defendant refuses to take this oath, he’s judged to be guilty, as perjurers suffer hellfire and eternal damnation according to Muslim belief. Jews and Christians swear a different oath, but it has equal validity. A judge ( qadi) presides over the court and can put questions to all parties at will. There are no juries and often no lawyers to present the case for their clients. There are systems of appeal, which can be used in cases of serious crime and punishment.
According to ancient law, the payment of ‘blood money’ (diya) for injury or death can be requested by the victim’s family as compensation. The amount of blood money required varies according to the circumstances of the death and to the extent of the hardship that the death will cause. For example, the death of a father of 12 would attract a larger payment than that of a child. A local Muslim’s life will be assessed for a larger financial benefit than people of other religions, faiths or nationalities. For example, in Saudi Arabia, a male Muslim’s life is worth SR100,000 (around $24,000), but Christians are worth only around half as much. And if the incident occurs in the Holy month of Ramadan, the penalty is usually doubled.
Under Islamic law, the crimes that carry defined penalties are murder, apostasy (rejection or desertion of Islam), adultery, fornication, homosexuality and theft. Interpretations of the law and punishments vary from state to state. Lesser offences might include debt, usury, alcohol and drug abuse, and use of pornography.
As an expatriate, you are subject, of course, to the laws of the country you are in. If you are thought to have broken a law, you are taken under arrest to a police station, questioned and instructed to make a statement. Up to this point, it’s highly unlikely that you will be allowed access to outside help, either legal or consular. If the offence is deemed serious enough to warrant your detention, you might have to wait some time before your case comes up. You will be allowed legal representation, but everything will be conducted in Arabic. Your statement will be translated into Arabic, and it’s important to insist that an appropriate official, e.g. a member of staff from your consulate, checks the accuracy of the translation and the content of anything you are required to sign. If no one is available to do this, you should refuse to sign, or sign with an endorsement to the effect that you don’t have a clear understanding of the document.
In court, an interpreter will be present to assist you and an official from your embassy or consulate is likely to be present, although only as an observer. If you’re found guilty of a serious crime, you may find yourself in a hot, overcrowded prison, where treatment is often harsh and you might have to witness the punishment of others, including their flogging.
Ignorance of the law isn’t accepted as anexcuse before the law, so it’s as well to acquaint yourself with the laws of the country that you choose to live in. You are deported, sent home, after your punishment.
Sharia law applies in conjunction with elements of English common law. There are appeal courts, and the Sultan is the supreme authority (and last resort). Civil cases of a commercial nature are dealt with in a similar way to cases in western countries.