Saudi Arabia Beheadings: Country May End Practice Due to Lack Of Reliable Swordsmen

After centuries of public beheadings, Saudi Arabia is finally thinking of putting an end to the practice. It may seem like the ultra-conservative kingdom is turning over a new leaf, but as it turns out, they aren't. The reason behind this potential decision is much more technical than anything else. In fact, the Saudis are only turning away from public beheadings because they may have found a more efficient alternative to executions: firing squads.

According to a special ministerial committee and Arab newspaper Al Youm’s reports, firing squads have been recommended instead of beheadings “because of the scarcity of swordsmen and their unavailability in a number of regions.”

Apparently, on occasion when the executioners were late to the designated places, the execution would be marred and the delays were “causing confusion and sparking speculation and rumors through modern technology.” 

Saudi Arabia is the only country that still executes criminals via public beheadings. Just in this year, 17 people have been executed, and more than 75 in each of the past two years.

The country also holds no formal constitution, but rather insists on relying on the Quran as its main form of guidance. Because of this, the Saudi courts often apply literal interpretations of punishments outlined in the Quran, which includes cutting off the hands of thieves. And although most Muslim scholars disagree with the Kingdom’s practices, Saudis have generally used beheading by a sword as the official method of execution under the Islamic law, also known as Sharia.

However, they apparently have recently decided that death by a firing squad would not breach Sharia law, and thus would be a suitable alternative to the beheadings. On the other hand, calls for U.S.-styled lethal injections were rejected.

Saudi Arabia also is among the top five countries to enforce the death penalty, joined in the ranks by China, Iran, North Korea and, embarrassingly enough, the United States. The conservative kingdom also has the widest number of crimes that are punishable by death, including rape, murder, sodomy and false prophecy.

Although many liberal reforms, at least by Saudi standards, have been introduced under King Abdullah, putting an end to executions does not seem to be one of them. It is notable, though, that women have gained the right to vote in municipal elections, and a co-ed higher education institute has been opened — small feats, but certainly they are steps in the right direction.

Saudi Arabia has often come under fire for its ultra-conservative practices such as public beheadings, and is notorious in the Muslim world for its warped interpretation and consequent practice of Sharia law. And although small strides have been taken to marginally liberalize the kingdom, they have yet to fully turn a new leaf. 

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Areej Elahi-Siddiqui

A Pakistani-American undergraduate student at the Seton Hall's School of Diplomacy and International Relations. She enjoys watching inordinate amounts of television, reading far too many books and drinking lots and lots of coffee.

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