Daniel Kalinaki's weblog

A commentary on news and events in Uganda and elsewhere


Just an ordinary bloke.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Feeling the pulse of Sharia law and a crash course in fasting

THE TOWER - I really must get around to posting the third and last part in the back-in-time series otherwise the first two will get all mouldy. Soon, I hope. A certain story recently caught my eye in Bukedde, the Luganda-language tabloid published by the New Vision, about a Ugandan Muslim pilgrim accused of theft during the Mecca -- in Saudi Arabia.

Now, compared to murder, kidnap, arson, terrorism, etc, theft might seem as easy as taking candy from a child (although, technically speaking, you could be charged with robbery or aggravated robbery if you threaten or use a weapon to do so). Not in Saudi Arabia, which practices Sharia (Islamic) law.

Unlike other legal regimes that waffle and wander along the corridors of legal argument and counter argument, Sharia law tends to cut to the chase; literary! Those convicted of capital offences like murder, rape or drug trafficking have their heads chopped off to teach the rest of their bodies (or the head, depending on whose side you are on) a lesson. Lesser offences like theft are not punished by harmless slaps on the wrist; the thieving hand is separated from the rest of the body!

So, our Ugandan Haji was (and I believe still is) in a tight spot of bother. Although he'd not yet been convicted, the evidence seemed to be clear, at least according to Bukedde. It is not clear what kind of defence one offers in such a matter; really hard to put a finger on a fool-proof defence when the whole hand is at risk! One could argue that one is a first-time offender but the judge could thumb his nose at you and point out that that, precisely, is why they are cutting off only one hand -- the other to be cut off if one steals again. Perhaps a good defence lawyer could argue that coming from poor old Uganda, the Haji was driven by poverty and tempted to touch and that the judge should hand down a lenient sentence. But what kind of sentence would be lenient under these circumstances? Having the hand cut off at the elbow rather than the shoulder? Or at the wrist rather than at the elbow? The difference, sadly, would be the same!

One must feel for the Haji's family, back in Mbarara, I think, who had organised a party to welcome back the pilgrim from the Holy land. Some might have hoped that he would return with a few second-hand items from Riyadh, only to be reduced to hoping that he, somehow, returns home with a second hand!

The defence lawyer could also argue that in the milling crowd our Haji couldn't tell his elbow from his ars* and put his hand down the wrong bag but the judge could easily dismiss this as an attempt by the lawyer to put his hand over the judge's eyes. In a world where a fool and his money are soon parted, it is clear that in Saudi Arabia, any thief and his arm would, too, soon be parted. Unless, of course, the thief can somehow escape the long arm of the law.

Still on the theme of suffering in the name of religion; yesterday was the first Day of Lent and the start of my forty days of fasting. Yes, I grew up Catholic, in case it hasn't caught on yet, and although I describe myself as Christian in a continued stay-away from the dogmatic pedantry of Rome, I decided to try and test my resolve over the next six weeks. Initially I thought I would stay away from meat during Lent as many do, but didn't think that was too much of a sacrifice. So, I went the whole nine yards; no alcohol, no late nights in the club, and certainly no sex.

For some reason, the booze is the hardest to avoid because drinks turn up without too much thought; yesterday (on day one), I stopped over in Ntinda for pork (part of the reason staying away from meat was never going to cut it for me) and instinctively ordered for a beer. The waitress, who has served me several times before, thought I was feeling dizzy when I called her back and ordered for a sprite instead. I also need to get out of the nightly habit of pouring myself a glass of wine or a shot of Green Label, slouching into the couch and watching a movie.

I imagine there will be various temptations in varying permutations; innocent forays into Just Kicking to read a magazine or hang out with the boys resulting into an 'oops' when I realise my beer is halfway, or same such. So I am building my resolve using faith. Everytime temptation rears its ugly head, I ask myself; 'What Would Jesus Do?' I tried walking over a puddle the other day but my foot sank firmly into the muck so I crossed 'Walk over water' off the list. I have considered trying to turn water into wine but from experience all I have been able to do is turn wine into water so that is off the list too. I could try feeding 5,000 folks off two fish and five loaves of bread but I am not sure the police would give me permission to hold such a large gathering in Kampala so that, too, is out.

I guess I need to keep thinking hard for something doable that JC would have done and hope that all the hard thinking does not leave me dying for a drink!


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