JIDDA, SAUDI ARABIA — It's a profanity uttered countless times a day around the globe, but a barber in Saudi Arabia faces beheading for the crime of using God's name in vain. Sabri Bogday, a Turk who cuts hair in this Saudi port city, is awaiting appeal on his sentence.
Press reports say Bogday cursed during an argument with a neighbor, who later complained to police. This nation is ruled by a strict Wahhabi brand of Islamic justice that doles out lashings and public beheadings for crimes such as murder, rape and heresy.
Bogday has been in jail for 13 months. Turkish President Abdullah Gul has asked Saudi King Abdullah to spare the barber. But the Arab News daily reported that there could be complications stemming from arcane interpretations of religious law by fundamentalist judges.
The newspaper quoted a lawyer as saying: "Some judges consider it heresy and infidelity, and say that the accused cannot repent and so faces the death penalty. Others consider the statement to be disbelief, thus allow the accused to retract what he has said and repent and then set him free. . . . Sentences in these cases are limited and considered rare, because the judgment is not based on something that is written."
The strict imposition of Islamic justice in Saudi Arabia has often drawn criticism in the West.
It has also highlighted divisions within the royal family between hard-liners and more moderate members led by the king, who occasionally has intervened to reverse court rulings.
Last year, a court sentenced a rape victim to 200 lashes and six months in prison because she had been in a car with a man who was not a relative when the pair were attacked by knife-wielding assailants.
Abdullah pardoned the woman after the case caused international furor, saying she and her companion "had suffered a level of torture and distress that was by itself enough to discipline them."