Hamza Kashgari is a 23-year-old Saudi writer (poet and local journalist), who, on the occasion of the Prophet Mohamed's birthday wrote a series of tweets that were imaginative, yet crossed a line for appropriate discourse within Islam and particularly within more conservative approaches, and especially within the religion and culture of Saudi Arabia.
Those who know Kashgari were worried about his safety but tried to distance themselves from him. Saudi blogger Fouad al-Farhan described the high emotions in the Kingdom, saying “There was an amazing anger. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. I think it’s because this is an extremely unique case. We’ve never had our own Salman Rushdie before. We’ve never had a case as extreme as this one of someone crossing the line.”-- Katerina Nikolas in The Digital JournalThe response was rapid, with a furious denunciation on Twitter, death threats to him as an apostate, and the organization of a Facebook petition calling for his arrest and punishment by death. More remarkably, given his relative obscurity and the Twitter format, the Saudi clerical establishment responded immediately with a fatwa and charges of blasphemy and apostasy, and King Abdullah ordered his arrest on these charges which carry the death penalty (by beheading). This was despite Hamza following the advice of his religious teachers, and deleting all tweets and issuing an apology. Also on the advice of friends he went into hiding and then fled the country. He was arrested at the airport in Malaysia, en route to New Zealand and is being held for extradition to Saudi Arabia.
All of this happened within 3 days of the publication of the tweets on the Prophet's birthday.
When I first learned about Hamza's plight, I immediately thought that he was caught up in the conservative turn Saudi has taken, and its increased and increasingly overt vigilance of social media that have accompanied the response by Saudi to the Arab Spring, and to national demonstrations--whether for women's right to drive, or for the release of prisoners, or regarding (sectarian support) for Bahrain in the Eastern Province.
As soon as I read that Hamza is 23, I spontaneously thought of current research in neuroscience imaging of the brain, which shows that the human brain continues to mature through adolescence to the age of 25, before which it isn't fully formed, nor fully capable of adult reasoning. Before that age men and women, but men in particular, are more likely to act impulsively, in negative ways, as they are less cognitively able than adults to fully appreciate the consequences of actions, to project into the future, or to resist the impulse to act on emotion.
Based on what I have read about, and by Hamza Kashgari, he is an intelligent, imaginative writer, with no past history of crossing lines, or disrespecting the religion in which he was raised, and to which he adheres. It seems that on the occasion of the celebration of the birth of the Prophet Mohamed, he took a flight of fancy, and shared it via Twitter. Unfortunately, he took a big step over the line, in such a manner as to become the perfect target to serve as a warning to others.
إتصال أم حمزة كشغري على برنامج البيان التالي
Saudi program, that includes comments by Hamza's mother
I sincerely hope that the religious and political authorities in both Malaysia and Saudi Arabia will avail themselves of the options available within Islam to allow Hamza to further repent, and to be spared. I also hope that other Muslims who have been offended and enraged will also find their way to humility and forgiveness. Ultimately, Hamza will be judged by Allah, who does allow for repentance and forgiveness.
In the meantime, I have signed a petition that had approximately 5,500 signatures when I signed earlier this morning. I don't usually sign petitions, but this one is organized via a third party, Care2, with good standards of seriousness of purpose, authenticity, and confidentiality (if the box stayed ticked through my iPod's battery lows, my name should not appear). More importantly, in this situation the stakes are very high. The petition is address to the Malaysian government to prevent Hamza's extradition to Saudi. Please take a look, and seriously consider signing. The petition is here.
When we spoke Wednesday, Kashgari asked that I not reveal where he was hiding or his plan of escape. Now that he has been detained, his friends hope publicity will build pressure on the Malaysian government not to extradite Kashgari to Saudi Arabia. Karpal Singh, a well-known Malaysian lawyer and member of parliament, is being encouraged to take Kashgari’s case. Former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler has offered to serve as Kashgari’s international legal counsel. Cotler has served as legal counsel to such famous dissidents as Nelson Mandela, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Natan Sharansky and Maikel Nabil. Many have credited him with creating the international pressure that led to their release.--David Keyes, in The Daily BeastSee Also:
Saudi Writer Hamza Kashgari Flees Country After Controversy on Twitter (Saudi Jeans)
Hamza Kashghari (Crossroads Arabia)
Hamza Kashgari (Chapter One)
Hamza Kashgari (Qusay Today)
Ifta wants Kashghari tried for apostasy (Arab News)
Saudi writer Hamza Kashgari arrested for blasphemy (Digital Journal)
Saudi writer Hamza Kashgari faces charge of blasphemy after tweets about Muhammad (Washington Post)
Saudi Writer Hamza Kashgari Detained in Malaysia Over Muhammad Tweets (The Daily Beast) (includes tweets quoted in translation)
Save Hamza Kashgari (Facebook)
Again, please sign the petition to spare the life of this young person.