Saudi Arabia Bans Flogging

The following article on the recent Saudi ban on flogging, as usual with all Western reporting about matters within the Kingdom, gets a few things wrong. Flogging is a hadd punishment in Islam which is defined below by the Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Hadd punishments are a part of Islamic Shari’a law and thus are legitimate within Islam. However, as noted below it is zinna or fornication, which is to say sex between unmarried people that is a flogging penalty and not adultery which is a capital offense. Furthermore, murder is also a capital crime and not a flogging crime as asserted below.

What the article conspicuously fails to address is why the King aka Muhammad bi Salman banned these hudud penalties. The answer will be twofold. It is clearly tied in with his attempts to modernize elements of Sa’udi life which is being driven by the demographics of the country. Half of the country’s population is under the age of thirty or so.

That the Crown Prince wishes to adjust the legal system to the more progressive tastes of the younger generation is certainly a factor in the decision. However, this action further undermines and erodes the powers of the ‘ulema (religious authorities) in the Kingdom. Historically the ‘ulema have acted as a brake on the growth of royal absolutism in the country. Muhammad bin Salman has already taken steps to curtail their authority, for example, when he had several senior clerics arrested and incarcerated in the Ritz Carlton at the time that he clipped the wings of the Al-Fahd and Al-Abdullah branches of the Royal Family. This is a continuation of that policy.

Doubtless many of the opponents of the regime will see this as a further attempt to undermine Islam. After all, these are divinely sanctioned punishments and no man has the right to set them aside. In the eyes of the opposition groups in the Kingdom and the region such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State actors, Muhammad bin Salman through actions such as this one declares himself an enemy of Islam and his overthrow is therefore sanctioned.

This action is not a harbinger of a relaxation of repression within Sa’udi Arabia. It is part of a policy by the Crown Prince to expand the power of himself and the Al-Sa’ud family.

The basis in Shari’a for the hadd penalty for zinna (fornication) can be found in the following sources:

The Qur’an

24:2 The fornicatress and the fornicator, flog each of them with a hundred stripes. Let not pity withhold you in their case, in a punishment prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a party of the believers witness their punishment.

In Hadith

Narrated Zaid bin Khalid al-Juhani: I heard the Prophet ordering that an unmarried person guilty of sexual intercourse be flogged one hundred stripes and be exiled for one year. (Bukhari 8:6831; see also 8:6833)

The hadd penalty for drunkenness is eighty lashes and the legal basis for this, extracted from Islam Q & A is summarized below:

With regard to the punishment of the drinker in this world, the punishment is flogging, according to the consensus of the fuqaha’, because of the report narrated by Muslim (3281) from Anas (may Allaah be pleased with him), who said that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) flogged the one who had drunk wine with palm branches stripped of their leaves and with shoes. 

But there is some difference of opinion as to the number of lashes. The majority of scholars are of the view that it is eighty lashes for a free man and forty for others. 

They quoted as evidence the hadeeth of Anas quoted above, in which it says that a man who had drunk wine was brought to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), and he had him flogged forty times with two palm branches that had been stripped of their leaves. Abu Bakr also did likewise (during his caliphate). When ‘Umar was the caliph, he consulted the people and ‘Abd al-Rahmaan said, “The minimum punishment is eighty,” so that is what ‘Umar commanded. 

The Sahaabah agreed with ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with him) and did not differ. The Council of Senior Scholars is agreed that the punishment for one who drinks wine is the hadd punishment, which is eighty lashes. 

By Agence France-Presse 25 April 2020 • 1:06pm

Saudi Arabia has abolished flogging as a punishment, the state human rights commission said on Saturday hailing a “major step forward” in the reform programme launched by the king and his powerful son, days after a human rights activist died in custody.

Court-ordered floggings in Saudi Arabia – sometimes extending to hundreds of lashes – have long drawn condemnation from human rights groups.

But they say the headline legal reforms overseen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have brought no let-up in the conservative Islamic kingdom’s crushing of dissent, including through the use of the death penalty.

The state human rights commission said that the latest reform, which was reported by Saudi media including the pro-government Okaz newspaper, would ensure that no more convicts were sentenced to flogging.

“This decision guarantees that convicts who would previously have been sentenced to the lash will from now on receive fines or prison terms instead,” its chairman, Awad al-Awad, said.

Previously, the courts had powers to order the flogging of convicts found guilty of offences ranging from extramarital sex and breach of the peace to murder.

In future, judges will have to choose between handing down fines or jail sentences, or non-custodial alternatives like community service.

The abolition of corporal punishment in Saudi Arabia comes just days after the kingdom’s human rights record was again in the spotlight following news of the death from a stroke in custody of leading activist Abullah al-Hamid, 69.

Hamid was a founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association and was sentenced to 11 years in jail in March 2013, campaigners said.

He was convicted on multiple charges, including “breaking allegiance” to the Saudi ruler, “inciting disorder” and seeking to disrupt state security, Amnesty International said. 

The most high-profile instance of flogging in recent years was the case of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes in 2014 on charges of “insulting” Islam.

He was awarded the European parliament’s Sakharov human rights prize the following year.

The king has launched ambitious economic and social reforms, allowing women to drive and for sports and entertainment events to be staged in the kingdom.

However, the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 and the increased repression of dissidents at home have overshadowed the prince’s pledge to modernise the economy and society.


Limit or prohibition; pl. hudud. A punishment fixed in the Quran and hadith for crimes considered to be against the rights of God. The six crimes for which punishments are fixed are theft (amputation of the hand), illicit sexual relations (death by stoning or one hundred lashes), making unproven accusations of illicit sex (eighty lashes), drinking intoxicants (eighty lashes), apostasy (death or banishment), and highway robbery (death). Strict requirements for evidence (including eyewitnesses) have severely limited the application of hudud penalties. Punishment for all other crimes is left to the discretion of the court; these punishments are called tazir. With the exception of Saudi Arabia, hudud punishments are rarely applied, although recently fundamentalist ideologies have demanded the reintroduction of hudud, especially in Sudan, Iran, and Afghanistan.