02 July 2016


There are some sorrows that are quickly forgotten. Some sorrows have high life expectancy than others. Some go away but return without warning. Some sorrows leave us but we don’t leave them, we don’t let go and in fact recall them at will. Some sorrows have permanent residency. Some sorrows die only with death.

Human beings have to cope with life’s vicissitudes. There will always be joy, there will always be sorrow; praise and blame; fame and notoriety; profit and loss.  We are not very good with the positives and pretty bad with the negatives too. We just get carried away.  We embrace them so hard that they end up possessing us.  Relief, sadly, is not for purchase.  It is easy to theorize about treating these unsettling movements with equanimity; hard to practice. 

We all lose something sometime.  Fame declines. Praise bleeds into blame. Profit margins collapse and losses are incurred.  Joy gives way to sorrow.  Omar Cabezas, the Nicaraguan revolutionary, describes in his account of the Sandinistas’ struggle against the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza Debayle (another tyrannical darling of the United States of America) how he took with him all kinds of memorabilia when he took off to the mountains (see ‘Fire from the Mountain’).  Training is tough. Combat tougher.  Revolutions are not tea parties, as Mao said.  One by one, those mementoes of a different time got lost, he wrote.  There was disappointment and grief, but a war does not pause for these things.  Finally, one is left with nothing by way of token except that which resides in memory.  Certain things are replaceable, certain things not. A child that dies, for instance.

Death is common to all, grief and grieving is personal.  We all lose loved ones.  Some who are so close that they’ve made us who we are, some who just touched and therefore whose passing is easier to deal with. There are some who give meaning to our lives.  Like children. 

Some years ago, an infant died. Was not the first and will not be the last. That is no consolation to parent.  We cannot fathom the grief.  We also know that certain losses cause sorrows that cannot have any other end but death.  An infant died and a maid was accused of having caused the death.  The truth of the allegation, the evidence and the fairness of trail etc., have been explored; we need not regurgitate.  All that matters now is that a mother lost her child and another mother could lose hers. 

Let’s talk of the mother of the infant who is no more.  She is a Muslim living in a country governed by  Islamic laws.  The relevant codes of conduct prescribed and the relevant punishment decreed for particular transgressions are all that matter for all practical purposes.  I am not theologian and cannot claim familiarity of any kind with the Quran.  I’ve heard that when a person is found guilty of murder, pardoning is the preserve of the near and dear of the victim. RizanaNafeek’s life now hangs on the word of the infant’s mother. Or her silence, as the case may be.  I don’t know if there is agreement in the Islamic world on this particular interpretation but that’s irrelevant. What matters is that as things stand, only a pardon by the infant’s mother accompanied perhaps by a demand for blood money can save Rizana.

I reflected on this particular element of Islamic law. Why let a victim’s nearest kin decree nature of punishment, when it cannot be established that the sentencing individual has the necessary intellectual and professional training one would assume is necessary to measure relevant dimensions of crime and punishment?  Perhaps, I thought, it was because certain losses cannot be recovered and certain sorrows only perish with death.  The nearest and dearest have to deal with all this and not the journalist who writes the story, the lawyers defending the accused, the judge who hears the case or the human rights activist who takes umbrage at capital punishment. 

A death for a death, perhaps gives ‘closure’ as they say in the West.  It is perhaps unguent that will deaden the pain even if it doesn’t cure the wound completely.  There is a need for succor and all things considered, including cultural preferences and traditions, I cannot say there is no justice in such a course of action. 

Death for death is only one option, though. There is provision for forgiveness.  Forgiving is a ‘letting go’ as well.  Perhaps this option was given considering the fact that one method does not necessarily work for all.  I am not going to pass judgment on which of the two is superior because I do not know the infant’s mother. 

My cultural preferences urge forgiveness. The lady in question can exercise her rights in this matter.  If she speaks the word ‘death’, that is it.  Rizana dies. Her mother and father lose their child.  The lady’s grief, hopefully (for her sake), gets subdued to a degree which permits her to get on with her life.  I will not judge her. 

All I know is that contentment can be obtained in many ways.  We can take and taking can give peace. We can give too, and this can quell agitation to the extent that is possible.  Rizana, alive, will not be a threat to any child, this is certain.  Mrs. NaifJiziyanKhalaf Al Quthaibi has a ton of grief upon her chest.  The execution of the girl she believes killed her child might lift enough of it off so she can breathe again.  Forgiving her would not, I believe, lift of a lesser weight. 

Naif al-Quthaibi, a little angel, is no more.  Her mother will never see her angel again.  Rizana, dead or alive, will not bring this child back to life.

Whatever works for you, Mrs. Quthaibi.  I am not going to judge.  Allah, whom you believe in, is merciful, I’ve heard my Islamic friends say.  I am not of the Islamic faith, but from now until a decision is made on the life of Rizana, I am going to murmur a set of words and reflect upon them:  Bismillah-ar-rahmanar-raheem. I am not sure if this amounts to blasphemy, since I am not of that faith, and beg forgiveness if I offend the faith or its followers.  I just want to meditate on mercy and I want to think of two children, Naif al-Quthaibi and Rizana, whose sojourn on this earth, as per the faith of their families, was sanctioned by Allah, the most beneficial, the most merciful.    

This article was first published in the Daily Mirror (July 2, 2011)
Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. Email: malindasenevi@gmail.com. Twitter: malindasene