The work of God - Guardian, UK
- The work of God
Decent pay, flexible hours, good benefits package -
but being Saudi Arabia's state executioner does have
its down side, as Muhammad Saad al-Beshi tells Mahmoud
Friday June 6, 2003
Muhammad Saad al-Beshi beheads up to seven people a
day. "It doesn't matter to me: Two, four, 10 - as long
as I'm doing God's will, it doesn't matter how many
people I execute," says Saudi Arabia's leading
executioner. Al-Beshi began his career at a prison in
Taif, where his job was to handcuff and blindfold the
prisoners before their execution. "Because of this
background, I developed a desire to be an
executioner," he says. When a position became vacant,
he applied and was accepted immediately.
His first job was in 1998 in Jeddah. "The criminal was
tied and blindfolded. With one stroke of the sword I
severed his head. It rolled metres away." Of course he
was nervous, he says - there were a lot of people
watching, after all - but now stage fright is a thing
of the past. He says he is calm at work because he is
doing God's work. "But there are many people who faint
when they witness an execution. I don't know why they
come and watch if they don't have the stomach for it.
Me? I sleep very well."
Does he think people are afraid of him? "In this
country we have a society that understands God's law,"
he says. "No one is afraid of me. I have a lot of
relatives, and many friends at the mosque, and I live
a normal life like everyone else. There are no
drawbacks for my social life."
Before an execution, none the less, he will visit the
family of the victim of the criminal to obtain
forgiveness for the man about to die. "I always have
that hope, until the very last minute, and I pray to
God to give the criminal a new lease of life. I always
keep that hope alive."
Al-Beshi will not reveal how much he gets paid per
execution, as this is a confidential agreement with
the government. But he insists that the reward is not
important. "I am very proud to do God's work," he
However, he does reveal that a sword costs something
in the region of 20,000 Saudi riyals (£3,300). "It's a
gift from the government. I look after it and sharpen
it once in a while, and I make sure to clean it of
bloodstains. It's very sharp. People are amazed how
fast it can separate the head from the body."
By the time the victims reach the execution square,
they have surrendered themselves to death, he says,
though they may hope to be forgiven at the last
minute. Indeed, the only conversation that takes place
is when he tells the prisoner to say the Shahada,
their covenant with Allah. "Their hearts and minds are
taken up with reciting the Shahada. When they get to
the execution square, their strength drains away. Then
I read the execution order, and at a signal I cut the
prisoner's head off."
He has executed a number of women without hesitation.
"Despite the fact that I hate violence against women,
when it comes to God's will, I have to carry it out."
There is no great difference between the execution of
men and women, except that the women wear hijab, and
no one is allowed near them except Al-Beshi when the
time for execution comes. When executing women, he has
a choice of weapon. "It depends what they ask me to
use. Sometimes they ask me to use a sword and
sometimes a gun. But most of the time I use the
sword," he says.
As an experienced executioner, 42-year-old Al-Beshi is
entrusted with the task of training the young. "I
successfully trained my son Musaed, 22, as an
executioner and he was approved and chosen," he says
proudly. Training focuses on the way to hold the sword
and where to hit, and consists mostly of the trainee
observing the executioner at work.
But an executioner's work is not all killing;
sometimes it can simply be an amputation. "I use a
special sharp knife instead of a sword," he explains.
"When I cut off a hand, I cut it from the joint. If it
is a leg, the authorities specify where it is to be
taken off, so I follow that."
Al-Beshi describes himself as a family man. He was
married when he became an executioner, and his wife
did not object to his choice of profession. "She only
asked me to think carefully before committing myself,"
he recalls. "But I don't think she's afraid of me. I
deal with my family with kindness and love. They
aren't afraid when I come back from an execution.
Sometimes they help me clean my sword."
A father of seven, he is a grandfather already. "My
daughter has a son called Haza, and he's my pride and
joy," he says. "Then there are my sons. The oldest one
is Saad, and of course there is Musaed, who will be
the next executioner."
· Reprinted with permission from Arab News.
Yahoo! Plus - For a better Internet experience