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The work of God - Guardian, UK

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  • Zafar Khan
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 7 6:28 AM
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      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
      The Guardian


      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.

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