ABU DHABI // A Sudanese man initially sentenced to 15 years in prison for murder instead of death because the victim was not Muslim today saw his sentence again reduced to three years after the victim's family accepted blood money.
The killer, Babaker Abdullah Babaker, was sentenced by two lower courts to 15 years. Under the Maliki school of Islamic legal thought, officially adopted in UAE courts, a Muslim who murders a non-Muslim cannot face execution.
But the Court of Cassation, in precedent-setting decision, on December 29, 2010, ordered the case retried under an alternative Islamic school of legal thought, Hanafi, which is the only Sunni school of jurisprudence that calls for the death penalty if a Muslim kills a non-Muslim.
The Court of Appeals then sentenced Babaker to death. But during the last month, the victim's family negotiated a blood money settlement, according to the defendant’s lawyer, Ali al Abbadi. When a family accepts blood money, a court can jail a murderer to a minimum of three years and a maximum of seven years.
Babaker, who has been in prison since 2008, will be released immediately because he has already served his term. The Court of Cassation decision is final.
He stabbed his Christian girlfriend 17 times after he suspected her of having an affair with a man from Ethiopia. The Abu Dhabi Criminal Court of First Instance found him guilty of premeditated murder, sentenced him to 15 years in prison and ordered him to pay Dh100,000 in blood money.
The Abu Dhabi Court of Appeals upheld the sentence, and public prosecutors appealed the case to the Court of Cassation.
Prosecutors presented two main arguments. They said it was in the interest of the country to try Muslims and non-Muslims under Hanafi to ensure equality. They also said the victim was a resident and therefore entitled to protection, security and sanctity for her "blood, honour and money".
Court of Cassation rulings are binding on local courts, so judges in the emirate will be required to treat the murder of a non-Muslim the same as that of a Muslim. Murder cases are tried under Sharia, which requires the death penalty if the victim's family demands it.
Dr Ahmed al Kubaisi, the head of Sharia studies at UAE University, praised the cassation court's ruling, which he said considered the wider and long-term interests of the country under Sharia.
Dr al Kubaisi said Islamic law required judges to use their discretion when there was a conflict between justice and politics.
"In Islamic jurisprudence, judges can announce that a person is sentenced to death in accordance with Sharia but should not be killed in consideration of politics," Dr al Kubaisi said. "In Islamic law the interests of the nation precede the interests of the individual.
"Justice that safeguards the interests of the whole nation is preferable to that which safeguards the interests of the individual. The ruling is completely sound according to Islamic law."
Hanafi scholars note that an Islamic text that prohibits the killing of a Muslim for taking a non-Muslim life was meant to be applied only in times of war.