23 year-old journalist Hamza Kashghari became a celebrity against his will since February 4th after three controversial tweets he wrote on the occasion of Prophet Mohammad’s birthday. He imagined a conversation between himself and the Prophet, talking on equal footing. This directly triggered angry reactions: 30,000 angry tweets in 24 hours threatening him, a Facebook page “Saudi people want punishment for Hamza Kashgari” (which gathered 14,000 members) and many YouTube videos. Some even posted his home address online. A weeping Saudi cleric, Nasser al-Omar, called for Kasghari’s trial in a video that went viral. Some even offered up 110,000 Saudi Riyals (almost $30,000) for his head. The journalist issued a long apology and deleted the tweets, but to no avail.
Fearing for his life, the journalist fled for Malaysia, planning to ask for political asylum in New Zealand. He was arrested in Kuala Lampur airport and deported back to his country on the 12th. His family, friends and supporters fear for his life, since apostasy could be punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. His case was brought up to light worldwide these past few days, and Hamza is considered as prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.
This text was sent by one of Hamza’s friends to Mashallah News.
The first time I came across the name Hamza Kashgari was around three years ago, in the title of a Facebook group urging him to repent for one of his written opinions. I don’t recall any of the details.
I then began seeing his comments on friends’ pages, and I sent him a friend request. Once he accepted I began to get to know him better. Hamza was and still is a noble gentleman. “Taking the side of minorities, the marginalized, and supporting the revolutions,” as he described himself on twitter. I knew he was a man of principle, someone who never contradicted himself or supported ideas and beliefs merely for personal gain.
Hamza was and still is independent, never blindly supporting one side or taking a position without familiarity with the subject.
I first met Hamza at the Riyadh Book Fair in 2011. He was at times bantering with the vendors while at other times arguing with them, yet always smiling.
I later got to know him better at Bridges Bookstore in Jeddah. He was a pillar of the store, which served a meeting and reference point for Hamza and his friends. The religious police even raided the bookstore and began a determined effort to try to dismantle this civil institution. The youth caused concern for some people there, discussing and reading about everything: religion, politics, revolutions, corruption, Jeddah’s disasters, philosophy, literature, painting, and even singing.
To me, Hamza was the thin and handsome young man who was always very shy. I envied the remnants of his childhood that he carried on his shoulders. He was youthful in a way you couldn’t image and likewise a mature intellectual, a revolutionary fighter. At the same time, his quill wrote about love, beauty, art, and humanity. He was a vibrant blend that couldn’t be absorbed without knowing the goodness of his heart and the purity of his soul, things that didn’t require much time to discover.
My relationship with Hamza wasn’t particularly close. I met him no more than ten times. In our encounters I would comment on a sentence he wrote or express my admiration for it, whereas he would then marvel at “The Position of the Sand” a poem by Muhammad al-Thubaiti hanging on my wall.
But with this, I firmly believe that he is much more honourable and noble than those who attacked him. I can also say for sure that the Hamza I know, based on his actions and behaviour, was a firm believer, or even the most steadfast of believers, relative to the behaviour and actions of those who attacked him.
The Hamza I know has not and would never get angry about an idea, principle, or something sacred. He reserves his anger for political matters or personal interests. The Hamza I know would never be obscene or vulgar simply because he disagreed with one’s ideas or opinions. Hamza would never lash out at anyone for his or her ideas. Hamza never called for the use of violence—any violence—against those with whom he disagreed.
The Hamza I know will never exclude violators.
The Hamza I know wrote an article about political prisoners in al-Balad Newspaper, which as far as I know is the only such article that has been published in the Saudi press. He wrote this article despite the fact that he didn’t share many of the beliefs of those imprisoned.
The Hamza I know was at Nawras Circle last Sunday, just two or three hours before the uproar and hashtags began, participating in a sit-in for the sake of the Syrian Revolution. He was demanding the expulsion of the Syrian Ambassador. During this protest he was briefly detained, gave a statement and afterwards released.
The Hamza I know knows the Holy Prophet, including his life stories and morals, more than the majority of the frenzied herd that has been attacking him.
Thank you, Hamza, for you have exposed the hypocrisy of many of those who call for rights and freedom, those who loudly support an impartial struggle for truth and objectivity. One such person who condemned Hamza is a well-known media figure who multiple sources claim to be an atheist. I would never oppose his freedom of speech, but I despise his position as though he were a radical Salafist sheikh. However, for this person his individual desires come before any principles or beliefs.
May God be with Hamza, who made me laugh when he said, “Thank God for blessing us with Abdul Aziz bin Fahd, just as the Egyptians were blessed with Tawfiq Akasha.”
May God be with Hamza, who hurt me when I heard what he said. It is humiliating to say something you don’t believe in just to save your life.
May God be with Hamza, who taught me expressions of longing and infatuation that found a way to escape from his heart to his wall.
May God be with the idea of Hamza, which they thought they could remove from existence by cutting off his head or suffocating him. They didn’t know that an idea, like a cloud, is immune to arrest or detention, only encountering other similar ideas.
God be with Hamza, who You know, and who knows You more than any other person.
Written by Omar al-Tamimi.
Translation and editing: Tyler Huffman and Karl Rihan.